Private Deputies' Business. - Poverty Amongst Unemployed— Motion (Resumed)

Friday, 2 February 1945

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 95 No. 16

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Mr. Cogan: Information on Patrick Cogan  Zoom on Patrick Cogan  I would not have intervened in the debate were it not for the fact that the Minister for Industry and Commerce went out of his way to misrepresent the position of the farmer and agricultural worker. He said that the farmers and agricultural workers were the only people who had benefited by the present emergency. I do not know on what figures he based that statement, and I do not believe there are any figures available to him on which he could base such a statement. The Minister may have been comparing the increased price of agricultural produce with the increase in the cost of living. That would be no basis upon which to assert that the farmers' condition had improved.

The condition of the farmer and the agricultural worker could improve only if there was a substantial increase in prices over the cost of production. The Minister has no figures, nor has the Department of Agriculture ever produced any figures, showing the cost of production in agriculture, and everybody who has any knowledge of agricultural conditions knows that there is no comparison between the cost of living and the cost of production, because the cost of production in agriculture is governed by a number of very important factors, apart from the cost of living. There is, first, the impact upon agriculture of a complete change in our agricultural economy, of a complete [2226] disorganisation of our agricultural system—a change-over from the production of such commodities as pigs and dairy produce, to a certain extent, to cereals and tillage produce, a change-over involving expense.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  The net value of agricultural production as estimated by the Statistics Department is in fact published in the Statistical Abstract, that is, the value allowing for the materials purchased and used in production.

Mr. Cogan: Information on Patrick Cogan  Zoom on Patrick Cogan  The Minister, by his interruption, shows his complete lack of knowledge of agricultural conditions. Surely he realises that production can be affected by a serious disorganisation, a serious change in systems of production? Surely he realises that costs of production can be increased by the almost complete absence of fertilisers required in order to produce crops efficiently and to get proper results? Surely agricultural costs are affected by the lack of and difficulty of securing many of the essentials of agricultural production, and, because of that, a comparison between the net value of agricultural produce and the cost of living, or even a comparison between the net value of agricultural production at present and agricultural production in 1938 is of no significance? Enormous difficulties, difficulties which at times appeared to the Department of Agriculture to be insurmountable, faced the farmer, and all these involved costs which are not recorded in the statistics at the disposal of the Minister.

I think that this motion serves a useful purpose in calling for a survey of social conditions, a survey that is urgently necessary, even though it riles the Minister to have it suggested at the present time, and I believe that there is no reason why a survey of social conditions should be a prolonged affair, as the Minister suggests, running into many years. There is no reason why a new approach should not be made to questions affecting the conditions under which our people live. There is no reason why disinterested people, such as social workers, charitable organisations, [2227] parish councils, the clergy, and such people, should not be approached with a questionnaire by the State and asked to give their estimate or their idea of social conditions in their own parishes or areas. I think that there is too much of a tendency to rely upon the information or data collected by bureaucrats or officials of the State, and that there ought to be a wider and, if I might suggest it, a more disinterested approach to the matter and a more disinterested survey.

I agree that social services are costly at the moment, but I think we ought to be able to look forward to a condition of affairs in the post-war period when, first of all, many of the people who are now dependent upon social services may be able to contribute their share to the sum total of national wealth, through some system of training or social organisation, which will enable them to work for themselves and the country. I think we should envisage a period after the war when our national income, our national wealth, will be increased to such an extent that the comparison between what is being expended on social services and our total national income or national wealth will not be so great. I feel that the Minister is too much inclined to look upon this question from a narrow, Party point of view, and to compare what he has done with what, perhaps, his predecessors in office did. That is a view that, I do not think, should be taken at the present time. Conditions in the world have changed entirely since 1932, and I think that it is our duty to see that by active thought and work it will be a better world in the future.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  The Minister rather threw some doubt on the reasonability of putting the early part of Deputy Byrne's motion in the form in which it is, but, in fact, his speech here to-night gave an explanation of what was done to try to prevent the position, about which Deputy Byrne complains, coming about, and although the Minister quotes very large figures and makes a very remarkable comparison with the amount spent on social services and relief at the present [2228] moment in relation to the general productivity of the country, the very fact that the comparison is so striking is all the more reason why the suggestion made in the motion and in the speeches that were delivered should be immediately carried out.

The Minister says that some consideration has already been given to the carrying out of a social survey but the Government, apparently, have decided that this is the wrong time to carry it out and want to wait until more stable conditions exist. Why should we have to wait until more stable conditions exist? The Minister was quite clear in regard to a large number of things affecting the life of the country, such as the increasing of trade, the utilisation of our moneys abroad for the importation of necessaries both for life here and the increase in our production here, but he does not know when we will arrive at a situation when we can have those things. We have time now to review the situation as it is, as a base line, at any rate, to whatever future conditions we will have, and every day more and more striking facts requiring immediate attention are brought to our notice. Only this evening, in spite of what the Minister has said here, there is published in the evening papers a report of the City of Dublin School Attendance Committee—the committee dealing with all the school attendance committees in the city. The report says:

“Lack of clothing and footwear for children, resulting from unemployment and low wages prevailing among a section of the community, was responsible for much of the absences from school, especially in the winter months. The school year revealed a slightly lower percentage in the daily attendance at city schools. The many difficulties experienced for some years past continued to hamper the operation of the School Attendance Act in the county borough. These difficulties would not disappear, nor would the desired efficiency be attained until the social system was adjusted to fulfil social needs.”

Now that is, as it were, a throwing [2229] up of hands by the members of the school attendance committee and evidently means that they cannot see any way of dealing with the difficult situation that exists. When a body, drawn as they are from people in close touch with the economic and social conditions in the country, point out these things to-day and, as it were, throw up their hands about the position, it is a very strong argument why the Government should review whatever decision they have come to with regard to the general situation. The report goes on to say:—

“The school attendance committees had made representations to the Ministers for Local Government and Public Health and Supplies to have clothing and footwear made available to necessitous schoolchildren at prices within reach of the family income.”

According to the statement the Minister made here to-night, that situation has practically been dealt with, but while the situation may be dealt with from the Government point of view, taking a decision to distribute food, clothing and boots, nevertheless that is the situation which the School Attendance Committee finds here, and I think that, in itself, would be sufficient to justify the Minister in reviewing whatever decision the Government have taken with regard to a social survey.

Deputy McGilligan pointed out certain figures and quotations given here in the appendices and report of the committee inquiring into the housing of the working classes in the City of Dublin. It really shows the social condition that a very large number of people in the City of Dublin had to face at the start of the emergency situation, and the difficulties that have come on them during the emergency. The Minister has indicated that, from a review of the situation he has carried out, the unemployed people in the City of Dublin may be regarded under present circumstances as being in no worse condition than they were at the beginning of the emergency; that those who are employed in the City of Dublin can be regarded as being on a standard of 72 per cent., that is, that their economic condition has suffered a reduction [2230] of, say, 25 per cent., in real well-being since the emergency started. If that is the position, I would ask the Minister to refer to the figures that Deputy McGilligan quoted from Appendix No. 17 to paragraph 133, but let him also refer to Appendix No. 23. Appendix No. 23 gives the result of a random examination of 920 families, of two persons or more, taken from this survey, by the Corporation in 1938, and they made an assumption that the essentials of subsistence in food and, I take it, clothing, would require 20/-a week for the first two members of any family and 5/- each for subsequent members of the family.

I do not know what professional guidance or experience dictated the finding that 20/- could be taken as the cost of essential subsistence for two members of a family, and 5/- for each of the others. On that assumption they calculated how much would be left amongst the various families, over the amount necessary for essential subsistence, after paying rent and other things required to maintain a home and carry on family life. They found that in 1938, in the case of 2,754 families, or 30 per cent. of the whole, not one penny would be left over after allowing for essential subsistence to pay the rent, and that in the case of 675 families, or 7.4 per cent. of those examined, the only amount that would be left over with which to pay rent or anything else would be 5/-; that in the case of 788 families, or 8.6 per cent. of the total number, 10/- would be left. That was the 1938 position. I do not know whether they could be regarded as people working but, according to the Minister's statement, they were almost as well off or, if not working, no worse off. Paragraph 133 of the report, to which Deputy McGilligan referred, says:

“ may be here observed that if we take the usual rent charge for a corporation four-room cottage, about 10/- per week, and if we assume an arbitrary proportion of one-fifth of income for rent, all those receiving under 50/- per week, 55 per cent. of the whole, are unable to pay the rent of a corporation cottage. Even if we allow for those who could be accommodated in a three-roomed [2231] cottage at 7/6 per week, and whose income should be 37/6 on the same basis, we face the fact that 45½ per cent. receive under 40/- per week.”

Of the total number of families examined at that time, the 10,500 families that Deputy McGilligan spoke of, 55 per cent. would be unable to pay the rent of a corporation cottage. That is the starting point, and shows that a considerable section of families in Dublin are suffering owing to the emergency. Having suffered as a result of the emergency for five war years, the attitude of the Government is that this is not the right time for a social survey.

They want to wait until there are stable conditions. The Minister stated, and we all agree, that we cannot include many ordinary people, or people for whom they have not been able to get employment, without increasing production. That is quite true. I do not see how we can sympathetically have increased production in agriculture or in industry without a thorough review of the circumstances. The cost of government has swollen enormously. Surely some part of the machinery assembled to deal with the present situation, now that it is stabilised by the kind of treatment the Government has given to it, and as war necessities recede, could be diverted to some review of social conditions, where the position is most serious. The points discussed drive us to do something, whether the arguments are for or against the Minister. Everything that has been stated here, both from the Opposition and the Government benches, should impress upon the House the view that the situation has to be examined thoroughly. We have it brought home to us in various ways that demands are going to be made by our people as a whole for decent subsistence; that large numbers unable to find employment or security for themselves and their families will be stirred to express [2232] their views and to demand decent subsistence and employment. Unless we discuss these matters thoroughly in Parliament, have all the necessary facts made available, and face up to our responsibilities by helping to plan for increased production, we are not assisting in government at all, and, so far from being a Government, we are really architects of anarchy because we are the link in this situation.

When the warring Powers sit down in council to consider the future of peace, and the future production of the world, the heads of the biggest nations must realise that one of the things that have broken down, and that brought about international conditions resulting in war, was the gap between production and consumption. They are determined, in planning for the future peace, that that gap should be filled one way or another. To-day, when various countries in Europe are being restored to their people, the question of the reorganisation and reconstruction of Europe is being considered, and nations untouched by war, whose productive capacity is unimpaired, are wondering how they can help. They are repeating the phrase or formula that the gap between productive power of the world and the consumption necessities of Europe must be bridged. Whether that formula is a shibboleth, or the background of planning, it has a powerful influence on the minds of people who are in distress either through lack of commodities or of opportunities. That feeling exists and it will have a powerful influence on those sections who want the necessaries of life and who in particular want hope for the future. We are the only ones who can come to their assistance, but we cannot do so without full discussion, and planning. I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned until Wednesday, February 7th.

The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, February 7th, 1945.

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