The latest comments from the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton are a paltry attempt to soften the blow of a Government u-turn on protecting social welfare rates, according to Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Social Protection Barry Cowen.


Deputy Cowen said: “Minister Burton has again refused to rule out cuts to social welfare payments and attempted to justify future cutbacks by claiming that people on welfare have made a ‘lifestyle choice’ to stay out of work. During an interview with RTE’s Morning Ireland this morning she was asked twice if she plans to cut social welfare, and twice she refused to answer.


“Given that the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore have both made solemn promises to protect social welfare rates, Joan Burton’s ongoing refusal to tow this line has caused confusion and concern among welfare recipients. I have questioned Minister Burton about this on several occasions and she has made every attempt to fudge the issue and avoid remaining true to her clear election commitment to protect rates.


“The Minister went further today by signalling a penalty system for those who she believes have made a ‘life-style choice’ to remain unemployed. While we accept the need to continue to root out fraud within our welfare system, we must be careful to distinguish between those who refuse to work and those who would do anything to get back to the workplace or get a foot on the career ladder.


“Fianna Fáil supports a tough stance on welfare fraud. However we recognise that the very last thing that this country needs at this time is to create a stigma around being unemployed. There is no doubt that the vast majority of those in receipt of job seekers payments would jump at the chance of meaningful employment if they had the opportunity.


“What Minister Burton must do is concentrate on providing a diverse range of training and employment opportunities so those who are out of work have real choices available to them.  She must also come clean once and for all about her intentions regarding the social welfare cuts instead of leaving those on the live register in a state of confusion and distress.”