‘Magda’ story forces us to ask some difficult questions

Whether or not the controversial report this week about the Polish woman 'Magda' living the high life courtesy of the generous Irish social welfare system was entirely accurate or not matters little; what matters a lot however is that, just as with the 'mad and greedy' economy-crashing Irish people that our Taoiseach so readily informed the World Economic Forum about last week, much of the report contents were actually true.

Part of this new process of self-examination and open confession may actually prove cathartic in the end. For starters, it has enabled us this week to address just one of the many elephants in the room that dare not speak its name, in the form of Ireland’s social welfare system, which, no matter how you look at it, is one of our top-performing cash cows.

While some might imagine that unemployment benefits are the biggest drain on this particular budget, it is worth noting that there are up to 30 other welfare categories that allow claimants enjoy tax exemptions, allowances, or financial supports. These include weekly State pensions of up to €230 a week, with increases of up to €29.80 for each qualifying child; one-parent families allowances — which include widows, widowers and deserted wives benefit — of up to €230 a week plus up to €29.80 per qualifying child; plus a living alone increase for people age 66 or over of €7.70; plus an extra increase for people aged 80 or over of €10; plus an increase for people aged 66 or over living on certain offshore islands of €12.70.

Also included in this category is the Widowed or Surviving Civil Partner Grant with qualified child/children, which amounts to a once-off payment of €6,000. Child Benefit payments, although reduced in our most recent budget, still remain high at €140 per child; maternity benefit/adoptive benefit up to €262 per week is also allowed under child-related payments as is a Health and Safety Benefit of up to €188 per week. There is also a Guardian's Payment of up €161 per week as well as Back to School Clothing and Footwear allowances of €200 per child aged two to 11 and €305 per child aged over 12.

There are also handouts to cover claimants of Illness Benefit, Invalidity Pension, Disability Allowance, Blind Pension, Respite Care Grant, Carer's Benefit, Carer's Allowance, Domiciliary Care Allowance, Injury Benefit, Family Income Supplement, Farm Assist, Rural Social Scheme, Electricity Allowance, Gas Allowance, Telephone Allowance, Free Television Licence, and others too numerous to list here, which may prove informative to some interested in claiming state support.

Part of the drive by the European Union to achieve fiscal union involves not only the harmonising of our tax systems, but also of state welfare handouts. Our Government is regularly alerted to the fact that Irish welfare payments are not merely generous but exorbitant, when compared with other EU countries, and, as the 'Magda’ story revealed, were she to sign on for unemployment benefit in her home country of Poland, her survival would depend on an ability to live on just €36 a week.

While it is wonderful that citizens and children of Ireland - and some abroad - are so generously looked after by our Irish welfare system, the annual €20 billion needed to meet this budget catering to a population of under five million people, is not only excessive but, as our own Taoiseach might suggest, 'mad'.

Hard questions must be asked in attempting to address the situation, such as, should people have children in the first place if they are not able to provide for them? Should Unemployment Benefit be so high as to make low-skilled wages irrelevant? Should private pension provision be mandatory for all able-bodied citizens, and should evidence of good old-fashioned hard labour for the good of the community be a requisite for all job-seeker claimants?

An advance discussion on such topics could prove extremely useful in the event of similar cost-cutting proposals being foisted on Ireland by our new bosses in Europe.

Joan Geraghty

Acting Editor [email protected]

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