Call to toughen up on dole applicants not seeking work

DOLE inspectors need to get tough on welfare recipients to make sure they really are trying to find work, a leading international economist has warned.

People claiming unemployment benefits in Britain attended interviews with welfare officials 30 times more frequently than their Irish counterparts, David Grubb said.

They had to prove they were seeking work, attend job interviews set up for them and participate in training courses, while facing the threat of losing benefits if their efforts were not found to be genuine.

By contrast, in Ireland the system was almost entirely voluntary, with no-one being obliged to attend more than one interview or to demonstrate they were trying to find work and only a handful of people were ever sanctioned for walking out on a job or failing to make efforts to find work.

“People are referred [for interview] only once and they can be unemployed for years without compulsory contact with FÁS or other employment services,” Mr Grubb said.

He said the percentage of the population on unemployment-related benefits had hardly reduced at all even during the recent boom years.

Mr Grubb, an economist with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said the system encouraged long-term unemployment and meant jobless levels would remain high long after the economy began to recover from the current crisis.

“Our benefits are moderately generous but the real problem is that we don’t monitor whether people are really unemployed” he said.

Mr Grubb said in Britain, even lone parents and people on disability payments had to attend for interview four times a year.

Ireland had the lowest rate of employed lone parents in the OECD, he said.

Mr Grubb was addressing a seminar organised by the Government’s economic think-tank, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), which heard this week’s forecast that unemployment would reach 17% next year presented serious challenges to policy makers and legislators.

ESRI economist Philip O’Connell, criticised the effectiveness of the state employment services, saying they were “overwhelmed” by the huge rise in welfare claimants in recent months.

He called for employment retention subsidies to help employers in temporary financial trouble hold on to workers until their cash-flow improved, for stronger measures to prevent early school-leaving and for the creation of a system of graduate internships along the lines of trade apprenticeships.

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