Jack O'Connor: social welfare bill branded 'heartless'

A new proposal to remove dole money from people who refuse job offers or training courses has been sharply criticised by opposition politicians and union leaders. The government's Social Welfare Bill also proposes to cut payments to people on single parents' allowance once their youngest children reach their teens. It was yesterday described as "heartless" and similar to "the 19th century Poor Law" by Siptu president Jack O'Connor.

"Nothing could highlight the sheer intellectual bankruptcy of this administration more than the heartless proposals contained in the new Social Welfare Bill," O'Connor said. "They are reprehensible beyond belief, exhibiting the worst characteristics of the 19th century Poor Law regime, penalising the most vulnerable in our society."

The bill proposes to penalise unemployed people who refuse jobs or decline to take up training deemed "suitable" or "appropriate". People who refuse job offers would have their entire dole payment disqualified and those who turn down training courses would have their dole payment cut by about a quarter.

O'Connor claimed the new bill would force young people to emigrate and added, "there is nothing new in this. Enforced emigration is the traditional strategy of Fianna Fáil and those on the right."

Another element of the bill that has sparked controversy is the proposal to remove the one-parent payment when the youngest child reaches 13. Under the current system, the cut-off age for this payment is 18, or 22 for those in full-time education and satisfying a means test.

Fine Gael's Olwyn Enright labelled the bill "blunt and brutal" and claimed it had been made without any plan to help those in one-parent families into education and employment.

Labour's Roisín Shortall said the bill was "worthless" and Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald said it was "hypocritical of the government to propose to cut social welfare rates for people refusing certain jobs or training courses when they are doing absolutely nothing to create jobs or training courses".

The Minister for Social Protection, Eamon Ó Cuív, defended the bill yesterday and told the Sunday Tribune: "The government wants to give as many unemployed people as possible the opportunity to be trained for employment. You can't have a pro-active policy like that without having sanctions on those who won't take up training or work."