Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

'2,000 claimants' benefits cut'

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said 95,000 job opportunities were advertised through her department

Nearly 2,000 people had their dole slashed last year for not attending back-to-work schemes.

Benefits were cut by around 23% for some 1,807 jobseekers as a penalty for failing to engage with case managers and skipping interviews and group sessions. A new report from the Department of Social Protection said the damages were put in place to encourage people to try to find work and get off the Live Register.

It added: "In addition, changes were made to the definition of the working week and for the inclusion of Sunday working in the calculation of jobseekers' benefit/allowance payable.These changes help towards a reduction in the reliance on the welfare system and make the jobseeker schemes more relevant to the modern labour market."

The department's annual report for 2012 revealed that while jobseekers had their dole cut as a result of the new penalty system, the number of people actively trying to get back to work increased.

Attendance rates at group engagement sessions and one-to-one meetings with case managers reached 90% last year. That was up more than 30% from 2011, when attendance levels were below 60%.

Elsewhere, the Department of Social Protection admitted its national internship scheme Job Bridge was biased towards younger people. The scheme provides internship opportunities of either six or nine months for unemployed individuals on the Live Register in organisations in the private, public and community sectors.

The report said: "As employers can specify work placements and select candidates, participation on the scheme is biased slightly towards younger people."

Some 13,232 internships had commenced at the end of 2012 through the scheme. The number of available places was increased from 5,000 to 6,000 in May last year and eligibility criteria was widened to include disability allowance and one-parent family payment claimants.

Elsewhere, the report claimed that nearly 1.5 million people received a social welfare payment every week in 2012. It said, when qualified adults and children are included, almost 2.3 million people benefited from weekly payments from the Department of Social Protection. The total expenditure by the department in 2012 was 20.7 billion euro.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said two million applications for social welfare schemes and services were processed throughout the year, 87 million scheme payments were made, more than one million control reviews carried out, 8.4 million telephone calls answered, 95,000 job opportunities advertised and over 154,000 PPS numbers allocated to customers from over 180 countries.

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