Minsiter for Social Protection, Joan Burton, has vowed to tackle social welfare fraud. Speaking to the Leitrim Observer after she toured Social Welfare offices in Carrick-on-Shannon, Minister Burton said that the Leitrim office was “one of the key centres in relation to the prevention of fraud of our system”.
“Since I’ve become Minsiter I’ve launched a special anti fraud initiative because I feel strongly about it. The vast majority of people who deal with social welfare are completely honest but there is a worrying small percentage of people who try to rip the system off and I think its important when money is so tight, that we make sure that all of the money goes to people who are fully entitled to it,” she acknowledged.
The Minister admitted there was a very fine line between providing income support for people and disincentivising work, however she said that providing opportunitties for ppeople to contribute to their local community and get back to work through schemes such as Community Employment, Jobsbridge or further training and education, was key.
“There are people who receive social welfare and to be honest, if you could, you’d be happy to see the support they get doubled, like for instance, some of the people who have serious disability problems and indeed, the people who support them and look after them. And in other cases, perhaps the money could be better targeted. And it’s that critical thing, to get the money where it’s needed,” she said.
While she acknowledged the biggest problem for the social welfare system is the sheer number of unemployed - now running at 440,000 - she said the “vast majority” want to go back to work.
“I don’t want the Department of Social Protection to be a payments and income support department only, we want it also to be a really serious mover in terms of helping people to get back to education, back to training, back to work experience and get back to work,” she said paying tribute to the two Community Employment Schemes she visited during her trip to Carrick-on-Shannon, one at the Irish Wheelchair Association and the other at St George’s Heritage Centre.
The Social Protection Minister also argued that Jobbridge was proving a worthwhile endeabvour, although she acknowledged it “wasn’t for everyone” and pointed out that her Department was committed to tackling any reports of participants being exploited by employers.
“The first thing is that when I became Minister. I set down a requirement of the department that we would evaluate all of the different schemes as much in real time as is possible. In the past there have been a lot of different studies at different times in social welfare and very often it’s taken years for those reports an those examinations to be completed,” she added noting that reviews were being carried out in the scheme on an ongoing basis.
“The survey showed that the vast majority of the participants who have taken part have in fact, found it a very positive experience. Secondly, and more importantly, over 50 percent of the people who have completed an internship have in fact gone on to find further work,” noted Minister Burton.
She said that her Department welcomed feedback from interns, potential interns and employers and said that her office went to “enormous lengths to check whether or placements flagged as questionable were actually inappropriate.
“If we find that it is inappropriate we don’t sanction that particular internship and if an employer doesn’t fulfill the internship conditions then we won’t allow that employer to take other interns,” she added.