Minister for Social Protection promises reform in Dept. of Social Protection following Nasc, Crosscare & Doras Luimní report
Minister Joan Burton stated in Dáil Éireann on Tuesday: ‘In launching the recent report Person or Number? I referred to the duty of the Department to provide a professional, inclusive and timely service. Such reports, using case studies to highlight the difficulties faced by particular clients, provide a clear indication of where customer service may not meet the standards expected and will be of use in developing our Client Action Plan and Charter for 2012-2014.’
The report, Person or Number? Barriers faced by immigrants accessing social protection in Ireland, was launched on 21 February 2012 (you can download a copy here). The report examines the barriers faced by immigrants in Ireland when they apply for social protection. It is based on a sample of the experiences of 54 immigrant applicants accessing social protection, which were provided by six NGOs nationwide: Crosscare Housing & Welfare Organisation and Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (both based in Dublin), The Integration Centre (which submitted cases from its Galway and Dublin operations), Doras Luimní (Limerick), Longford Women’s Link, and Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre (Cork). The report is a joint publication of Crosscare Migrant Project, Doras Luimní and Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, and it includes a foreword by Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.
We were honoured that Noeline Blackwell, Director of the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC), chaired the launch event. Ms. Blackwell said that the report “demonstrates that the Irish social protection system is failing some immigrants. It identifies a number of disquieting issues in frontline service provision, including evidence of inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the provision of information about rights and entitlements. Unfortunately, it is clear that immigrants are experiencing barriers that are both unfair and entirely avoidable.”
Mr. Joe O’Brien of Crosscare Migrant Project who compiled the report, explained: ‘Person or Number? attempts to identify what is happening at the coalface when the decision is made whether to make social protection available to an immigrant. Unfortunately, bad decisions can have devastating consequences; ten of the people whose cases we examined became homeless as a result of barriers they experienced as a result of being an immigrant.’
Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly states in the Foreword to the Report, ‘a particular strength of the report is the series of practical recommendations it contains which, if implemented, would no doubt improve the quality of service provided to claimants … The report makes the very valid point that every effort should be made internally by the Department of Social Protection to monitor its own decisions to ensure they are consistent and of the highest standard. This necessitates giving constant feedback and guidance to individual decision makers at all levels. It strikes me that a more structured interaction between the Department and NGOs working at the coalface would also help. This would provide a forum to address issues of concern and to highlight inconsistencies of approach or unfair decisions which may in turn stem from systemic weaknesses within the Department’s decision making processes. Any such developments can only be of benefit to all concerned.’
Representatives from Crosscare, Nasc and Doras Luimní met with Minister Joan Burton TD on the morning of the event to discuss the issues with her in person. They asked the Minister to implement the recommendations made in the report without delay in order to put a stop to the unnecessary exposure of individuals and families to unwarranted hardship or homelessness as a result of substandard service and bad practice.
We were heartened by the Minister’s response. Ms Burton attended the launch event, where she acknowledged that immigrants face issues including inconsistencies in decision-making, delays in processing times, and mistakes in applications of the habitual residency condition. The Minister committed to establishing a stakeholder Forum, in line with one of the recommendations, in which senior members of her Department will meet with organisations working with migrants to progress and seek solutions to issues raised in the report. We will of course keep you posted about how that Forum progresses.
The Irish Times published a story about the report on Tuesday 21 March. Read “Failings left 10 migrants homeless”, by Pamela Duncan, here. The Irish Examiner reported the issues on Monday 20 March. Read “Welfare system failing some immigrants”, by Noel Baker, here, and “Polls contradict rising racism levels, says integration body”, by Jennifer Hough, here.