AN EMAIL in circulation suggesting that a married father of four earns more on the dole than he did before losing his job has been dubbed "socially divisive" and "atypical" by two leading academics.

Using the case study of the unemployed man, the email argues that people are not being given enough incentive to work and the government's huge social welfare bill, which is greatly increasing, could "drive our small economy to collapse".

Although the email has been criticised and does have a number of caveats, the figures in the email have been verified by a respected tax partner in a leading tax consultancy.

The International Monetary Fund's report on Ireland last week stated that: "Social welfare expenditures must better target the vulnerable."

Although reluctant to comment on the email as it is "an example of a socially divisive debate", Professor Ciarán Ó
hÓgartaigh, professor of accountancy at UCD said: "One can undoubtedly find cases such as this where the difference between working and being on the dole is arguably a disincentive. Given current price trends, social welfare payments could be adjusted by an amount in the order of 3%, that is the rate of deflation, and that would leave the recipient as well off in real terms.

"Another option would be to also apply the current levies to social welfare payments, most of which are already taxable.

"This would at least mitigate some of the anomalies at the edges. The minister has indicated that he is about to tax children's allowance.

"I think that there is some merit in the argument but I don't like the divisive tenor of the debate. We are a 'society' after all and most people are not availing of social welfare out of choice."

Ó hÓgartaigh's views were echoed by Tom O'Connor of the Department of Social and General Studies at Cork IT who said: "This case is not typical though it probably exists in reality for a relatively small number of people.

"What is making this case sound outlandish is the €1,200 a month for mortgage interest relief. This is a new legacy arising from the banking sector's irresponsibility ­essentially."