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Welfare cheat?: 'I have an acquaintance who claimed the dole. There was no other way to afford university'

Welfare rules often create poverty traps that make it tremendously difficult for people to get by without stepping outside the bounds, writes Gavin Mendel-Gleason.

Gavin Mendel-Gleason Workers' Party representative, Dublin Northwest

LEO VARADKAR RECENTLY initiated a campaign through the Department of Social Protection targeting welfare fraud with the slogan “welfare cheats cheat us all”.

This campaign is a truly distasteful attempt to boost Varadkar’s leadership campaign and to divert attention away from the fact that Fine Gael presides over legalised corruption and the pilfering of State coffers by private interests.

The campaign alone is likely to cost the taxpayer between €300K and €500K, according to a former inspector at the Department, Bernadette Gorman.

There are radio adverts, billboards and bus signs surrounding us, encouraging us to spy on our neighbours in a truly dystopian fashion, to spot the so-called “fraudster”, as if this was a problem sweeping our nation.

What is the real scale of the problem?

Varadkar says that anti-fraud and control measures saved the Department €500 million in 2016.

The trade union economist Michael Taft states that this claim is in itself a fraud. He estimates that the real costs of welfare fraud are closer to €25 million. And this amount may in fact be a lot lower than the amount of benefits that people are entitled to but are leaving unclaimed.

When the UK began looking into unclaimed entitlements, it found that they vastly exceeded fraud levels, and it’s likely that this is the case in Ireland as well.

We also need to question what constitutes “fraud”. While there may be isolated cases of someone assuming different identities in order to collect several pensions, in most cases the so-called fraud is something very different in nature.

Complicated welfare rules often create poverty traps that make it tremendously difficult for people to get by without stepping outside the bounds. And when rules suddenly change, people are forced to make hard choices to provide for themselves and their families.

Claiming the dole to get an education

I had an acquaintance who “fraudulently” continued claiming the dole while trying to get himself an education. Receiving no support from his parents, there was simply no other way he could afford to go to university in Dublin.

He wanted the skills he thought were necessary to get a job, something which those who criticise those who rely on welfare payments often talk about. He committed the “fraud” of trying to become a more productive member of society.

Or we could talk about the single mother I know, who refused to commit the “fraud” of taking a job on the side, despite the fact that the Department of Social Protection had reduced her payment so much that she could barely afford groceries.

High welfare payments?

Social welfare costs in Ireland are indeed very high. But why is this? Look no further than the economic crisis to find out. In 2007, social welfare costs amounted to less than €1.5 billion. In 2010, they exceeded €3.5 billion. Did everyone suddenly get lazy in 2008? No, the jobs disappeared as the economy crashed.

The government has steadfastly held to the strategy of tax cuts for the wealthy and multinationals while refusing to involve the State in direct employment or in the creation of viable industries.

The €2 billion a year difference would disappear if the State were willing to take a more forward role in creating decent jobs which in turn would boost the entire economy. And remember the welfare “fraud” which is actually occurring is just about 1% of this number.

Lest anyone claim that Varadkar’s campaign is motivated by a concern for the public purse, the government have no problems spending money elsewhere. To put this in perspective, we funded a massive transfer of public money to pay for NAMA assets in order to bail out banks.

The lawyers’ fees alone were close to €40 million, and that doesn’t include all the cushy “jobs for the boys” that went around, or the dodgy characters who got a dig-out from getting write-downs on the debt on their properties.

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leo Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

White collar crime

Recently, under the direction of Fine Gael, the State has spent over €1 million of taxpayer funds suing Apple. Why? To make sure Apple did not have to pay the taxes they owe us, which the European Commission claim is around €13 billion.

According to John Devitt of Transparency Ireland, over a decade ago Ireland was losing about €2 billion a year to white collar crime. This number is now likely to be much larger in the years following the bank bailouts. And yet we see no billboards about white collar crime.

No radio adverts about turning in executives evading taxes or refusing to pay their employees wages. There are no public campaigns to find more fraudsters in the banks or grifters in the property market.

It’s clear that Varadkar and Fine Gael have nothing but contempt for the taxpayers. They couldn’t care less if we are cheated, and don’t give a fig about careful use of resources. What they really care about are their cronies: the multinational corporations, the bankers, the developers and the landlords.

Gavin Mendel-Gleason is the Workers Party representative for Dublin Northwest.

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About the author:

Gavin Mendel-Gleason  / Workers' Party representative, Dublin Northwest

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