Government treatment of jobless sparks fire in the Dail

‘Unemployed demonised, victimised and have had their social welfare cut’

Alleged ‘one of two companies behind Turas Nua – a body appointed by the Department of Social Protection to deliver JobPath services – has been accused of fraud in the operation of similar schemes in Britain.’

Sligo News File

The Dail has been told that some 140,000 unemployed people have been “turned into opportunities for profit for private companies.”

 

Paul Murphy TD

TD Paul Murphy has also said that Working Links, one of two companies behind Turas Nua – a body appointed by the Department of Social Protection to deliver JobPath services – has been accused of fraud in the operation of similar schemes in Britain.

Murphy said, “Under the guise of labour activation measures pushed by Fine Gael and Labour, unemployed people have been demonised, victimised and have had their social welfare cut, all in the service of constructing a republic of precarity which drives people into the kind of low-paid precarious work which has become widespread.

“One in four workers are now in part-time employment, 30% of workers are low-paid and 8% of workers have hours which change from week to week or from month to month. The result is a complete lack of stability and security and people being unable to plan their lives. They are existing instead of living.”

“The counterpart to that precarious unemployment is,” he said, precarious unemployment in the JobPath machine. Some 140,000 unemployed people have been turned into opportunities for profit for private companies. In the process and without significant debate, the provision of social welfare has been partially privatised.

“I have spoken to a number of people who have been through JobPath. They say that they are not given any real training and they are just supervised while looking for jobs on a computer, which means that it is pointless travel for many. They describe it as demeaning, patronising and infantilising. The threat of having their social welfare cut by more than €40 hangs over all of their interactions with these private companies, which would leave people trying to survive on €150 or less a week.

“Since JobPath was introduced, the number of people who have had these so-called penalty rates applied has increased from 5,000 in 2015 to 16,000 last year. That is in one year alone. Some 6,500 JobPath participants have had their dole cut. On the other hand, €84 million of public money has been paid to just two companies, SeeTec and Turas Nua. They get money each time someone signs a personal progression plan and they get paid job sustainment fees. Both SeeTec and Working Links, which is one of two companies behind Turas Nua, have been accused of fraud in the operation of similar schemes in Britain. Last October in the Dáil, Deputy Catherine Murphy raised a very serious case of fraud by SeeTec in Ireland.

“All of that has been justified up until now on the false basis that the system works and gets people into employment. That has now been completely exposed by the Government’s own figures which came out three weeks ago. Only 18% of those who engage in JobPath end up in full-time employment. Some €84 million has been given to
these private companies to get people jobs which they would have got themselves.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

“Will the Taoiseach now read the writing on the wall for JobPath? Will he agree that the scheme needs to be scrapped and that instead of handing money over to private companies, he should invest in proper education and training and in real jobs for unemployed people?”

Describing welfare fraud as “very real,” the Taoiseach said, “It is a real problem in this country and in every western society. Even if we take the lowest estimate of the scale of welfare fraud in this country, it is about €40 million a year. That is a lot of money in my view. Let us not forget that people who engage in welfare fraud are not the poor and vulnerable. They are people who are pretending to be poor and vulnerable. They are people who are working and claiming.”

Deputy Mattie McGrath: “What about these companies?”

Taoiseach: The Taoiseach: They are people who are working, not paying their taxes on that work, and also claiming welfare at the same time. I do not believe that is defensible or acceptable. There are people who are pretending to have a disability they do not have or pretending to care for someone for whom they are not caring. People are claiming to be somebody they are not to claim pensions for people who are long dead. It really disappoints me to hear left-wing politicians in this country constantly defending fraudsters as though they are entitled to the benefits that they are stealing. They are not.”

Deputy Pearse Doherty: “Fine Gael was the party that was caught out.”

Taoiseach: It is absolutely the work of this Government—–

Deputy Mattie McGrath: “Turas Nua is a sham.”

The Taoiseach: “—–to prevent and crack down on welfare fraud in any way we can. One only needs to look at the court reports every other day to see the detail of some of those cases and what people have been doing to defraud our system. The reason we cracked down on welfare fraud is not ideological. The reason is that fraud is wrong, whether it is tax fraud or welfare fraud, and we act against it. In doing so, we ensure that the welfare budget is protected for those who are entitled to it, including our pensioners, people with disabilities, carers, the unemployed, lone parents, blind people, widows and others. As a result we have been able to increase in two budgets in a row the State pension, payments to carers, payments to people with disabilities and payments to people who are unemployed. It is Government policy to crack down on welfare
fraud in order to protect the welfare budget for those who need and deserve it, particularly pensioners, the disabled, carers and people who are unemployed.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: “And to be nice to the bankers.”

The Taoiseach: I am very disappointed to hear politicians on the left continuously equivocating on this issue and not condemning welfare fraud. I note that the Deputy did not do so on this occasion….”

Deputy Paul Murphy: “It is like Deputy Enda Kenny is back. The Taoiseach managed not to answer the question at all. Instead he attacked something which I did not say and then went on an ideological attack about Venezuela. I think he might have even referenced Colombia and Greece.”

The Taoiseach: “Colombia is where the refugees are.”

Deputy Paul Murphy: “Let us go back to the question. The question is on the Government’s JobPath scheme, which has failed in its stated aim of getting jobs for people. That is what the facts now demonstrate. Only 18% of participants get jobs, which is no higher than the rate for people who do not have access to JobPath. These companies have been accused of fraud in Britain. What is the Taoiseach doing to make sure that they are not engaged in fraud here? To deal with the curveball which the Taoiseach has thrown,
which is that he will stand over and double down on his rhetoric about welfare fraud, the Taoiseach gave the figure of €40 million two minutes ago, but his advertising campaign said €500 million. Which is it? Who is engaged in fraud here?

Deputy Mattie McGrath: “It is the spin machine.”

Deputy Paul Murphy: “The Taoiseach is engaged in fraud against unemployed people and is using public money to demonise them in order to drive precarious employment. He is continuing in that same Thatcherite vein here. Will he please answer the question asked in respect of JobPath?”

The Taoiseach: “I said that even the lowest estimate is €40 million. I note the Deputy has not refuted that.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: “What is the actual figure?”

The Taoiseach: “The figure of €500 million was what it said on the tin, that is fraud and control. Fraud and control. They are two different things.”

Deputy Pearse Doherty: “It was the Department’s Brexit bus.”

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach said if participants felt that they were not getting a proper service from JobPath, “they can make a complaint directly to the company. If they are not satisfied with the response, they can go to the Department and make a complaint through its procedures.”

Deputy Mattie McGrath: “They would be wasting their time.”