THE CURRENT ECONOMIC crisis has underlined the “critical importance” of the welfare state, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has said.
Speaking at a conference focusing on vulnerable families – organised by the Confederation of Family Organisations of the European Union and the Irish Countrywomen’s Association – Burton said that, without welfare, “millions of families across the EU would literally be left with nothing”.
“In Ireland, research has shown the effectiveness of the welfare system in combating poverty. Official data shows that in 2010, social transfers reduced income poverty by 60 per cent. That single statistic alone demonstrates the absolute necessity of the welfare system,” she told delegates.
Burton highlighted the fact that during the economic boom in Ireland, the number of jobless households actually rose – standing at stood at 22 per cent by 2010. She said that now, during economically straitened times, the onus had to be on reforming the social welfare system from a passive one to an effective and engaged public employment service.
“My Department has launched a new one-stop service called Intreo for jobseekers, where they receive both their benefits and employment supports in the same place. We’re spending more than €1 billion this year on activation programmes, to help people return to work, training or education”, she said
Minister Burton is working with Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald on a joint childcare initiative which will provide an additional 6,000 childcare places this year, targeted at low-income families where the parents are availing of an employment opportunity. Burton said access to subsidised school-age childcare can greatly assist low-income families and, in particular, lone parents to make the transition into employment.
During its Presidency of the EU, the Government will seek to advance the Social Investment Package – particularly by focusing on children and youth unemployment. Certain EU Member States are experiencing unemployment levels above 25 per cent – with youth unemployment levels of double that.
“We have to give people hope for the future and we have to avoid the creation of a lost generation,” Burton said.
“This week, EU social protection and employment ministers will gather in Dublin to discuss these issues. I look forward to chairing the negotiations and am confident that, over the term of our Presidency, we can achieve a successful outcome.”