The Collins Institute is today publishing three reports on Welfare Reform.
Our first report, the Enabling State, argues that we need a new approach to welfare in Ireland. The current welfare system provides citizens with a basic safety net – but does very little to deliver real opportunity to its most vulnerable recipients. We need to build a new and more proactive Enabling State in our Republic, which is focused on the idea of Social Capability (the state helps its citizens to become more engaged in society) rather than the more traditional and passive idea of social security (the state provides a basic safety net which, while essential, does very little to change an individual’s prospects in life). This report identifies some of the key reforms which we believe are needed to create such a system:
- The Social Enterprise sector, both profit and non-profit, should play a much stronger role in the Irish welfare system, driven in part by the issuance of Social Impact Bonds and the creation of a Social Action Fund.
- A much greater degree of local control should be introduced into the welfare system, with local offices given much greater flexibility.
- A Single Assessment Tool should be rolled out across government with the goal, among other things, that welfare clients need only need submit their information once.
- There should be a much greater use of personal budgets.
This paper also argues that welfare policy in Ireland has focused too much on Redistribution (tackling poverty through social transfers) and too little on Predistribution (addressing the underlying causes of poverty). Its key recommendations are:
- Full employment should be a key poverty reduction goal for the next government, since a great deal of poverty in Ireland is driven by unemployment.
- Ireland’s In Work Benefit system should be reformed further to help ensure that working families are always better off in work than on welfare.
- The huge challenge of Jobless Households should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Our second paper focuses on Jobless Households – households in which no one works – and argues that household joblessness is the biggest welfare challenge facing the next Government. The number of people living in Jobless Households has traditionally been well above the European average, due to a range of structural issues, and it is clear that jobs growth will not by itself solve the problem unless some of the disincentives and barriers to key groups of people getting back to work are also tackled, e.g., the high cost of childcare. This report argues that the next Government should set a target of reducing household joblessness to the European average over a decade, and that it should back up this commitment by publishing a detailed Action Plan for Jobless Households with specific targets and regular reviews.
Our final paper – The Contributory Principle – recommends that future welfare reform should consider linking benefits much more directly to contributions, in order to create a system which is both fairer and more sustainable. Over the long term it recommends that policy makers should consider moving to a system of Personal Welfare Accounts which we believe could introduce greater transparency, encourage more personal responsibility and reduce costs.