Social welfare law must not leave people behind, say legal rights bodies
10 November 2016
Joint press advisory Thursday 10 November 2016
FLAC and Community Law & Mediation
Two leading independent legal rights organisations have called for changes in the government’s proposed amendments to the social welfare code, particularly those impacting on young people, people living in Direct Provision and those appealing social welfare decisions.
Community Law & Mediation (CLM) and FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) today raised concerns on the content of the Social Welfare Bill 2016, calling also for adequate time to be given for thorough debate and scrutiny of this important legislation which affects the lives and basic living standards of many of the most vulnerable people in the State. “The Minister for Social Protection said on Budget Day that the government wants to ‘ensure that the recovery benefits everyone and nobody is left behind’. Unfortunately this Bill as it is currently framed will continue to leave people behind, which is why we are calling for significant changes in it,” saidFLAC Chief Executive Eilis Barry.
Under the Bill, inequalities between young people aged under 26 and those over 26 will deepen. “Young jobseekers aged 18 to 24 will be entitled to a weekly payment of €102.70, while those aged 25 will get €147.80, in comparison to the full increased payment of €193. The government seems to assume that all young people have family support mechanisms, or do not need extra supports. We are worried that young people in difficult circumstances – minority youth, victims of domestic violence - are at higher risk of homelessness in an overheated rental market. We are therefore calling for an equal social welfare rate across all groups,” said Ciaran Finlay, FLAC Legal & Policy Officer.
FLAC and CLM also expressed concerns regarding the need for a provision in the Bill requiring employers to provide information on employees for the purpose of determining entitlement to Child Benefit claims payable in accordance with EU Regulations. “The necessity for such a measure is unclear given the responsibility on all social welfare applicants to prove to the Department of Social Protection that they qualify for the payment they are applying for and the availability of information to the Department regarding social insurance contributions. We await more information from the Department concerning the necessity of this measure,” said CLM CEO Rose Wall.
CLM and FLAC highlighted that once again, those living in Direct Provision had once again not received any increase in allowance, despite the state granting increases in all other social welfare payments. Asylum seekers living in Direct Provision continue to receive €19.10 per adult and €15.60 per child weekly, despite the McMahon report recommendations and calls from the UN to address this situation. “We are calling on the government to meet basic human rights standards and put the Direct Provision allowance on a statutory basis in this bill, so that we do not have this bypassing of this extremely vulnerable group every year,” said FLAC’s Eilis Barry.
The two organisations also voiced concerns around the abolition of Mortgage Interest Supplement. “The government has stated many times its wish to keep people in their homes as long as possible and clearly there remains a crisis in social housing for those who are forced to leave their home. It is therefore hard to understand why the supplement cannot be retained as a temporary, targeted measure for people who need a short-term support to maintain their family homes,” said CLM’s Rose Wall.
The groups also said Ireland’s social welfare appeals system must be based on international human rights standards of transparency, fairness and the right to an effective remedy, and called for the Social Welfare Appeals Office to be placed on a statutorily independent footing rather than under the aegis of the Department of Social Protection.
UPDATE: The Bill will be debated at second stage in the Dail chamber on Thursday morning, 17 November 2016.
For further information, please contact
FLAC, 13 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin 1
- FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice for all. As an NGO, FLAC relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work. We offer basic legal information through our telephone information line and free legal advice through a network of 80 volunteer evening advice centres. FLAC also campaigns on a range of issues including personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid.
- Community Law & Mediation (CLM) works to empower individuals experiencing disadvantage by providing free legal, mediation and information services. At a national level, CLM seeks to have a wider impact through its campaigns for law reform and by acting as s resource for other advocacy organisations.
- The text of the Bill as initiated is at http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=33807&&CatID=59
- You can find the full submission on both the FLAC (www.flac.ie) and NCLMC (www.nclc.ie) websites.
- The main recommendations from the submission are:
- Recommendation 1: Ensure that the Houses of the Oireachtas set aside adequate time for consideration of the Social Welfare Bill 2016.
- Recommendation 2: Explain the necessity for the inclusion of Section 12 in the Social Welfare Bill 2016 in re employers being required to supply data on their employees to the Department of Social Protection.
- Recommendation 3: Amend Schedule 2 of the Social Welfare Bill 2016 to provide for equal payments among all those receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance.
- Recommendation 4: Amend the Social Welfare Bill 2016 to provide for the deletion of Section 11 of the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2013.
- Recommendation 5: Amend the Social Welfare Bill 2016 to place the Social Welfare Appeals Office on a statutorily independent footing.
- Recommendation 6: Amend the Social Welfare Bill 2016 to provide a statutory underpinning for the Direct Provision allowance.
- Recommendation 7: Pending further reform of the system, increase the weekly allowance for asylum seekers living in Direct Provision to €38.74 for adults and to €29.80 for children in line with the recommendations of the McMahon report.