By Melissa Kelleher
Leo Varadkar recently initiated a campaign through the Department of Social Protection targeting welfare fraud with the slogan “welfare cheats cheat us all”. The campaign features bus signs, radio adverts and billboards encouraging working-class people to spy on their neighbours and report any suspected ‘fraudsters’ to the department. The campaign alone is estimated to cost the taxpayer between €300,000- €500,000!
A recurring and generally unchallenged narrative that emanates from the political and media establishment is the notion that there is widespread social welfare “fraud”. They maintain this is a widespread and nationwide problem which places an enormous burden on the taxpayer. This is a part of a concerted attempt by the establishment to shamefully paint social welfare recipients as ‘spongers’.
At the launch of the campaign, Varadkar claimed a range of anti-fraud and control measures saved taxpayers more than €500 million in 2016. However when you examine the figures in greater detail, a different picture emerges: In 2013, a report published by the Comptroller and Auditor General concluded that, from 2007 to 2011, 50% of all social welfare overpayments were due to error, while 38% of overpayments were due to fraud.
The number of fraudulent claims subsequently fell to 21% in 2015. The cost of all overpayments in 2015 was €115 million, of which €48 million was due to fraud. Trade union economist, Michael Taft, estimates that the real cost of welfare fraud is closer to €25 million.
So not only are errors more frequent than fraud in our social welfare system, they are also costing the taxpayer more. We must ask ourselves, is there really widespread abuse of our social welfare system, or is there a different type of fraud taking place? One directed by the politicians in Leinster House and the Department of Social Protection itself?
The real fraud
It would be far more profitable for the state coffers to pursue the €19 billion owed to the Irish taxpayer by Apple and tackle the rampant tax dodging by multinational corporations. Yet we see no billboards about white-collar crime, no radio adverts about reporting tax-evading multinational corporations and no public campaigns to find the fraudsters in the banks and exploitative vulture funds who are evicting ordinary people from their homes.
It is all symptomatic of a system which is based on greed and profit rather than the needs of ordinary working people, and a spineless government who would rather pursue ordinary working-class people for pittance than challenge their cronies in the banks and big business.