Monthly Archives: April 2009

Social welfare, photo ID and non-nationals

Mary Hanafin, Minister for Social and Family Affairs, was on Morning Ireland today to talk about a new requirement for those claiming social welfare payments to produce photo ID when collecting their entitlement at the Post Office. The plan itself is perfectly rational – the surprise is rather that this requirement wasn’t always in place. Her explanation as to why photo ID will be required henceforth, though, was..odd, and, dare I say it, (yup, I do), racist.

Said she:

‘In recent weeks people will be familiar that (sic) we did a crackdown on the border areas, so on foot of the success of all that in early March we took a targeted approach…particularly on people who are non-nationals in the country’

This seems a little strange: on foot of the discovery of people resident in the North of Ireland claiming the South’s more generous social welfare payments, Hanafin’s department decided to investigate…’Eastern Europeans and other non-nationals…because our targeted approach showed up that these are the category at most high-risk (of fraud)’. Huh? The implication of ‘a targeted approach…particularly on people who are non-nationals in the country’ is that the investigation was into nationals and non-nationals, with the empahsis on the latter. In fact, 2,227 non-nationals were investigated, as against 45 Irish nationals. That’s not an approach ‘particularly’ targeted at non-nationals, that’s an approach almost entirely targeted at non-nationals. To imply that this investigation was anything but one into fraudulent claims by non-nationals is entirely disingenuous, the 1.98% of the total made up by Irish nationals notwithstanding. Comparing 45 Irish nationals with 2,227 non-nationals and concluding that the latter is ‘at most high risk’ of fraud is absolutely and unforgiveablely ludicrous. It’s like comparing the GDP of Ireland and China and concluding that we really need to step up to catch up.

Even if you were to follow a kind of logic that allows comparison of two groups that differ by such a huge order of magnitude, as Hanafin does here, the figures she’s quoting don’t back her up. Of the 2,227 non-nationals, 270 (12%) were found to be fraudulently claiming social welfare, while 5 of the 45 Irish people (11%) were doing so. Which would mean that in fact Irish nationals who are at least as ‘high risk’ when it comes to indulging in social welfare fraud*.

Asked if the production of photo ID was to be mandatory, or if Post Office staff could exercise some discretion if the person claiming was known to them, Hanafin replied:

‘We’re making sure that in all categories it’s the right people (claiming)…but obviously Eastern Europeans, and other non-nationals wouldn’t be known to the staff…these are the ones who would be included in this’

Obviously. I’ve lived in my current home for two years and I’ve been to my local Post Office once, to pay an ESB bill. The staff there have absolutely no idea who I am. Of course, there are people who have better relationships with their local Post Office than I do, but many (I’d venture to say most) Irish people don’t. And I’d venture to say that there are probably a few Eastern Europeans and other non-nationals that do.

For a Minister of State to come out with such a blithely racist statement is truly gobsmacking. It’s the result of trying to hitch two subjects which should be entirely unrelated together. Requiring photo ID to collect money in the Post Office is one thing, non-nationals defrauding the social welfare system is another. The reasoning behind lumping the two together seems to have run thus: ‘We found lots of people from Northern Ireland claiming unemployment benefit in the South, so we surveyed lots of the dread Eastern Europeans and other non-nationals and found 12% of them were making fraudulent claims, we have no comparable figures for fraud amongst Irish nationals, so that figure is fairly meaningless, let’s introduce ID checks in Post Offices, oh look, a bee!’

It’s not just Hanafin dropping a clanger in an unscripted interview with Morning Ireland, the official statement released to coincide with the introduction of a photo ID policy for social welfare payment gives us this beauty:

Of the over 2,200 claims targeted for investigation, the vast majority were in the high risk category of non-Irish nationals claiming a payment. These pose a high risk because of their mobility between countries, they may not in fact be resident in this country. However, risk of fraud is always a factor for a system as large as social welfare, and ongoing investigations cover both Irish nationals and non-Irish nationals.

Again, the disingenuous ‘vast majority’ – this was a non-targeted (because that would be racist) targeted investigation. On a side note, the 45 Irish nationals investigated were all in the North-East, which region, uniquely, seems to have been investigated twice

Location

No of Investigations

Payment suspended

No of Investigations

Payment suspended

Non-Irish

Irish nationals

North East

73

15

45

5

North East1

985

138

Galway

95

18

Athlone

112

15

Limerick

469

23

Clare

54

4

Tipperary

259

32

Maynooth

92

15

Thomas Street Local Office2

88

10

Total

2,227

270

45

5

Perhaps the first investigation in the North East was the earlier one, which involved vehicle checkpoints – in other words, a different investigation lumped in with this one to allow phrases like ‘vast majority’ and ‘particularly’ be bandied about so it won’t seem like the government is, in this instance, cracking down on instances of social welfare fraud amongst non-nationals.

What’s really strange is that neither an investigation into welfare fraud amongst non-nationals nor a requirement to produce photo ID when collecting social welfare payments is particularly controversial (especially when, as they say, investigations are ongoing into fraudulent claims by Irish nationals). It’s odd, then, that the Minister and the Department of Social and Family Affairs should tie themselves into such knots about it.


*I’m not condoning the comparison at all, you can’t compare groups so dissimilar, but if Mary Hanafin is using this flawed logic, it deserves to be pointed out that even her use of it is, well, flawed.

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