We are living through one of the most serious recessions ever experienced in this country. We are living on borrowed money from our partners in the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We are fortunate to have their support to help this Government run our country while we take the necessary steps towards a future recovery. Unfortunately, that support comes with certain conditions attached.
One of those conditions is that the Government saves €3.6 billion this year including expenditure reductions of €2.1 billion. As one of the largest spending Departments, it is clear that the Department of Social Protection will have to make a major contribution to these reductions - a task that is made infinitely more difficult by the increase in unemployment given the number of people losing their jobs.
I am very conscious that the vast majority of people who turn to my Department for support played no part in causing this financial crisis and I will do my best to ensure that the burden of resolving the crisis does not fall disproportionately on their shoulders. One of my key priorities, therefore, is to ensure that the Department‟s reduced resources are targeted at the people who need these most.
This is why I have asked my Department to step up its efforts to combat fraudulent activity. I have asked the Department to target fraud to the value of at least €625 million next year.
The Department processes in excess of 2 million applications each year and it makes payments to some 1.4 million people every week. I want to emphasise that the vast majority of people are receiving the entitlement due to them.
Social welfare fraud is often perceived as a victimless crime but I am conscious that it undermines public confidence in the entire system as well as being unfair to other recipients of social welfare payments and to taxpayers. I want to ensure that my Department pays the right person the right amount of money at the right time.
It is against this back-drop that my Department's new fraud initiative is set. The objectives of this plan are designed:
- To ensure a more comprehensive response and enhanced level of enforcement where fraud and abuse is prevalent and to prevent social welfare fraud entering the system;
- To ensure an integrated approach to the prevention, deterrence and detection of social welfare abuse across the social welfare system. Where social welfare fraud occurs to develop our capabilities to identify and stop it as soon as possible;
- To work closely and collaboratively with other agencies to ensure that social welfare abuse is comprehensively deterred and detected;
- To police actively the hidden economy and those sectors where there is a prevalence of social welfare fraud and abuse;
- To ensure that where fraud is detected, there are appropriate sanctions and penalties applied so as to promote public confidence in the social welfare system. This plan is about reinforcing the rights and responsibilities of customers as well as improving public perceptions about the security of the social welfare system; and
- Where social welfare fraud is committed, to ensure the effective and timely recovery of associated overpayments is imperative.
This initiative takes a revised and renewed approach to the challenges posed by social welfare fraud. The ambition is to ensure that the public have confidence and trust in this Government's response to combating fraud and abuse in the social welfare system.
Minister for Social Protection