Social Protection penalty rises ‘sign of a broken system’ – Mitchell
Sinn Féin TD and Junior spokesperson on Social Protection Denise Mitchell has said that the very steep rise in social welfare penalties in recent years being applied by the Department of Social Protection indicates a policy change on behalf of the Department is badly needed.
Deputy Mitchell said:
“The numbers are growing rapidly. There were 10,428 penalties applied by the Department in 2016 up to the end of November. Compare this with 359 penalties applied back in 2011, and there is a steady rise each year since 2011. There seems now a policy change by the Department.
“Many people will have penalties applied for failure to engage in certain job activation schemes such as Jobpath. In this particular scheme for instance, we see that overall there were 2,593 penalties applied, with the age group suffering most penalties being the 25-35 year olds with over 1,000 penalties being applied since this job activation scheme started.
“We asked the views of the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) on welfare penalties in a Social Protection Committee meeting last week. They believed that penalties should be an absolute last resort and that some people believe they are on an education programme or employment programme that will not have long term benefit to them and are taking the programme because they feel if they don’t, they will have their payment cut.
“When people suffer a penalty, it means their already small social welfare payment is reduced for a period. Those on €188 will be reduced to €144, those on €144 will be reduced to €111 and those on €100 are reduced to a €75. This can obviously result in immense financial pressures on people already struggling.
“When it comes to job activation, services should concentrate on working more with people and trying to find the best option for the individual and this should be the priority for social protection policy. The danger with penalties issued by the Department is often the most vulnerable; people experiencing literacy, addiction, domestic violence and mental health issues, may fair worse in a sanctions based system and this is something that is very worrying and needs to be considered by the Department .”