The Right to Social Security is worth Protecting

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”

The Right to Social Security is worth Protecting

FLAC: Making the Case for Reform of the Social Welfare Appeals System

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”

FLAC: Making the Case for Reform of the Social Welfare Appeals System

Guest Contribution: Saoirse Brady (FLAC) on the Direct Provision System

We are delighted to welcome this guest contribution from Saoirse Brady, Policy and Campaigns Officer,  Free Legal Advice Centres. You can find out more about Saoirse on our Guest Contributors page.

To mark the tenth anniversary of the direct provision and dispersal system, FLAC launched its report One Size Doesn’t Fit All.   The report updates the 2003 FLAC report Direct Discrimination? which looked at the way in which asylum seekers and persons seeking other forms of protection were accommodated in Ireland, set apart from other destitute individuals.  The title of the report refers to the way in which the direct provision and dispersal system is operated: Residents are not treated as human beings but rather as a collective group without individual needs or personal circumstances.

Direct provision and dispersal was introduced as a nationwide policy in April 2000. It was introduced initially to alleviate the housing shortage faced by the Eastern Health Board due to the high numbers of people coming to seek asylum in Ireland.  Ireland is a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and it is important to understand that anyone who comes to Ireland “to seek and to enjoy… asylum from persecution” is entitled to enter and remain here until a final determination is reached on their protection status.    Despite the dramatic decrease in the number of asylum seekers, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (DJELR) continues to operate the policy of accommodating persons seeking protection in centres where they are given three meals a day at set times and a weekly allowance of €19.10 for an adult and €9.60 for a child. This is the only social welfare payment never to have increased.

Continue reading “Guest Contribution: Saoirse Brady (FLAC) on the Direct Provision System”

Guest Contribution: Saoirse Brady (FLAC) on the Direct Provision System