Issues Faced by Immigrants Accessing Social Protection (2012)

Introducing 'Person or Number?': A revealing snapshot report on the challenges faced by immigrants in Ireland. Explore the barriers, issues, and practical recommendations for a more inclusive system.


Person or Number? had its genesis in the shared experiences of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in assisting migrants to access their rights to social protection. As worrying evidence mounted as to how migrants were treated, three agencies, Crosscare, Doras Luimní and Nasc, came together with other national and regional NGOs, to compile a snapshot of the barriers facing migrants trying to access social protection.

To state the obvious, Ireland’s recent economic boom is over. What is less obvious and risks being forgotten is the key role played by immigrants in creating and sustaining economic growth and how they were adversely affected by the subsequent economic crash. While financial collapse and unemployment affected people in all parts of society, the Annual Monitoring Report on Integration 2010 details how immigrants were particularly affected. The authors concluded that ‘this recession has been particularly damaging for the employment prospects of immigrants’ (McGinnity et al, 2011:15).

In many societies with market economies and welfare systems, those on the margins tend to get further excluded, marginalised and even ‘scapegoated’, particularly during times of scarce economic resources. Person or Number? attempts to identify what is happening at the coalface when the State makes the decision to include or exclude migrants, by making social protection available - or not. This report identifies the multiple barriers facing immigrants when they try to access their right to social protection. Person or Number? was motivated by the following values:

  • The belief that particularly during a time of scarce resources Ireland should prioritise those most in need and should protect all vulnerable members of society.
  • The belief that through our relevant State institutions we should endeavour to provide social protection and a level of service of the highest standards.
  • The need to respond to the increasing number of immigrants across the country presenting to NGOs who are having difficulty accessing social protection when it was apparent that they have a right to such protection.

Person or Number? has two key aims, firstly to offer stakeholders an opportunity to pause and see some of the issues vulnerable immigrants face when trying to access social protection. Secondly, it aims to offer some practical suggestions that we believe would contribute to making a better system of social protection. This report is not a thorough analysis of all of the issues faced by immigrants in accessing social protection in Ireland, nor is it a thorough analysis of the Irish social protection system. Person or Number? is a ‘snapshot’ of some of the clearly identifiable issues at this point in time. These are issues that immigrants are bringing to NGOs across Ireland when they are in poverty or at risk of poverty and are having difficulties accessing basic financial support from the State.

Person or Number? found that the Irish social protection system is failing some immigrants. The most basic duty of accurate information provision on the crucial right to social protection is not being carried out consistently. Adversarial approaches; reliance on speculation; and inappropriate, aggressive and racist language by departmental staff were identified. Seven years after its introduction, the Habitual Residence Condition continues to be misapplied. Women with children and people who have experienced domestic violence have met a poor response from the social protection system. At a policy level, a number of State policies have been identified as unfair barriers to social protection. Some people found themselves in situations of homelessness due to failures in the social protection system. It is important at this point to acknowledge that both at a structural level and individual level in local offices across the country, officials of the Department of Social Protection have experienced unprecedented demands for services in recent years. But this does not excuse the experiences and accounts that we recorded.

The report is laid out in the following way. It begins with the introduction, which is followed by the Key contexts section outlining the background to the report. Following a brief methodology section which outlines how data was collected and processed, the bulk of the report is presented in the Findings and Recommendations section. Fifteen case studies out of the full sample of 54 cases are used to highlight particular issues. The report closes with a brief conclusion.