Fine Gael Pursues Social Welfare Fraud While Ignoring Endemic White Collar Crime

Fraudulent or suspect claims have been a part of the state-run social welfare system in Ireland since its inception in the 1940s, an issue made more complex in recent times by immigration and reciprocal agreements with other European Union nations. However, for all its supposed prevalence, cases of deliberate fraud by applicants – or staff – are very much in the minority. In fact more money is misallocated due to clerical error by public servants than to criminal intent. Despite the much-hyped statement in April by Leo Varadkar, the ambitious Fine Gael Minister for Social Protection, that €506 million was saved in 2016 as a result of anti-fraud measures the true figure is closer to €41 million, as admitted in a departmental response to the Sinn Féin TD, Eoin Ó Broin.

So while social welfare fraud is undoubtedly a problem it is not one that requires the press-lauded resources that the FG-led government is intent on devoting to it, including new legislation and a €204,000 advertising campaign of dubious value. Putting all that to one side, the most objectionable part of Varadkar’s proposed regulations includes a plan to publicly name and shame individuals convicted of cheating the social welfare system. This form of state-sanctioned pillorying will require that convicted fraudsters have their home addresses published, inviting punitive actions by others. However, note this report from the Irish Times on the response by successive governments to “white-collar” crime:

The State’s regulatory agencies are so stretched by an “endemic” lack of resources that many reports of white-collar crime are not even being read by the authorities.

Remy Farrell SC said it was a “scandal” that investigators were “at breaking point”, with lack of investment enabling large-scale fraud to go undetected and costing the State millions in lost revenue.

He said raising penalties was “the lazy way for the political classes to give the appearance of doing something” but that these increases were “absolutely irrelevant” when detection rates were so low.

Speaking at the Bar Council’s annual conference, Mr Farrell said the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation had been “swamped” with reports of alleged white-collar crime since 2011, when it became an offence not to report them.

He said the bureau was receiving such a volume of complaints that it was struggling to process many of them.

Of those cases that gardaí had the time to consider, just one in 10 actually resulted in a prosecution, he added.

Of 37 countries analysed for a European Commission report on European justice systems in 2008, Ireland spent the least of all countries on the courts, prosecution services and legal aid.

Given the exorbitant levels of fraudulent and conspiratorial activity in the finance and banking sectors during the heyday of the Celtic Tiger one would assume that “middle-class” crime would be seen as a preventative priority in this Republic. Unfortunately that assumption is incorrect. Instead, a greater priority at the moment is the leadership ambitions of Leo Varadkar and the need to appeal to Fine Gael’s right-wing core vote and several equally right-wing newspapers.

Advertisements

4 comments

  1. Dealing with white-collar criminals is a fine thing but I hate this reflexive defence of the social welfare fraudsters that seems to be attached to it.
    It doesn’t really have anything to do with suffering single mothers filling in forms incorrectly etc. – for the most part it’s employed people also signing on to steal from the state, people fraudulently claiming for disabilities, people fraudulently claiming for non-existent dependents. A lot of it is very easy to detect, as simple as matching up PPS numbers.
    Not alone will it save money but it’s great for the culture and cohesiveness of society as a whole to see that doing things right will be rewarded, the model can work – people are disenfranchised by toiling away for others to then come in and blithely rob them. The linking social welfare fraud to white collar crime argument falls down here. It’s no harm to feel that banks are out to fleece you but it’s dysfunctional to feel that you’re being a dupe for not cutting corners, milking the system.

    1. Yes, but… The government claimed to have saved/recovered over €500 million last year through control and anti-fraud programmes when in fact it was just over €40 million. A not insignificant sum, to be sure. However this is paltry in comparison with the hundreds of millions in white collar crime. In 2007 it was estimated that the country lost €2.5 billion a year to economic crime. Even halving that figure for current circumstances completely dwarfs the €40 million in social welfare fraud and mispayments/overpayments from 2016.

      Yes, it is not a one or the other problem. We can do both. But when one clearly outstrips the other then lets practice some economic triage.

  2. In reality though it’s the socialist saying to the capitalist: you hit us, we hit you! There’s no other connection between the two. You may as well link it with spending on Health, it’s just as relevant. I’m not sure that the capitalists like to be associated with the fraudsters but I’m damned if I have sympathy for the people making a mockery of the concept of a “just society”.
    Of course you’re right that economic crime is bad. In fact that’s one area where Europe’s interfering paw hasn’t appeared yet, strangely enough.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s