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Unemployment group welcomes Budget’s freeze for welfare rates

The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed welcomes Fergus O’Dowd’s assurance that welfare rates will not be cut.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Updated, 12.59

THE IRISH NATIONAL Organisation for the Unemployed has welcomed the government’s repeated commitment not to cut social welfare rates in next month’s Budget.

Fine Gael’s junior minister Fergus O’Dowd yesterday insisted that the government had no intention to cut social welfare rates, believing that the department’s spending cut be cut by hundreds of millions through other measures.

“We’ve made it very clear that in the primary social benefits, there will not be any cut,” the NewERA minister told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics.

O’Dowd said the government would instead focus on countering welfare fraud, saying that the government believes it can save around €600 million per year in doing so.

The government will also try to cut spending by cutting unemployment payments for people who turn down an offer of paid work.

“It’s an intervention where people aren’t taking opportunities to go out to work… it’s reasonable that their welfare might cut,” O’Dowd said, describing the cuts as a “labour activation” measure.

This lunchtime the INOU said it “very much welcomed” the government’s commitment not to cut welfare rates, saying unemployed people had already seen many cuts to their payments in recent budgets.

“Over a number of Budgets those rates had been cut, and we’re very aware that many people are struggling to survive – and that with any other cuts, people wouldn’t be able to manage,” INOU’s head of policy and media Brid O’Brien told TheJournal.ie.

O’Brien said she did not believe, however, that cutting benefits for people who had turned down jobs would lead to much savings – pointing out that the previous government had made legal allowances for a person to lose a quarter of their dole payments if they turned down a job.

The organisation also expressed reservations about reported plans to scrap grants for postgraduate students, arguing that higher education had been the only route that many unemployed people could take to get back to the labour market.

Cutting those grants, when the government was keen to build a “knowledge economy”, would be “most unfortunate”, O’Brien said.

The government is also set to examine certain loopholes around rent allowance, O’Dowd said. Last month it emerged that one in three landlords receiving rental supplements from their tenants were not registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board, as is required by law.

The anti-fraud programme programme, originally announced by Social Protection minister Joan Burton two months ago, will include the deployment of extra social welfare inspectors, who will be concentrated on targeting ‘black spot’ fraud sectors.

The government has also pledged to increase penalties on those found to be abusing the social welfare system.

Next month’s Budget is due to find €3.8bn in adjustments, with spending cuts set to make up around two-thirds of that total.

It had previously been reported that Social Protection spending cut be cut by €1bn, but cuts of this scale are unlikely given that the government will cut its overall spending by a little over €2.5bn.

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Gavan Reilly

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