Social Welfare Bill 1999

Hassling people into very low paid jobs


The Scheme Workers Alliance organises people on employment schemes to combat cutbacks and win the extension of part-time workers rights. Uisce from 'Workers Solidarity' spoke to Leo Duffy and Seamas Carrehan of the SWA about the upcoming Social Welfare bill.

The Government is continuing its campaign against working class people. Workfare was introduced last year by Mary Harney, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment. It forces people into shit low paid jobs by cutting their social welfare completely. The next phase in this assault is the proposed Social Welfare Bill 1999.

Contained in it are provisions for increasing welfare benefits for the unemployed, pensioners and other people on welfare. However, the increase would not even buy a packet of cigarettes, the price of which was raised in the last budget. Hidden among these titbits from the Tiger's table is Article 26, a draconian piece of legislation directed at further oppressing the working class.

"This Welfare Bill, and particularly the section dealing with vehicle checkpoints, comes at the end of a three year sustained and covert campaign by the state against the most vulnerable people in our society" said Seamas Carrahen. It allows for Social Welfare inspectors to mount checkpoints to (in theory) catch social welfare recipients who are also working in the black economy.

Welfare inspectors, when accompanied by a cop can stop a vehicle suspected of "being used in the course of employment or self-employment." Dermot Ahern, Minister for Welfare has assured us "that the powers will continue to be used responsibly. This programme is not aimed at the ordinary citizen going about their business."

But as Leo Duffy put it "it reinforces the sense of threat that people in vulnerable positions, on social welfare (will be) hassled under the new welfare arrangement". It will be used where unemployment is endemic and it will infringe on the lives of working class people. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties described it as "another inroad into peoples liberty to come and go in the course of legitimate activity."

Even though the powers for social welfare inspectors are only now being legislated for, these multi-agency check-points have been in operation over the past year. When criticised by other TDs who had never heard of these checkpoints 'till they saw the Bill, Dermot Ahern apologised saying "in retrospect it, perhaps, should have been mentioned."

Ahern "has done all of this without negotiating with any of the people involved" said Seamas Carrehan, pointing to the lack of consultation between Ahern's Department and trade unions and unemployed groups. A reason that Ahern is legislating for the checkpoints now may be that "by formalising it in legislation it does give it a status where it could be more easily manipulated against vulnerable people" said Leo Duffy.

Dermot Ahern, in defence of the checkpoints, said that in February that 10% of vehicles stopped at certain checkpoints revealed fraud cases. What he didn't say was whether these particular cars had been deliberately targeted.

Perhaps he is implying that 10% of working class people are criminals. According to Leo Duffy "anybody who is carrying a plastic social welfare card is automatically going to come under suspicion or threat".

Seamas Carrahen described the Bill as primarily representing "the interests of business. But the people it represents and the people who are saying that we need cutbacks and we cannot afford the welfare state are actually the people, at this point, who are becoming phenomonally wealthy". He added that the continuing campaign against unemployment by the government is not designed to help the unemployed. It is actually to drive the unemployed into low wage jobs, and again that's a business persons agenda that's being promoted by the government.

There has been minimal protest against the new bill. Leo Duffy said that "protests have come from other agencies. They haven't necessarily coalesced in that, but on their own initiative they have sent protests to the Department of Social Welfare". Seamas added "there has been a fragmented response to the bill from isolated quarters. There has been no co-ordinated or adequate attack on it, it has been accepted as a fait accompli".

Welfare Inspectors will be coming to a neighbourhood near you, soon!


This article is from Workers Solidarity No 57 published in May 1999