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Dublin: 7 °C Monday 24 November, 2014

Column: ‘Getting a job is the worst thing that’s ever happened to us’

A mother describes how finding work has left her family worse off than in unemployment, thanks to what she believes is a broken system.

Catherine W

A woman working in Dublin tells of her experience being caught in a system where she says you are rewarded with benefits when unemployed only to have them stripped from you immediately and placed on the bread line when you enter back into the work place.

I’m at a loss for words to describe what has happened to my family. My partner and I have a gorgeous new baby and he has children from a previous relationship with whom we spend a fair amount of time.

He has been out of work for a while now and paying €100 euro per week out of his social welfare in maintenance – this was court ordered whilst he was on jobseeker’s benefit. I was out of work since the baby, but with the help of family and rent allowance we just about got by.

‘I got a full time job last month, delighted! Finally some light at the end of the tunnel, right?’

We were both living off my state maternity benefit and neither of us could get work, so we decided to move closer to where the jobs are. This meant the rent we were paying out doubled. Finally and thankfully I got a full time job last month, delighted! Finally some light at the end of the tunnel right? Wrong.

Even though my new job was far away, I didn’t mind, it was work. At this stage I thought it was our chance to get back on the food chain.

We did the right thing and told the social welfare I had secured a job. I was claiming jobseeker’s benefit when I was out of work. Within a week of me getting a job, my partner got a letter to say that we were being assessed – and in the meantime of the assessment his jobseeker’s benefit was being stopped.

‘We were told something different from everybody’

There was no pre-warning – that was in the first week in April and I was not due to be paid until the last week in April. I was now in the situation where we had no income whatsoever, so I had to go to the welfare officer to see if they could tide me over until I get paid. We were told something different from everybody. When we dropped in all the information they had asked for – like my contract saying what I was earning as I hadn’t received a payslip yet – we were told that was fine.

We asked did they take into account the maintenance that we were paying, the travel expenses I had to get to work – she said all that was taken into account. The community welfare officer then told us that they take it on the gross earnings and that there was absolutely nothing they could do for us as I was working.

I just can’t believe it. They will only take into account my gross income, they ignore that a large portion of my salary goes on tax, PRSI and USC. And they ignore the fact that I’ve to travel 100 kilometres each way to get to work so with diesel and tolls it costs me around €140 a week just to get there and back. And they ignore the fact that my partner has court ordered maintenance to pay out of that dole payment.

‘The social welfare said “Do you have any idea of just how busy it is in here?”’

When I called in relation to the matter the person at the social welfare office said “Do you have any idea of just how busy it is in here?” When I said I understood she told me that I was just lip-syncing and that I didn’t understand. She was just so rude – she had no compassion for my situation, no empathy. I complained and asked for a supervisor to call me – none did.

When we were cut off we went into arrears on the child maintenance payment and the thing with family law is that you cannot stop paying that unless a court order says so – you are liable for the arrears. So until we get a date we are now in arrears for hundreds until our case is heard. We don’t know when that date will be but the figure is clocking up every week.

‘The community welfare officer told us in no uncertain terms that we are entitled to nothing’

We have already been told that if he does not uphold the payments until the case is heard that he can be locked up for breaching the court order. This is likely to happen but it will solely come down to the judge on the day. How is that just? As it stands we can’t afford car tax, there is no home heating oil in the house (with a  newborn baby and  other children there also) and the community welfare officer told us in no uncertain terms that we are entitled to nothing because I’m working and earning over €312, they won’t even look at it.

So that is what we have to live on – two adults, a newborn baby and the other children.

I feel I am being encouraged not to work and what really upset me is my partner has worked since he was 16, he has paid tax in his own right, he has paid PRSI, he has supported his family up until he could no longer do so, he has earned the right to earn jobseeker’s while he is out of work.

He was self-employed for most of the past decade and before that he was employed elsewhere.  The sickening thing is that the Department of Social Welfare and Family have made him 100 per cent dependent on me. I now have two dependents, him and my baby. I called the Revenue to try and claim my partner’s tax credits and I was told “sorry you’re only cohabiting, you’re not married so you’re not entitled to anything”.

‘The people who are up front and honest are the ones being punished for not being married’

I know the argument that they are trying to protect the institution of marriage – but I belong to a family unit too and it is almost like we are being encouraged to break up. Even the pressure of the financial end of it is what can create family units breaking up, that is the fact of it. There are so many people out there that are living together and claiming single parents’ allowance and their rent allowance while the people who are up front and honest are the ones that are being discriminated against and punished for not being married.

The social welfare system appeals are taking over six months, so what are we going to do? Getting a job is the worst thing that’s ever happened to us. If I gave up work tomorrow I would get it all – rent allowance and social welfare. It just doesn’t make sense.

The contributor wishes to remain anonymous. Her identity is known to TheJournal.ie.

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