Committee on Finance. - Vote 55—Office of the Minister for Social Welfare.

Tuesday, 14 June 1960

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 182 No. 9

First Page Previous Page Page of 20 Next Page Last Page

[1269]Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  I move:

That a sum not exceeding £335,800 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1961, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare.

Rúnaí Parlaiminte an Aire Leasa Shóisialaigh (Seosamh Ó Cinnéide): Information on Michael Joseph Kennedy  Zoom on Michael Joseph Kennedy  Tá trí Mheastacháin ann i gcóir mo Roinne. Tá fúm le cead an Chinn Comhairle agus and Tighe an gnáthchleachtadh a leanúint agus na trí Mheastachán a chur i gcrích le céile. Féadfaidh na Teachtaí ceisteanna a phlé faoi aon cheann de na trí Votaí insan díospóireacht i na dhiaidh sin.

Is iad na trí Mheastachán agus na suimeanna atá dá lorg ón Státchiste i gcóir na bliana 1960-61, mar a taisbeántar i n-Imleabhar na Meastachán:

Vóta 55, Oifig an Aire Leasa Shóisialaigh, £503,600. Vóta 56, Árachas Sóisialach, £4,255,000. Vóta 57, Cúnamh Sóisialach, £21,354,000.

Ba mhaith liom é a chur in iúl go soiléir nach gcuireann na suimeanna a luadh i gcóir Árachais Shóisialaigh agus Cúnamh Shóisialaigh san áireamh costas Pinsean (Ranníocach) Sean Aoise nó na méadaithe eile i rátaí sochair agus cúnaimh atá ceaptha. Déanfar an soláthar is riachtanach cucha siúd trí bhíthin Meastacháin Fhoirlíontaigh am is sia anonn sa bhliain airgeadais.

Is é iomlán na dtrí Mheastachán £26,112,600 méadú de £190,400 ar an iomlán i gcóir na bliana roimhe seo de £25,922,200 i na raibh Vóta Foirlíontach de £587,000 i gcóir Cúnaimh Shóisialaigh curtha san áireamh.

In the Estimate for the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare a net sum of £503,600 is provided to meet the salaries and other administration expenses borne on that Vote. The main variations, as compared with the previous year's Vote, are increases of £61,000 for salaries and wages under Subhead A and £10,000 on Subhead D, [1270] offset by increased Appropriations-in-Aid totalling £47,720.

The increase on Subhead A is mainly due to the pay increases granted to civil servants with effect from 15th December, 1959. The increase on Subhead D is attributable to an additional provision of £10,000 for postal expenses in connection with social insurance. As the House is aware, the Department's costs of administering the social insurance scheme are payable out of the Social Insurance Fund and are appropriated in aid of the Vote for the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare. The increase of £47,720 in the Appropriations-in-Aid subhead is mainly due to the increased provisions for salaries and postal expenses already referred to.

In the Estimate for Social Insurance, provision is made under Subhead A for payment by the Exchequer into the Social Insurance Fund of the estimated amount by which the expenditure of the Fund will exceed its income in 1960-61. The estimated amount is £4,218,000. This figure does not, however, include any Exchequer liability arising in connection with old age (contributory) pensions and the proposed increases in insurance benefit rates.

The figure of £4,218,000 is the difference between the present estimates of expenditure and income of the Social Insurance Fund in the current financial year.

The expenditure of the Fund as now estimated is £10,810,000 made up as follows:—

£
Disability Benefit 4,046,000
Unemployment Benefit 2,920,000
Widows' and Orphans' (Contributory) Pensions 2,079,000
Treatment Benefit 240,000
Maternity Benefits 116,000
Marriage Grant 75,000
Administration 1,334,000
Total £10,810,000

The estimated income is £6,592,000 consisting of £6,000,000 from employment contributions and £592,000 in [1271] income from investments of the Fund. The State subvention to the Fund under Subhead A of the Vote is £116,000 less than the corresponding provision for 1959-60. This is the net result of variations, up and down, in the items constituting the expenditure and income of the Fund.

On the expenditure side, the main increases are £82,000 for widows' and orphans' (contributory) pensions, £56,000 for administration costs and £50,000 for disability benefit, offset by a reduction of £190,000 in the provision for unemployment benefit.

The increase of £82,000 in the estimate for widows' and orphans' (contributory) pensions is due to an increase in the number of pensions payable and to the fact that there will be 53 pay-days in 1960-61, as compared with 52 in the previous year. The increase of £56,000 in the provision for administration costs is mainly due to the Civil Service pay increases already mentioned. As regards disability benefit, the increase of £50,000 is to cover the estimated cost of benefit issues to certain long-term claimants in the last week of March, 1961, made necessary by the fact that Easter Sunday in 1961 will fall on 2nd April. But for the early occurrence of Easter in that year the expenditure would fall into the financial year 1961-62.

The reduction of £190,000 in the provision for unemployment benefit is based on the reduction which occurred in the numbers of persons claiming benefit in 1959-60 and on a continuation of that improvement into 1960-61. The reduction would have been £67,000 greater but for the provision of that sum to cover the estimated cost of an extra pay-day which occurs in 1960-61.

On the income side, the total Estimate shows an increase of £119,000 over the previous year's provision. The principal item in this sum is an estimated additional £100,000 from employment contributions. The balance represents an expected increase in the income from investments of the Social Insurance Fund.

Before leaving the subject of social insurance, I should mention that the [1272] provision for treatment benefit included in the estimated expenditure—£240,000 —does not cover the cost, now estimated at £50,000, of improvements in the treatment benefit scheme in relation to insured persons under 21 years of age.

Because of the difficulty experienced by adolescents over school-leaving age in obtaining a continuation of the dental treatment afforded during school life, it was decided to ease the contribution conditions for the grant of treatment benefit for insured persons in the 16-21 age group. The Social Welfare (Treatment Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations, 1960, which came into operation on the 2nd March, 1960, provide that in the case of insured persons under 21 years of age the number of employment contributions required to be paid from the date of entry into insurance to the date of claim for treatment benefit is reduced from 156 to 26. Thus, a new entrant into insurance between the ages of 16 and 21 should normally qualify for treatment benefit (which includes both dental and optical benefit) after 26 weeks of insurable employment instead of waiting for a minimum period of 3 years, as heretofore.

As regards the Social Assistance Vote, the net Estimate for 1960-61 as shown in the Book of Estimates is £21,354,000. As I mentioned earlier, this sum does not include the cost of the increases from the beginning of August next in old age pensions, blind pensions, widows' (non-contributory) pensions and unemployment assistance.

I should also mention that the figures shown in the 1959-60 columns in the Estimates Volume do not include the increases in last year's Estimates rendered necessary by the improvements in the assistance services which took effect from the beginning of August last year. These increases were voted in a Supplementary Estimate which was passed in March last after the Volume of Estimates was published. The net amount of the Supplementary Estimate for Social Assistance for 1959-60, which allowed for net savings of approximately £82,000 on the original Estimate, was £587,000.

[1273] When allowance is made for the Supplementary Estimate for last year, the net increase of £873,000 for the Social Assistance Vote over last year's provisions shown in the Volume of Estimates becomes £286,000. This increase is the net result of variations, up and down, but can be largely attributed to increases, as compared with the revised provisions for last year, of £315,000 on old age pensions, £23,000 on children's allowances and £41,000 on widows' and orphans' (non-contributory) pensions, offset by a reduction of £85,000 on unemployment assistance and an increase of £6,000 in the estimated Appropriations-in-Aid.

The provision of £11,300,000 for old age pensions is £900,000 higher than the original Estimate for this subhead last year. The increase is, however, reduced to £315,000 when a supplementary provision of £585,000 for this service last year is taken into account. The increase is due partly to the provision for a full year instead of for eight months of the increase of 2/6 a week granted from the beginning of August last year and partly to the fact that there are 53 pay-days in the current financial year. The increase would have been greater but for a reduction in the estimated numbers of old age pensioners in 1960-61. This reduction follows a downward trend in recent years in the estimated population aged 70 and over.

As regards children's allowances, the original provision for this subhead in 1959-60 was £7,126,000. In the framing of the Supplementary Estimate for the Social Assistance Vote in that year it was considered that there would be a saving of £40,000 on the subhead with the result that £7,086,000 would suffice. The estimate for the current year is £7,109,000. The increase of £23,000 is due to an upward trend in the number of children for whom allowances are payable.

The estimate for widows' and orphans' (non-contributory) pensions is £1,748,000. This shows an increase of £121,000 on the original provision for the previous year. As, however, the original provision was increased by £80,000 in the Supplementary Estimate last year the increase for this [1274] year over the revised figure for 1959-60 is £41,000. This increase is due to the provision for a whole year instead of for eight months in respect of the cost of the increases operative from August of last year and to an additional pay-day in 1960-61. The increase as compared with last year would have been greater but for the fact that the provision for 1960-61 allows for a continuance of the fall in the number of pensions in operation which is a feature of the non-contributory scheme at present.

The reduction of £85,000 on the estimate for unemployment assistance to which I have already referred is on the provision of £1,225,000 for 1960-61 as compared with £1,310,000 for the previous year. The latter figure is the original estimate of £1,350,000 for 1959-60, adjusted to take account of savings estimated at £40,000 in that year. The savings in that year would have been greater but for the increases in unemployment assistance rates which became operative last August. The decrease of £85,000 in the current year is based on the expectation of a continuance of the favourable trend last year when the number of applications for unemployment assistance was lower in each week than in the comparable week of the previous year.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  Unlike some other Departments, for example, the Departments of Industry and Commerce and Agriculture, there is not much criticism of policy one can offer on the Vote for the Department of Social Welfare under its three different headings, because practically every single act of the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary and the officials, from year to year, is strictly governed by legislation. I rise tonight, therefore, not to make any particular criticism about the Minister and the administration of the Department or any of its officials. I think it should be said that from the Minister down, so far as I and my colleagues in the Labour Party are concerned, in any case, we have received nothing but absolute courtesy from them. There are many ways in which they can err, perhaps not deliberately, and for that reason I should like to make a few comments [1275] on certain aspects of the administration of the Department. I make these comments as a result of the experience I have gained from talking to my constituents and from letters I receive from them.

On the question of the disallowing of unemployment assistance and unemployment benefit, I have a feeling that recently some direction has been given. There seems to have been some added spur and the officers, it appears to me, are endeavouring to reduce the unemployment figures by very rigorous means. I would say, without being bitter against the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister, that they have been engaged, since 1957, in trying to reduce the numbers of unemployed by being over-zealous in the examination of every application for unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance. “Over-zealous” is probably not the right word. In many cases they are unfair —not unfair to the extent that they disallow the claim for unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance, but unfair to the extent that in many cases these applicants are so harried that they give up the ghost and withdraw their application. Sometimes they are frightened into withdrawing the application.

Too many applications are sent from the local offices to head office for decision. Petty cases of applications for unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance which could and should be decided locally are sent up to the Department of Social Welfare in Áras Mhic Dhiarmada, and they waste everyone's time, including the time of T.D.s. People apply for unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance, and someone gets the bright notion in the local office that they are not entitled because they had been working, or their stamps were suspect. The big bulk of the cases that travel from the local offices to head office are there for a matter of days, or sometimes for a week or two, before being disallowed and the unfortunate man then has to appeal. The appeals officer comes down every [1276] four, five or six weeks. The person in question has perhaps to get off from work to prove his case for entitlement to unemployment assistance for the period. That is a waste of money and a waste of the time of civil servants.

I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that he should ask the deciding officers, as I think they are called, and the local officers, to make more decisions and not to annoy the Minister and Department officials with decisions that should be taken at local level. Again, so far as my experience goes, many of these cases that are heard on appeal are disposed of in a matter of minutes by the appeals officers who are—and I think it can be said of them all—sensible men, who certainly know the people.

There is another matter which I think the Minister should change, but whether or not a change would involve legislation, I do not know. If a man goes to the employment exchange and applies for unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance, as required by law or regulation, the local employment exchange asks him who was his last employer. He gives the information and the employer is contacted and asked: “How come this fellow is out of his job?” In eight cases out of ten, the employer says: “He was no good; he left me”. That happens especially in the case of young messenger boys, or young people who are used as messenger boys, shop assistants, baby sitters and what have you. Because the employer cannot get him for just a few shillings a week, he tries to do him harm at the employment exchange.

The Parliamentary Secretary knows that, and every officer in the Department knows that in respect of employment in this country it is said especially by those who expect to get messenger boys for a few shillings a week: “He gave impudence” or “He left his job”, or “He would not come in”, when the real reason for his leaving was that he was not getting enough money. The appeals officer recognises that after about two minutes of hearing the lad's case. The Parliamentary Secretary should seriously consider what weight he [1277] should give the evidence of some of those unscrupulous employers who try to do harm to many employees who have to have recourse to unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit. A form is sent out asking under what circumstances did he leave, and under what circumstances is he now idle, and the answer is: “He came in late; he had a row; he left me.” Of course, the facts are to the contrary. However, as I say, whether or not that would involve legislation, I do not know, but if the Parliamentary Secretary passed the word down the line, less time would be wasted on these frivolous cases.

I want also to make a complaint, and when I do so I know this particular association will probably be on my back, forgetting that I raise this matter on behalf of a majority. I am referring to the attitude of certain Social Welfare officers towards people whose applications for unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance they are investigating. Let me qualify that by saying that I know there are people in the country who are trying to get unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance by false methods, but that does not give any Social Welfare officer a licence to use threats. Some of them do use threats—again let me qualify that by saying that only a minority do but I have one or two particular gentlemen in mind.

They ask about the number of stamps on the card for the contribution year and it happens to be 13 or 14. If you get 13 weeks' employment in this country you are “bunched”, so far as some of them are concerned, because you are suspect immediately. Thirteen is certainly an unlucky number for those who have to get 13 stamps to requalify for unemployment benefit. Their case is investigated for a long time and certain officers adopt this type of attitude: “Mind you, if one of these stamps was put on illegally, you are liable to go to jail” and there are unfortunate young people who really believe they could be put in jail for such a trivial offence.

The Minister should instruct some of the senior officials to tell these [1278] officers that they are to tell the people what the law is, and not forecast what might happen to them. The Minister is not entirely blameless in that regard, either. I was in Buncrana last week in a village called something like Curraduff. I was amazed—and a number of representatives of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union were amazed—to see a poster on a gate there describing what could happen to you if you got unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit illegally. The poster gave examples of how Pat Murphy from county Kerry got three months in jail and was fined £20 because he drew unemployment assistance illegally for a matter of a few weeks or somebody in Wexford was fined £15 for some offence under the social welfare code. There was a whole string of examples of what was done and could be done to people who, even by chance, got some of these benefits illegally. In some cases they did not get them deliberately illegally.

It is the poor fellows who are on unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance or on sickness benefit who are threatened with all sorts of penalties. I think there should be a little balance in this. It is the responsibility of the Minister for Social Welfare but it is also the responsibility of the Government and our people do not like threats. The unemployed do not like threats. It would match the Government much better if they threatened some of the business people about the things that could happen to them, or should happen to them, if they abuse the grants available to them from the State. How many farmers get grants illegally? How many farmers get subsidies illegally? How many business people get subsidies and how many of those “hooks” or foreigners come into this country, get money and run out again and they are not warned?

It is easy to convict and put in jail for three months the fellow with a wife and three children who, deliberately or otherwise, draws unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit for a period of three or six weeks amounting maybe to £10 or £12. I believe in his [1279] being punished; I believe the law should be carried out and I know the Parliamentary Secretary may say to me: “That is the law and these are the penalties that can be, and should be imposed, as laid down in the regulations.” It is a scandalous thing to say that in respect of the weaker sections of the community, we should penalise the man in Kerry, in Wexford or in Westmeath because he happens to have got something from the State illegally. It would match the Government much better if they tried to wring the income tax out of the people who should pay income tax but the Government do not appear to show any concern about the millions of pounds of income tax that should be paid but they are concerned about the small man who illegally draws money from the State for a few weeks.

I get quite a lot of work in regard to the payment of sickness benefit but I do not think anybody is to blame for that—neither the insurance personnel nor the Parliamentary Secretary and his officials—because it seems there is some confusion in the certification of illness. People come along to me and say: “I was sick from such a date to such a date and I got only so much.” I ask them what sort of payment did they get and they say they got 25/- one week, 15/- the next and 30/- the next and so on. The amounts vary like that and when I inquire from the Department, I discover that the periods of the certificates have varied. The first payments may have been only from the 3rd to the 5th entitling him to, say, 10/- or whatever it is. The next may be a full week and the next four days and so on.

Might I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that he consider, or try to arrange, a system whereby unemployment assistance and unemployment benefit certification of illness be made from a particular date? It does not matter whether it is Monday or Tuesday or any weekday. The man who applies for unemployment assistance on Monday is, I think, paid on Thursday and he gets benefit in respect of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, or something like that. In any case, there is a [1280] regulation, I think, for unemployment assistance and benefit recipients and to eliminate some of the misunderstandings—and they are misunderstandings—between the Department and the insured contributor, there should be a special day for the certification of illness as the day which closes the week. I think that would eliminate a lot of unnecessary work by officials, by Deputies and by the Parliamentary Secretary and his Minister.

A matter that has come to my notice recently, and I think I had experience of it in the past also is the attitude of some of the British companies operating in Ireland towards the affixing of insurance stamps. I shall give a case in point. As far as I am aware, if an Irish boy, say from Wexford, is employed by British Railways and plies between Rosslare Harbour and Fishguard, for the purpose of insurance, he is regarded as a British citizen. He lives in Ireland; any time he is off he remains here and he merely travels between Rosslare and Fishguard, but the stamps affixed to his insurance card are British stamps and are no use to him except that if he qualifies for unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit, he gets 26 days under the reciprocal arrangement we have with the British Government. But in the ordinary course, if he had Irish stamps, he would get six months' unemployment benefit. Whether the Parliamentary Secretary can do anything in that matter, I do not know but it is a problem in my part of the country and possibly also in other seaport towns where British companies operate.

I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to say a word about the free fuel scheme. Since the introduction of that scheme, all those who were in the pensioner class, whether old age, widows', or those in receipt of unemployment assistance and, I think, home assistance, were entitled to an allocation of free fuel for the winter months. It did not make any difference what their general domestic circumstances were. Whether there were two old age pensioners or two drawing pensions of any kind in the house, the fuel allocation was given to each of them. In recent times, the [1281] Parliamentary Secretary—perhaps in the past year—sent a direction to the local authorities to the effect that only one pensioner in each household should get this free fuel allocation. The Parliamentary Secretary may have a reason for that and I do not know what it is, but the practice has grown up over about 16 years that no matter what the domestic circumstances were, so long as one was an old-age pensioner or a widow or an unemployment assistance recipient, one got free fuel.

The principle that has been generally accepted in regard to the social insurance fund is such that the employer contributes one-third, the worker one-third and the State one-third. At present, it seems to me that between the employer and the worker there is a contribution of £6,592,000 and that includes, I think, something like £500,000 from the investment of the moneys in the fund. In any case, between employer and employee, there is a contribution of £6,592,000 and the State contributes £4,218,000. That is not exactly three parts but it roughly adheres to the principle that the State will contribute one-third, the employer one-third and the worker one-third.

I trust that this principle will be observed even now that we have before us a Social Welfare Bill which will provide for many financial changes. If that principle is adhered to, I think it will be good. If there is any disruption of that sort of scheme, then I think the workers and the employers would have a legitimate grievance and would feel entitled to demand that the State pay its fair share of any insurance scheme this House may care to pass.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  This is not a controversial Estimate but it was introduced by the Minister who has a responsibility under our social welfare legislation for the many people who in one way or another require State assistance. The manner in which the money asked for is to be spent to some extent reflects the economic condition of the country. It does not reflect what the picture of emigration might be, or [1282] anything of that kind but it reflects on the internal condition of the country.

We had the Minister for Social Welfare here some three-quarters of an hour ago in a moment of fantasy talking as if this country were the great land of opportunity, flowing with jobs and employment for everyone and with opportunity just knocking at the door. While he was speaking in that way, he had before him this Estimate which he was about to move. It is interesting to see that it is proposed to expend £3 millions on unemployment benefit. It is also proposed to expend £1¼ million on unemployment assistance. Therefore, our social services for the coming year envisage an expenditure of over £4,000,000 in respect of necessary cash payments to unemployed persons.

That can refer only to those unemployed within the State. It cannot take into account the many thousands who have been forced to emigrate in recent years under the Government of which the Minister is a member. This large sum is a slight reduction on that of last year, possibly because there has been more and continued emigration. I draw attention to this fact, lest all of us get into the complacent frame of mind which apparently has affected the Minister.

It is useless to try to blind ourselves to the problem of unemployment and, by not looking at it, to hope that people will believe it does not exist. It is there and it is a very grave social problem. The fact that a large sum of money must be voted each year for financial relief for unemployed persons indicates how serious the problem is. We can only hope that the members of the Government will cease making speeches of the kind made recently by the Minister for Social Welfare in Limerick and will get down to working out some constructive plan to deal with that problem so that that figure may be less in future years.

I am glad to observe the Parliamentary Secretary's reference to the social welfare treatment benefit regulation which came into operation in March of this year. I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary—if it is his doing, as I am sure it is—on this change in relation to [1283] dental benefit. As Deputies are probably aware, since the Department of Social Welfare and its predecessors operated medical and allied benefits under the health insurance scheme, the position with regard to dental treatment was that adolescents leaving school, presumed to have had the benefit while attending school of the schools medical service, if it existed, which might have been doubtful, were unable to obtain dental treatment until they were three years in insurable employment.

The position with regard to people of that age could be and was extremely critical. It was particularly important that at that period of their lives they should continue to have proper dental care. That problem should have been dealt with sooner. I am glad it has now been dealt with. The qualifying period for dental treatment in respect of insured persons under 21 years of age has now been reduced, depending on stamps, from three years—156 stamps—to six months or 26 contributions.

I was interested also to observe in the report of the Parliamentary Secretary—perhaps he can give more details later—that the number of old age pensioners is less. In recent years, there has been a downward trend in the estimated population aged 70 and over. I thought that, under the improvement in health and other standards, people were living longer. It is surprising to hear that there is a downward trend in the population aged 70 and over. Is that a delayed reflection on the effect of emigration in recent years? Is that the reason for it? Perhaps, the Parliamentary Secretary, if he has further information, might give it to us later.

There is nothing else that I have to say apart from joining in Deputy Corish's statement in regard to the manner in which the Minister's officers carry out their duties. Certainly, as a Deputy, I can endorse what has been said, that the officials of the Minister's Department and individual officers are courtesy personified in dealing with the particular individual problems brought to their attention.

[1284]Mr. Moloney: Information on Daniel J. Moloney  Zoom on Daniel J. Moloney  At the outset I should like to join with the Deputies who have just spoken in offering my sincere thanks to the Parliamentary Secretary for the courtesy that he and his officers have shown to me during the past year. I may have been unduly troublesome with the Department on the lines which Deputy Corish suggested. If that be so, I am sorry but Deputies find that they are more or less obliged to do more work with the Department of Social Welfare than most other Departments. The reason is that the Department covers such a wide field and provides such a variety of services for people who, generally, are not able to fight their own case.

I must congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister in regard to that portion of the report which deals with the treatment benefit which is being provided during the year. It refers to additional benefits, dental and optical benefits, for adolescents. That was a rather bold scheme and something which the Minister must have been rather reluctant to introduce. As far as I can understand, there was a very strong demand for a number of years that people who had entered employment, or were in employment for a short time, should get the benefit of additional health services of the kind in question.

The difficulty always appeared to be that this was not considered to be actuarially sound. The Minister had to break through a rather strong barrier before he could arrive at a decision to introduce this benefit. I think it is the most important advance introduced here in the matter of additional benefits for many years. Young people who had just entered employment heretofore found that they had to wait too long to avail of the additional benefits under the social welfare code. That, in my opinion, resulted eventually in rather large capital expenditure on the part of local authorities.

This is a very good start and I am very happy to congratulate the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary again upon having the courage to introduce what I would describe as a rather revolutionary measure of this [1285] kind. The actuarial recommendations in this matter have always been very conservative. Indeed, this was a very big step. I sincerely hope it will pay dividends. I am quite sure that whatever money is spent—and the additional money in this case is not considerable at the moment—will show very substantial dividends in a short time.

The question of expenditure under the marriage grants was dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary in his statement to the House this evening when introducing his Vote. I would exhort the Parliamentary Secretary to take the same line of action in regard to providing a substantial increase in future years in these grants. The fact that they have been increased from the old figure of £3 to a maximum of £10 has been responsible in no small way for improving the marriage rate among the particular type of people eligible for such benefits.

We all know that the people who are on the social welfare insurance list are mainly workers with an average wage. The benefits payable under this marriage grant apply only to women members of the social welfare code. I rather feel that an incentive to a young lady of £20 or £30 in respect of marriage benefit is a very good investment. It would encourage quite a number of people to get married and set up a home if they could look forward to getting such benefit on marriage.

I think that in view of the present very solvent state of the Social Insurance Fund—the Parliamentary Secretary told us this evening it gives him a dividend of £592,000 this year —he could with safety give favourable consideration to increasing this item of expenditure. I think that all sides of the House would give such a step unqualified approval. I hope that during the coming year, as in the case of the additional benefits introduced some months ago, the Parliamentary Secretary will find it possible to announce a very substantial increase in the rate of these benefits.

The Parliamentary Secretary dealt [1286] with the produce from the dividends which, during the coming year, are likely to bring him in £592,000. I do not know what the present extent of the fund in question is but I know that some 15 or 20 years ago it stood at £6 million. On that occasion there was a very prolonged and bitter controversy as to the possibility of providing additional benefits. We were then told the actuarial analysis of this fund disclosed that the fund would not stand up to additional benefits for any long period. Eventually, the actuaries were proved to be wrong.

The Government more or less felt that this was worth a chance and introduced at that time what were known as additional benefits by way of assistance to members to pay for hospital treatment and other additional services, some of which still remain and others of which were eliminated when the Health Act was introduced. I still feel that the fund, which must be round the £4 million mark, is a little too high and that it could be depleted to some extent with reasonable safety. It is because of that I proposed to the Parliamentary Secretary a few moments ago that he might consider depleting the fund, taking from it the additional money and applying it towards increasing the marriages grants to which I referred. There may be other cases under the social welfare code where the provision of additional benefits would be money well spent. If that be so, I would ask the Minister to give the proposal his favourable consideration.

The Parliamentary Secretary has dealt with the question of unemployment assistance. Although the estimated expenditure under this heading is still £1¼ million approximately, he has been able to report a reduction in expenditure under this heading during the past year of £85,000. A reduction in any item of State expenditure is something about which we can all feel happy if it achieved as a result of the solution of a problem but I am sorry to say that I cannot see the wisdom of the reduction under this heading. The Parliamentary Secretary has stated that the reduction would be [1287] greater were it not for the fact that the rates of unemployment benefit were increased during the period under review.

He went on to say:

The decrease of £85,000 in the current year is based on the expectation of a continuance of the favourable trend last year when the number of applicants for unemployment assistance was lower in each week than in the comparable week in the previous year.

That may be a favourable trend in so far as the number of applicants is lower but I want to tell the Parliamentary Secretary that qualification certificates have been withdrawn in many cases, in my opinion without justification.

Rightly or wrongly, the Department of Social Welfare has always taken the view that self-employed persons and persons engaged in share employment should have their means calculated on a basis which is different from that on which the means of wage-earners are calculated. Persons in receipt of a regular weekly wage are more favourably circumstanced than self-employed persons. They know exactly what they will receive on pay-day. Self-employed persons have to take the good week with the bad week.

An alteration in the system of calculating means derived from share employment is long overdue. Take the case of share fishermen, which is a type of employment that is very prevalent in my part of the country. A share fisherman works for a season of 15 or 20 weeks. He may earn £100, £140 or £200. His means are calculated on the total earnings that he returns or the amount that he is deemed to have earned, less the allowable expenses incurred in earning the money. The balance is put against him as a fixed figure. A member of the same household who is employed by a local farmer at £5 a week or in the local creamery at £6 or £7 a week can apply, during periods of unemployment, for unemployment assistance and his means are assessed at nil, although he may have earned four, five [1288] or six times the amount earned by the share fisherman.

The Parliamentary Secretary knows the point I want to make. I do not want to labour the matter unduly but I do think that many people in needy circumstances have had their qualification certificates withdrawn. I am not blaming the Parliamentary Secretary or any particular official. That has always been the system of calculation in the Department and occasionally there have been representations made to have it changed. I know a number of cases in which applicants' means were deemed to exceed the limit for qualification certificates although the persons concerned were in very bad circumstances. They may be employed for a period of three or four months but have no income for the rest of the year.

There is another difficulty so far as they are concerned. When they lose their qualification certificates they are no longer on the live register and, according to the regulations, cannot be employed on public works the labour for which is recruited from the labour exchange. They suffer on the double. It would be bad enough to withdraw the certificates if there were some means of having them registered at the labour exchange.

Of course, these people have a right of appeal. When they notify the Department of their desire to appeal, an appeals officer decides whether or not their case should get a local hearing. He will take it on himself to decide summarily if it appears to him that there is no purpose in having a local hearing. That is a decision which no appeals officer should take. A person who feels aggrieved by the decision of the Department in connection with the withdrawal of a qualification certificate and who wants the matter thrashed out locally is entitled to have the matter heard locally. He may wish to submit oral evidence which, in view of his circumstances, it would not be convenient for him to tender at headquarters in Dublin. That is one reason why the case should be heard locally. Every aggrieved person is entitled to reasonable facilities to make his case. When these matters are decided in Dublin and the applicant is not [1289] afforded an opportunity of being present, he is most dissatisfied.

There is a great deal to be said for bringing such cases down to local level and giving the person affected an opportunity to make his case there. I am not to be taken as in any way reflecting on the fairness of the decisions taken by the appeals officers. All these men are very competent to deal with such matters. If there is a doubt, they will give the benefit of the doubt to the applicant. The point I am trying to make is that they cannot get a true picture of the position by reading a file in headquarters in Dublin. The only way in which a proper assessment of the case can be made is by having it heard at local level, the applicant being given an opportunity of being heard. Great delay occurs on these appeals. Evidently many decisions are appealed and it is natural that the appeals will not be disposed of as quickly as the appeals officers and, more particularly, the applicant, would like. I do not know whether it would be feasible to assign additional officers to this work or whether the appeals could be disposed of more quickly by local hearing.

If there is a delay in the case of a person claiming disability benefit, the person concerned is denied payment until his case is settled. It may go on for several months. If he is the holder of a qualification certificate assessing his means as nil, he will get the appropriate rate of unemployment assistance during that period. If he wins the appeal, he will get the extra benefit due to him. However, that is not much use to the people who are unfortunate enough to have recourse to an appeal. They are mostly people who are living only from day to day and from week to week, and, were it not for the facilities afforded to them by local shopkeepers, they could not carry on at all.

The fact that many of these appeals are decided in favour of the applicant would justify the Parliamentary Secretary in being, shall I say, a little less exact in dealing with the matters at issue than he has been in the past. [1290] If there were a cleaning up to be done, I think it has largely been achieved and cases which would have been questioned heretofore should now be allowed to pass so that benefit can be paid in the ordinary way.

I should be failing in my duty as a Deputy, and more particularly as an old colleague of persons employed by the Minister, if I did not make an appeal for some improvement in the conditions of employment of those employed as social welfare agents. When Cumann Árachais Náisiúnta um Shláinte was amalgamated with the Department of Social Welfare, these agents were brought into the Department as unestablished civil servants. They are obliged to accept all the conditions applicable to civil servants but they have very few privileges.

Of the total number of these agents, approximately 500, a small number, possibly 30 or 40, were lucky enough to be assigned to the local exchange building. They were thus provided with office facilities which the Department have in the area and the other amenities attaching to employment in such places. They were permanent but not pensionable. However, 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. of the total number still carry on their duties in their own homes. These agents are obliged to pay rent for offices. They must also pay their own travelling expenses, and the other privileges that should be applicable to their rank are denied to them. When they take a week's or a fortnight's holidays, they are expected in most cases to provide their own substitutes.

Appeals have been made on occasions such as this for many years past for an examination of the terms and conditions of employment of this section of the Minister's organisation, and very little has been done. In regard to those members of the staff who were transferred 15 years ago, the Parliamentary Secretary should give consideration to their establishment with some scale of pension appropriate to their length of service and rate of remuneration. It is not impossible to formulate an equitable superannuation scheme for these people.

[1291] Many of these agents are old; they are men who gave outstanding national service in their younger days. They are trying to live on a miserable allowance. The average salary, I understand, is about £100 or £150. Appeals have been made for an improvement in their wages and conditions of employment. It has been suggested that they are not wholetime employees and that they engage in other forms of employment. As one who had ten or 12 years' experience of that work, I can tell the Parliamentary Secretary that any agent operating an agency with a membership of 3,000 or over is full time.

A very high standard of efficiency has always been and still is demanded. Inspectors of the Department visit these agents regularly and supervise them very stringently. The duties imposed on them necessitate long hours and a good deal of travelling for which they incur substantial travelling expenses. These employees, particularly those who are not assigned to offices in the labour exchanges, are dissatisfied. They have appealed to the Parliamentary Secretary from time to time through their staff organisation for an improvement in their terms of employment. It has not been done up to the present and I sincerely hope the Parliamentary Secretary will find it possible to attend to this question in the near future.

Mr. Russell: Information on George E. Russell  Zoom on George E. Russell  I must admit to some disappointment that the Parliamentary Secretary did not make some reference to a proposal which received a good deal of publicity some months ago. As the House will recall, it suggested that the Government had under consideration decentralising some of the Government Departments and it suggested that the Department of Social Welfare was one that would be suitable for transfer to the city of Limerick. I wonder if the proposal received any further consideration at Government level and, if so, would the Parliamentary Secretary be good enough to give us some information in his reply?

On the question of decentralisation I agree with other Deputies who have spoken that a number of quite small [1292] decisions which are sent to the Department for adjudication could very well be handled at a local level. I am sure all Deputies have had experience of quite small problems, which do not seem to call for any great amount of work, being sent to Dublin and causing delays in the payment of benefits to the persons concerned. I wonder would the Parliamentary Secretary look into the general system to see if some more decentralisation of the work of the Department could be effected. Other Deputies have paid tribute to the officers of his Department and I should like to join with them. In doing so, I should like to include the local officers in the Limerick branch, from the manager downwards, who form a most efficient and courteous staff. Indeed that is another reason I feel the managers in the various offices of the Department of Social Welfare throughout the country might be entrusted with a greater degree of responsibility. This, I feel, would lead to greater efficiency and a greater saving of time.

I should like to refer briefly to a couple of subheads dealing with social assistance. One of these is a comparatively small amount of £37,000 for Subhead I—Grants towards the Supply of Footwear for Necessitous Children. I know that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have to listen to various Deputies asking for more, but I do think that this very practical and sensible scheme might be augmented by a modest increase. Incidentally this sum of £37,000 covers only 50 per cent. of the cost of the footwear supplied by local authorities. The other 50 per cent. is paid from the general resources of the local authorities concerned and I would urge the Parliamentary Secretary to provide a reasonable increase in that amount. I do not think it is asking for a lot. I am sure every Deputy in the House knows from practical experience that the recipients who benefit under it are very appreciative of it. I have had experience, however, of large families in which only two or three of the children could get footwear under this scheme, due to financial stringency, while the others had to go without, and I believe that if a little were added [1293] to that sum all these hardship cases could be catered for fully.

I should also like to refer to Subhead C.—Unemployment Assistance —and to join with other Deputies in suggesting that instead of making a saving under that subhead the Minister might have retained, or even augmented, the sum made available in 1959 to provide for an increase in the small amount payable in unemployment assistance. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary would be the first to agree that a sum of £2 a week to a married man with five children is hardly adequate to keep body and soul together. He would have the support of every Deputy in this House if he retained in his Estimate the same sum as was provided last year and gave an increase of, say, 10 per cent. to the recipients of unemployment assistance, bringing it up to something in the region of 50/- a week. Even such an increased sum is miserably small but at least it would be a substantial improvement on the present figure.

I should now like to refer to the cheap fuel scheme for which the Minister estimates expenditure at the same amount as last year, £162,000. As I pointed out on previous occasions in this House the scheme contains a number of anomalies which should have been looked into before now and adjusted. I understand that it originally came into being during the war, when the country was divided into turf and non-turf areas, and it has continued more or less on the same basis ever since though the raison d'être for the scheduling of these areas has long since passed. I suggest that a figure of £5,400 paid to the Limerick Corporation under the cheap fuel scheme compares most unfavourably with a figure of £31,500 paid to Cork Corporation, £94,300 to the Dublin Board of Assistance, and £9,290 to Waterford Corporation.

There are other payments to smaller urban centres which make the position of Limerick even more invidious but I do not want to go into the complete list. I suggest that these payments should be allocated having regard to the number of cases intended to be [1294] covered by the scheme, and incidentally I should like to say again that to my personal knowledge and experience this is one of the most practical schemes of social assistance in the country.

Unfortunately, however, in the case of Limerick city the figure I have just quoted is not sufficient to cover the winter months and barely allows the classes concerned—home assistance recipients, unemployment assistance recipients, widows and orphans—to get cheap fuel for about two and a half months of the winter. The scheme is generally introduced about the end of October or early November, which means that these unfortunate people have to pay the full economic price for fuel during the harsh months of February and March, and even sometimes early in January. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that he should undertake a complete review of this scheme and put the different centres that enjoy and participate in it on a pro rata basis. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would take note of these few points, particularly that in connection with the cheap fuel scheme.

Mr. Kyne: Information on Thomas Anthony Kyne  Zoom on Thomas Anthony Kyne  I should like to join with other Deputies in complimenting the Parliamentary Secretary on his personal courtesy and the courtesy of his officials in answering the many inquiries and complaints that I have made over the past year. The Department of Social Welfare must naturally have a strong impact upon the lives of the ordinary working-class people and their families because that is the class which receives benefits from the finances administered by the Department. The fact that the Department runs so smoothly is a tribute to the officials in charge of it but, like many other State Departments, we hear and read of innumerable complaints with regard to delays in payment of benefit, wrong decisions and various types of hold-ups.

It is quite true that this hold-up in benefits takes place weekly. I suggest that much, if not all, of the fault lies in circumstances which are outside the control of the Department of Social [1295] Welfare. Many of them lie with the insured workers themselves because of their failure to inscribe their number on their certificate or, if they do inscribe it, their failure to inscribe the correct number. In many cases the doctors certifying omit the precise date on the medical certificate or fail to indicate exactly the reason for certification. In rarer cases local agents have some responsibility for delay in the transmission of certificates. In the main, while I do not consider the Department entirely blameless, the Department can, I think, claim to give as good service as any Department of State.

While paying the Department that tribute, it is true that many of us in our capacity as Deputies have repeatedly throughout the years been able to secure from the Department benefits that, without our intervention, would not have been given to the recipients. That indicates some laxity either on the part of the agents or on the part of the officials. I am quite prepared, as one Deputy, to state that I have secured for constituents in Waterford practically every year sums amounting to anything up to £1,000 which would not, though rightfully due to the members, have reached them without my intervention.

These errors, these wrong decisions, these inaccuracies, cannot be justified. While making all due allowance for human frailty and human liability to err, I have come to the conclusion that there must be a deliberate effort to reduce the amount of benefits payable. I know, as an agent for the Department of Social Welfare, an instruction was issued to keep a datum line. In other words, agents were instructed to ensure that the amount of benefit paid in any one period would not exceed a certain average. Now, that can only be done by deliberately suspending a case, irrespective of whether or not payment is justified in your opinion. Sometimes when I examine cases now I am inclined to think that that system continues because, if all the cases are genuine and a datum line must be kept, how else can it be kept except by suspending benefits? I deprecate any [1296] attempt at keeping benefits at an average level by any such device, policy, or instruction.

If I lay blame on the local agents it is only because I have knowledge of the unusual position they occupy. I am aware of the insufficient payments made to them. I am aware that these insufficient payments make it impossible for them to carry out their duties or to give to the members the service they should give. How can the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister justify an agency extending over a radius of 30 miles, covering mountain, bog and road, compelling an agent to run a motor car and to render the service he should give, all for something less than £6 per week? Surely, no Minister, no Parliamentary Secretary, nobody in his sane senses would attempt to justify that type of treatment. I know the answer will be that this is part-time work; the agent may be a bank manager too. Is it very likely he will be a bank manager? Is it very likely that he will be anything except what the most of them are, namely, agents?

If I know anything about the work, and I am sure I know much more about it than the Parliamentary Secretary will ever learn, having spent 15 years in it, there is no such thing as having “time off”. If you are to do your work commensurate with the service you must give to your members—it is by them you are employed—it is a full-time job. I know there is a new policy now of not replacing the agents and of incorporating, as a long term plan, employment exchange agencies and social welfare agencies. I agree with that policy but I suggest the failure to replace local agents in areas such as Youghal and Carrick-on-Suir, to mention two, is leaving the working-class people in these areas short of a service for which they are paying.

I do not think the Department has any right to do that. Prior to the amalgamation, when the working-class people joined the various societies, there was a contract binding on both sides; the workers were to contribute a certain amount and they were to get certain benefits and services in return. On amalgamation, [1297] that contract was renewed. There was no change. This attempt by the Minister to wipe out that service now and to operate a system of a letter sent to Dublin and a reply and, if you are not happy about that, you can do what you like about it, is something which cannot be countenanced.

I do not think either the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister has a right to do that. Those of us who represent the workers in this House are justifiably entitled to complain at the failure of the Department to make up their mind one way or the other, either by blocking off the agencies and giving whatever type of service they propose, or else filling the agencies as they become vacant, even in some temporary capacity. Certainly the position is not met by the type of service given at the moment.

There is one suggestion I would make to the Department. It concerns an insured worker in receipt of workmen's compensation who has filed his declaration of injury and sent in his various certificates to the Department in order to qualify for the free insurance stamps. In cases where these insurance companies compel the worker to settle a justifiable claim by refusing to continue the workmen's compensation benefits, thus threatening to starve out the worker and his family, I find that it is only with the utmost difficulty we can get the Department to come to the rescue by granting social welfare benefits on receiving an assurance from the solicitor representing the worker that a refund of all benefits given will be made, provided the insured worker wins his case in court. Unless that help is given, the worker will be at the mercy of the strong commercial insurance companies here who are unscrupulous in their methods of depriving workers of benefits. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to consider that matter.

There is one other point to which I should like to draw the Parliamentary Secretary's attention, that is, the attitude adopted by some social welfare investigation officers, particularly in regard to questions asked of them by members of old age pensions committees. [1298] I am the chairman of one such committee, and to my amazement, I was called aside by a social welfare officer and informed that whatever any other officer may have done, he did not intend to answer any questions put by me or members of the committee unless they related to points of law in connection with the Old Age Pensions Act. I informed him that I probably knew the points of law as well as he did, but that every question asked by a member of the Committee would either be answered by him there and then or be answered by the Minister in this House through Parliamentary Question by me. That is how it will continue.

I would suggest that, as a paid official of the Department, his attempt to take up that attitude shows he is not worthy to be allowed to continue in his job. God help the unfortunate old age pensioners he will have to investigate. What attitude will he take in relation to them if that is the attitude he takes in relation to the chairman and members of a voluntary body endeavouring to see justice equally done by the old age pensioners and by the State? When an investigation officer assesses the means of an applicant and comes to a certain conclusion and when the members of a pensions committee, from their own personal knowledge, feel a wrong decision has been come to and are anxious to see justice done, I feel they should be fully entitled to query that officer as to how he arrived at the decision and, in my opinion, they should be entitled to a reply to their questions.

I am well aware that our investigation officers could claim that they need not attend, and need not actually attend at all. But where they do exercise their right to attend and if they are asked reasonable questions by the members of this voluntary body, I think those members are entitled to courtesy and respect. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to take note of that and to see that such instructions are issued to these paid officers. Apart from the complaints I have made in respect of individuals, I should like to repeat and emphasise that I have met with nothing but courtesy, consideration and thoughtfulness [1299] from the Department of Social Welfare in general.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  I join with the last speaker in thanking the officials for their courtesy. I have been in touch with them on several occasions and found them most courteous. I should like to protest against the delays in dealing with claims for disability benefit that have occurred in my area. I should also like to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that the agency in my town has been closed and transferred to Dublin. Do I take that as an indication of the Government's policy of centralising everything in Dublin? All this talk of decentralisation is mere cant and humbug, and I should like to protest against it. I should also like to express my regret at the decision to dismiss a number of temporary officials at my exchange. This agency could be dealt with by these men, who are married men. This action was most uncalled for.

The final protest I must make is in regard to the use, or the abuse, of Radio Éireann this morning to try to fool the people with what I call a mere election promise. That is all it is because not 20 per cent. of these people will qualify for this proposed increased pension of 40/-. I know it is one of the sops that Fianna Fáil have always been dangling before the people.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  The Minister for Social Welfare has no responsibility for Radio Éireann announcements.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  I hold that he sent the announcement to Radio Éireann, that it is Departmental policy and that it was sent for a purpose. That is all I have to say on the matter. I could not let the occasion pass without commenting on this insult which was added to that involved in recently giving 1/- to the old age pensioners. One would not offer it to an urchin without insulting him and insulting him very much.

In my area we have seen quite a number of “dolers”, as we call them being knocked off. Hundreds of them [1300] have been knocked off because it was said that their means had increased. The Minister is fooling himself if he thinks the people will swallow that. The only way in which they can increase their means is to cross over to England on the mailboat. I should like again to thank the officials and the Minister for their help on the many occasions on which I have contacted them.

Mr. Sherwin: Information on Frank Sherwin  Zoom on Frank Sherwin  I came in specially from my election activities to say something before this Estimate is passed. I want to protest on behalf of the vast majority of those unfortunate people who benefit to the extent of a solitary 1/- from this generous Department. I cannot understand how the Parliamentary Secretary can devise a scheme, or a code, to cover a certain class of people, and offer a similar class such a miserable sum, just because they were not fortunate enough to have been in employment, so as to qualify them for the contributory pension. Both classes have to live in the same way; they have to eat the same food, pay the same rents, buy the same clothes. Why the vast majority should be treated in such a manner instead of at least getting some uplift—not, of course, to the same extent as those who are contributors—in order to apply the code more generally, I do not know.

During the past year the average employee received an increase in wages of 10/- a week; some of them received 12/6. All State pensioners received an increase and even members of this House received an increase. High officials already receiving some thousands of pounds per annum also got an increase. The Minister felt that as increases were in the air they should apply to everyone, High Court judges and others, but instead of giving these unfortunate people a generous increase to match the increase laid down in this new social code, they are treated like the negroes in South Africa, like an inferior class of human being, although they have the same responsibilities as their neighbours.

How the Minister could conceive that one shilling could be sufficient for those people beats me. It was [1301] argued that there was no actual increase in the cost of living, that the increase represented an improvement in their standard of living. If we accept that there was an increase in the standard of contributory pensioners how the Parliamentary Secretary considers that the standard of those people who are not contributory also increased by reason of the offer of 1/- beats me. They are treated as inferior people. It is not their fault that they are not contributory, that they may not have been in employment before they reached a certain age. I protest on behalf of those people. For the Minister's knowledge there have been quite a number of increases during the past six months in the cost of living for those people, apart from increased rents. Everybody is aware that the rents of all municipal dwellings have been increased and now there will be increases in the rents of tenants occupying private houses when the new Rent Restrictions Bill becomes law. Landlords will be entitled to raise the rents——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  The Parliamentary Secretary is not responsible for rents.

Mr. Sherwin: Information on Frank Sherwin  Zoom on Frank Sherwin  I am pointing out that there have been increases in the cost of living, that there will be a general increase in rents and that the people on whose behalf I am protesting will have to pay those increases. The shilling granted to those people will not enable them to pay those increases. In that respect I think I am being relevant. Apart from that, those people have to travel, to pay bus fares and our noble C.I.E. refuse to give them any benefits irrespective of employment or age. There have also been increases in the cost of foodstuffs which certainly would warrant an increase of at least 2/6. The 1/- granted was an insult. There are likely to be more increases in the cost of living because all those firms obliged to pay out 10/- or 12/- in increased wages to each of their workers will in their own way increase the cost of their commodities, by producing a poorer article, giving a lesser quantity, or in some other form. To [1302] make such a fuss about a social code which is only going to apply to 30 or 35 per cent.——

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  Twenty per cent.

Mr. Sherwin: Information on Frank Sherwin  Zoom on Frank Sherwin  I am giving them the benefit of the doubt. It makes no difference. It means that the vast majority will not be any better off than they were. People should be treated alike. The Parliamentary Secretary appears to think that if you are not in the contributory class you have no rights. By his wholesale cuts in social assistance during the year, his mentality seems to be: “If you are a liability and do not produce, we do not want you; get out.” This is another way of giving them a shove towards the emigrant boat. A great many of those people who have been cut off from social assistance took the boat and that seems to be a deliberate policy.

It seems that this great State of ours sees these so-called non-producers as a danger to those who are producing and that the safest thing to do is to keep giving them a shove towards the emigrant boat by granting them little or nothing. On behalf of those people I protest and, although I am very busy, I came in specially to make my protest against this miserable offer and against this form of segregation as between one class of unfortunate people and another by offering one class 7/- or 8/- and the other a miserable shilling.

Sir Anthony Esmonde: Information on Anthony Charles Esmonde  Zoom on Anthony Charles Esmonde  In the first instance, I should like the Minister to give a clear explanation to the House as to what is the actual reciprocal agreement between this country and the United Kingdom with regard to social welfare benefits. I want to refer particularly to national health insurance—I suppose the stamp conditions apply as well—as well as to unemployment benefit and other benefits. I am repeatedly hearing cases of people who had paid insurance over a great many years emigrating and then coming back to this country. They fall sick, issue a certificate but do not get any payment.

[1303] So far as I know, if a person has been out of the country for a certain time and comes back again, the position is that he has to have a certain number of insurance contributions or stamps—I am not quite sure of the term—I have known several cases of people who emigrated coming back here and finding themselves out of benefit. They issued a national health insurance certificate and got nothing, whereas if they had issued a national health certificate, the position, so far as I know, is that they would come back into benefit again. I do not know if I am making myself clear, but it is a very involved situation.

If a person emigrates and comes back here again after a certain period, if he has so many contributions he can come back into benefit, I believe, with the reciprocal agreement that exists. I am not very clear on this point, but I think they get credit over here for the contributions they make on the other side. I do not think there is a strict reciprocal agreement. Let me put it this way. If a man emigrates on 1st January, takes up employment in the United Kingdom and stamps his card, say, for nine or ten months, and returns to this country, takes up employment here, and then falls sick, he is out of benefit—at least I think that is so. Let me make it easier. If he goes away for two years, comes back, starts to work, stamps a card and gets sick, he is out of benefit. That may or may not be the case. It would be to the advantage of the House, of Deputies and the country, if the Parliamentary Secretary made a clear-cut statement on the position in order that people will know where they stand.

The point I mentioned in the first instance about the issuing of certificates, strikes me as being particularly important, because I have known several cases of those who have refrained from issuing certificates because they thought they were of no use, whereas, in actual fact, it appears to me that would bring them into benefit again.

The other point I want to raise is the question of the national health insurance [1304] agents. Those agents appear to be in the category of temporary civil servants, if they are not actually civil servants, as I believe they are. They are in the same grade, but they really have no status, no security for the future, and they have, apparently, as the position stands now, no possibility of ever getting any increase in their emoluments. From my knowledge, the policy adopted in the Department of Social Welfare is that, whenever a national health insurance agent ceases to be employed, through retirement or sickness, or for any other reason, he is not replaced. Money is being paid direct from the Central Office. In other words, the administration is being carried out from the Central Office rather than at local level as it was heretofore. I have been approached by several of these agents who are still employed, because they are under the impression that a new system is being adopted by the Department and that it is the intention to dispense with them altogether in the future. That may or may not be the case.

I also know that the remuneration they get for this job is entirely inadequate. There is a good deal of work and travel involved in the job. It may be argued, of course, that it is only a part-time job, but, at the same time, some of them have been working for a great many years, and they are entitled to the same consideration as other people who have served the State.

For that reason, if the Parliamentary Secretary finds himself in a position to do so—he may not be, and, in fact, I think it is possible that a hard and fast decision has not yet been reached—I should like him to indicate to the House what the position of these people is. Are they to have their claim for an increase in remuneration considered? If they are in the same category as civil servants, whether temporary, permanent or otherwise, they are entitled to an increase in pay due to the increased cost of living and due to the changed circumstances of the times. If it is the intention of the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary to dispense with these officials altogether, he should say so, in order that they will know where [1305] they stand. It is not a very big point really, but it concerns quite a few officials scattered throughout the country.

While I am on that subject, I should like to say I think it is better to make the payments at local level rather than from headquarters. After all, efficiency usually follows decentralisation. If centralising everything in Store Street is the policy of the Department, the Parliamentary Secretary, or whoever is responsible for it, I do not think it will make for efficiency, because it is essential for those who draw national health benefit to be paid promptly. If a person goes sick, the certificate has to be sent up to Dublin, and the cheque has to be issued from Dublin because there is no local agent to deal with it. I cannot see how that makes for efficiency. After all, the Parliamentary Secretary is the barrier between the general public and the official system that exists behind the scenes in the Department.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  He is the cushion.

Sir Anthony Esmonde: Information on Anthony Charles Esmonde  Zoom on Anthony Charles Esmonde  The cushion, if you like the word better. It would be easier for anyone looking for a benefit to go to the local agent and say: “I want my money by such and such date: I have to buy the household goods,” rather than have to wait on the will of the Department to which there is really no direct access except through a Deputy. The system has worked well over the years, and I do not see any reason for changing it. I may be wrong in what I am saying, but, so far as I know, no appointments of these national health insurance agents have been made in recent times.

There is one other point I should like to raise which relates to the Bill we were discussing this afternoon. Many of us are in great difficulty in trying to understand this Bill. In spite of the Minister's opening address —I did not hear his reply—in spite of the debate generally, in spite of the explanatory memorandum and in spite of the Bill itself, I find myself completely at sea.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  It is [1306] not in order to advocate legislation on the Estimate. The Deputy may have a suitable opportunity later.

Sir Anthony Esmonde: Information on Anthony Charles Esmonde  Zoom on Anthony Charles Esmonde  Am I not allowed to have a point clarified? The point I am about to make concerns old age pensions and I think the Chair will find I am not seeking legislation. I just want to have a point cleared up. It is concerned with legislation introduced this afternoon but perhaps the Chair will allow me to make the point and can then rule me out of order. In that case the Parliamentary Secretary need not reply. I want to know is there a change in the payment of old age pensions? At the moment the old age pension is 27/6 a week and I understand there will be a change in the payments—to put it that way—and that some fortunate pensioners will enjoy £2 a week. Are those already getting 27/6 a week to get £2 or does it mean that if a man has reached 70 years of age, until he goes to his grave he draws 27/6 a week? Is he allowed to enjoy any benefit that the State proposes to offer, benefits that will be paid for by employers and employees and by confiscation of moneys from another quarter also?

Mr. Cunningham: Information on Liam Cunningham  Zoom on Liam Cunningham  There are a few minor points that I want to bring to the notice of the Parliamentary Secretary. The first of these refers to the delay that occurs and has occurred in cases of unemployment benefit and assistance. Usually a certain number of cases are chosen for re-investigation and that entails very lengthy delay. Those concerned cannot afford such delay. They are people out of employment and seeking benefit or those who have qualified for home assistance. I want to impress on the Parliamentary Secretary that the delays of long duration which have been occurring, and are occurring, should not take place.

This morning I was told of a case where an investigation was called for in an unemployment assistance case. It is now 20 weeks since assistance was paid pending the investigation. Assistance ceased in January. The social welfare officer did not investigate the case until some time in May and as yet [1307] no payment has been made, and no notification has been received by the applicant, with the result that he and his family who have been depending on this assistance are in a pretty bad way. That is not the only case. Although it is true that delays of such duration are unusual, even delays of seven or eight weeks cause hardship in both unemployment assistance and unemployment benefit cases.

My second point concerns the type of case which is fairly prevalent in western areas and in parts of my constituency—cases where small farms are involved of £2 10s. to £3 valuation. Although the farm is not in the name of the applicant for home assistance, it may be in the name of his father or mother or mother-in-law. Yet, when the married son living on that farm applies for home assistance, the income—and in some cases it is only an alleged income—from that small farm is put against the applicant although he does not own an inch of the land and may never own it.

A further complication may arise when the father himself applies for the old age pension. The social welfare officer allocates the income from the same farm as means against the applicant with the result that it militates against applicants in two ways. In one case it is put against the married son applying for unemployment assistance and tends to reduce the weekly payment he would ordinarily get or cuts it out altogether; the income from the same farm operates, perhaps at the same time, against the payment of an old age pension to the father or mother. I think that is something that needs to be investigated. I believe that where the applicant for home assistance or benefit is not the owner of the land the income from that land owned by his father, mother, mother-in-law or other relative should not be put against him even though he lives on the farm and uses it to produce a small quantity of crops. It also has to support the relatives who are living there and the net profit he makes is very limited.

I think some social welfare officers or pensions officers as they are called, [1308] have an exaggerated idea of the income from a small farm whether in Donegal, Cork, Kerry or Galway. I came across one case where the social welfare officer credited a farm of £12 valuation with an income similar to that which would be received by a person who had £7,000 invested in the National Loan. That is stretching foreign profits and foreign incomes to a very extended degree. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to make sure that none of his officers will in future cause the hardships in congested areas which are causing a lot of “grousing”. His Department and the policy of the Government are being brought into disrepute amongst people who feel there is no justification for the things I have just mentioned.

Mr. Jones: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  I should like to follow the argument made by Deputy Cunningham. In so far as I understand the operation of the means test and its application to the various applicants for old age pensions or social benefits, the test seems to be applied very rigidly. It is not fair, I suppose, to blame the local officials for the rigid application of the means test. I presume they work to a set rule which has been laid down for them.

In rural areas, in particular, it seems that a very rigid and very ambiguous test is applied in regard to the income of applicants for old age pensions. I have seen cases where applicants for old age pensions have been credited —rightly so, of course—with the income they would have from small savings they have laid aside. In some instances the savings will never be available to them in the ordinary way because they have been laid aside against their funeral expenses. To credit them with an income from such savings is unfair and may deprive them of the benefit to which they should have access. Equally so, I have seen cases where a parent, on giving the property to a son, is credited in regard to means with a certain amount for his keep in the house.

In one case, a small sum was entered against a person but that small sum was sufficient to bring him just over the qualifying amount and to deprive him of the benefit of an old age pension. [1309] In regard to small properties and cases where a family is living on a small holding, there is often difficulty in getting rid of the property or allocating it to any particular member at an early stage or before the person concerned reaches the qualifying age for the old age pension.

A property under £30 valuation can be transferred without any disability. Where it is over that amount and where a person may have to continue operating that property for three, four or five years, in the interest of the remaining members of the family on the holding, to say eventually, when they transfer the property, that they could never qualify for the old age pension seems harsh in the extreme. If these people have worked for quite a long time on the land and have, by reason of the fact that they are anxious to see that there is equality of opportunity for their family, maintained direction of the farm for so many years, the fact that they surrender their right to an old age pension from the age of 70 for maybe three, four or five years, should not be held as a permanent bar against their obtaining the old age pension.

In the matter of means held by people who have applied for old age pensions, the procedure by which a certain amount is credited must come under review. I have some small idea of the way it is made up. With changing values surely it is time for a reappraisal of the computation of means in that respect? In view of the fall in the value of money and the rise in the cost of living we need to review our method of computation of such [1310] means as these applicants may have.

I agree with Deputy Cunningham about delays in the investigation of claims for unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance. In particular, where the applicants are married, these delays are an undue hardship. They must fulfil their social obligation of looking after their family, of providing the necessary food, of meeting the rent charge while their application is being considered. The Parliamentary Secretary would do well if he could shorten the time lag between the time of the application and the actual payment of social assistance.

In rural areas there are Employment Orders which, at certain times of the year, take certain numbers of people off the live register in local exchanges. With the changing pattern of time and with the advent of more mechanised devices there is not the same amount of employment on the land for the people as was formerly the case. With mechanical devices being used by local authorities in road work, there is not the same amount of employment there as there used to be. These people, through no fault of their own, are unable to obtain any assistance from the State because of these Orders at these times and, at the same time, by reason of the modern trend of mechanisation, they are unable to find work for themselves.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 15th June, 1960.


Last Updated: 15/09/2010 11:27:58 First Page Previous Page Page of 20 Next Page Last Page