Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

Ivan Yates (r) and Chris Donoghue, with whom I share Breakfast every day.

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” – Malcolm X.

If you’ve been reading the newspapers the last few weeks, you will of course be aware that Ireland’s current problems were not actually caused by the banks or government ineptitude.

The cause of Ireland’s woes is in fact people on social welfare.

How quickly we forget.

This morning, I was listening to Ivan Yates and Chris Donoghue as they wrung another day out the story about the family on welfare that gets €90,000 a year, a shocking sum by any man’s standards.

You’d be forgiven for wondering why anyone in the country bothers working at all, such is the largesse of Ireland’s world-famous welfare state.

So I did what I’m always telling you to do. I went and found out more about the case.

And remarkably, there was more to it than meets the eye. Quelle surprise.

Rather than being a slovenly, chip-munching, Jeremy Kyle-watching, unemployed layabout, the father of this family of four is disabled.

In what most likely represents a saving to the state, his wife receives a carer’s allowance to look after him.

They also act or have acted as guardians for another child (another saving to the state), and one of the four children has special needs.

Add it all up and that means that €47,476 of the ninety grand is directly related to disabilities and special needs.

Keep in mind that that figure of €47,476 does not include the €14,872 they receive for acting as guardians to another child.

I listened to the program on and off for the best part of two hours and didn’t hear this mentioned once.

Now let’s put it all in perspective.

€90,000 for a family of six that hangs around the house doing nothing but smoking dope and procreating is, in all probability, too much money.

Indeed, €90,000 for a family suffering for a series of disabilities and/or special needs may also be too much money.

But on the other hand, paying €62,348 to people with difficulties so that they can support themselves in the home rather than in residential state care could make perfect economic sense.

The point is that we don’t know the circumstances of this family.

We have no idea what the special needs are, or why the father of the family is disabled.

Aside from all this, do we really think that there are hundreds of families all over the country getting €90k a year on social welfare?

Few Irish media organisations have understood the power of social media like Newstalk, and all credit to them. I tweeted the following to Ivan and Chris:

@breakfastnt Just might be worth pointing out that 90k welfare is the exception rather than the rule, or would that ruin your poor-bashing?

In fairness to the hosts, the very next time the story was mentioned Ivan did say that it was an exceptional case (they even retweeted it), but by then the damage may have been done – the following was one of the tweets I saw in relation to the item (the Twitter username and anyone mentioned in the tweet have been redacted):

Lad I knows does be sayin dat a black lad lives near him in 5 bedroom mansion, wears Armani & drives BMW all paid for by de govt

Proof if ever it was needed of the old maxim: “communication is not what is said, but what is heard.”

Whatever our ideology, whatever we think of the banks or the welfare state, we need to be careful of both the language and the arguments we use. Polarising positions does not solve social problems- it just creates an “us against them” mentality.

Nor do extreme examples like this do not make for good case studies, especially given the sparse details around it.

Besides, there are plenty of other wasters more deserving of the attention.

Ivan knows, he used to work with them in Leinster House…