In a get-tough stance unveiled at Labour’s parliamentary conference in Meath, Ms Burton insisted she was poised to use sweeping new powers to suspend welfare payments.
“If you fail to co-operate then we are taking the legal powers to reduce your payments and if it’s non-co-operation ... we’ve taken additional powers to suspend people for up to nine weeks,” she said.
Ms Burton also pledged to protect key weekly welfare payments in the looming budget as she that warned cuts to her department’s funding could backfire and slow the economic recovery.
Nearly 1,500 people had benefits cut by up to €44 a week in the first half of the year for failing to take up offers of work or training, or for refusing to attend meetings.
Those who continue to avoid engagement with social protection officials can have benefits cut for up to nine weeks under new powers brought in two months ago.
“You have an obligation that you are going to do everything necessary to get yourself back to work, to get into education and training,” Ms Burton said, describing welfare as a “social contract”.
However, Ms Burton signalled that there would not be an attempt to copy Britain’s controversial family benefits cap in the budget.
She said the idea had been discussed, but added that such a move could discriminate against families in great need.
“In this particular case I would warn that people should be extremely cautious because they may end up getting results that they never intended and they may end up seriously discriminating against families with children or adults with a disability who are also carers,” Ms Burton told RTÉ.
Ms Burton also waded into the pre-budget bargaining between the coalition parties by warning that cuts to her department’s funding could endanger the recovery and prevent people finding work.
She has insisted that planned cuts of €440m to her department’s budget are not realistic and could prove counter-productive.
Ms Burton expressed “concern” at the scope of the tax-and-cut elements of the Oct 15 budget.
“The budget adjustment should be one that actually keeps the trajectory of employment growth going while maintaining core standards in relation to social welfare such as the weekly payments, particularly for pensioners,” she said.
Ms Burton said that her department has €95m freed up for use when 10,000 people leave the live register.
TDs at the Labour gathering also expressed concern about cuts of up to €100m set to be taken from Education Minister Ruairi Quinn’s funding in the budget.