Wednesday, 2 December 1953
Dáil Éireann Debate
That a supplementary sum not exceeding £10 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course  of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1954, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare.
The Estimates for the Department of Social Welfare, for which I am seeking the approval of the Dáil to-day, have been rearranged following the passing of the Social Welfare Act, 1952. As Deputies will have observed, they now consist of three instead of the seven Votes of former years-(1) that for the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare; (2) a Social Insurance Estimate, and (3) a Social Assistance Estimate.
As far as the first is concerned, there is no material change from previous years in the form of the Estimate for the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare. It provides, in the main, for the administrative costs of departmental establishment.
The Social Insurance Estimate—the second of the three—provides mainly for the payment to the Social Insurance Fund by the Exchequer of the amount by which the expenditure of the fund is likely to exceed its income in the financial year. This payment, provided for under the 1952 Act, takes the place of various Exchequer payments in respect of the various contributory insurance schemes which formerly were made from separate Votes in respect of the different schemes. Thus the former National Health Insurance Vote ceases to be necessary, it being now one of the elements in the new merged Vote. Unemployment insurance is also an element in this Vote instead of figuring with unemployment assistance as a separate Vote in previous years. Finally, the State contribution for contributory widows' and orphans' pensions completes the composition of this Insurance Vote, leaving non-contributory widows' and orphans' pensions to be dealt with in the separate Assistance Vote, to which it is more appropriate.
This more rational grouping of the insurance costs is accompanied by a complementary grouping of expenditure on assistance schemes. The Minister for Finance felt—and I agreed with  him-that, in order to present a complete picture of the Exchequer payments in respect of the non-contributory social welfare services, these payments should form a third Estimate-the new Social Assistance Vote. This Vote provides for unemployment assistance; non-contributory widows' and orphans' pensions; old age pensions; children's allowances; and the miscellaneous social welfare services.
I think Deputies will agree that this reduction in the number of Votes, and the new alignment generally, is an improvement on the previous provisions. The Committee of Public Accounts has approved of the changes. I must admit that they may make it a little more difficult to compare the figures in the present Estimates with the corresponding figures for previous years. This is regretted, but it is an objection which will pass, and it is outweighed by the advantages of the neater presentation of accounts.
The Estimate for the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare shows a net increase of £141,280 as compared with last year. I should say at once that this apparent increase is not due to any actual rise in the cost of administering my Department. That cost has, in fact, gone down. The apparent increase is explained by the fact that in last year's Estimate amounts appropriated from the various insurance funds in aid of the cost of administration were all credited to this Vote, with the exception of about £52,000, paid over to certain other Votes by the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Fund. The Social Welfare Act, 1952, provides for the recoupment to other Departments of costs incurred by them in administering all the insurance services, whereas formerly those Departments were only reimbursed costs incurred in connection with the administration of the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Acts. As a result of this provision, it is estimated that a sum of over £235,000 will be paid by the Social Insurance Fund in the present year to Votes other than that for the office of the Minister for Social Welfare. This increase in the amount so paid to other Votes, as compared with the £52,000 of last year, is  £183,000. The transfer of this sum from my Vote to other Votes more than accounts for the apparent increase of £141,000 shown in the Vote now before the House.
As I have already stated, there has actually been a decrease of over £21,000 in the provision for salaries and wages for the current year, and a net reduction of 90 in the number of officials serving in the Department. The most striking feature of these economies is that they have been achieved in face of greatly increased work thrown on my Department by the Social Welfare Act of 1952 and by the Children's Allowances Act of 1952. The latter Act, alone, increased by over 40 per cent. the number of families in receipt of children's allowances. The overall reduction in the number of officials in the Department was even greater-substantially greater-than the 90 mentioned, but it was offset by the necessity for allocating additional personnel, temporarily at least, to certain sections to meet additional work imposed by the new legislation.
As one of the major criticisms levelled at the recent social welfare legislation by ill-informed opponents was that it would entail “thousands of additional civil servants,” I think it well to lay some emphasis on the administrative savings which have been achieved in my Department. Deputies are entitled to know the result of the efforts which have been made continuously, since the Department's establishment in 1947, to secure economies by eliminating unnecessary work and by increasing efficiency by the introduction of modern office equipment and improved working methods.
In the first year of the Department's separate existence, there was a net reduction in personnel of 164, which meant £28,000 a year in wages, equivalent at the present time to £36,000 a year. Each subsequent year added its quota of economies until, by the end of 1951, the total net reduction in staff had passed the 200 mark, representing a wages bill-excluding the recent arbitration award—of about £60,000 a year. Since 1951, as a result of a systematic overhaul of organisation and  procedure in three important sections of the Department, there has been a reduction of 205, with an estimated saving of £92,000 per annum in salaries when allowance is made for new work arising from the recent legislation.
It will be seen from what I have said that, since the inception of the Department up to date, substantial economies have been effected in the administration of the social services. The staffs administering the services taken over in 1947 have been reduced by more than 400, and a saving in the annual cost of salaries of about £150,000 per annum has been effected.
It is, however, necessary to point out that recent legislation has added in many ways to the work of the Department, and additions have had to be made to the staffs of some sections to cope with this increase in the work. Employment exchanges and central records and benefits sections (from which disability benefits is paid) have, in particular, been affected in this way. The staff of the records and benefits sections has been increased by approximately 60 during the past year, but it is not yet clear that this represents the ultimate addition which will be necessary. Furthermore, the volume of sickness experience is giving cause for perturbation, and unless the position improves it may shortly be necessary to take additional steps to safeguard the Social Insurance Fund by a strengthening of the medical referee staff and, perhaps, such supervisory and checking units as the inspectorate. The House may be assured, however, that, consistent with maintaining efficiency and security over the expenditure of voted moneys and money from the Social Insurance Fund, no efforts will be spared in my Department to keep costs of administration as low as possible.
When the transfer of the headquarters staff of my Department to Áras Mhic Dhiarmada has been completed, it may well be that further economies in staff can be effected. The improved accommodation and facilities are bound to be reflected in increased efficiency.
As Deputies will be aware, the bulk of the headquarters staff of the Department are now housed in Áras Mhic  Dhiarmada. It is hoped that about 850 heads of staff will be accommodated there, and already over 650 have moved in. The remainder of the staff to be housed there will be moved in before the close of this year. Hitherto, the different branches of the Department were housed in ten or 11 different buildings throughout the city. The advantage of having all the staff in the same building will be obvious, and will lead to greater administrative smoothness and a closer liaison between the various services which are administered by the Department.
It has not been possible to provide a public office in Áras Mhic Dhiarmada. A temporary public office where personal inquiries are dealt with has been opened in the Custom House annexe but the general position regarding a permanent public office, which, of course, is essential for the Department, is at present under examination.
As I am dealing with Áras Mhic Dhiarmada I would like to correct some misapprehensions that appear to exist in some persons' minds regarding certain aspects of the building. I have seen from time to time allegations that no Irish furniture or equipment was purchased for the building. That, of course, is untrue, as my reply to Deputy Norton's question on the subject last April made clear. The bulk of the furniture and equipment is Irish made; in the main, only equipment which was not obtainable in Ireland was imported. The principal equipment which came from foreign sources consisted of accounting machines, Power-Samas equipment, addressing machines and the like, which are not made in Ireland. This machinery is, of course, extremely expensive but it is equipment which is absolutely necessary for the efficient functioning of the Department. Almost £62,500 has been spent in equipping Áras Mhic Dhiarmada, and of this sum the amount spent on Irish-made fittings and furniture was about £35,500.
There has also been criticism of the fact that the penthouse restaurant on the sixth floor is not available to the public. Charges have been made that  the Department is depriving the public of an amenity that they would otherwise have. I want to make it quite clear that this restaurant was never at any stage in the designing and construction of Áras Mhic Dhiarmada intended for public use. It was originally intended as a staff restaurant for the workers in C.I.E. It now serves as a restaurant for the staff of the Department instead. Certain modifications in the original design of this restaurant were necessary following the change of purpose of the building and these modifications were carried out in an economical fashion. I hope that, by making it clear that this restaurant was never designed for public use, a stop will be put to what I can only describe as ill-informed criticism.
I now turn to the Vote for Social Insurance, No. 61 in the Book of Estimates. The main purpose of this Vote is to provide for the payment to the Social Insurance Fund by the Exchequer of the amount by which the expenditure of the fund will exceed its income during the year. At the time this Estimate was prepared, this amount was computed at £1,941,000. This calculation was, of course, made before the Social Welfare Act, 1952, came into full operation, and it was necessarily a conjectural figure. Expenditure on unemployment benefit and on disability benefit has been much heavier than was anticipated, and it is now clear that the amount provided in the Estimate will not be sufficient. A substantial Supplementary Estimate will, accordingly, be presented to the House in due course to cover the deficiency which will now inevitably arise on the full year's working of the insurance scheme.
The live register has shown an increase during 1953 over the figures for 1952. I would like to warn the House, however, that, in order to avoid drawing exaggerated conclusions from this increase, it is necessary to have regard to the considerable effect which the operation of the Social Welfare Act, 1952, has had upon the live register. For instance, following the coming into operation of the Act, agricultural workers were enabled for the first time  to qualify for unemployment benefit. To those already insured the modification of the contribution conditions gave benefit for a much longer period and, in addition, persons who had exhausted some or all of their title to unemployment benefit were enabled to qualify afresh. Deputies will recollect that there is a provision in the Act enabling qualified persons over 65 years of age to draw benefits continuously until they reach the age of 70. This also helps to swell the number on the live register. As well as these matters, the means limit for unemployment assistance was raised and the rates of assistance considerably increased.
The reduction in the live register which normally takes place about the end of March each year on the coming into operation of the First Employment Period Order was influenced this year by two factors arising from the Social Welfare Act, 1952. In the first place, persons whose claims for unemployment assistance would have been disallowed during the employment period in previous years, qualified for unemployment benefit and so continued to register. Secondly, in previous years a person whose claim was disallowed for the employment period had no incentive to continue to register. Under the 1952 Act, however, contributions can be credited to a person for weeks of proved unemployment. The incentive, therefore, to continue to register during the employment period is very great since credited contributions will be essential to qualify for the various benefits at a later stage. There is no doubt but that these facilities have tended to increase the numbers on the live register as compared with previous years.
Comparisons between the total live register in 1952 and in previous years are, accordingly, difficult to make at the moment. The changes introduced by the 1952 Act have so altered the pattern of the register that it will be some time before a new pattern emerges. To base conclusions on a simple comparison of the 1953 figures with the 1952 figures is misleading, and such conclusions are completely vitiated when regard is had to the factors I have mentioned.
 Before I leave the Vote for Social Insurance, there is one other matter with which I should like to deal. Deputies will recall that when the Supplementary Estimates for my Department were being detailed on 4th March last, I dealt with complaints about delays in payment by the Department. At that time, I said that I was very anxious to see the new scheme running smoothly, and I invited Deputies to send me their complaints of delay, because they would help me to get things smoothed out. I repeat that request now in the hope that I will continue to get the co-operation of the House in this matter. Complaints of a general nature are, however, useless, and many of the complaints which I have seen are general. When I ask for specific cases, sometimes I do not get sufficient details or I sometimes find that the complaints are not well-founded.
I do not wish it to appear that my Department never errs. With the volume of work involved, it would be little short of a miracle if delays and mistakes did not sometimes occur. For disability benefit alone, for instance, the payments average about 34,000 a week, and there are cases in which delay—if that is the correct term—cannot be avoided. For instance, complaints about delay are sometimes made about new claims because often it is not understood that payment is not normally made for the first three days of illness and that no payment is made until the second medical certificate is received. The first certificate is merely a notice of illness, but if the second certificate is received within a week of the first, the payment is usually in the hands of the agent for delivery within ten days of the date of the first certificate. In continuing claims, if the certificates are lodged at regular intervals, the payments are issued without delay.
Again, sometimes the insured person does not furnish all the particulars required with his claim and the inquiries, which are thus rendered necessary, delay the payment. Furthermore, since the introduction of increases for dependents, inquiries may  also be necessary as to dependency, but every effort is made to clear these inquiries promptly. In cases where the investigations regarding dependency are likely to be prolonged, the personal rate of benefit is sometimes paid at once, but this is done in the interest of the insured person and not as an attempt to deprive him of what he is fully entitled to.
During the debate on 4th March last it was stated that, in one case of a claim for health insurance, 41 certificates had been lodged without payment. I am selecting this particular case to illustrate my point. It was found that 26 weeks' sickness benefit had already been paid and further benefit was not payable. The officers of my Department instituted inquiries, however, with a view to finding out whether there were circumstances in which further benefit could be paid— such as non-surrendered cards or employment for which contributions should have been, but were not, paid. The point which I wish to emphasise by referring to this case is the helpful attitude adopted by my Department towards the insured person, and this attitude is adopted in all cases whether or not any representations are made on his behalf. The case was decided, on appeal, in favour of the insured person, and immediately the decision was made the claim was paid.
Deputies should bear in mind that it was inevitable that some dislocation should have been caused in the payment of benefit following the introduction of the new scheme. No great changes in administration can take place without some hitches. It required a very big effort on the part of the staff of my Department to familiarise themselves with all the details incidental to the major changes which have recently taken place in social insurance, while at the same time dealing with the day to day work, which increased considerably as a result of these changes.
My anxiety is to have all claims dealt with promptly. Some delays are, however, inevitable but any person who feels that he is not getting the attention he should get is at  liberty to write to me. I can assure him that his case will be examined and any grounds for legitimate complaint will be removed immediately.
There is evidence of an increase in the number of claims for disability benefit which cannot be explained as arising from a genuine increase in the ill-health of the insured population. It may be that with better benefits claimants are more particular about their health or that the standards applied by medical certifiers are not as strict as they should be. While the efforts of my Department must in the first place be devoted to seeing that the genuine claimant gets the best possible service and attention, the Social Welfare Funds must, at the same time, be protected against false claims. I would, consequently, appeal to Deputies by all means to support and help claimants where they are satisfied as to the bona fides of the claims, but to assist me also in eliminating bogus and fraudulent claims.
Dr. Ryan: That is what I am referring to. The third Estimate before the House is that for social assistance. All the assistance services have been grouped under this heading and, by bringing them under one Vote, we can see readily the enormous amount which the State is now spending every year in order to relieve the conditions of its most hard-pressed citizens. Old age pensions and children's allowances take up well over half of the total amount spent on social welfare and I think that all members of the House will agree that this huge sum of over £14,500,000 is well spent in making easier the declining years of our citizens and in lightening the burden on those who are providing for young families. The amount is large for a country such as this with limited resources. Those who constantly press  for increase in old age pensions and children's allowances should remember that such increases, however desirable, can only be provided by a general improvement in our economic condition.
In conculsion I have only to say that, so far as this Government is concerned, the social welfare structure of the State has now, with the passing of the Social Welfare Act, 1952, reached the stage where we can regard it as setting into its final mould. The only matter which still requires attention is the Workmen's Compensation Code and, as Deputies are aware, I have a motion on the Order Paper for the setting up of a parliamentary committee to go into this question thoroughly.
It is with some feelings of pride that I look back to the period when this Government first came into office over 20 years ago and survey the many items of major legislation which we initiated and brought into being. When we came into office in 1932 the total Exchequer expenditure on the social services now administered by my Department totalled about £3,250,000. To-day that expenditure is of the order of £21,000,000. There were no widows' and orphans' pensions (either contributory or non-contributory), no children's allowances, no unemployment assistance and none of the miscellaneous schemes which we have introduced from time to time as circumstances have warranted. Our first step in erecting the structure that has now reached completion was the abolition of the Insurance Commissioners and the subsequent unification of the various national health insurance societies. Unemployment assistance was initiated in 1933 and was followed by widows' and orphans' pensions in 1935. The Wet-Time Insurance Act came in 1942 and in 1944 we introduced the first children's allowances scheme. During and after the war years various assistance schemes were introduced as they became necessary—the scheme of supplemental allowances, the scheme for assistance-in-kind, the cheap footwear scheme and the cheap fuel scheme. Under all of these schemes benefits were increased and the scope of the  schemes widened from time to time. Our work in general, as far as social security is concerned, was crowned with the passing of the Social Welfare Act last year. With the passing of that Act the structure of social services in this country might be regarded as having taken final form. However it may change in details, such as rates of benefit and contributions, it is not likely to change in general outline and intention. We have devised a structure which is suitable to the needs of this country and of which we can be reasonably proud.
Dr. Esmonde: In his statement, the Minister rather brings out the argument that decentralisation is necessary in his Department for the proper running of it and for the maintenance and administration in the most economical way of the benefits that the country enjoys at present. There is no doubt about it that there are delays. There are delays in the payment of national health insurance, delays in the settling of old age pensions and other social benefits. A lot of these delays are due to the fact that everything has to be done through the central office in Dublin. It may be argued that that is the best administrative method, but that is a matter of opinion. I do not agree that it is the best method.
From the little that I know about the running of these services, the local officer has really no function. He has no power to deal with a particular matter and he has no means at his disposal of without referring it to Dublin. Consider the position in relation to national health insurance. The Minister stated that the first certificate is really for the purpose of notifying that the applicant is sick. That certificate is sent in but no payment is made. That delay causes a good deal of hardship.
A man is at work. He falls ill and gets a certificate. He sends that certificate in. He gets nothing in the first week and the reason why he gets nothing is because that certificate has to go to Dublin and be dealt with here in Dublin. Some time elapses before a decision can be given and payment is made. The Minister has stated that  payment is made on receipt of the second certificate. I think most Deputies here will agree that that is not the case. In the majority of cases the second, third, fourth and fifth certificates have been issued before any payment is made. That leads to a good deal of hardship.
All these delays could be obviated by decentralisation and the giving of more power to the local officers. I do not know if circumstances are different in my constituency, but when I was first elected I approached the local officer in order to put some cases before him. I could only get in touch with him on one day in the week because he was always out. When I did get in touch with him I asked him if it would be possible for him to meet me at a certain time by arrangement so that we could discuss any cases that might arise. The reply I got was that if I had orders or instructions from the Department for him he would be in his office to meet me but his orders were to get out, travel around and do his job. That would seem to stress the argument that the local official is more or less valueless to Deputies and he must be equally valueless in many cases to the individuals concerned. His function is simply to receive claims and pass them on to the central office. That seems to be the curse of the administrative function in this State; everything must go to Dublin to be dealt with. I think the Minister should consider that point.
This is a very vast organisation. The figures speak for themselves. The Minister said just now that social insurance had been raised from £1,140,000 to the present Estimate of £17,000,000. One realises the enormous sum being dealt with and the enormous amount of work that must go through the hands of the officials. Surely some system of decentralisation could be evolved whereby administrative costs would be less and efficiency results higher than they are at present. I do not want to be too hard on the Department of Social Welfare. There are delays, of course. I have stressed a reason as to why delays take place but, by and large, the officials try to meet cases as well as they can.
 I do not feel satisfied with the system that obtains with regard to blind pensions. Even for a medical man, it is difficult to know the degree of blindness required by the Department for the issue of a blind pension. It is very hard, under the present system, to discover the reason why an applicant is turned down. The official reply to an inquiry is that the applicant does not fulfil the statutory condition of blindness. A person may apply to the local blind pensions committee and, if he shows serious degree of short-sightedness, is awarded a pension. In practically all cases the award is appealed against by the Minister. Subsequently, the applicant is examined and the medical evidence submitted to an official in the Department. In the great majority of cases, the pension is then disallowed.
I know that many people apply for a blind pension who are not entitled to a blind pension. On the other hand, I have knowledge of persons who could not be accepted as totally blind but who are so short-sighted as to be incapable of earning a livelihood by manual labour or clerical work. Several cases that have been turned down have been brought to my notice. I have written to the Minister or his Department in the matter and the reply has been that these persons do not fulfil the statutory condition as to blindness. We are given no indication beyond that and, as far as I know, we have no means of getting further information. It should be possible for Deputies to be informed as to why applicants are turned down.
By medical standards, in examining for blindness, the ratio is taken between 1 and 6 in relation to each eye. A person having full vision is regarded as having 6/6 in each eye. Very few of us here have as good sight as that. Then it drops to 5/6, 4/6, 3/6, 2/6 and 1/6 and so on. When a Deputy seeks information in regard to a case where a blind pension has been allowed and where the Minister's appeal is upheld, he should be told the actual condition of the patient's eyes, according to the ratio I have given, instead of receiving a letter to say that the person concerned did not fulfil the  statutory condition as to blindness. I speak subject to correction but, as far as I know, we can get no information other than what I have stated.
I have noticed with satisfaction that in one of the Departments in Dublin the telephone operator is a blind man. I made it my business to make inquiries. I have spoken to the man and watched him operating and he is 100 per cent. satisfactory. It would be a very good thing that blind people should be employed as operators where possible. One of the greatest afflictions of mankind is blindness. The awful thing about blindness is that a blind person has nothing to do and all day in which to do it. If blind persons could be employed in Government Departments in as far as it is possible, it would be of great advantage to them and to the State. I cannot think of any other capacity in which blind persons could be employed in a Department. Perhaps the Minister and his officials would look into the matter and give it due consideration.
With regard to the Store Street building and furniture, the Minister said that they had got £62,500 worth of furniture and that only the essentials had been bought outside this country, that as much as £35,000 had been spent on home-produced furniture. I do not know very much about furniture but, having regard to the number of furniture factories in this country, I do not understand why we should have to import practically 50 per cent. of the furniture for a State Department. It may be, as the Minister says, that it was impossible to procure that furniture in Ireland.
Dr. Esmonde: I feel that practically every section of the community would not object to paying more, being taxed more, if necessary, to provide an increase in old age pensions. I do not think 21/6 is sufficient to give anybody, certainly in an urban area, to live on. The people will appreciate that people over 70 years of age require more of the little comforts of life than those in full health. They require more heating, for instance. Old people suffer from the cold. An old age pensioner, who may be living alone in the home that he or she has been accustomed to, is asked to exist on 21/6 a week. I do not think it is right. The allowance should be increased.
Dr. Esmonde: No matter what we gave them, let the Party in power at the moment remember that, according to the report of the O.E.E.C., the cost of living went up in 1952-53 in this country by 9 per cent., the highest percentage in the world.
Mr. Norton: This was a very definite agreement under which we undertook to provide certain facilities for the Government, the assurance being that the motion would be taken in conjunction with this Estimate.
Mr. Norton: We can send for the Whips to get the matter cleared up. In this connection it was agreed that Private Members' motion No. 22 would be dealt with in connection with the Estimate for Social Welfare and we provided the Government with facilities on that understanding. Would the Minister say if he is clear on that?
Dr. Ryan: Honestly, I do not know much about it. The Parliamentary Secretary asked me was I willing to agree that the motion be taken along with the Estimate. I said I would agree to anything to get this Estimate through.
Dr. Esmonde: Before this little interlude took place, I was pointing out that the cost of living had gone up in this country since 1952. The figures for the first half of 1952 as compared with the first half of 1953 show an increase of 9 per cent. That is the highest rise in the cost of living in the world, and  it is reasonable to ask the Minister— whether I ask him to do it by legislation which, apparently, is necessary, or not—if he would do something to give the old age pensioners a little more money than they are getting at present. I ask Deputies to think for a moment. Most of us are in fairly moderate circumstances. We may not be very rich but we have the ordinary wants of life. You have these old people living practically in penury and want. I did not think that the sum of 21/6 was a very generous amount when it was awarded, but the circumstances have altered considerably since then. There is a very reasonable case to ask the Minister to introduce legislation to increase the award to these pensioners. He will be earning a debt of gratitude from them by doing so, and I would say further that he will have no opposition from anybody in this House if they really represent the people who have sent them here, because I have spoken on this subject to the answer has been made from everybody agreeing that it is not right in this country, above all other countries, that our old people must be living, more particularly, as I said, in the urban areas, in the conditions in which they are living at present. I can assure the Minister that if he introduces this legislation, as far as this side of the House and this Party is concerned anyway, he will meet with no opposition if he improves and ameliorates the conditions of those people.
That Dáil Éireann is of opinion that, in view of the high cost of living, the following benefits under the Social Welfare Act, 1952, should be substantially increased, i.e., old age pensions, widows' and orphans'  pensions, blind pensions, unemployment benefit, unemployment assistance, sickness benefit.
The purpose of this motion is to bring to the notice of the House the situation which exists to-day so far as those classes of the community who are beneficiaries under our existing social welfare legislation are concerned. In our view the situation has now reached the stage when the rates provided under the 1952 Social Welfare Act, and which are in operation in 1953 and will apparently continue in operation in 1954, are altogether inadequate to meet the reasonable requirements of those beneficiaries even at the most modest standards. The rates now in operation in 1953 are precisely the same rates as were set out in the White Paper issued in 1949 indicating the future pattern of our social welfare legislation and our social welfare benefits, but there has been a vast change in the whole price structure since 1949. In that year the cost-of-living index was 100. The latest cost-of-living index is 125, so that there has been an increase of 25 points in the cost of living, or 25 per cent, between 1949 when these rates were first issued as indicating the pattern of the payments and the situation in which we find ourselves to-day when the index figure is, as I have said, 125. I put it, therefore, to each and every Deputy of this House, not on a political basis at all but based upon a purely mathematical argument, is there not a very strong case, an overwhelming case, in the face of those figures for at least a 25 per cent. increase in the rates now embodied in current legislation so far as social welfare benefits are concerned?
Although some of these benefits are higher from the point of view of money to-day than they were, let us say, in 1939, we have not in many cases given a number of the potential beneficiaries an increase comparable with the increase in prices which has taken place since 1939, and indeed we do not seem to have given them any adequate increase to compensate them for the substantial changes in the whole price structure which has taken place, especially in the past 18 months. When these rates which are now in  operation were first contemplated in 1949 you could buy butter at 2/8 a lb. Now you pay 4/2 for the same lb. of butter. At that time you could buy a 2 lb. loaf for 6 ½d. Now you pay 9 ¼d. for the 2 lb. loaf. Then you could buy tea for 2/8 a lb. Now you pay 5/- for a lb. of tea. Then you could buy sugar for 4 ½d. per lb. Now you pay 7d. a lb. for sugar. Then you could buy flour at 2/8 a stone. Now you pay 4/6 a stone. Cigarettes have gone up, tobacco has gone up, fuel has gone up, a whole variety of commodities represented by about seven type-written pages furnished by the Minister for Industry and Commerce recently have increased in price to such an extent that the value of benefits contemplated in 1949 and now enshrined in the 1952 Act have lost a considerable proportion of their value because of the rise in prices which has taken place in the meantime.
In my view there has been no adequate increase in the 1949 scale of benefits to take cognisance of the substantial increase in prices represented by 25 per cent. in the period between 1949 and 1952. A comparison of the rates of benefit payable in 1939 and those payable to-day is not possible in the whole range of social welfare benefits, but you can make comparisons in certain cases such as, for example, old age pensions and unemployment insurance. In 1939 old age pensioners had 10/- per week. Now that was the same 10/- as a pensioner was awarded by the British Government in 1916. In the period from 1916 to 1939 that person got no increase in the old age pension and in 1939 that pension stood at 10/-per week. I think everybody will be prepared to admit, irrespective of Party, that that was an altogether too low payment for old age pensioners, particularly where an old age pensioner was living on his own or where two old age pensioners were living together and trying to carry on on £1 a week. I do not think that anybody would take pride in the fact that in 1939 we were paying so low a rate of benefit as 10/- per week to our old age pensioners. In any case it was the lowest then paid in Western Europe, so  that we can get some background of the value of the payments by contrast with payments elsewhere.
What is the position to-day? We gave to a person an old age pension in 1939 of 10/- per week. I think that will be admitted to be a very low standard but, even taking it as a low standard and adjusting it merely in conformity with the increase in prices which has taken place since 1939 and without giving any higher rates of benefit on the grounds that a higher rate of benefit would be justified apart from the increase in prices, that old age pension should now be 23/- per week. In other words, by merely giving the old age pension its 1939 value and allowing nothing for improvement in the standard of living or the standard of comfort of the old age pensioner, that person ought to-day be getting 23/- but the amount we are giving the old age pensioner is 21/6. That is the maximum benefit and it can only be got after a means test. That figure of 21/6 does not, therefore, give to the old age pensioner what that person had in 1939. In fact, it gives the pensioner very much less from the point of view of purchasing power than what the pensioner received in 1939. That is the way we treat the old age pensioner.
The situation has become all the more acute because of the fact that in the last four years the cost of living has increased from an index figure of 100 to an index figure of 125. In paying old age pensions and other social welfare benefits to-day, we ought to remember that the £ is worth only 8/8 in terms of its 1939 purchasing power. I think the figures I have quoted are sufficient to show that, so far as old age pensions are concerned, because of the substantial increase in prices we are not giving to old age pensioners what they are entitled to on a mere mathematical adjustment of their pensions in strict relation to the rise in price levels.
Take the case of unemployment insurance benefits. In 1939, a man and his wife had 20/- if he were receiving unemployment insurance benefit. If we adjusted his 1939 benefit to 1953 prices, he should to-day have 46/3 but we do not give him 46/3. We give  him only 36/-, so that, in fact, so far as the unemployed man and his wife are concerned, they are not getting in 1953 the purchasing power of his 1939 benefit. As I said, he then had 20/- and allowing for no increase in his standard of living or his standard of comfort but by a mere mathematical adjustment of his 1939 rates to 1953 price levels, he should have 43/6. We do not give him that. We give him only 36/- a week. Therefore, we are not acting fairly, because we are not even giving him the minimum adjustment in his rates of benefit which should follow from an automatic application of the increased cost of living to his 1939 unemployment insurance stamps. In short, we are paying that man and his wife, just as we are paying the old age pensioner and a large number of others, less to-day in purchasing power than we paid in 1939. We may give him more money but that money does not buy for him what a lesser amount of money bought in 1939.
It is because of these considerations we introduced this motion in order that the House should have an opportunity of expressing its views on a matter which is of vital importance to many thousands of persons who, unfortunately, in our system of society, must subsist on the allowances provided under the Social Welfare Acts. In our view, all the scales are now too low. They have been rendered too low because of the substantial increase in prices. While, as I said, the rates from the money point of view may be higher than they previously were, these people are now, in many cases, being paid less than their 1939 benefit. It is not possible because of the addition of children to certain categories of beneficiaries to make calculations in every case, but I think it is the experience of all Deputies that the present rates, first contemplated in 1939, do not provide adequate sustenance for these persons in 1953, seeing that they were originally fashioned in relation to 1949 price levels. In view of the substantial increase which has taken place, particularly in the past 18 months or two years, it is desirable, in our view, that these rates of benefit should be reviewed so as to provide those  affected with a substantial increase in the present rates.
All these classes are affected by the motion which we have submitted. Payments to widows and orphans, to blind persons, to persons in receipt of sickness and disablement benefit, are all inadequate to-day against the background of the substantial increase in prices over the past four years. The motion, therefore, asks that the rates generally should be increased so as to take cognisance of the increase in the cost of living which has taken place since the rates were first fixed and so that, by a positive act of this House, we can show by adopting this motion that we realise the difficulties through which those affected by the motion are passing and that we expect the Government to examine the matter in the light of the opinions expressed in this House.
I do not put the proposal forward on political grounds. I have not even sought to use political arguments in support of it. I am using arithmetical arguments to support the claim that these increase are warranted, if on no other grounds, because of the increase in the cost of living. I commend the motion to the support of the House, not on any political grounds but on humanitarian grounds and in the knowledge and the conviction that in view of the substantial increase in the cost of living the time has now arrived when these rates should be revised and when an increase should be provided for those concerned. So far no difficulty whatever in securing the necessary support for the provision of the moneys to provide increased rates of benefit for those who are affected by the motion. That is all I want to say on the motion itself.
I should like to deal with some other matters affecting the Estimate as a whole. I think when he was speaking this evening the Minister took some pleasure, admittedly controlled pleasure, in the fact that he had now up-to-date headquarters for his Department. I congratulate him on his occupancy of the place; I do not think it will be very long politically, but I hope the Department will be there for  a very long time and that the staff of the Department will now appreciate the wisdom and the utility of purchasing premises of that kind so that the staff could be housed together under conditions which the Minister said germinates, promotes and maintains efficiency rather than that they should be spread over the four points of the compass in this city. The decision to buy the premises was an excellent decision. The Parliamentary Secretary must feel proud when he courses through the corridors down there and sees the provisions which have been made for his comfort and enjoyment. I think it was a good investment, especially as we liquidated sterling assets invested elsewhere to buy the building. If that had not been done at that time, that building described as the Store Street building would have continued as the gaunt and hideous structure it was when the last Government decided to buy it. It was then a heap of cement with rusted steel girders running through it and it had more the appearance of Dunkirk after the evacuation than it had of the building which it has turned out to be.
The previous people who conceived the idea of putting up that structure proceeded on a basis that made the rake's progress a rather modest kind of thing compared with what they essayed to do with the Store Street building. They decided to enter into a commitment to put up a new building costing £1,000,000 when they could not pay the rates on the modest premises in which they were carrying on in Kingsbridge, when they could not pay their debts and could not raise a bob on their name or their balance sheet in any market in the world.
Mr. Norton: What I want to tell the Parliamentary Secretary is that instead of having, every time he visits this place, to look at that gaunt and hideous structure in Store Street, he will now have the pleasant exaltation of going through these corridors admiring this streamlined building and  its delightful symmetry and enjoy life there as Parliamentary Secretary. For that he has to thank his predecessor and I hope he will remember that with becoming modesty when he talks about his predecessor in the time to come. So far as the staff is concerned, it was an excellent building and a very good investment. I have never believed in it as a suitable place for a central bus station and I do not believe in it yet as a suitable place for that purpose. Judging by the views of the passengers who travel in the buses, they do not think too highly of it either.
Mr. Norton: All I want is to re-echo the pleasure which the Minister expressed in his speech at the new building which has now been made available for him and his Department at Store Street. I think it is worthy of the Department of Social Welfare and that they ought to have the best possible office to carry on the best possible services for the most needy sections of the community.
At the end of his speech, the Minister referred to what had been done, mainly during the period of the Fianna Fáil Government, he said, in respect to social services. We ought to get some broad background against which we can consider this whole matter. The fact of the matter is that we still have social services which are behind the social services of many other countries in Europe. Our social services are still behind the social services in the Six Counties, the social services in Great Britain, the social services in the Scandinavian countries, and the social services in war-devastated Belgium, Holland and France. We should not forget that when we are talking about our social services.
The Minister said that in the last 20 years certain services had been provided, and he gave the impression that they would not have been provided but for the fact that a Fianna Fáil Government had been in office in that period. If the Minister wants to engage in the art of self-deception, I do not want to deny him the thrill and the pleasure which can be got by simple  people who practise that art. But let us remember that in the last 18 years we have lost 500,000 of our population; 500,000 of our people have fled the country in the last 18 years and have settled down in Great Britain and overseas. They did that in spite of our social services. What would the position be, and how many would be left here by now, if we had no unemployment insurance benefit, no unemployment assistance benefit, no children's allowances and no widows' and orphans' pensions? Even with having these, we lost 500,000 of our people. Can anybody imagine how many of them would be left in Ireland to-day if we had not these benefits?
One of the appalling economic evils besetting this country is the flight of our people from the rural areas. The depopulation of the rural areas is such as no other white country in the world has experienced, and that depopulation is going on. How many people would be left in Connemara to-day if it were not for the unemployment insurance benefits and the unemployment assistance benefits? What would keep them there living on the rocks or listening to the fanciful speeches of the people who promise them heaven at election time and who do nothing for them afterwards? Is it not only possible to keep these people in idleness, when they are idle, because of the fact that we provide certain social benefits for them? Can anybody imagine what the position would be in these western and southern areas, or even in this city, if it were announced to-morrow that unemployment assistance benefit and unemployment insurance benefit would stop, and if widows' and orphans' pensions and children's allowances were being abolished? You would have to provide a fleet of vessels to take them out of the country quickly enough if you were to make an announcement of that kind.
What we are doing by providing these services is only responding to the human needs of these people, the human needs of this weak and depressed class, and that, in my view, is the paramount consideration for this Parliament and for everybody concerned  with the public well-being. The very provision of these services is, however, an assurance that the population we now have will, to some extent, remain here instead of flying from rural areas, which has been the most appalling characteristic of our population evolution for the past 25 years.
When we talk about social services, let us do so with some spirit of reason behind our thoughts. As I said, we are still behind many other countries in the standard of benefits which we provide, and if we had not benefits such as we have to-day it is not 500,000 we would have lost but probably 1,500,000 in the last 20 years. Therefore, our self-congratulation in that respect must be tempered with the knowledge of what other people have done, people who came through the war and were blasted by the war, compared with what we have done in that field and how much more remains to be done.
I want to raise some matters of a more routine nature, so far as the work of the Department is concerned. Some time ago I raised here by parliamentary question the issue of regulations by the Department of Social Welfare without any explanatory memorandum. There is a whole heap of these regulations. I should like to see the Parliamentary Secretary reading these and being asked the meaning of them, as I am sure the answer would be very interesting. Some of these documents are incomprehensible, except to a legal mind or somebody who has got what is probably better than a legal mind, the official in the Department who has been dealing with the ins and outs of these problems from day to day. The generality of Deputies could not pretend to understand them. Not only are the regulations not complete in themselves, but they refer to previous regulations and Acts of Parliament, repealed and not repealed. It is quite impossible for the ordinary Deputy, unless he has nothing else to do, to get down to an examination of these regulations and comprehend fully what they mean.
From my own experience, I know that the official who prepared these regulations and sent them down to the  parliamentary draftsman probably sent down a different document from this one. But this is the parliamentary draftsman's way of expressing the matter. If you were to ask an official in the Department who was dealing with it what it meant he would probably give you on a single page a simply-written official note explaining to you what the general context of the regulation was. The parliamentary draftsman would not do so on a single page. He would sit down and set about providing for every possible contingency and for some impossible contingencies as well, with the result that you would get a document such as this which I have in my hand.
This, I might say, is a modest one. It consists of only five pages, but you have other gems here which run into eight pages. I suggest that an official in the Department could write a brief memorandum on one page, setting out what all this means. That would be sufficient for the average person. What a Deputy wants is to get a broad understanding of what is dealt with in the regulation. If he wants to burrow deeper he can get the regulations and do so. I venture to say, in regard to all those regulations which are issued by the Department, that not a single Deputy would know what is contained in them. Very few of them are understandable to a Deputy unless he is a specialist in this particular field of legislation.
I asked the Minister on that occasion if he would issue an explanatory memorandum in connection with these regulations. He said he was going to issue a booklet explaining what was in them. I did not think that sufficient and I then urged him to do what I hope he will do in the future, namely, issue an explanatory memorandum for the information of Deputies and of newspapers as to what these regulation mean when they are issued. They can subsequently be interpreted through a booklet but I think it is desirable that on the day they see the light by being put on the Table of the House and are circulated to the newspapers they should carry with them an explanatory memorandum indicating  what exactly they purport to do and the manner in which the existing procedure is being changed by the issue of new regulations.
I want to refer to the case of temporary clerks employed in the Department of Social Welfare. I was responsible for having an examination held, I think in 1950, for the filling of a certain minimum number of vacancies, the intention then being to extend the number by calling, as far as possible, all those who had qualified. I understand that there has been some slight extension of that list. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether it is intended to call all the candidates who qualified at that examination and, if not, how many more candidates it is proposed to call. A goodly number of the persons concerned have had considerable service in the Department. In view of the fact that they have demonstrated their suitability on educational grounds for appointment I think they ought to be given the opportunity of being absorbed into the established classes.
I also want to raise a question about the position of branch managers in branch employment offices throughout the country. As well as I recollect, there are about 90 of them. When I was dealing with the problem I contemplated abolishing the vicious method by which they were employed as branch managers. The actual basis was, that the more unemployed there were at the office the more the manager's pay went up and the fewer unemployed there were the more his pay went down. So far as these branch managers are concerned, they have got an economic interest in seeing that we have here an unemployment blizzard. The worst thing that can happen to the branch manager of an employment exchange is that we should reach a condition of full employment, because when the nation reaches that position, on that day the branch manager is unemployed. The reason is that he is paid only on the basis of the number of people who are registered. He gets so much per 100 of those registering.
Mr. Norton: It is a very poor one. You will not see a branch manager doing anything rash financially by reason of what he gets in the way of a basic rate. I object to the principle of paying men on the basis of the number unemployed in their area. I object to a man's economic position being worsened when the community position is improved by rising employment. I contemplated, when I was in the Department of Social Welfare, abolishing that type of employment, and of absorbing into the Civil Service, by a special regulation, such of the branch managers as depended on that job for their livelihood.
There were some cases where, I think, one branch manager was a solicitor. He was appointed in the old days. I do not think he took any interest in the job. He simply farmed it out to some relations and they did it. I do not think it was a desirable kind of post for him to have, and I certainly would not have continued him. Another branch manager was a grocer in a substantial way of business. He did not take any interest in the employment exchange. I certainly think he should be taken him off the payroll, too. Another was a large scale greyhound trainer. I think that branch managers who are depending on the job for a living should be absorbed into the Civil Service in the same way as the old national health insurance agents were brought in and made regular servants of the Department. I think, too, that they should be given pension rights in respect of their past service.
In that way they would come to realise that they were in charge of an employment exchange and that, whether the number registering went up or down, their remuneration would still stand. The present system offers no inducement to a branch manager to report half a dozen fellows who are improperly signing for unemployment assistance when he knows that the more he discovers people who are committing fraud, or are attempting to commit fraud, the more his pay will go down.
So far as a branch manager is concerned, a holocaust of unemployment  is the best thing that you can give him. Full employment is his deadly enemy. He has no incentive to put people into jobs or to take people off the register, even if they are improperly signing, because the only grist that comes to his mill is the grist that comes in the form of unemployed men and women. That is a vicious method of employing people and it is a thing which I have never liked. I said so the first day I heard of it. My whole intention was to get rid of that method of employment because I did not and do not think it has anything to commend it. I am quite sure that in the long run that, while the Department might have to pay more than they are paying at the moment to these branch managers, they would get better service and would have a cleaner conscience than by continuing to rely on this method of employing staff.
There is another matter that I would like to refer to. It has reference to national health insurance agents. These agents came over when the Act was passed. In Dublin and Cork they were full-time persons but in the country their posts were described as part-time. The fact, however, is that most of those agents spend a considerable part of the day in trying to discharge the work they have to do. Yet it has been held that it was only part-time employment, despite the fact that they have to travel long distances, get offices in outlying districts, and so on. I think that their job is always hard and strenuous. No one could say that their remuneration is excessive.
I contemplated a situation where these agents were part-time and could be established, that they should be tied in with the local employment exchange or with the local social welfare officer so as to give them additional work, and thus make their posts full-time, with their pay correspondingly improved. I do not think anything has since been done for these agents in that field. I have met them from time to time, and their complaints to me have been that they have been treated by the Department in a very parsimonious fashion. How far that is a deliberately developed parsimony, so far as the Department is concerned,  or merely represents the dead hand of the Department of Finance, I cannot say. But these agents, if we continue that method of appointment, are entitled, I think, to sympathetic consideration. They have a tough job, with a good deal of travelling duties, a job which calls for the exercise of much carefulness on the part of the agents. I think every effort should be made to build up their part-time duties to full-time either by extending their earnings where vacancies occur or by taking them into local employment exchanges where they could be given some additional work. I would like to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary when he is replying on this matter.
Cases have been coming to my notice of persons employed in England. When they come back from England the problem arises of getting their contribution transferred from the British administration. That was arranged when we negotiated with the British back in 1949, but it necessarily involves delay in ascertaining from the British authorities whether there are any stamps to transfer and so long as the person has stamps it is clear that he will not be allowed to draw unemployment assistance benefit. I think there is needless red tape there. Quite clearly that person is entitled, if not employed and unless he has some substantial income, to unemployment assistance benefit. Why is it necessary to deprive him of unemployment assistance benefit? Why is it necessary to deprive him of unemployment assistance benefit until his position in respect of his British stamps is cleared up? Surely it ought to be possible to pay him the unemployment assistance benefit as a minimum and if it is subsequently established that he has unemployment stamps to his credit, an adjustment could be made in his pay in such a way as to recognise that from the outset he should have been getting unemployment insurance benefit instead of unemployment assistance benefit.
I think this matter has been raised by some Donegal Deputies because-while  it affects all areas—it mostly affects the areas where you have a substantial proportion of migrant labour such as you have in Mayo, Galway and parts of Connemara. Something should be done to cut the red tape that is preventing a fellow from getting unemployment assistance benefit until such time as his claim for unemployment insurance benefit is cleared up, so that if he has stamps to his credit he will get insurance benefit and, if not, he will get unemployment assistance benefit. My suggestion is that you pay the lower rate until such time as you have cleared up his entitlement to insurance benefit.
The Minister is talking about cases of delay. No doubt there have been cases of delay. I have seen some bad cases. There were cases that occurred in my time which were quite startling. Certain explanations are given; some of them seem plausible enough but some do not. Some of the delays are inherent in the new organisation which was recently thrown on the Department, and the new pattern of payments which has been adopted, and I do not want at this stage to emphasise unduly the delay aspect, because one is dealing with a big organisation. Delay is often inevitable and delay may be caused by one or two people who are difficult or diffident or reluctant to move, while the whole organisation itself may be, on the whole, geared up to give a pretty good output of work. I do suggest that where cases of delay occur and are brought to the notice of the Department the file should then be redtabbed so that it will not be regarded as just another application, and somebody in the section should have the responsibility of clearing off such cases with the minimum of delay.
I do not want to make any general complaint, but there have been cases of delay and some of them serious. My experience, both in the Department of Social Welfare and in discussions with officers of the Department of Social Welfare, is that those with whom I have dealt in the course of making representations and making claims have been uniformly courteous. That was not only my own personal experience in the Department, but I  tried in some measure to give to the Department this pattern of policy in dealing with cases: where you are in doubt, give the benefit to the claimant.
I know from experience, both inside and outside the Department of Social Welfare, that the departmental officers went to no end of trouble to try to establish entitlement of claimants to benefits and I have seen cases pursued to rather lengthy limits in the hope that somewhere entitlement to benefit would be found, so far as the applicant was concerned. I think that is a highly praiseworthy outlook on the part of a Department which is dealing, to a large extent, with people who are partly impoverished. I hope that outlook will continue. I hope that no staff will be saved at the expense of cutting down the very valuable service for people who very often have not the ability to put their own cases but have to rely on the sympathetic mind and the generous heart of the civil servant dealing with the case.
I would like to bring this point to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary. I have seen some cases lately concerning a person making a claim for sickness benefit arising from the fact that he fell and sustained concussion or something of that kind. The medical certificate is sent in, and the local agent forwards it, and it is examined in the Department, then somebody puts a microscope on it and says: “This man met with an accident.” Then they write to the agent and ask him to contact the person to find out if he fell arising out of or in the course of his employment, or while he was not employed. There is all the delay involved in this and then the agent gets in touch with the person and gets his story and the agent sends it back to the Department. As a result, two or three weeks pass before you know where you are and at any time the only thing at issue is whether the man fell when he was at work or when he was not at work. He is not concerned with that. He is concerned with the fact that he has a wife and a few kids to keep and that he is left without his sickness benefit while the Department is wondering whether he should have sickness benefit or should make a claim for workmen's compensation.  I think there is great hardship in these cases.
Most people of this type are separated from poverty only by their ability to earn a week's wages. If you take away a week's pay the next week is a blank week for them, and while you can understand the delay in the payment of benefit I think every possible step should be taken to avoid it. I would suggest, therefore, that this question should be examined from this standpoint: that where there is a doubt whether workmen's compensation or sickness benefit is involved the sickness claim should be paid anyway with the understanding that if the man recovers from his employer under the Workmen's Compensation Acts he will refund the sickness benefit paid. This long investigation which sometimes necessarily and sometimes quite unnecessarily takes place results in hardship to those who are claiming sickness benefit.
It may be said: He might not repay it. I think you have to take a chance on that with a big organisation. In any case it is hardly likely that he will never again be sick in his life-if he is not it is all to the good because he will not make any more claims-but if he does, on any subsequent claim for sickness benefit an adjustment can be made. In the meantime you want to let out the benefit to him, taking all precautions, with the right to recover at any time and at all times enjoying the knowledge that if he never claims again you will not have to meet so many disability claims which are causing such worry to the Minister to-day. Something should be done in that field. In quite a number of cases delay is due to people passing letters to one another in an effort to discover whether a particular man fell while he was working or when he was coming home from work and, as I say, something will have to be done in matters of that kind.
I want briefly to refer to the position of certain unestablished civil servants. These are insured under the Social Welfare Act and they pay contributions thereunder, which contributions, in due course, entitle them to sickness benefit. By reason of their terms of  employment they are also entitled to a certain proportion of their pay as sick pay and wherever that occurs the Departments concerned pay a sum less whatever the recipients are entitled to under the social welfare code. The following situation arises in that context: a man may be employed as an unestablished messenger; he may get sick pay—let us say two-thirds of his ordinary pay less sickness benefit. The result is that in the first week he gets two-thirds of his pay less sickness benefit, because the Department concerned deducts the sickness benefit in the first week, on the assumption that he has got his sick pay; or it may be deducted in the second week if the Department assumes he got it in the first week. In the week in which he is sick he never gets into his hand his pay from the Department and his sickness benefit. It should be an easy matter for the Department of Social Welfare to enter into some arrangement whereby they would permit Departments to pay whatever the sick pay is and in due process of time remit to the Department whatever the sickness benefit is. I remember putting a section into the 1951 Bill to permit that arrangement to be made so that these people would not have their pay broken up into two elements with consequential inconvenience to themselves and their families. That is really only a matter of detail and it can easily be done. There is no impediment in the way and the insured person can enter into a contract with his employer permitting this arrangement to be made between the Department of Social Welfare and the employing Department.
Mr. Brennan: This opportunity should not be allowed to pass without paying tribute to the Minister for the very important developments that have taken place this year in relation to social welfare. Listening to Deputy Norton one can only conclude that bidding is still a popular game in politics. He reminded me of a fair day in my constituency where a certain man after listening to five or six different Party meetings said:
It is very easy for people to suggest increases everywhere, for increase are always popular. The question of raising the money to meet these increases is another matter. When that problem arises the finger is pointed at the Government for increasing taxation by even one penny, but there is never any question raised as to how the money will be found when someone wants to make the popular suggestion of increasing social services.
Deputy Norton has proposed a motion in which he suggests general increases in social welfare payments. He introduced figures which would appear to justify these increases. It is, of course, always possible to justify such increases, but Deputy Norton was careful to avoid pointing out one important factor when making comparisons between the sums paid to-day in relation to the present-day value of the £ and the sums paid some years ago. He did not advert to the fact that the Minister mentioned in his opening speech that in 1942 social service payments amounted to £3,750,000, while the amount paid to-day is over £21,000,000. I do not care how we compare the value of money to-day and the value of money some years ago. The important factor is the large number of new recipients. It is easy to say that the present-day value of the old age pension is only equivalent to the 10/- in 1949. How many more people have qualified for old age pensions to-day who were not qualified under the legislation in force in 1949? The amount in cash is certainly much greater than the amount to which Deputy Norton referred as compared with the value of the £ then and now. Between old age pensions and children's allowances a sum of £14,500,000 is being paid. That is a creditable figure for a nation like this.
We all realise that there must be some limitation to social services. We cannot go beyond the capacity of this country to pay nor can we go beyond the normal income-earning capacity of the nation. It is not right to make social services so high as to encourage  people to give up self-effort. People should be encouraged to do as much as they possibly can for themselves. Not so long ago Fine Gael condemned the trend towards ever-increasing social services and accused us of aiming at the establishment of the social welfare State. To-day, Deputy Esmonde, the shadow Minister for Social Welfare, advocated still further developments in our social services. It is quite popular to advocate that, ensuring all the time that no reference is made as to the financing of these extra payments.
I listened to Deputy Esmonde on one occasion making a comparison between what he claimed to be the difference as between the Fine Gael mentality and the Fianna Fáil mentality. He said Fine Gael wished people to spend their own money in their own way, while Fianna Fáil were in favour of advanced social services and wished to take the money from the people to spend it for them in the way Fianna Fáil believed it should be spent. That was his reference to the advance in social welfare. It does not, by any means, confirm the line of the Labour Party as described by Deputy Norton just now, but no attempt will be made to explain what the line might be if we had, as Deputy Norton hinted, a different Minister for Social Welfare, when he pointed out to the present Minister that his time would not be too long in his new abode. People would like to know what would be the attitude of the man who would replace him, as hinted by Deputy Norton.
The amount being paid in social services, £21,000,000, is a creditable amount for a nation with resources such as ours. To those on the Labour Benches, who only see the city worker or the city unemployed man——
Mr. Brennan: ——I would point out that a very important section of the community is represented by the man who lives on the small farm. I would point out to Deputy Corish and other Labour Deputies that the man who lives on the small farm stands to gain the least from social services but has  to pay the most. He must be considered when we are considering the extent to which we can go with social services.
Mr. Brennan: There are some provisions of social services which considerably improve the lot of the small farmer. The non-contributory widows' and orphans' pensions benefit people on small holdings who are not in a position to have contributions to their credit. Under the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act, sponsored by Fianna Fáil, they were enabled to get benefits which ordinarily would not derive from the Act had it been introduced by people who advocate what would suit only the city mentality. Children's allowances is another provision which considerably improves the lot of people bringing up large families on small holdings. In addition, there are little social services directly for the benefit of those people. They do not, as a rule, qualify for home assistance or home assistance schemes, such as free boots. They are regarded as having property and land. Although their holdings are uneconomic they do not benefit from any of these schemes.
 These are important people and comprise a very large section of our community. They will agree that £21,000,000 is, perhaps, as much as the country can afford. Certainly, the Fine Gael people would agree with that. They accused us of going much too far in that direction. However, we had to-day Fine Gael Deputies advocating that we should go farther and pay more to old age pensioners.
Deputy Norton dealt with some routine matters in which I am interested and on which I am in agreement with him. He referred to managers of employment exchanges. I do not think his account of how the manager of an employment exchange is paid was exactly right. It is true that the local manager of the employment exchange is paid in relation to the number of unemployed registered in his office, but it is not correct to say that that payment is sufficient to entice him to see that the register is kept up or that he would have any interest in seeing that the number is large at any particular time, for this reason, that if there are so many persons registered at the exchange, he is obliged to employ an extra hand.
Mr. Brennan: If he pays him anything within reason, the amount allowed will not leave anything for himself. I am well aware of a case where the local manager of an employment exchange had to go back to the office after dinner on Sunday and work up to midnight in order to cope with the work and to enable him to have something to spare out of his allowance. He was not able to do anything outside the job.
Mr. Brennan: It is bad to this extent, that in an area where there is a lot of postal work, where there is a large number registered as unemployed, the staff which the manager is obliged to employ will more than account for anything extra that he is  paid in respect of the increased number on the register. If the Minister checks up, he will find on record cases where the manager of the exchange had been working for as little as 10/-per week for himself.
Mr. Brennan: I am afraid it nearly amounts to that. He is obliged to do that in order to make ends meet. I am appealing with the Deputy to the Minister to see that that person's remuneration is adjusted to his demands so as to enable him to pay a fair wage to those he employs.
Reference was made to delays in payment. I must agree with the Minister that in many cases when the causes of the delay were properly sifted it was found that delay was to the benefit of the applicant. I have always found the office most helpful. The investigations that they carried out were usually necessitated by the lack of information at the outset and were being pursued with a view to ascertaining whether or not the particular applicant was entitled to benefit or to more benefit than he would appear to be entitled to. At one time delays were greater than they are now and were attributed to the fact that the Department was moving to new offices. Now that people are becoming more familiar with the regulations governing payments one can expect expedition.
 Deputy Norton referred to the ponderous explanatory matter which is issued by the Department, but he did not seem to be aware that there is on sale in the Stationery Office a very nice little booklet for, I think, 6d., entitled: A Guide to the Social Services. That is a most useful booklet to any person who is interested in disentangling all the various regulations under the social welfare code.
Mr. Brennan: However, I find that red book which the Stationery Office is selling for, I think, 6d. is very useful. I have supplied it to a number of constituents in order to save trouble for myself, and found that it does cover in a concise, simple way most of the regulations, and interprets them in a manner which the average man in the street would easily understand. While it might be necessary to have a revision of that booklet from time to time, it is certainly on the right lines and something which should be welcomed by Deputies generally.
I also agree that there should be some form of emergency payment made to persons to assist them in that difficult period, from the time they become sick or an accident occurs, until the first payment is made. There is a period there where there should be some means by which an emergency payment could be made. Deputy Norton said that it could be recovered, if they failed to make good the application or it was found that they were not entitled, and I think that is so. The whole social welfare code now has become sufficiently important that very few people would attempt to evade the regulations in the knowledge that it would debar them from benefits under this scheme. The number of them who would be likely to defraud in putting  through a claim for sickness benefit would be very small, and even if they did make a claim and they were not entitled to payment, it could be recovered, provided, of course, they recovered from the sickness.
The delays in investigation in the different cases I have already touched on, but I think that some at least—I do not say all, but a good deal—of the red tape and unnecessary regulations might be cut out or dispensed with in relation to that. When all these questionnaires are in the first instance designed they are designed with a view to their being completed by possibly the biggest group imaginable and are put to meet the watertight cases that must be anticipated and the type of individual which all Departments visualise whenever they plan a questionnaire form to be completed in order to qualify for any benefit. But I think that if a little more confidence was placed in the people generally a good deal of the red tape which does cause unnecessary delay could be cut out.
I have nothing further to say except to congratulate the Minister on bringing into effect the Social Welfare Act in a comparatively short time. It marks an important period in the history of our social services, and we have now reached a stage where one section of the community tell us that we are moving too fast, too rapidly, and going too far towards the welfare State, and another section are inclined to think that we have not gone far enough.
Mr. Brennan: I think candidly that we have struck the happy medium, and I believe that for the time being in relation to the economy of this country as a whole, our £21,000,000 on social services is a goodly amount, a creditable amount, and which a nation such as ours can be proud of; and when those few little gaps will be filled I think we will have reached saturation point. When I speak about little gaps I refer to one particular thing which comes on under another item, the allowances for permanently disabled persons, which is covered in the last  section of the Health Act and which we will have an opportunity of discussing later. I think that the coming into being of that section will cover the last remaining section of necessitous people not yet covered by any of our social services.
Mr. Blowick: I want to say that the outlook which the last Deputy has shown towards the spending of money on social services is scandalous. He kind of gloats over the fact that we have so many old people, so many out of work, so many sick people, that we are spending £21,000,000 on them. That savours to my mind very much of the person who gloats over the fact that they have paid so much for a coffin to bury a friend. I think it is indecent the way that Deputy has approached it. I would not like to approach the subject of a debate on this particular item at all along those lines. I think we should deal with it in an objective way.
Mr. Blowick: The Deputy thinks that it is a great thing to boast of paying £21,000,000 or £21,500,000 on social services, which is to say, or which is an attitude that at least struck me as being: “We have those old blighters and we must do something and spend so much money to show our sympathy.”
Mr. Blowick: I want to comment very much on the fact that the Minister in the House in charge of this particular Estimate has a wages and salary bill for his Department of £1,037,000. That is a formidable bill for any Miniister to bring in for the administrative side of his office alone, and that does not include the other portfolio, the Department of Health, which has its own separate wages and salaries bill of £156,220. I want to say that I was just amazed to see that figure there. I would like the Minister to give some explanation of it. I admit that the administration of £21,000,000 takes a certain amount of staff, but it is appalling to think that the salaries and wages bill in the Department of Social Welfare alone, not including the Department of Health, is exactly 2½ times the amount the Government is devoting to, let us say, the Local Authorities (Works) Act, drainage, and exactly three times the whole Irish Land Commission spends all over the Twenty-Six Counties on the improvement of estates. It seems to me to be a terrific bill. The health side, the Department of Health, is not before the House, but we cannot help associating with this Estimate the fact that the Minister's Department is making a demand on the Exchequer of £21,412,000 and the Department of Health of £10,410,000— a total of £31,822,000, or approximately £32,000,000, one-third of the total cost of running this country. That is a gigantic sum and one that, in my opinion, should not be passed over easily here in this House. At least, a searchlight should be thrown on every particular sub-head of each of the two Votes that comes before us.
I want to say in regard to the motion which is before the House at the same time as this Estimate that I agree with that motion, at least the greater part of it. The cost of living has gone up by 25 points since 1949-50—it actually went up 27 points, if my judgment is correct, for a while. I hold, therefore, that the time has come when old age pensioners are entitled to some little increase.
Mr. Blowick: Our experience has  been that the recipients of old age pensions are very thankful for little increases. They do not expect miracles, but they like somebody to say a word in their favour. I have a particular class in mind—the person who reaches 70 years of age, who has no savings or no other means of income and who, to put it in plain words, must sink or swim on the 21/6 he gets as pension. I think that is not sufficient to keep body and soul together, and I know of some people to my own knowledge who are definitely in want on the 21/6. That is a sad state of affairs. When we see money being thrown around in bucketfuls in some directions, I think we should at least pay some attention to the old. Since I learned to know anything, I was always accustomed to hear that one of the badges of civilisation was a system under which people gave immense care to the young and respect, care and attention to the old. I am afraid that we cannot say that we are giving proper care and attention to the old when we ask them to subsist on 21/6 per week, with the cost of living what it is. It will be a good while before I can forget the Budget of 1952.
I could not help thinking that that was a cheap device to take away from those in receipt of old age pensions, widows' and orphans' pensions and unemployment benefits, the increases which they had got from the inter-Party Government. The cost of living then was comparatively low but the workers had got an increase in wages, not perhaps as much as we would have liked to see, but there was definitely a huge advance on what the previous Government was prepared to give. The removal of the food subsidies was a cheap trick, in my opinion, and nothing else, to take away from the recipients of old age pensions, the recipients of blind and widows' pensions and from working men generally the benefits they had secured from the previous Government.
Mr. Blowick: I do not think our Party was in the House at the time the subsidies were put on. Like the Deputy, I was in another occupation miles from here. I want to say a few words on the question of national health insurance. Every person in employment has to pay national health insurance but one thing I am up against is that I am being queried constantly by people who point out that when they get sick, through no fault of their own, that is all they hear about it. They have been paying for national health insurance stamps for years. Only this morning I got a letter from a lady in hospital. She has been in various hospitals for the last three or four years. She has been paying national health insurance for 14 years and she thought, naturally, that she might eventually derive some benefit from the constant payment of that weekly sum of 1/-, or whatever it was. Now when her little private funds have given out, and after she has spent three and a half years away from work, apparently she gets no benefit, good, bad or indifferent.
I see a figure in the Appropriations-in-Aid that I should like the Minister to explain when he is replying. There is a figure of £647,800 which is described as “Receipt from the Social Insurance Fund in Pursuance of Section 40 (2) of the Social Welfare Act, 1952”. That is a huge sum to receive in Appropriations-in-Aid for such a Department as the Minister's. I thought that Appropriations-in-Aid might more fittingly arise in the case of the Department of Justice or the Department of Lands, which quite possibly might have something to sell or to dispose of. I want to ask the Minister is it correct to regard that sum as arising from workers' contributions or is it correct to give it under the heading of Appropriations-in-Aid? I should also like the Minister to tell us what benefit exactly a person gets  for the payment of national health insurance, seeing that there is not a week in which I do not get a letter from some constituents asking what has become of their money, what benefits they are going to get or where does it go. They do not seem to know. There are two things certain. The first is that they must pay contributions, and the other is that they can say good-bye to the money the day they pay their contributions, because one pennyworth of goods they will never see from it. That is the average person's opinion anyway. I should like to know if the new national health legislation has made any change in that respect.
The last Deputy who spoke, Deputy Brennan, referred to children's allowances and preened himself and his Party in regard to children's allowances. I wish he were in the House now just to remind him that there was not a word heard in this House about children's allowances until the Clann na Talmhan Party came in here in 1943. The Minister finds that very funny. Perhaps, instead of laughing at that statement he will explain why it was that it was not until after the 1943 General Election it was first put into legislative form.
Mr. Blowick: Deputy Brennan seemed to take pride in Fianna Fáil's attitude in regard to that question but I think a closed mouth would be a decent attitude for him to maintain, on that particular subject in any case.
I want to refer to the question of unemployment assistance. It was stated earlier to-night that if there was not unemployment assistance, particularly in the congested areas, in both the Fíor-Ghaeltacht and the Breac-Ghaeltacht areas, there would be nobody there at all. Unfortunately, that is true. It is a terrible condemnation of our management of our home affairs to find that that is the position, because in the last 20 years we have sent out or allowed out of this country at least 500,000 of our boys and girls. If we look at the matter properly, we find that the 500,000 boys and girls who left this country went of their own free will. Two things are very evident. There was no employment to induce them to stay here, and, if they were satisfied with the dole or unemployment assistance, they would have stayed at home and drawn it. That reveals a pretty shocking state of affairs. Let me give the Minister the benefit of a certain experience I had while I was in charge of the Forestry Department of the Land Commission. I am going to refer to the benefits that would be got——
Mr. Blowick: I do not want to get past it. I think I made my position clear in pointing to a method by which the amount paid in unemployment assistance might be reduced or the number of recipients reduced——
Mr. Blowick: Very good. I should  like to refer to the flight from the land and the number of people at home who are without any employment and must fall back on unemployment assistance. I think that is a condemnation of the Government's methods as they have not provided employment. The fact that we have exported 500,000 of our youth who refuse to draw unemployment assistance at home and would not have gone away if there had been employment for them is a very serious condemnation of the Government. If we do want to preserve the remnant of our rural population that is left, we will have to adopt a totally different method altogether. The Government's attitude seems to be: “We will throw them a few shillings in unemployment assistance and ask them to hold on. We will not give them employment or a decent piece of land.” At the same time we have Minister proclaiming loudly against the awful fact that the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht is shrinking day by day. It is no wonder that it is because the able-bodied people are flying from it and the Government will not provide employment for them. The best they have to offer is unemployment assistance and they must sink or swim on that; if they do not like to live on that, they can fly to Great Britain or America or any other country to which they wish to go.
I think the Government should wake up and look into that matter. I am not speaking for the purpose of effecting a saving in social assistance. What I want is to try and limit the number of people who will not accept unemployment assistance and who prefer to make good use of their youth by going to a foreign land to try and put together as much capital as would enable them to make a start in their own country. I should like to refer to the fact that even those who are compelled to fly from such a system as that and who afterwards bring home a bit of money are victimised by the Revenue Commissioners by the collection of income-tax.
Mr. Blowick: He has collective responsibility. We see the Minister for  Finance very often thumping his chest and casting his eyes to heaven in rapture at the collective responsibility of any Government, his own Government included.
Mr. Blowick: I should like to say also that, in my opinion, the old age pensions at present are inadequate when we compare them with the drop in the purchasing power of the £ in recent years, coupled with the cost of living. These two things are inseparable. While I have no desire to go back on the attitude of the present Minister for Social Welfare when he occupied another office in pre-1947 days and when he refused to budge an inch in response to pressure from Clann na Talmhan to increase old age pensions and asked: “Where are we to get the money?” I am afraid his attitude is the very same to-day. I remember that in 1946 in reply to a motion moved by members of this Party——
Mr. Blowick: Very good. I presume it is appropriate to point out to the Minister that the time is due, if not overdue, for an increase in old age pensions. In doing so, I cannot help reflecting on the attitude of the present Minister some years back in regard to a motion to increase old age pensions. I believe that he has not the slightest intention of coming to the rescue of the old and the blind and the widows and orphans by giving them an increase in their pensions commensurate with the increase in the cost of living. I think that is overdue for these three sections of the people.
Mr. O'Higgins: I think that the discussion of the Estimate and of the motion permits Deputies to examine the state of our social services at the moment and to consider whether or not these services are adequate.
 As Deputy Norton, in moving the motion, pointed out, the rate for social services, as it applies to old age pension payments, widows and orphans, unemployment assistance and a variety of services of that kind, is a rate that was determined some years ago in accordance with the conditions then obtaining. It is not possible, I think, for any Deputy to be satisfied with the level which was fixed two years ago as a level which must be regarded as sacred and immutable and never to be changed.
Mr. O'Higgins: It is regrettable that when a matter as important as this is, a discussion on the level of social service in the country and the right of old age pensioners to get an increase, that some two or three minutes should have to be spent in ringing the bells throughout Leinster House to get Fianna Fáil Deputies in to listen to the discussion.
Mr. O'Higgins: As I was saying, the level of our social service here should not, and I think cannot, be regarded as immutable or sacred, and ought to be changed. Indeed, it has been common case on both sides of the House that the level of social services necessary must be reviewed from time to time. I think that was recognised very clearly in 1949 when the inter-Party Government proposed the level of social services now obtaining.
Mr. O'Higgins: At that time, Deputies will recollect the present Tánaiste, speaking from where I am speaking now, and recognising the political embarrassment to his Party of the increase in social services then proposed, advocated that the whole question of social services should be removed from the realm of Party politics. These were very sound sentiments then by the Tánaiste, but it is regrettable that his colleagues in the Fianna Fáil Party did not live up to that expression of opinion. They did their utmost to defeat the Social Welfare Bill of 1951, and they did their utmost to defeat the Government which proposed it. But, however, we have now by our legislation, in the turn of events, adopted what was then proposed.
If one were to accept the speech made to-day by Deputy Brennan, we are now to regard these levels of social payments as being the very limit which this State can afford. I do not know whether that expression of belief made by Deputy Brennan is shared by the Minister. It is not necessary for us at the moment to discuss what is the limit to which the State can go. If the Minister desires to make the case that we cannot afford any increase in these payments, well that is a case that can be argued and discussed, but leaving that aside for the moment. I  doubt if any Deputy would suggest that the present payment, particularly old age pension payment, is an adequate payment in existing circumstances. I would be inclined to say that most Deputies would agree that the old age pension payment of a little over £1 a week in present circumstances for a destitute claimant, that is a claimant who gets the full payment, is not in itself adequate. If agreement can be reached on that, then we can discuss the reasons why, if they exist, that payment shall not be increased. We have not, of course, heard from the Minister himself. It may be that the Minister would say that the State cannot afford a greater payment. That is a case that will not commend itself to us, because it is perfectly clear that even the existing level of taxation is bringing into the Government, certainly this year, far more money than is required to run the existing services. Indeed, so great has been the increase in revenue with the present level of taxation that a very strong opinion is held in the country that a supplementary Budget reducing taxation is now necessary and about to be introduced.
Mr. O'Higgins: In any event, it does seem to me that in regard to old age pensions payments, leaving aside other ones mentioned in the motion, some adjustment upwards can legitimately be expected at present by assistance from the State and that no very serious hardship or burden would be imposed thereby on the community.
I think it is well for Deputies to remember that this payment of a little over £1 a week, a payment which was regarded as justified three years ago, and which has been accepted by the present Government Party, is a payment which was decided upon by the then Government before the frugal larders of the poor were robbed as they were in the Budget of 1952. £1 a week or 21/6 a week was regarded as a proper old age pension when butter was 2/8 a lb. and when tea and sugar were considerably less than they are now. The situation at  present is that these very necessary articles of food have been substantially increased in price by direct positive action by the Government and under those circumstances I think that an unanswerable case can be made for a substantial increase in the old age pensions. Certainly, Deputy Norton in proposing this motion is, I would imagine, proposing something which commands ready acceptance from all sides of the House. I have no doubt that the Minister will recognise very clearly the strength of the case that is made for this motion and that he will hold out to the House a hope of an increase in the old age pensions in the very near future.
I want to say with regard to this question of what should be the proper payment to be made to old age pensioners that I recognise that no matter what sum might be regarded as a proper weekly sum to be paid in the future, people will point out that that sum by reason of rising prices or other circumstances of that kind ceased to be adequate, and I have suggested before—and I make the suggestion here again—that in relation to payments of this kind our legislation should provide that these payments be tied to living costs and that it should be possible for the Minister and the Government to devise a scheme whereby a payment made in the nature of an old age pension payment should be tied to any increase in the future in the cost-of-living index. If that were done, or power given to the Minister to do that, it would not be necessary to bring in legislation to effect an increase in old age pension payments every few years.
I do not think it can be disputed that in the last three years the cost-of-living index has risen by over 20 points, and that it has gone up by that amount, and that by that amount the real value of the £1 a week which was thought adequate in 1949 and 1950, has been reduced. A 25 per cent. increase in the cost of living would have meant— if the cost-of-living bonus applied to old age pensions—that the old age pension would now be 25/- a week, to  give the old age pensioners what it was thought they should get three or four years ago. I do think, sooner or later, some scheme of that kind will have to be adopted because I think—Deputies will appreciate this-that it is only when a grievance or a want has been in evidence for a considerable length of time that Governments begin to take action to remedy that particular grievance.
The old age pensions of 10/- a week was increased only after something like nearly 30 years—at the time of the emergency. During all that time— certainly for most of it—an inadequate payment was made to old age pensioners. Where our statute law provides that the maximum payment is a particular sum, then that maximum can only be changed or increased after a considerable number of years during which time very real want is felt by those who should be entitled to an increase. If that payment were tied in some way to living costs, or power given to the Minister to increase it, then that particular grievance would not exist.
I heard a Fianna Fáil Deputy—I think it was Deputy Brennan or some Deputy over there—make some reference to the Fine Gael attitude towards social services. It is not, I think, necessary for any Deputy of this Party in this debate to make any apologies for our attitude, but in case Deputies may forget, it is well to remind them that our Party was proud of the fact— and is proud of the fact—that working in the inter-Party Government with other Parties, we contributed towards a welfare scheme which, if adopted, would have been the finest social welfare scheme in any country of comparable size. That scheme—it was not adopted because, unfortunately, the Government changed—did lead to the present payments to old age pensioners and many of the payments set out in the present Social Welfare Act. If we were still there, and I have no doubt that the present situation will be righted in the near future, our attitude towards social services would be what it was when we were in Government, namely, a liberal and equitable one.
Mr. O'Higgins: I recollect that in the first Budget of the inter-Party Government in 1948 provision was made for increasing old age pensions. Eighteen months later in the following year old age pensions were still further increased. I can recollect that during all the period in which the inter-Party Government was in office food was maintained at a low price level for every poor person in the country. Now we have gentlemen like Deputy Briscoe, whose Government raided the larders of the poor two years ago, and Deputy Brennan who thinks that was a good thing to do and that the present level of social services should not be changed, talking about their interest in the poor. In the ranks of Fianna Fáil at the moment there is Deputy Cogan who nearly burst every blood vessel in his body in order to wreck and defeat the social welfare scheme of 1951. In that Party at the moment there is every kind of reactionary sitting behind the Minister, quite content with the fact that old age pensioners may whistle as long as they like but they will get nothing from the Fianna Fáil Government that made their bread and butter, their tea and sugar so much dearer. Not one penny increase will be given. That is the Government and that is the Party that tries to throw stones inside this House.
We are proud of the fact that in the  short time we were in office we incorporated the idea of social insurance into our social welfare legislation thereby increasing the level of social insurance and bringing it nearer to the real needs of the people. The motion proposed by Deputy Norton will probably meet with the approval of the Minister in relation to old age pensions, because the Minister has had experience, bitter, personal experience I have no doubt, of dealing with a motion similar to this in 1947, a motion in practically identical terms proposed by the present Leader of the Opposition and another Deputy in the autumn of 1947.
Mr. O'Higgins: The motion in 1947 merely called for a modification of the then existing means test in relation to old age pensions. The present Minister, who was then also in charge of the Department dealing with these matters, said that motion could not be accepted because the State could not afford it. To prove his point he said that the proposed modification of the means test would mean an increase in the burden of taxation to the tune of £500,000. In the autumn of 1947 the old age pension level—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—was something around £50 a year.
Mr. O'Higgins: Six years ago the Minister opposed a motion calling for some improvement for old age pensioners on the ground that the State could not afford it. Not only did he oppose it then here in the House but he got every tame Fianna Fáil Deputy to walk into the Division Lobby behind him.
Mr. O'Higgins: Five months later the inter-Party Government increased old age pensions and brought about a modification of the means test. Within two years of that motion the means test was still further modified and a further increase granted in old age pensions. When the Minister returned to office he found he had to honour an undertaking given by the inter-Party Government and further increased old age pensions. If he says now in opposing this motion that this is something the country cannot afford I would suggest to him that he should count ten before he makes that statement.
Mr. O'Higgins: On the Estimate there is very little that I have to say but I do think that delay in dealing with some cases is still a matter that is rightly raised here. All Deputies recognise that after the Social Welfare Act came into operation it was inevitable that some back log should  be created in the Department. That has eased and, from my own experience, there has been a considerable improvement in the time and the manner in which claims are dealt with. I still think, however, that some claims could be dealt with a little bit quicker than in fact they are. I should like the Minister's assurance that complaint of delay will have the attention of himself and the Department.
Some time ago I suggested with regard to sickness payments that a scheme should be adopted whereby the employer would be compelled to make the payments. When an employed person becomes ill and has to make a claim to the Department for sickness benefit and is without any means during the waiting period considerable hardship arises. I would suggest that the Minister should examine the possibility of allowing employers to make the payment initially and to secure a refund from the Department. Where a factory has its own doctor, it is known when a person is genuinely ill. Where that person has been certified to be sick and entitled to benefit, no real hardship can arise if the employer makes the payment and if some arrangement is made to refund the payment later to the employer.
Mr. Hickey: I second the motion proposed by Deputy Norton. I was very disappointed by the statements made by Deputy Brennan. I am quite satisfied that he was not expressing the views of the Fianna Fáil Party when he said that the amount we are spending on social services had reached the limit and that it was very creditable for any Party to be able to say that they were spending up to £21,000,000 on social services.
In order to avoid repetition I shall not touch on the matters dealt with by Deputy Norton who stated the facts as minutely as possible. For the benefit of Deputy Brennan and anybody else who may think like him, I shall indicate what we are paying to old age pensioners, to the unemployed and  their dependents. To-day we are paying an unemployed man unemployment assistance at the rate of 18/- a week, that is, a man who has exhausted his stamp benefits. Divide that 18/- into seven days. It means that he has 2/6 ¾ per day or 10d. per meal for the three meals of the day. A man with a wife gets unemployment assistance at the rate of 28/- a week, that is, 4/- per day, or 2/- a day for each person, or 8d. per meal for the three meals of the day. A person with a wife and two dependent children gets 40/- a week, including children's allowance of 2/6 for the second child, which is 5/9 a day, or 1/5 per person, or 4 ¼d. per meal for the three meals of the day.
I would point out to Deputy Brennan and the outside public, if they could be reached, that rent, fuel, light, clothing, boot repairs and school books have to be paid for out of that allowance, which means that the family cannot have even 4 ¼d. per meal for the three meals of the day.
I was not pleased by the way in which the Minister expressed this matter. He said we were paying £14,000,000. That is not a fair way to present the need for change in social services. Deputy Brennan suggested that it was a sign of a healthy community that we are paying so many old age pensions. Unfortunately, many of the young people are leaving the country. We have 161,000 old age pensioners and the amount that they get to live on is 21/6 per week, that is 3/- a day.
I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider this matter seriously. We all know that butter is 4/2 a lb., milk 3/6 a gallon, eggs 6d. each and that at these prices these commodities must be unknown to the old age pensioners and recipients of unemployment assistance and widows' and orphans' pensions.
I think it is a disgusting thing to hear a crowd of men in this House introducing Party politics when we are discussing a vital matter of this kind. I say it is disgusting and I emphasise that fact. There are people outside this House who are just living—not living but existing—and it is a rather strange thing when people say to me: “What can we do with our 21/6?” and when they emphasise the human side of it by saying: “Please God, we will not be left long more here to suffer the poverty.” Would not anybody with any sense of humanity in him revolt to think that we have people in this country who cannot get more than 21/6 a week?
I want to tell Deputy Brennan—and again I feel that he is not expressing the views of his Party or even of the Minister—that we have not yet 3,000,000 people in this country and I was listening to the Taoiseach in this House stating 19 years ago that this country could support 17,000,000 people in a standard of life higher than they ever experienced. To think that we have people so thoughtless and so complacent and with a sense of self-satisfaction as to suggest that we should pride ourselves that we are giving £14,000,000 per year for our poor people who are helpless! How could you feel pride in that? I appeal to him not to feel pride in it. He talked there about it being a popular thing to talk about raising old age pensions and provision for the unemployed. I do not know of any place more depressing or revolting to any man with any human feeling to go to than to visit the labour exchange any day of the week and to see physically fit young men and women standing in queues waiting for their turn to sign on for a miserable pittance. Those men are willing to work. I know men have been borrowing bicycles to cycle out of the City of Cork ten miles to get employment on the new scheme of the E.S.B. at Inniscarra rather than to stand in the queue waiting at the labour exchange.
Deputy Brennan talked a while ago about the people in the country districts. Is it not a shameful thing to think that while we are paying that miserable allowance to the people in the cities, in the rural areas we pay an unemployed person 12/- a week and if he has a wife he will only get 20/- a week? If he has two children he gets only 28/- a week.
That man, living in a cottage or in any kind of a slum house, would have  to pay 4/- or 5/- a week rent, and after that surely that man has not even the price of one decent meal a day. I think it is a terrible thing to be listening to people trying to bring in Party propaganda here in a matter so vital as this to so many thousands of our decent people. Let us bear this in mind—that thousands and thousands of these men and women who have served this country well in dark and evil days, after their long years of 52 or more years of service to the nation, are offered to-day 21/6 a week. I would appeal to the Minister and to the Government as a whole to make up their minds to come to the rescue of these people. I do not believe that anybody will object if these old age pensioners, widows and orphans, and the unemployed and their dependents get another 5/- or 10/- a week on to their benefits. I would say this, that if it was put into their pockets it would be spent week-in and week-out, and there would be some activity in the life of our people.
There is another matter which I would like to mention. A number of employers have realised at last that their men who have spent 30, 40 or even 50 years' service in their employment deserve recognition and have now agreed to give them 25/- a week pension. What happens as a result of that? When the man's wife becomes 70 years of age—and many of them have passed that period—and when she applies for the old age pension she can get only 16/6 because the husband is getting 25/- a week; and if he has 30/-a week she will get only 11/6. Is it not a shame that we should tell a man because he has given 30, 40, or 50 years' faithful service to his employer and the employer has decided to give him a pension that that man can get only 11/6 and 16/6, respectively, for the figures I mentioned? I would appeal to the Government to get down to the fact that we have to look after our aged people and we will have to look after the dependent people who have nobody to look after them.
I come now to the question of widows and orphans. Is it not rather a terrible thing, a scandalous thing, that we have to pay a widow whose  husband was so long unemployed before he died only £1 a week, 4/- a week less than the widow of the man who was fortunate enough to be in employment very shortly before he passed away? Why should we punish the widow, or even punish the working man by paying him a lesser rate of unemployment assistance than a man who was fortunate enough to be employed? In other words, in our legislation we are punishing a man for being so long unemployed, and we punish the widow because her husband was so long unemployed before he died, and we pass the punishment on to the orphans of the unemployed man. I think that is a thing we should all be ashamed of. When I hear anybody talking about what we have done for the weaker sections of our community for the past 30 years—I do not care what Government was in power—we ought to be ashamed to talk of being proud of what we have done.
Deputy Brennan was saying a while ago that we could not give them any more in the circumstances, but we can pay £15,500,000 interest on money borrowed for four or five of our services that I quoted here yesterday, yet we consider that we could not increase the old age pension and keep them from penury as they are in to-day. I would appeal to the Government and to every member of the Fianna Fáil Party— they have a tradition as well as any other Party—to make up their minds to come to the rescue of the old age pensioners, widows, orphans, those unemployed and their dependents. Those people are suffering to-day, in want of food and clothing. If you go into some of their homes you will see there that some of them have not even a bit of furniture. We talk about those people as if they were a class apart. Do not forget that some of them have played their part in producing the wealth of the nation as well as in the fight for the freedom of this country, not only in open fight but in their resistance, their attitude to the people who tried to crush us. I will leave it at that.
I hope that the appeal that is being made will influence the Government to do the necessary thing for those helpless  sections of our people. As a matter of fact, I go so far as to suggest to the Government that for the Christmas week all those people should be given a double week's benefit, to give them some feeling that people in this House and outside it are thinking of them day in and day out.
I come to some of the comments made by the Minister on the administration, and about the delays. I am rather inclined to have a good deal of understanding for the delays, but there are unnecessary delays, not due to the officials in Cork, because let me say this as one who has very long experience and almost daily experience of the officials in Cork Labour Exchange and in the national health department, I can say and I think it is fair to say it, that more efficient men in charge could not be found in any Department of State. But I will say now, and I have said it before, that much of the delay in giving the old age pensions and in questions of payment of national health and all those would be reduced if there were more executive authority given to those men in those areas. I say that those officials, the managers in the labour exchange in Cork and in the national health insurance office, are men who know their job and are in every way conscientious and efficient, and to think that they cannot O.K. a payment! It has to come through the pigeon-holes of the Government Department, and it has to go back to be okayed again before they can pay out money to those people.
I would suggest to the Minister that the time has come when more executive authority should be vested in managers of exchanges in places such as Cork, so as to obviate having to go through all this detailed work at the Dublin end.
I do not wish to delay the House further since Deputy Norton has touched on a number of other questions in which I am interested, but I would make a final appeal to the Minister on behalf of old age pensioners, widows and orphans, the unemployed and their dependents. The time has come when we have to make up our minds whether we can tax the patience of these people too much. Some people  may think of the unemployed as idling away their time hanging around labour exchanges but that is not their fault. Again, take the case of a man who has reached an old age and who is quite helpless. He has to keep some little bit of fire in the House, as Deputy Esmonde pointed out. I have known these people living in little hovels or little homes and paying as much as 6/- and 6/6 a week even for rooms in slum dwellings. The minimum rent is 6/- a week. They cling on to the room in which they have lived practically all their lives and in which they hope to die and they have to pay 6/-or 6/6 out of the 21/6 a week in rent. You can easily imagine the kind of existence they have. I would strongly appeal to the Minister to come to the rescue of these people by giving them a substantial increase in their allowances.
Mr. Corry: There are a few matters which I should like to bring to the attention of the Minister on this Vote. The first has reference to a question which I raised here as soon as I discovered the position in relation to social services as administered at present. It is in connection with the widow who is drawing a contributory pension. She is in receipt of 24/- a week for which her wage earner had to pay when he was alive. On attaining the age of 70 that woman is now classed as an old age pensioner and in consequence loses 2/6 a week at the very period of her life when she requires some extra money for nourishment. Whatever way it is looked at, she is entitled to the higher amount. If there was no old age pension she would get 24/- a week all her life but because, under the present regulations, she can be pitched over on the old age pensions department, she is deprived of 2/6 in her weekly allowance. I thought that legislation was necessary to remedy that but on looking up the matter since, I find that legislation is not necessary. I suggest to the Minister that is a defect in the social services system that should be remedied.
There is another matter connected with the practice known as “passing the buck.” Departments of State at  present are very anxious wherever possible to pass along any burden they can to the ratepayers. We had an instance of this quite recently in connection with unmarried mothers and their dependents. Prior to the coming in of the Social Welfare Act of 1952, these women were paid unemployment assistance in respect of themselves and their children. Now that has been changed and we are told that the child cannot be regarded as a dependent of an applicant for a qualification certificate for unemployment assistance unless the child is normally resident with the applicant. The Unemployment Assistance Act has been amended so that the child of an unmarried mother is regarded as normally residing with the head of the household. In that manner the burden is thrown back on the home assistance authority. I suggest to the Minister that that is a matter that should be taken in hands immediately and remedied. I have been quoting from a letter, Reference AA52953 of the 4th September, from his Department.
There is nobody in this House, I do not care to what Party he belongs, who is not anxious to better in any way possible the condition and the position of those who are unfortunately what we might describe as a burden on the State. When I heard Deputy Hickey, however, I wondered what Deputy Hickey and his Party were doing during the three and a half years they were in office to better the position of the people about whom they seem to be so anxious to-day. I wonder what was the unemployment assistance figure at that time or what they were doing when the price of national health insurance stamps was increased and no extra benefit was given. That was a rather severe burden on the poor, but no remedy was applied.
Mr. Corry: I suggest to Deputy Davin that he sat there quietly for three and a half years whilst the Social Services Bill that had been prepared by his predecessors was left lying idle. There were three Labour Ministers in the inter-Party Government, and they helped, I suppose, Deputy Blowick and the Ministers of the Clann na Poblachta Party to keep back the Social Services Bill from the House.
Mr. Corry: We have to look at the acts of different Governments here. Anybody listening to Deputy Hickey, as I have listened to him, heard his tale of woe about these unfortunate people. I am prepared to admit to Deputy Hickey that anybody who has lived in this country for 70 years is deserving, not of 21/6 a week but of £5 a week, if it could be given to him.
Mr. Corry: I tell Deputy Esmonde that if it were not for the £7,000,000 odd a year which has to be paid in interest for the spree that these people had and which we had to put taxation on the food of the people to pay, the cost of living would be very much reduced. The Deputy should remember that. The old age pension was 17/6 when we came into office. In 1951, it was increased to 20/- and it was afterwards increased to 21/6. During the three and a half years of the previous Government all these people did for the old age pensioners was to bring forward a proposal which Deputy McGilligan would not allow. These are the facts with regard to old age pensions and social services.
The contribution for national health insurance was increased and more money was dragged out of the unfortunate worker and Deputy Davin had nothing to say. As the “Grand Master” says: “He was as mute as a mouse.” Let us examine what has been done by the Fianna Fáil Government. Old age pensions have been increased by 4/- a week since the Fianna Fáil Government came back.
Mr. Corry: I had no intention of dealing with the question of old age pensions until I heard Deputy Hickey wailing about them. Deputy Hickey and his Party left the old age pensioners in May, 1951, in receipt of 17/6 per week. We had to consider the position of these unfortunate people and had to increase their pension and when we have a little more of the debts left to us by them cleared up we will be able to increase it more. These are the troubles which these gentlemen left after them.
The reason why I intervened in this debate was to get the couple of defects that I mentioned removed. I had to ask a question about them three weeks ago. It is a scandalous condition of affairs that a widow who is drawing a contributory pension owing to the fact that her husband contributed during his lifetime should be deprived of that pension and have her condition worsened to the extent of 2/6 a week just because she has reached the age of 70. It is a matter of “passing the buck” which I hope will be stopped now, as the ratepayers have enough on their shoulders.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: I regret I was not present for the Minister's statement, but I should like to avail of the opportunity to speak after my Cork colleague and friend, Deputy Corry. Deputy Corry has alleged that the Labour Party did very little during the time they were in charge of the  Social Welfare Department. I feel sure that Deputy Corry's memory is just as good as mine, but, apparently, when it suits him to forget particular matters, it is very easy for him to do so. I propose to detail as briefly as possible what the Labour Party did for the old age pensioners during the three and a half years of the last Government. Let us examine how they found the old age pensioners when that Government came into office in 1948. They found them getting a pension of 10/- a week, the same as they were getting when Fianna Fáil came into office in 1932.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: They found them getting 10/- a week old age pension, but they allowed them to get other benefits. They were very gratuitous towards those old people. Despite the fact that many representations were made by old age pensioners and their representatives to them that they could not live on the then existing allowance, Fianna Fáil refused to increase it. But they were not altogether unmindful of their interest and they told the old age pensioners: “If you can convince the local authority, you can draw a maximum of 2/6 per week from the local authority by way of home assistance allowance.” Fianna Fáil told those people: “If you want to get 12/6 as an old age allowance, you can get 10/- in old age pension after a rigid means test and, if you want to make a pauper of yourself, you can go to the local authority for home assistance.” That was the unfortunate position for many honest, decent people in the country. They had to go to the local home assistance officer.
If they succeeded in convincing him and the county manager, they could draw an extra 2/6 weekly. Let any Fianna Fáil Deputy who contributes subsequently to this debate confirm or deny that statement. That is the unfortunate position in which Fianna Fáil left the old age pensioners when they were put out of office in February 1948.
I would not deal with this from a political angle were it not for the allegations made against the Labour  Party by Deputy Corry. Everyone knows the Labour Party was always consistently and persistently advocating the cause of the aged. When the Labour Party took office they found these people were getting only a meagre allowance of 12/6, part of which was a home assistance allowance. What was the action, immediately on taking charge of the Department of Social Welfare, of the Leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Norton? Deputy Corry knows very well and so does every other Fianna Fáil Deputy if he cares to admit it. His first action within a month or two of taking office, was to bring in legislation to increase these allowances by 5/- per week, or to make the old age pension 17/6 per week—not 17/6 made up of home assistance, and an allowance from the State but 17/6 by way of State allowance. That was a marked increase. After a few months in office we put the old age pension up to 17/6. Fianna Fáil had increased it after 16 years in office—although the cost of living increased enormously during that period—by the miserable sum of 2/6. They are the Party that claim now, through some of their agents here, that they were very mindful of the old age pensioners and of their grievances and that the Labour Party completely and entirely neglected them.
This increase made by the Labour Minister in 1948 was only a temporary measure. He had just taken office and knew very well, as all his colleagues knew, that even 17/6 was entirely inadequate. He brought in legislation which would not only improve the position of old age pensioners but that of many other unfortunate sections of the community. Deputy Corry, in conjunction with every other member of Fianna Fáil, voted against that measure. They did their best to hold it up, to obstruct it and to prevent it being enacted. They did their utmost to deny any further increase to the aged people.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: Give me a little time. I would like to see Deputy Lahiffe contributing to the debate and saying if I am right. I would very much like to hear a little of his wisdom. Unfortunately for those pensioners, Fianna Fáil got into office by some kind of a twist or somersault made by a few former solid and solvent supporters of the inter-Party Government.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: A previous speaker made certain allegations against the Labour Party and their efforts during their term of office on behalf of those people. I am trying to trace, as far as I can and as concisely and as briefly as possible, the history of the position of the old age pensioners. In doing so I am now endeavouring to relate my remarks to the period subsequent to June, 1951. I was dealing with the change of Government and I thought it was relevant to mention that the man in charge of the Department of Social Welfare changed —that there was a change in the man at the helm. I thought I was entitled to do that. Fianna Fáil got into office by this peculiar somersault—of four or five members here.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: With all due respect to you, I was about to deal with the action of the Government or the reason for that action subsequent to the election. I have already said that the present Government Party were not helpful to the aged people. I was about to refer to this piece of legislation whereby they increased the pension to the present sum of  21/6 per week and give my views on that change. I shall do that very briefly. They had no possible alternative, due to the attention that the Party occupying these benches focussed on those pensioners but to grant some increase. They gave them a good increase the last time they went about it, in their 1/6 per week. I need scarcely mention that in actual fact the pensions were not increased, as new taxation offset the extra allowance. It is to-day under Fianna Fáil —having regard to the present cost of living—actually much less than it was in 1908 under a foreign Government when old age pensions were first provided in this country. Is not that a well-known fact?
If they gave it in 1951, you may be sure they reached out several hands to take it away again. We have had all this extra taxation. They denied the poor men—many of them old men in Deputy Corry's constituency, fine decent men—the right of having a smoke. They did that, too, in 1947. Ask any old age pensioner what he thinks of Fianna Fáil. To many of them in the rural areas, the only comfort they have is a smoke; and Fianna Fáil have put tobacco out of their reach.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: Very well. I will relate my remarks to the need for an increase in old age pensions. The case was ably and capably made by Deputy Hickey of Cork. I am not denying that it may be said that it is a very popular move for any Deputy to advocate here legislation that will increase old age pensions. That may be put forward by any member of the House. We in the Labour Party know just as well as anyone else that if any such pensions or benefits are to be increased,  the money must come from somewhere.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: We bear in mind the fact that the money will have to come from the people's pockets. I am very thankful to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare for reminding me that that is something that will happen in the future—that it will come from the people's pockets not necessarily to-day or to-morrow but, according to the present policy of Fianna Fáil, in 20 years' time arising from their borrowing policy.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: This conversation must cease. We are diste  cussing the Estimate for the Department of Social Welfare and Deputy Murphy should relate his remarks to the administration of that Department.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: I was making the point, as has been made by several members on these benches, that we are throughly aware of the fact that if the old age pensions were increased the money would have to come from somewhere. There is no use in standing up here and agitating for an increase in this, that or the other if we do not take cognisance of the fact that the money must be found to meet it. That is how I came to mention the borrowing business in the first instance. If I may say so, the Parliamentary Secretary had already mentioned it a few minutes earlier.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The position is that, on account of the Chair's particular view on this matter, I must not go into the subject of borrowing. I have respect for the Chair and I bow to its ruling. Might I put it this way? The Government got £21,500,000 this year through borrowing.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The necessity for an increase in old age pensions cannot be over-emphasised. I have no intention of resuming my seat yet, as I intend to speak for some time: I have a few more observations to make. Let us examine the types of persons who compose the old age pensioners of this country. What relation do they bear to the other sections of the community who do not receive an allowance known as the old age pension but who, instead, receive something known as a superannuation allowance, which is a far nicer term? Who are these old age pensioners? I will take, for the sake of example, the people who draw the old age pension in my constituency. I am sure that they are typical of the old age pensioners in every constituency in this country. They are the several groups of workers who have to earn their living not with their coat on but with their coat off; not within the shelter of a cosy and comfortable office but out in the open, in the field with the plough, on the road with the shovel and hammer and any other such occupation. When they reach 70 years of age, there is no allowance available for these persons except the old age pension. There are thousands of farmers throughout the country and when they reach 70 years of age the only allowance available to them—if they can survive a rigid means test—is the old age pension. Thousands of business people throughout the country are working under very difficult circumstances, particularly at present, due to the keen competition of large cooperative groups and societies which are crushing out the small man from business. They are the types of persons who will be applying for this allowance of 21/6 a week when they reach 70 years of age.
At this juncture, I think I could very well refer to a question which I addressed to the Minister for Social Welfare in this House no later than a fortnight ago. I asked why the old  age pension should not be made available to people at 65 rather than at 70. I have endeavoured, in so far as I possibly could, to calculate roughly what extra amount of money would be required per year if that suggestion were put into operation. I think that, roughly, it would work out at something more than £2,000,000 a year. Undoubtedly, that is a fairly formidable figure but, mind you, it is not so formidable when we relate it to the fact that it is costing more than £100,000,000 to run this country in the present financial year or when we relate it to the extra sum of £21,500,000 that was borrowed. In the course of a supplementary question which I asked the Minister in relation to the parliamentary question, I pointed out that the contribution of these people to the State is as noteworthy—and in my opinion more so—as the contribution of many people in the sheltered professions who have no difficulty at all in getting a huge superannuation allowance on reaching 65 years and who, in addition, receive a large gratuity when they retire. I maintain, without fear of contradiction, that the people down the country whom I have mentioned, and many people in our cities and towns—be they working behind a shop counter, with a spade, a shovel or a plough—are the backbone of this country. I further maintain, without fear of contradiction, that the contribution of these people to the welfare of our State—from the national as well as from every other angle—is as noteworthy, if not more so, as that of their more fortunate brethren in sheltered occupations. I do not want it to be taken that I am casting any reflection on the professional people. I am casting no reflection whatsoever on them. I realise that they must be there and that they serve a very useful purpose. My point is that I cannot see why the ordinary working man, the small farmer or the businessman—particularly the small businessman—cannot get an allowance from the age of 65.
Let us examine the position as it applies to certain sections of our Irish people. I am not afraid to face the issue. Everybody here knows the  sections of our people who, when they reach 65, will receive what I have no hesitation in describing as a fine fat cheque together with a yearly allowance not of 21/6 per week but of something far more substantial. The amount varies with the persons but in some cases it comes to a fairly substantial four figure sum. I might mention that, proportionately, I receive as much support from that section of our people as any other Deputy.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: I am dealing now with the position of what I term sections of our people. We can, on the one hand, find this money for these sections of people at the age of 65 years, but we cannot find it for the many groups of people that I have instanced when they reach the age of 65. I contend that is most unfair and unjust and that the position is one which needs rectification. So far as my information goes, people in neighbouring countries are now getting the old age pension at the age of 65. I cannot see why that should not happen here.
Deputy Killilea has asked me if I am opposed to these people getting their allowances. I am not opposed to it, but I have mentioned their position to compare it with those in many other groups who, when they reach the age of 70 years, have no allowance other than the old age pension. I feel that I am entitled to relate the position of certain sections of people, and their contributions towards the welfare of the country, with that of other sections of our people.
I have no hesitation in maintaining, and I am sure Deputy Killilea will hardly disagree with me, that the ordinary working men down the country, the men who produce food for the nation, who repair our highways, who do the hard, physical manual work, who do what is known as the gutter work, are making as noteworthy a contribution towards the welfare of this State as those who are in the sheltered professions and are equally entitled to a retirement allowance at 65.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The unfortunate thing was that we were not in office sufficiently long. I have already informed the House of the measures that we did put into operation when we were in office, and I think it would be unfair to the House if I were to repeat it.
At the present time, many people who would not qualify for an old age pension but are in receipt of superannuation allowances from the State or some other service, are complaining that they have reached an alarming situation and cannot live on their present superannuation allowances. If that is their position what, I ask, is the position of the ordinary working man in the country who is trying to live on 21/6 a week? In many cases these are invalid persons. How can the Minister, or any member of the Fianna Fáil Government, maintain that 21/6 a week is sufficient at the present time, particularly in view of increases which the Government have imposed on those people during their two and a half years in office? I think that if the Government had any shame in them they would compensate those people for the great wrong they did to them in other ways.
I want to repeat that the importance of this question cannot be over-emphasised. I am speaking for decent working people down the country, whether they be workers on the roads, farmers, business people or others. It is a shame to impose on them, when they reach the age of 70 years, the hardship of having to go to some local authority official, a home assistance officer, a county councillor or somebody else to intercede for them to get the home assistance allowance in order to supplement their inadequate old age pension. I think it is very unfair to ask those old people at the age of 70 years to do that. I do not think there is any need for me to dwell on that aspect of the question any further.
Every member of the House, irrespective of what side he sits on, is cognisant of the pitiable plight of those old age pensioners. I am firmly of the  opinion that, if legislation is introduced to increase their allowances, it will not meet with opposition from any Party in the House, and I would strongly impress on the Minister the need there is for introducing such legislation without delay.
Having dealt with the question of the allowance, I now want to mention another aspect of the case. It is that, in order to qualify for the 21/6 a week, small and all as it is, the applicant has to undergo a very close examination as to means. That rigid examination was modified a good deal by Deputy Norton when he was in office.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: I will tell the Deputy, although I think he was a member of the House at the time and must have been conversant with the legislation that was passed through then, particularly the important legislation dealing with the modification of the means test which was introduced by the inter-Party Government, thereby making it easier for people and particularly farmers with valuations of less than £30 to qualify for the pension. Did the Deputy not hear about that? The means test was then modified, and the position obtained that an old age pensioner who felt that he was aggrieved by a decision of the social welfare officer had the right of appeal to the central authority in Dublin. He had the opportunity, if he wished to avail of it, of interviewing any member of this House so as to have his position, in regard to his appeal, put clearly and fully before the responsible authority appointed to make a determination on the appeal.
That was another useful measure that the Labour Party provided. They gave the old age pensioner the right to submit his case verbally if he so preferred to the Department's agent who was determining that case.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The position was not there all the time, and is not there now, if it is any information to you. That right was made available to the aged people of this country by Deputy Norton and was taken away from them by Deputy Dr. Ryan as Minister for Social Welfare. It is not now possible, unless there is some special reservation for Government Party members, for a member of this House, so far as I know, to approach the deciding authority so far as old age pension affairs are concerned. The representations have to be submitted either in writing or in some other way, through some kind of contact man, or through some agent.
The Fianna Fáil Party began by having no faith in the local authority members in this country, believing that they were prone to corruption and such things. Then they believed the same of the elected representatives of the people who become members of this House and suggested that it is unfair and unjust to allow them to interview the determining authority in respect of an old age pensions appeal by some aged person down the country. Is that not the position? What is happening?
Take the case of the farmers and business people first of all. I am dealing with several small farmers and small business people. We have had the means test modified by the inter-Party Government but since Fianna Fáil took over it seems that behind the curtain where they cannot be seen by any representatives of this House, the determining authorities in regard to old age pension claims have not only increased the means of all these farmers and business people but have done so in some cases to an outrageous extent.
Let me give a few examples that I have come across as a member of the pensions committee of what is happening behind closed doors. I will give the Minister illustrations and let him then go to his office and find out if I am right or wrong. Let me take the case of a very industrious aged couple in my county, a man and his  wife, both of whom attained the age of 70 some 11 or 12 months ago. They live in a cottage with one acre of land, with a son and daughter. As I have already mentioned, this man is very industrious and this year the family went in for turkey-rearing. I believe they were previously engaged in that business, but in any case and to be as brief as possible, they had 300 turkeys this year when they applied for the old age pension. What happened? What would Deputies think happened in regard to their claim for a pension? What did these people behind the iron curtain— whether they are in the Custom House or elsewhere I do not know—do about this claim? They told these people living in a cottage in County Cork that they would get no pension; that they had 300 turkeys and were going to make a profit of 16/8 on each of them. I would like to see some members of the staff in Aras Mhic Dhiarmada raising 300 turkeys and making a profit of 16/8 on each of these turkeys. That is what these applicants were told and that is the pension they got.
I maintain that that position should be reviewed. I think it is a scandal and an outrage that two such industrious old people living in a cottage in this country of ours should be deprived of a pension of 21/6 a week because they were industrious enough in their cottage with one acre to produce 300 turkeys. I think it is a shame and a scandal that the officials should determine that there would be a profit of 16/8 each on turkeys in the year 1953, when prices have fallen by more than 9d. per lb.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: My advice to the Minister is to have a talk with some of these people on the clerical staff, and although they are getting substantial salaries, in view of the profit that is being made, or is alleged to be made on turkeys, suggest that they should instead of continuing with the Department of Social Welfare, go down to County Cork and get a few acres of land and raise 3,000 turkeys next year and make a fortune.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: This man lost 12 months of his pension because he had the misfortune of rearing 300 turkeys this year. Not only have himself and his wife lost £2 3s. a week between them, but they have lost more with the turkeys. But the gentlemen over in the Custom House, or wherever they are—perhaps in the big palace at Store Street—determined, mind you, despite clear-cut statements on my part and on the part of the applicants themselves that there was little or no profit on these turkeys, that there would be 16/8 profit on each turkey.
It may be said that no sane people would keep turkeys and rear them at a loss but that is the position this year due to a sharp decline in price. They have no redress, and it is an unfortunate position. Surely, there is no greater scandal in Ireland than that cases like that should arise. I have had several such cases and I could give other instances.
There is an old, struggling farmer whom I know well. He has been  struggling all his life to eke out a living on a little farm that carries a valuation of £7 15s., including buildings. The people in this big building down in Store Street have decided that that man is not entitled to the full pension because of this property. They treated that man very dishonestly; because of this little bit of property they allowed him only 16/6 per week. I know this farmer very well and I know that he never had sufficient to buy himself a decent suit of clothes in all his life. Yet, these people in Store Street have decided that he does not need the full pension. I wonder what they will get when they go out on pension. What gratuity will they be given? It is disheartening to meet with these things and they are due to the changes that the present Minister has made in the administration of his Department. He has denied in clear-cut language the right of members of this House, a right enjoyed by every Deputy under the inter-Party Government, to approach the determining officer personally and set out the cases in detail before him. These determining officers are now placed on a pedestal far removed from everyone. They cannot be seen by any member of this House. Indeed, I believe they cannot be identified and, according to my information, and it is apparent from their actions, they have little or no knowledge of the position that obtains so far as the ordinary hardworking people throughout the country are concerned.
I have given the Minister two illustrations. I appeal to him now to change this unfortunate system. I appeal to him, if he is sufficiently interested, to inquire into the two cases I have cited. He will find the position exactly as I have stated it in so far as this labourer with the turkeys is concerned and in so far as the small farmer with the £7 valuation is concerned. The honest, hardworking, industrious labourer saved a few hundred pounds but it was the turkeys that were the cause of his trouble.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: I appeal to the Minister to change the present system. Let him have some confidence in the members of this House and grant them the right of direct approach to the Pension Appeal Board. He is only a member himself and he ought to have some confidence in his own colleagues. This House is not composed of tricksters. Let the Minister have a little faith in Irish public life and a little confidence in the Irish people.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: I do not know what they are. Let the Minister have a little confidence in the people. If a Deputy can be elected here by 6,000 or 7,000 voters on an average, is he not entitled to some privileges? Is he not entitled to put these people's cases directly before the responsible authorities and not through the medium of an agent or a “contact man”? The present system is a hopeless one. It is not one that would commend itself to anyone.
During the two and a half years this Government has been in office money has been found for many schemes but very little has been found for the aged. I think the Government could find a few millions to improve the lot of these people. I think the Government could give them a pension at 65 just as easily as they found £250,000 to improve the bloodstock industry and £457,000 to throw into the transatlantic air services and all the other wanton expenditures they have incurred during the past 12 months.
Cases arise in relation to men working for local authorities and private employers earning a wage of £4 or £4 10s. a week where the wives are older than the husbands and on reaching  70 years of age apply for a pension. This pension is denied to these wives because their husbands are working. Can nothing be done to rectify that position? I recognise that there may be some difficulties in the way but surely some steps could be taken to remedy the present situation. Even if the husband is earning only £2 a week the wife on reaching 70 years of age will get a pension of only 11/6. I appeal to the Minister to take some steps in this matter.
Deputy Hickey has already outlined the position sufficiently in so far as widows and orphans are concerned. They are more or less in the same category as the old age pensioners. Everybody knows that the non-contributory pension of £1 per week or the contributory pension of 24/- a week is quite inadequate having regard to the sharp rise that has taken place in the cost of living. It would not be out of place for the Government and the Minister to provide a little more money for these deserving people. It could be done by cutting some of the wanton expenditure.
The position with regard to social services generally is deplorable. Unemployment assistance is not what it should be. I regret the need for this service. I have never been able to view it with favour. I think it is shocking that a young man should start his career by drawing unemployment assistance. Yesterday, in reply to a question, the Minister told me that there are 602 people registered in the exchange in the village of Castle-townbere. No work is available for them there and they have no option but to emigrate or accept unemployment assistance. I have advised some young people in that area recently who sought my help to emigrate, as there was not alternative except the dole. I think I was right.
People in the middle age group, married people, cannot emigrate and, as employment is not available, have no option but to get benefit. The benefit is hopeless and it is difficult for many of these people to exist on it.
The Minister may not claim direct responsibility for the many unfortunate  people who are in receipt of home assistance allowances from local authorities. The allowances vary in the different counties but the allowances in Cork are hopeless. Many invalided people get, on an average, not more than 9/- or 10/- a week. That is a scandalous position and should be rectified. These people should be entitled to some allowance directly from the Department of Social Welfare.
In conclusion, I would appeal to the Minister as strongly as I can to take cognisance of the plight of the old age pensioners and of the widows and orphans. I would ask him to take cognisance of the fact that the people in the sections that I have mentioned earlier are equally entitled to their pension at the age of 65 as the groups who now receive retirement allowances at that age.
Mr. Cogan: A number of Deputies have pleaded eloquently for increased social benefits. Before dealing with the case they have made it is no harm to reflect on what has been done in the short course of the past two and a half years. In the past two and a half years social services have been increased by £7,500,000. That is quite a considerable amount of money and takes a considerable amount of collecting.
It is not a bad contribution on the part of any Government in any Christian country. It involves the raising of a very large amount of money by taxation. It is a very popular thing to give increased benefits, particularly to the poorer sections, but it is not such a popular thing to advocate the raising of the money which must be collected from the ordinary people.
As the Minister pointed out in introducing the Estimate, since 1932 social benefits of all kinds and the cost of social services generally have increased from £3,750,000 to £21,000,000. At present we are paying £21,000,000 in benefit to the poor and deserving sections of our community out of total revenue. That is a very substantial contribution. It places on the entire community a fairly heavy burden, a  burden which the people are willing to bear.
What is dishonest on the part of politicians is to advocate increased benefits without advocating increased taxation to provide them. I would have nothing but admiration for a Deputy who would say: “I demand an increase of 2/6 per week in old age pensions and I advocate that the price of cigarettes be increased by 6d. per packet or 1/- per packet, that the price of stout be similarly increased and that all other taxed commodities of that kind be further taxed.” If a Deputy says that, it can be assumed that he is genuinely anxious to help the old age pensioners. If he simply says: “I want an increase in old age pensions but I am not prepared to advocate any method of raising the money,” one can hardly place too much reliance on his honesty.
Mr. Cogan: Experts consider that the National Stud will produce increased revenue that will help to pay for social services. I do not intend to speak so much in millions because the people who depend on social services are not very much concerned with millions. I doubt if they would understand what they mean. They think in terms of shillings and pence.
It is no harm to reflect on the fact that since June, 1951, old age pensions have been increased by 4/- per week, being brought from 17/6 to 21/6. That is a fairly substantial increase. It is the largest increase that was made in one year since old age pensions first came into operation. Sickness benefit in the case of a man with a wife and two dependent children has been increased from 22/6 to 52/6. Disablement benefit has been increased from 15/- in 1951 to 52/6 to-day. Unemployment assistance has been increased from 28/- to 40/6. In the case of widows' and orphans' pensions a widow with two children has had the contributory pension increased from 28/- to 40/6 and the non-contributory pension increased from 26/- to 34/6. All those increases have been effected over the past two years.
Mr. Cogan: I shall deal with the cost of living in relation to these pensions immediately. All those increases amount to a sum total of £7,500,000, which is a very considerable sum of money. Deputy O'Leary has asked me to relate those increases to the cost of living. An increase from 22/6 to 52/6 is very much above the increase in the cost of living. The cost of living in 1951, at the time of the change of Government, was 109. To-day it is 125. That is roughly an increase of 16 points. In this case the benefit is two and a half times what it was to meet that increase. In the case of unemployment benefit the increase has not been quite so much but it is almost doubled to meet the increase of 16 per cent. in the cost of living.
Deputy Norton in speaking for this motion referred particularly to the old age pensioners, and I think that in that particular case the increase in the old age pension may not have been proportionate and has not been as great as those to which I have referred —sickness benefit, unemployment benefit and others—but it has been fairly substantial. But Deputy Norton made a point which I think deserves consideration. He said that 10/- in 1939 was equal to 23 - to-day in purchasing power.
I am not sure whether the figure is exactly true or not, but I am going to accept it because I have nothing to controvert it, and being reasonable I do not dispute a figure which I am not in a position to dispute; so assuming that that is correct the old age pensioners, in order to have the same benefit as in 1939, would require 23/-, that is 1/6 more than they are getting to-day. It is no harm, however, to reflect that when Deputy Norton was in office in 1951 on his own figures 10/-in 1939 was equal to 19/9 in 1951, so that if Deputy Norton wanted to be fair to the old age pensioners, if he wanted to give them a pension equal to the 10/- that they had in 1939, he would have been obliged to give them 19/9 in 1951, but he failed to do that. He pinned the old age pension down to 17/6, thereby providing the old age  pensioner not with 1/6 less than he was entitled to in order to maintain the purchasing power of the pension of 1939, but he was giving the old age pensioner 2/3 less than he was entitled to to maintain the purchasing power of 10/- in 1939; so that if the Government has failed to keep the purchasing power of the old age pension up even to the standard of 1939 it would appear that Deputy Norton failed even to a greater extent, by as much as 2/3 below the figure that was requisite to maintain the purchasing power of the old age pension, and I am speaking about the purchasing power and the difference in the cost of living in 1951 as compared with to-day.
It would be very easy to produce a graph showing how the cost of living has compared with the benefits provided under the Department of Social Welfare, and it would show that the Minister increased the real income of a large section of our people, and in connection with old age pensions it would show that Deputy Norton as Minister for Social Welfare failed to a far greater extent to maintain the income of the old age pensioners than has the present Minister. I think Deputy Norton should reflect upon these things sometimes when he comes into this House full of zeal on behalf of the poorer sections of the community. He must reflect on the fact that he had three and a half years in which to benefit the poorer sections of the community and he failed ignominiously to do anything worth while. He kept sickness benefit in the case of a family of two down to 22/6, whereas to-day it is 52/6. He may tell us that he tried to introduce legislation. Well, he did. He introduced a Bill which imposed a very high contribution upon the ordinary worker and conferred benefits in some cases not so good as under the existing legislation.
I stated that any Deputy who wished to advocate an increase in benefits, an increase in old age pensions, is entitled to do so provided that he picks out the sources from which the revenue can be provided and that he sets out what particular taxes he would wish to see imposed in order to provide the money. If he does that he is entitled  to be listened to with respect, because I do not think there is any Deputy in this House, no matter what side of the House he belongs to, but has the deepest sympathy with our old age pensioners who are trying to live on 21/6, particularly those who are compelled to live upon that sum. The old age pensioner who may have some help from his family or relatives may not be quite so badly off, but the old age pensioner who has to pay rents and rates and buy fuel and provide food for himself out of 21/6 is certainly on very short rations, and that is the man or the woman for whom we should have the deepest sympathy. There are hundreds and thousands of them throughout the country and here in the City of Dublin trying to eke out an existence and to pay rent and rates on that total income.
Mr. Cogan: No. That is one of the great lies that were used by the inter-Party in Wicklow during the election of 1951. The inter-Party Government claimed that they were supporting me and that I was elected to support them, and they went to every platform in County Wicklow and stated that I voted against a proposal to provide 20/- a week for old age pensioners.
Mr. Cogan: Now let Deputy Rooney listen. I am prepared to put a substantial sum, to put £10, to any charity if Deputy Rooney produces any official document in the records of this House to show that I voted against a proposal to increase the old age pension to 20/- a week. I never did.
Mr. Cogan: No. It is very easy to make these accusations broadcast on public platforms and to come here in this House to attack and blackguard an Independent farmer Deputy, as I was at that time, and try to defeat his election, but I have denied it and challenge him to prove it, to find it in any official document. The records are in the Library. They can be produced. Produce them. What I voted against in 1951 was a rather half-baked ill-considered Social Welfare Bill which made no provision whatever for increasing the old age pension but which did make provision for collecting 3/6 per week off every agricultural worker and every other worker in this country. That was the Bill I voted against. There was no provision in that Bill for increasing the old age pensions.
Mr. Cogan: But Deputy Norton came into this House and said that he proposed at a later stage in the Bill to insert an amendment providing for an increase in old age pensions, and immediately he did that three Independent Deputies in this House went to the Government and said: “You are going to give an increase in the old age pensions. Give it now. Once the Government has announced that they are prepared to give an increase in the old age pensions, once they have made it clear  that their Minister for Finance is going to give the money, why keep them waiting?” That was the case we made. We put it on the records of this House that three Independent Deputies—Deputy Lehane, myself and Deputy Finucane—put up that case to the Government. What was the answer? The Government said: “No, we will not; we have the money to give this increase of 2/6 a week but we are not going to give it to them now. We are going to hold the old age pensioners up to ransom and hold this over their heads until we pass the Social Welfare Bill. In three or four months' time if we are still in office, we will give them an increase in pension.”
Mr. Cogan: I can produce documents to prove that Deputy Lehane and myself raised this matter. We asked the Government to introduce a short Bill, not covering the whole sphere of social welfare but just a short Bill of one or two sections giving the old age pensioners an increase of 2/6 per week. That was all we asked but our request was not granted. The Government then went out and another Government came in and what we demanded in April and May of 1951 was granted two months later, after the new Government came in.
Mr. Cogan: The pension when the inter-Party Government was in office was 17/6. We demanded an increase of 2/6 and when the new Government came in they gave an increase of 2/6, one month after coming into office. They brought in a short Bill and got it through the House without opposition granting an increase of 2/6 a week, bringing the pension up to 20/-which was paid right away. The present Government did not wait for the enactment of their Social Welfare Bill in order to give that increase of 2/6. They gave it right away when they got into office. They did not keep the old age pensioners waiting  expectantly; they did not hold them up to ransom in order to ensure the passage of the Social Welfare Bill. In that way they honoured their pledge.
As I say, in 1951 speakers of the Opposition Party, who claim to be Christian men, did not hesitate to go on a platform and accuse me of voting against an increase of 2/6 in the old age pensions whereas, as a matter of fact, I and two other Independent Deputies brought the greatest possible pressure to bear on the inter-Party Government to force them to give that increase of 2/6 and we failed.
Mr. Cogan: The record of the present Government in regard to social welfare has not been bad. As I say, they have increased the provision under all these headings by £7,500,000 over the last two and a half years. In doing that, I think they have shown that they are sympathetic to the claims of the under-privileged and those in the lower income group. I think we can depend on the present Government to follow that line in future years. I do not think that the Government would be helping the old age pensioners if they were to adopt the suggestion put forward by Deputy O'Higgins that old age pensions should be pegged to the cost of living at the present time. The cost of living at the present time is high and to peg the rate of old age pensions to the present cost of living might result, in the event of the cost of living being reduced, in a reduced rate of old age pensions later on. I do not think the Government would desire to do that.
The whole question of helping out in every possible way those who are on the lowest rate of income is the obvious policy of the Government, a policy which I trust they will continue to keep in the forefront of their programme. The fact that sickness benefit has been more than doubled, raised from 22/6 to 52/6, is a gesture in the right direction. The fact that unemployment benefit has been raised from 35/- to  52/6 is also an indication that this Government is not hostile, at any rate, to the sections of our people who are unemployed or to widows and orphans. All these pensions and allowances have been increased over the last two and a half years. I think we can trust the present Government to adhere to that policy of at all times searching out for people who are in the greatest need. I have indicated that in my opinion a person like an old age pensioner who has to depend completely on his old age pension is in the class of persons in the greatest need at the present time.
Deputy Murphy suggested that Deputies have no right now to make representations on behalf of old age pensioners. I do not think there is any substance in that complaint because Deputies are still making representations on behalf of old age pensioners. Every Deputy is doing it and will continue to do it and I think they are satisfied that their representations get careful consideration. I do not think it would be right or desirable at the same time, that officers who decide claims in regard to old age pensions should come into this House and go around meeting Deputies, perhaps go into the bar, to discuss old age pensions with them. I think these officers occup a judicial position and that they are entitled to make their decisions coolly and deliberately, that they are entitled to accept Deputies' representations and weigh them carefully in making their decisions. I think that is being done. I may be quite wrong but I am satisfied from my own experience that it is being done.
We know that sometimes there is a great deal of disparity between the decisions come to but these disparities arise mainly in regard to the original investigation. One social welfare officer may be a little more strict than another in his interpretation of the Act but I think that on the whole that a reasonable effort is being made to interpret and carry out the law fairly.
That there has been no deterioration, but rather an improvement, in the provision made for old age pensioners is proved by the fact that the number of  old age pensioners is every year increasing and that the allowance provided for them out of the Exchequer is every year being stepped up. I think that in the last two years the amount has gone up by £2,000,000, possibly more. I am not sure of the exact figure but certainly it has increased. As I say, the total increase in the last two and a half years in regard to social welfare payments is over £7,500,000 and, mind you, that is a fairly substantial amount of money.
I do not wish to say anything more on this Estimate. I think I have indicated that Deputy Norton and people like him who have had the responsibility of the Government in the past, have a certain amount of audacity in coming in here to make the demands that they are making in this motion, having regard to their own conduct during their period of office. A Minister for Social Welfare who held down sickness benefit to a man with a wife and two children to the rate of 22/6 per week for three and a half years can hardly feel justified in demanding now that benefit, which has been more than doubled, should be further increased. He should have a certain amount of modesty in approaching this matter having regard to his own record as Minister for Social Welfare.
I am satisfied that everything possible will be done to improve the position of the people who have to depend on the social welfare schemes. I have never held, and I do not hold now, that unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance is any substitute for work, and I think the whole of the energies of the Minister's Department and of the Minister as a member of the Government should be devoted to providing employment rather than assistance. The giving of benefit or assistance is not to be compared with a regular week's wages and steady employment and the problem of providing for the poorer sections of our community must be faced. With regard to the old age pensions, I want to recommend strongly to the Minister the need to review the position, particularly in regard to those who have to depend absolutely without any help on the 21/6 per week.
Mr. McQuillan: There is only one particular matter which I wish to mention in connection with the old age pensioners. I listened to several Deputies patting their own favourite Government on the back for the generous treatment meted out to the old age pensioners in the years past. I have never accepted that we have been really fair in our treatment of the old age pensioners. Without going into details or drawing too many comparisons, I might refer Deputies to the conditions that obtain in other countries such as Sweden, Norway, and our next-door neighbour, Great Britain. If we compare the conditions of the aged people and the manner in which they are treated there and have a look at our own system, I think we have very little to be proud of.
The extraordinary thing is that from all sides of the House we have this praise about how generous and kind various Governments have been towards the aged. It is extraordinary, when we examine the conditions in other countries, to find that we lag behind these countries, notwithstanding all the talk about religion. Nobody can accuse our neighbours in Great Britain of being a very religious community or say that the people there are as religious or as holy as the people are in Ireland. Yet, in spite of the fact that they are less religious, they have treated their old age pensioners in a far more generous manner than the holy Irish.
If there is strong pressure brought to bear to increase substantially the allowance to the old people here, we are told that this country cannot afford to give the same type of social benefits as our more wealthy neighbours. The extraordinary thing is that we actually send out our young people to build up wealth in other countries, so that we are actually helping these other nations to provide better social services, while at home there is very little for the parents or relatives of these young men and women who have to earn a living abroad. It is good politics, I believe, when you are in opposition, to embarrass whatever Government is in power by putting down motions of this nature to increase  old age pensions. That is being done at the present time and I believe that, as far as the Labour Party are concerned, they are entitled to take advantage of the situation and take all the kudos for pressing for an increase.
The extraordinary position arises that the present Government are not prepared to accept a motion to increase old age pensions; and there is a weapon immediately put into the hands of the Opposition straightway so that they can appear on every public platform from here to Cork and up to Donegal and say that Deputy So-and-so of the Fianna Fáil Party voted against giving an increase to old age pensioners. That will happen if there is a division on this motion. Apart from the motion and the political advantage that may be gained by any Party by bringing into operation a certain increase for old age pensioners, I think that the old pensioners are entitled to an increase. Even on the basis that we have so far given a paltry 21/6 per week, I think they are entitled to a further increase in view of the increased cost of living. The increase of 1/6 per week was of very little benefit to an old man or woman living in a room as a set-off to the increase in the cost of living and the removal of the food subsidies. It was a very poor substitute indeed.
The point I am interested in in connection with old age pensions was brought to my mind very forcibly by Deputy Murphy, who made a very good case. He mentioned that there was no such thing now as a direct approach to the officials who make decisions with regard to the old age pensions. He pointed out that there is no contact man now available who will meet Deputies and listen to the case put up by them on behalf of applicants and refer the Deputies' recommendations back to the deciding officer.
The time has come for some Government to spare Deputies the trouble of meeting any contact man and to spare Deputies the trouble of writing crawling letters on behalf of these unfortunate people who seek an old age pension. Cut out the contact men and pension officers altogether. In other words, I want to see that means test  removed. I am a very strong believer in having no means test in anything. There is no concrete reason whatever why there should be a means test for the old age pension—bar the question of costs, and we cannot discuss that in this debate, as money is involved, and when it is money we will have more high-falutin' arguments like those we heard here last night on finance.
I wonder how many people realise the deception practised in connection with old age pensions. When a person comes to the age of 70 and makes application, a group of his own neighbours —respectable, decent people—sit in judgment on the application. This group is known as a pensions sub-committee, and it is composed of highly respectable and worthy citizens. Nine times out of ten that sub-committee will sanction the full pension. Is it not a joke to say that the sub-committee will sanction or grant the pension, when that sub-committee has no more power than the man in the moon to put the decision into operation? It is there only as a sop to democracy. The work of that sub-committee is counteracted straightway by the gentleman known as the pension officer. He sits there and listens to the decision and straightway proceeds to tear down the recommendation.
The next thing we have is the local Deputy, county councillor or other person alleged to have power or influence, asked by that old applicant to make representations on his behalf to the Minister. There must be a tremendous waste of money in stamps on letters, and in the time of civil servants answering letters from Deputies, parish priests, curates, local teachers and councillors on behalf of such applicants.
I want to give a certain amount of credit to Deputy Norton in connection with the means test. Most Deputies will agree with the modification that took place—that was meant to take place and that was understood to have taken place by the Deputies of this House, but which was not put into operation in the manner we hoped. I know for a fact that the pension officers are just as anxious now to count the eggs that the hen laid within the past month.
 Deputy Murphy's case is one that should cause a lot of worry to Deputies. He mentioned an old couple living in a cottage with only an acre of land. By their thrift, perseverance and hard work they reared 300 turkeys. Because of that, they were deprived of the old age pension. In other words, the idea behind the giving of the pension now is that you will get it if you do no work. I take a specific case in my own constituency, of a man who is now 73—a fine hardy old gentleman —deprived of the pension because when the officer arrived he found this old man up on a ladder helping his son to repair a roof. There can be no contradiction or denial of this, because I pursued it and investigated it thoroughly. One of the reasons why that man's claim was turned down was that he was still in control and still working on the holding. If the client in question had known that the pension officer was coming, he could have put a big rug around himself and sat in on the hob, having taken the fire out, and could have shivered for a few hours. Then the report of the pension officer would have been that this was a feeble old man. There again we have a deception. There is very little honesty in the whole question. An applicant who frankly discloses full information with regard to his means, who tells even more than he is bound to tell, will be victimised straightway.
I may sound very harsh on this point now, but I feel that it is a degrading thing that old people who reach 70 and who have given the best years of their lives—as labourers, as self-employed small farmers or as people who were in business—should be asked to submit to this degrading investigation. They are asked how much money they have in the bank and what bank it is in. A banker's order is got so that the pension officer can check for himself what they have. They must disclose the number of animals on the little holding, even count the calves and sheep and pigs. They must disclose if they have any money laid aside for dowries. The whole question of a family's most private details must be exposed to a civil servant. I remember distinctly that not so long ago there was a  terrible outcry because civil servants would have access to the private details of a particular family's method of living. That was in connection with the Health Bill, Here we have a means test in operation for old age pensions.
I would like the Minister to tell us when replying how much exactly it would cost if the means test were removed immediately and the pension given to every applicant over 70 years of age. I think it could not amount to more than £3,500,000 or £4,000,000. If the Minister is not prepared at this stage to remove the means test completely, I would like him to assure us that he will relax the investigation now carried out when an old person applies for a pension. I would like him to have that recommendation or suggestion of mine examined sympathetically. It is just too bad that a thrifty, hardworking man or woman who managed to save or scrape together a few pounds over all their years will, in effect, be told when they apply for the old age pension that because they were thrifty and saved a few pounds and put it in the bank or invested the money in stocks or something else they cannot be given the old age pension. I submit that that approach is a premium on idleness.
Mr. McQuillan: I am stating it as I know it. If Deputy MacCarthy wants to tell me now what £1,000 in the bank will bring in per annum, he can do so. Will it bring in what the Department of Social Welfare suggested——
Mr. McQuillan: I do not care whose feelings I may be hurting in this connection. I want to make it clear that my remarks were not in any way directed as a particular criticism of the present Minister. I want that to be clearly understood. Further, I will not allow any of my remarks here to be utilised for the purpose of scoring a debating point off the present Government. Like other Deputies, I have some very painful recollections of how difficult it was to extract an increase of 2/6 per week in old age pensions from the inter-Party Government. Although we are assured now by Deputies who were Ministers in the inter-Party Government that at that time they were in Easy Street so far as money was concerned, there was no question of Easy Street when it came to increasing old age pensions—and I do not care who likes or dislikes that statement. No matter what Government might be in office, if my vote were of importance in keeping the Government in office, I would vote to put them out if I thought that the old age pensioners were not getting a fair crack of the whip from them. I might mention, in passing, that I took a similar stand on a former occasion with regard to the means test.
We should be more than anxious to ensure that the conditions of the older members of our community compare at least as favourably as those which obtain in countries such as Norway and Sweden. I am speaking on this matter purely as an Independent. The case of old age pensioners should be met sympathetically by the Minister. It may be said that there is very little money in the till to give an immediate increase in the old age pension. In my view, that difficulty  can be surmounted. There are, of course, a number of conservative diehards in the country who think that when a person reaches the age of 70 he should get down on his knees and beg for something to enable him to keep body and soul together. Unfortunately, there are people of that mentality in the country. They prefer to see people in a poor state all their lives. Their attitude is that if you keep the people down and poor and dependent on charity you can always control them. That mentality exists in the country, I am sorry to say. I hope we shall never see the day when some of those diehards will sit in the saddle and have power to put their views in connection with old age pensions into operation.
The criticisms I have made in connection with the means test and the manner in which the officials carry out their instructions are not meant as a criticism of present-day conditions only. I criticised that system from the first day I entered public life in 1948 as a member of the Clann na Poblachta Party. So long as I am a member of this House, I shall strive to ensure that the policy which we stood for at that time with regard to social services generally will be put into operation fully.
Mr. Finan: Successive Governments in this country seem to applaud themselves in the matter of expenditure on social services. While that might be a proper thing to do when these services are viewed from a certain angle, it might also be regarded as a barometer of failure. Nobody will quarrel with the provision of money for old age pensions. Nobody will quarrel with the provision of money for blind pensions. Nobody will quarrel with the provision of money for those who are handicapped by infirmity of any kind. It is recognised that there is a responsibility on the Government of the day to make provision for the citizens who are not capable of providing a livelihood for themselves.
While the Government may boast that they are spending £21,000,000 on social services, we must consider whether or not there are other ways  of spending that £21,000,000 that would bring benefits to those who are in need of them, not by increasing the demand but by reducing the demand in other directions on social services. I submit to the Minister and to the Government that this is possible. The money provided by way of unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance could be curtailed if the employment which the recipients of these two forms of assistance are demanding were provided. The Minister could, without any further demands on the Exchequer, bring much-needed relief to old age pensioners, blind pensioners, widows and orphans and even to the recipients of children's allowances. These benefits could all be increased without any further demand on the Exchequer if a solution were found to the unemployment problem. Very great economies could be made in the matter of unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance. In so far as these benefits grow, they indicate to whatever Government may be in office that it is not doing its job. There is no justification for any man or woman being unemployed in this country at the moment. A duty devolved on the Government—I am not blaming this Government any more than I blame the previous Government, because we have always had a certain degree of unemployment in this country—to ensure that work will be available for those who wish to take it. I know quite well, as I am sure the Minister knows, that there are in this country many people drawing unemployment assistance and unemployment benefit who would much prefer to do a day's work and to draw a weekly wage, because the provision made, even with this colossal expenditure, affords no real benefit to them. I submit that one of the New Year resolutions which the Government might make is to tackle that problem of unemployment and save, in respect of unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance, sufficient to increase the pensions of necessitous cases.
Deputy Esmonde referred particularly to blind pensions and, speaking as a member of a sub-committee, I can say from my own personal experience  that it seems almost impossible for a person to be awarded a blind pension, not only at present but for a considerable time past. A man needs to be almost stone blind before he qualifies for a blind pension, and I submit that there should be some degree of visionary defect that would entitle a person to such a pension. Everybody knows that those who suffer from defective sight invariably suffer from a degree of nervousness as well, and that, when the affliction comes in middle life or later, these people are not in a position to discharge their ordinary duties with the same degree of efficiency as they were before the affliction came on them. At every meeting of our sub-committee, we find people making claims for a blind pension, and, while the sub-committee awards them, as Deputy McQuillan has said, we get the usual reply that satisfactory evidence of blindness has not been furnished. What would be satisfactory evidence of blindness, I do not know, but we can see that these applicants are definitely suffering from defective vision, and, while they might not be entitled under the Acts to the full pension, they must be entitled to some consideration by the State. I submit that there should be some alteration of the administration of that Act.
I find, too, as I am sure many Deputies find, that there is dissatisfaction with the payment of unemployment benefit, and I feel that Deputy Norton was right when he asked that some explanatory memorandum be made available so that people may understand the various regulations brought into existence in relation to the different social services, because it is a fact that no ordinary man can understand them. There is one point I should like to have clarified. I have known of a case of a man who was putting on stamps for unemployment benefit and national health insurance for about 12 years. He then stopped paying, and, after about three years, re-entered insurable employment, but, because he did not have 26 stamps since the date of his last entry into insurable employment, he was denied benefit, notwithstanding the fact that  he had been paying for 12 years before that. If that is the way our social welfare scheme operates, it needs alteration, and I should like the Minister to clarify in some way the conditions attaching to that service.
Very rarely have I agreed with Deputy McQuillan, but with his remarks on the administration of the Old Age Pensions Acts, I am in entire agreement. I dot the i's and cross the t's of everything he said in that connection. I have at all times held that, when a person comes to 70 years of age it should be open to him to make application for an old age pension and to get it. It is one sphere of social service in which I believe the means test should be abolished. I have advocated that since I came into public life and I still believe I am right, because, as Deputy McQuillan has said, it is putting a premium on idleness to suggest that if by thrift and industry, a man manages to establish himself comfortably in life, when he attains the age of 70, he thereby automatically debars himself from an old age pension. Obviously, to any intelligent man, that is an encouragement to the citizen to become an idle fellow whereas if you are a spendthrift and have squandered everything you earned all your life, you immediately, on attaining the age of 70, become entitled to an old age pension. I should like to hear what can be the justification for such a system.
I think, too, that it is utterly unfair, even under the present system, that, when computing means, pensions paid by an outside State or Government should be taken into consideration. There are in this country many people, particularly in the West of Ireland, who migrated to Britain and earned the right to a pension—a contributory pension, in most cases—and who, when they come back to this country, find that that item of income is calculated in their means. I say that it should be completely ignored and that only such assets as a person possesses in this country, or such income as he may derive from investments outside, should be taken into consideration. The pensions to which they have entitled themselves by work in other  countries should not be taken into consideration in the computation of means.
With regard to the particular means test, I think it is right to say that there is very little saving in the long run, because, when one considers all the administrative costs, all the costs which must be incurred in having investigation officers dealing with the matter, one finds that they practically offset any economies made by reason of the means test. People on all sides must realise that this is one thing that should be put right, even now, and I hope the Government will, in the near future, introduce legislation which will remove a means test of any kind in the matter of old age pensions.
Mr. Rooney: I should like to remark that the cost of administering these various services under the Social Welfare Acts is rather high. When we examine the figures, we see that for every £100 paid out—and that does not involve many payments or many people —the cost of getting that sum into the hands of the person who receives it is £10. It costs £10 to put out every £100 in the form of old age pensions, unemployment benefit——
Mr. Rooney: We will take it then that the cost of paying these people is almost £6 10s. for every £100 that these people receive. If it is paid out in the form of old age pensions, unemployment benefits, widows' and orphans' pensions and blind pensions, it still amounts to a fairly heavy percentage. The Minister might argue that if we compare the cost of administration with the administration costs of commercial banks we will then be able to make in some way comparisons between the administration in the commercial banks and the administration in connection with these social welfare schemes.
The trend of this debate centred around the present level of the old age pensions, which is 21/6 per week. Obviously, the reason why the emphasis was on that aspect of the debate is that when the meagre allowance to the old age pensioners is compared with the cost of living and the cost of food an immediate need is shown for a revision of the old age pension level.
I heard the Fianna Fáil Party boasting on different occasions that the amount of money now paid out in social services of various kinds is greater than it was. On the other hand, we did not hear them say that the prevailing prosperity now is greater than it was at the time the comparison was made. I mention that because we must remember that these social services are designed to meet an obvious need. They are designed to make up for a weakness in our economy or lack of prosperity created by their administration.
For instance, it is nothing to be proud of to say that we are paying £5,000,000 now to the unemployed instead of £4,000,000. If we take the years 1951 and 1953, we will find that there are 20,000 more unemployed now than there were at that time. Obviously the amount of money paid out to them will be greater. Therefore, we  must remember that, to a large extent, many of these social services are a necessary substitute for destitution and poverty. The need is there and it has to be met by these services, but it is no substitute for prosperity which ought to be created to enable those people to be in a position where they would not have to look for the benefits of such schemes as they do now.
Let us remember that the old age pension in October, 1951, was 20/-per week but the cost of living increased 15 per cent. at that time. If we take 15 per cent. of a £ the lowest figure that should be made available to them now is 23/-, but instead the pension is 21/6. Let me give some more figures just to show the difficulties which the old age pensioners are meeting at the present time.
In 1951, the loaf of bread cost 6½d. In October, 1951, the old age pension was 20/- a week. The lb. of sugar at that time was 4d. It is now 7½d. The stone of flour was 2/0½. Now it is 4/9. Tea was 2/8 per lb. Now it is 5/6. Butter was 2/10 a lb. and it is now 4/2. The figures which I have given for these essentials—and these essentials for any healthy old age pensioner or individual—are the figures for October, 1951. When you add up the figures for the cost of a unit of bread, butter, sugar, tea and flour, at the present time they come to 15/10. But when you add up the cost of those items for October, 1951, it comes to 8/5.
There is the increase that took place in regard to these units of food between October, 1951, and the present time. Obviously, the food aspect of the old age pensioners' needs is a big one. We have a situation now where those items of food amount to 15/10 at the present time compared with 8/5, when the old age pensioner was getting 20/- in October, 1951. Fianna Fáil have been traditionally unkind to the old age pensioners, no matter what they say about it.
Mr. Rooney: There is the record of Fianna Fáil as far as the old age pensioners are concerned. I do not think anybody disputes the fact that the vast majority of them are the weakest section of the community. That is the reason why this debate centred around them, particularly in relation to the present cost of living. Other sections of the community are suffering, too, but possibly they are better able to bear it. This is the section of the community who are hardest hit by the policy of the present Government. In 1931 the old age pension was 10/-. In 1932, when the Fianna Fáil Party came into power, it was 10/-.
Mr. Rooney: All though the 1930's and up to 1948 the pension level was 10/- for the people who were really destitute. A voucher was available to them if they could convince the pension officer they were in need of it. It was not cash. They would not be let spend the money.
Mr. Rooney: Ask the old age pensioners that. Before the Government  came into office a motion was put down in the Dáil by Deputies Costello and Dr. O'Higgins advocating a modification of the means test——
Mr. Rooney: The present Minister was the responsible Minister at that time. He had the job of making the decision whether the means test would be modified in order to improve the pension by 2/6 a week.
Mr. Rooney: That was in November, 1947. Three months later we had a change of Government and the first thing done by the new Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Norton, was to increase the old age pension to 17/6 a week.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair has no means of enforcing things of that kind. The Chair does not know whether what Deputy Rooney is saying is correct or not. Every Deputy tells the truth as he knows it.
Mr. Blowick: I was telling Deputy Rooney, in regard to the 2/6 Deputy Dr. Ryan gave the pensioners before 1947, three quarters came out of the rates and was little more than outdoor relief. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Mr. Rooney: I will wait till the Minister gets an opportunity to reply. Apparently he is not prepared to wait until he is afforded the chance of replying, it is such a sore point. Let me remind the Minister that he was one of the whole troop of the Fianna Fáil Party who trotted into the Lobby on the 2nd March, 1951 to vote against 20/- a week for the old age pensioner.
Mr. Rooney: I am glad to see Deputy Cogan back here again. When he was speaking in this regard he was talking about sickness benefit but he did not realise that in the last couple of years the National Health Society, which was paying the 22/6 a week benefit Deputy Cogan talks about, was amalgamated into the Department of Social Welfare. He did not blame the National Health Society for their system of sickness benefit payments. He did not indicate that the Government could interfere in the level of benefits being paid by the National Health Society and he did not indicate that the National Health Society had £6,000,000 funded in their funds which they could easily have given out if they wanted to in order to increase the 22/6. That settles Deputy Cogan's misunderstanding.
Mr. Rooney: He brought it back in order that these extra benefits could be paid and these are the benefits against which the Minister and his Party and Deputy Cogan voted in March, 1952. Deputy Cogan of course tried to offer the excuse that the cost  of stamps to labourers would be higher if that scheme was adopted but Deputy Cogan did not mention when he was referring to that matter that the cost of stamps included the payment of the pensions to labourers at the age of 65. He did not mention that point and if he calculated the cost of the stamps for the present scale of benefits he would probably see that the cost of stamps proposed at that time would not have been even as much as they are now.
Mr. Rooney: ——we had a change of Government in June, and in October of that year the Order which was read out here by Deputy Norton in March, 1951, was read out again in October, 1951, by the Minister for Social Welfare, Dr. Ryan, word for word.
Mr. Rooney: Yes, but the Minister voted against it in March, 1951; then he came in in October and read out this Order, because he knew the Deputies on this side of the House were in favour of 20/- a week and voted for 20/- a week in March, 1951. When he went over to the Government side he knew he would have no opposition from this side, because we had already tried to put it into effect in March. Although he read out word for word the Order as it was in March and put it through, he did not mention anything about having swindled the old age pensioners out of the increase from March to October, the intervening period——
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