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Dublin Opinion >>
Orwellian Phone Tracking Of Social Welfare Recipients
The government are currently implementing some rather disgusting changes to the way social welfare recipients are treated. The changes involve orwellian tracking and harassment of people through their mobile phones. These changes need to be resisted, as they are the thin edge of the wedge. Just because you have had no choice but to avail of your legal rights to a social welfare payment to put food on the table, does not make you a criminal and you should not be tracked like one. This is not a police state.
A story published by the independent in 2010 gave some indication of how the government were thinking in regard to using technology to track those in receipt of social welfare.
full story here:
"Currently, those claiming Jobseeker's Allowance or Jobseeker's Benefit must sign on in person at their local unemployment office once a month.
But the new electronic certification system means they would only have to go to the social welfare office once for a face-to-face meeting when making their application.
After that, the monthly signing on system would be replaced by regular phone calls from officials to claimants.
Their identify would be verified by voice recognition technology.
They could also get phone calls at any time to check if they are available for work.
If they failed to answer the phone on three or more occasions or they answered and the sound of a pneumatic drill in the background prompted suspicion they were working on a building site, for instance, an investigation would be launched.
In addition, their phones can be tracked to make sure they are not in another jurisdiction when due to sign on.
Separately, the Department of Social Protection may allow claimants to sign on by using a digital signature pad at their dole office to cut down on queues and paperwork.
However, claimants will still be expected to collect their weekly payment in person at their local post office."
Today it seems those ideas have been put into motion. Recently many people have noticed that, when signing on, they were pressed rather strongly to provide a mobile phone number and informed that their "signing arrangements were changing and they would be sent details in the post about the new arrangements". All very mysterious indeed, with no real answers forthcoming from staff.
It seems the reason for all the secrecy was well founded. As per the article, they intend to track social welfare recipients using mobile phone triangulation techniques, phoning them up any time they see fit to harass them about their efforts to apply for non existent jobs. They will also be taking their signatures digitally instead of on paper as previously. Who knows what purposes those digital signatures will be used for, but it certainly opens up a security risk for those signing on in such a manner, given the lax security arrangements of the department on previous occasions including the theft of thousands of files on an unencrypted laptop.
The reasons given for this ridiculous level of surveillance of these people is the usual guff about high levels of social welfare fraud and no doubt they'll quote gutter press articles about that one guy who lived in a condominium and drew ten doles for ten years once. However the reality on the ground is quite different from the frequent and deliberate media hyperbole and on a percentage basis, social welfare fraud figures are actually surprisingly low compared to say white collar crime figures. Previous ministers for social welfare had great trouble defending their bold statements about fraud when faced with the actual low figures in practice.
So It really makes no sense that the department of social welfare at this time is introducing expensive technological tracking measures and pretending to be so worried about people sneaking around "working on the sly" while in receipt of benefits when clearly, in the middle of a recession / depression with mass emigration, THERE ARE NO JOBS to sneak around to!!
Because If there were any, mr Kenny would surely be seen basking in the glory of all those jobs he has created. ( But there is precious little sign of him apart from on the cover of TIME magazine for being such a good boy selling his people out to unsecured bondholders and the german banks like he was told to.)
Treating democratic citizens with more monitoring than is currently imposed on regular well known re-offending serious criminals out on bail, purely because they have had no option but to avail of their legal rights to a very basic welfare payment to put food on the table, is something we should not take lying down.
Unfortunately most of us will, as people well know that if they cause any problems for the welfare office, they end up on all manner of bureaucratic shit lists and their lives will be made even more stressful than they already are.
Receiving welfare benefits when unable to find work is a social right that we all agreed was on balance a good thing in this society. You should not to be made to feel like less of a person because you have no choice but to avail of that right.
Apart from queueing up for ages in flu bug paradise to sign on once a month, we currently also have to queue to pick up social welfare payments in the post office and sign our names weekly. This is already a basic form of unnecessary social monitoring and control of welfare recipients which we have t accept. You must be in a certain place within a certain time to sign your name once a week to get a payment, otherwise it is returned to the department and you must go through yet another pointless bureaucratic process of ego crushing to have it restored. This stuff is completely unnecessary. It only exists to make life more awkward for the social welfare recipient and create fake workloads for staff at post offices and elsewhere in the well paid public service. The government could easily and more cheaply (since they own a bank!) send these payments through to recipients bank account negating the need to queue pointlessly in a post office each week. Indeed they used to do so but Mary Hanafin stopped this option to make receiving a social welfare payment deliberately less convenient.
The fact is, the social welfare department have many ways at their disposal to make life difficult for recipients. They can regularly demand that they fill in cryptic forms about what efforts they are making to get (non existent) jobs. If these forms are not filled in correctly, you can have delays in your payment, which you are relying totally on to put food on the table.
You can be hauled in for unhelpful pointless "interviews" which can have similar consequences. Or the department can set the bloated and useless FAS monster on you, whereby you are sent to a series of moronic presentations telling a roomful of intelligent and previously highly skilled ex workers how to use their website. No doubt followed up by a rather patronising interview which tries to get you off the live register and on to one of their often useless and outdated / irrelevant courses.
Of course, if you are serious about ever getting re-employed in a proper job, it's probably not such a good idea to mention participation in FAS courses in your CV. Serious employers know that "FAS is for losers"
Basically the effect of all this harassment is to make you want to get off social welfare as soon as you possibly can. That's probably not a bad thing. However, in a climate where there are few alternatives left for many people and you have little choice, all those processes of form filling and bureaucratic harassment become nothing but extra unavoidable stress and frustration in your life. Every meeting, every form, every interview, if not handled correctly potentially could get your vital payments needed to feed yourself and your family delayed or suspended.
The real Irony of all this harassment and monitoring is that it is clear from the "Celtic tiger" years that Irish people PREFER TO WORK THAN SIGN ON!! When the jobs were there, people took them readily and there was near full employment. Very few signed on welfare.
I think life is already difficult and stressful enough for the less well off with no choice but to sign on in this high price economy of ours, without also treating them like common criminals by electronically tracking and monitoring them too. And it's a very undemocratic precedent to be setting in a "free society".
Mobile phone tracking of social welfare recipients is really offside. So, If you are asked, make sure to remind the social welfare officer that you cannot reasonably afford to pay for a regular mobile phone bill while on welfare and so do not have one. Of course in some cases that might be a lie that can be used, in the usual fashion, to suspend your claim if they find otherwise, but it would be quite difficult for them to prove it and if enough people tell that lie then this special tracking and surveillance scheme tailored for the poor will fail as well it should. And make sure to ask them where exactly does it say that ownership of a mobile phone is a prerequisite for receipt of welfare payments??
I do hope somebody has the motivation to take a courtcase on this matter at some point but I won't hold my breath there.
If the department were worried about social welfare recipients leaving the country and living abroad in luxury while also working, they could easily implement a simple passport surrender scheme which otherwise did not require such orwellian tracking, and respected your day to day privacy far more (assuming they did not employ Israeli staff there of course !! ;-)
One has to wonder if they are similarly tracking and triangulating Seanie fitzpatrick's or "fingers" fingleton's mobile phone. Or indeed if they are implementing a similar electronic scheme to count the number of days per annum tax exiles like Denis O'Brien and BONO spend in this jurisdiction to keep their non tax paying status and Irish citizenship. (Yeah right!!)
Or is tracking people like convicted felons a practice only reserved for poor people in receipt of social welfare and not suitable for large scale tax dodgers and white collar criminals??
It's time the unemployed stopped being a voiceless group taking every insult, restriction and bureaucratic obstacle thrown at them because they desperately need the money for rent and food to survive.
There are 400,000+ of us. That's a sizeable powerful social group and a large voting block, if we could only mobilise. Lets stop taking the way we are treated and portrayed in the media lying down!