Joan Burton

Ireland's social welfare system, colloquially known as 'the dole', is buckling under the strain of a never-ending economic depression, latest numbers show.

Startling figures appearing on RTÉ.ie show that the number of reported welfare frauds has sky-rocketed from barely 600 in 2006 to over 16,000 this year.

That's an over 20-fold increase, and although not all of those reported can be assumed to have been 'cheating' the system, it's a safe bet that at least some of those reported were not unfounded.

Unsurprisingly the majority of claims were for 'working and claiming' -- those holding down a job while also drawing the jobseekers' allowance, but a substantial number - almost 4,000 - were thrown out due to 'lack of information' on the part of the reporters.

A whopping 40pc of the latest Budget was dedicated to social welfare and protection measures.

Appeals to the public to reported suspected 'welfare cheat', as they are unflatteringly called, have worked, according to government.

A report appeal along the lines of those commonly seen for insurance fraud has clearly had the desired affect.

Anonymous reports never form the sole basis for a cessation of payments, but are often the catalyst for an official investigation on the case file -- which evidently often yields the same results.

Read more:

A third of Ireland's expenditure goes toward social welfare payment

Are the Irish work shy?

Irish government set to ban parents smacking kids

A spokesperson for the Department administering the system said that the unsettling number of reports could be put down to a sense of 'fair play' among those drawing the support system reasonably, wishing to ensure that it was kept open only to those who really needed it, but in reality the figures speak equally loudly about the kind of endemic incoming shortages that Irish families are considering to face with the ongoing recession.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has taken an unusually hard stand on the issue of social welfare.

She caused controversy this year by accusing some of purposely choosing to live a 'welfare lifestyle' rather than making any good-faith effort to find employment.

Her comments were rightly decried as insensitive at a time when job creation initiatives seem to be thin on the ground and lay-offs rampant, but there will be cracks in every system, and the Dole is no exception.

The Minister underscored that the number of anonymous reports represented a 'cultural shift' in peoples' perceptions of social welfare, and a growing disdain for those taking it unjustly:

"I think it is principally a feeling that, at a time when resources are limited, many feel strongly that those limited resources should be used for the benefit of people who need them most." she said.

10,226 of the 16,142 tip-offs came by email, followed by 5,000 phone calls, and 985 written letters.