Social Protection Department head admits 'welfare cheats' campaign was a mistake

The campaign was launched by Leo Varadkar during his time as Social Protection Minister

Social Protection Department head admits 'welfare cheats' campaign was a mistake

File photo | The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar launches the ‘Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All’ campaign during his time as Social Protection Minister, 17-04-2017. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

The head of the Department of Social Protection has admitted the Government’s welfare cheats campaign was a mistake.

Ads saying "welfare cheats cheat us all" were put on the sides of buses and across media outlets.

The Campaign was spearheaded by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during his time a social Protection Minister.

The campaign ran at a cost of €163,000 to the exchequer.

Mistake

Under questioning from TD David Cullinane this afternoon; John McKeon, the secretary general of the Department of Social Protection admitted it was the wrong way to approach the issue:

“Putting the word ‘cheat’ beside the word ‘welfare’ – I think we have learned form that,” he said.

“I retrospect; I believe it was a mistake.

“I think, to be fair, at the time you take the best advice from professional advisers in marketing and advertising and communications companies – you take their advice and you run with it.”

Launching the plan, then-Minister Varadkar said it had resulted in an immediate increase in reports of welfare fraud.

He said the campaign aimed to save the State “tens if not hundreds of millions of Euro.”

After the incumbent Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty took up her role she pledged to continue the crusade.

“Hate campaign”

Mr McKeon is not the first Department of Social Protection official to come out against the campaign.

Former social welfare inspector Bernadette Gorman told Newstalk that the fraud figures used in the campaign had been highly exaggerated.

The Department had claimed that anti-fraud and control measures had saved over €500m in expenditure in 2016 - however Ms Gorman said the true level of fraud was closer to €25m.

"There wasn't €500m worth of fraud in 2016,” she said. “That is a projected figure.”

“The true figure is €40m - but when you factor out the unintentional fraud and the administrative errors, it's around €25m.

“That's a very, very small amount of the overall budget.”

She described the campaign as "Tory" and "class warfare."

“It is a hate campaign," she said. "Never was there a campaign like it coming after a period of austerity.”