A report in today’s Irish Times about a woman found guilty of fraud after living in Spain whilst claiming one parent family allowance in Ireland brought a host of outraged comments on that newspaper’s Facebook page, with a great deal of opprobrium directed at people who are not Irish taking advantage of Ireland’s social welfare system, including, apparently, women in burqas going in to the post office to claim benefits when in fact it could be anyone. The person in this case, however, was Irish, so the recommendation that she be “jailed then deported for life” was not practical. At least not yet.
“How did she repay in a month if she’s no income?”, asked one person, suggesting the Criminal Assets Bureau should get involved, as if the possibility of getting a loan from a family member or friend, for example, were as distant as an asteroid wiping out planet Earth by lunchtime tomorrow.
I have written about fraud in relation to the Department of Social Protection before. The Department of Social Protection is an expert in fraudulent claims, that is, it has in-depth experience in making massively fraudulent claims itself. In close collaboration with Ireland’s media it has cultivated a climate of suspicion for people reliant on social welfare. In this particular case, the woman in question could have opted to live in Ireland instead of living with her brother in Spain, where as a single mother she could have lived high on the hog on her one parent family allowance.
The report gives little detail of her personal circumstances, but personally I would find it hard to heap judgement on a single parent who opted to give her child a bit of sunshine and family company rather than isolation in crap weather in Ireland, if that were the case. Many of the people denouncing her would have no issue with single parents living in bleak and trying conditions in Ireland; it is only when they get ideas above their station that they need to be burnt at the stake.
Of particular note here is the opinion of the judge in passing sentence. The woman’s solicitor asked the judge to take into account that she had no income at all, and asked the judge to be lenient. The judge said ‘it was a serious matter to defraud the State in such a fashion, particularly given the State’s perilous finances’, and fined her €800, which is a massive amount of money for someone with no income at all.
‘Particularly given the State’s perilous finances’. In fact, the ‘perilous finances of the State’, the rationale given for stripping away public services and social supports, for driving down wages and working conditions, ought to be a mitigating factor in passing sentence on single parents who opt for such a course of action. The judge speaks of the finances of the State as if they were subject to a natural disaster, rather than the reality that they have been imperilled by conscious design, by men in suits whom the judge most likely looks upon with fellow feeling and respect. Is it not the case that all their actions are legal? It is they, not single parents, after all, whom he is primarily commissioned to protect, it is their reality, not that of single parents, that he is sworn to impose.