Human Rights in Ireland welcomes this guest post from Saoirse Brady, Policy and Advocacy Officer in Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC), as part of its contribution to Human Rights Week 2012.
Social welfare law reform has been a key priority for FLAC for many years. To mark human rights week, FLAC takes this opportunity to look at the importance of the right to social security particularly in light of the recent Seanad motion inspired by our research on the social welfare appeals system Not Fair Enough. The impact of yet another austerity budget remains to be seen but the chances are that it will take its toll on the appeals system.
On 7 November, Independent Senator Katherine Zappone and her colleagues laid a motion before the Seanad based on a number of the recommendations in FLAC’s report. The motion was reasonable in scope: it called for an audit of the Appeals Office to ensure compliance with human rights obligations as outlined in FLAC’s report which gave in-depth analysis of how domestic and international human rights law applies to the appeals system. The motion also suggested a number of very practical steps: furnishing appellants with a copy of their social welfare files; including an option to request an oral hearing on the appeals form and simplifying and making more accessible application forms. These sensible steps would not be expensive to implement, but crucially, would enhance the way in which the system operates and rebalance the scales for appellants who at the moment are often at an unfair disadvantage.
During the Seanad debate, Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, welcomed FLAC’s report Continue reading “The Right to Social Security is worth Protecting”
Saoirse Brady is the Free Legal Advice Centers (FLAC) Policy and Advocacy Officer. Saoirse is responsible for FLAC’s policy work on social welfare law reform and is the author of One Size Doesn’t Fit All (2009), a legal analysis of the State’s direct provision and dispersal system for asylum seekers. Saoirse is also the author of the report Not Fair Enough, which makes the case for reform of the Social Welfare Appeals System.
FLAC’s report Not Fair Enough examines the operation of the Social Welfare Appeals Office and analyses it through a human rights lens to determine whether it complies with both domestic and international human rights standards. This report is published at a time when an ever increasing number of people are availing of social welfare payments and the workload of the Appeals Office is at a record high with more than 51,500 live appeals in 2011. In 2011, 42 per cent of decided appeals were successful.
The Appeals Office, established more than 20 years ago, is a vast improvement on the previous arrangement whereby unsuccessful social welfare applicants had to appeal directly to the Minister for Social Welfare. However, it still lacks the necessary independence to ensure full public confidence in the system as the Appeals Office is not an independent statutory body; it is in fact an office of the Department of Social Protection. Furthermore, Appeals Officers are civil servants usually from the same government department appointed by the Minister for Social Protection without any public appointment process. The fundamental right to social security is enshrined in a number of European and international instruments including the European Social Charter, the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as well as instruments designed to protect certain groups including women and children. A State does not Continue reading “FLAC: Making the Case for Reform of the Social Welfare Appeals System”