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Thousands of social welfare recipients penalised over inadequate attempts to find employment

5,821 people were subject to ‘penalty rates’ during the first half of the year.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

ALMOST 6,000 SOCIAL welfare recipients have been penalised this year after their attempts to find employment were deemed inadequate by the government.

Figures released by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in response to a Parliamentary Question show that 5,821 people were subject to so-called ‘penalty rates’ during the first half of 2019.

The sanction was introduced in 2011 to encourage jobseekers to engage with attempts by the Department to assist them in securing employment, including under the JobPath scheme.

Those subject to penalty rates can have their welfare payments cut by €44 a week if they are 26 or over, while those aged 25 face cuts of €33 a week and those aged 18 to 24 can have their payments cut by €25 a week.

More than 12,000 people were subject to penalty rates last year, while more than 13,500 people had their payments reduced in 2017.

The figure has risen every year since penalty rates were brought in, with only 353 individuals sanctioned in 2011, while 66,628 penalty rates have been applied to 46,300 people since their introduction.

Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea, whose question prompted the release of data, suggested that the number of sanctions each year should be falling in line with the rate of unemployment.

He also said that while the use of penalties should be applied to those who repeatedly refuse to engage with the Department, the threat of sanctions should not be used to coerce people into unsuitable employment.

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“Given the significant increase in the use of sanctions I would like Minister [Regina] Doherty to conduct a review of the practice and provide further details on their application,” he said.

“Our social welfare system needs to be humane and we must ensure that sanctions are being used only when necessary and where appropriate.”

Responding to O’Dea’s question earlier this month, Doherty said that penalty rates were only applied in specific circumstances, and that the decision to impose them could be appealed.

In response to another question on the sanction earlier this year, the Minister also said that penalty rates were only applied “as a last resort”.

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