Social Welfare Bill, 1970: Second Stage.

Tuesday, 14 July 1970

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 248 No. 7

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Minister for Social Welfare (Mr. J. Brennan): Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time”.

The Bill has three main purposes. The first is to give legislative effect to the proposals to extend the social insurance system so as to include schemes of death grants, invalidity pension and retirement pension. The second purpose is to provide the legislative basis for the two new social assistance schemes of allowances for deserted wives and for incapacitated old people. The third purpose is to implement the proposals announced in the Budget for improvements in the existing social insurance and the social assistance schemes.

As is usual in relation to social welfare legislation, the Bill is based largely on the extension of the existing social insurance and social assistance schemes and consists mainly of amendments of the existing legislation. Some provisions of the Bill may, therefore, appear obscure and, in order to clarify them, I have had a very full explanatory memorandum circulated which I hope Deputies will find useful in their examination of the provisions of the Bill.

As Deputies will observe the Bill is divided into three parts, the first of which deals with general matters common to the Bill as a whole. Part II of the Bill deals with the new schemes of both social insurance and social assistance while Part III deals with the Budget improvements in both social insurance and social assistance schemes.

The first of the new schemes on the social insurance side in Part II of the Bill is the scheme of death grants. This scheme will make a grant of £25 payable on the death of an insured person or the husband, wife, widow or widower of an insured person, £15 on the death of an insured person's qualified child aged between five and 18 years, and £5 on the death of a younger qualified child. The contribution conditions [995] for the grant are that the insured person had paid not less than 26 employment contributions and had 48 contributions paid or credited either in the last contribution year before the death or as a yearly average over his insurance life time. Only one grant will be paid on any one death, regardless of the number of insurances on which title could be established—for example where a man and his wife are both insured and one of them dies.

Insurance for death grant will apply to all those employments which are insurable for disability benefit and old age, contributory, pensions purposes at present. The scheme will commence on 1st October next and, being a completely new development in the social insurance system, it cannot be linked with any of the existing schemes in that system, and it does not supersede any of them in any way. The only contributions, therefore, which will contain an element towards death grant will be those paid after the scheme commences and it is only those contributions that will be accepted towards satisfying the contribution condition requiring 26 contributions to have been paid. It will not be possible, therefore, to satisfy the conditions in respect of any death occurring before the end of March, 1971, when 26 weeks will have elapsed from the commencement of the schemes.

Invalidity pension is being provided from 1st October also under the second new social insurance scheme. This pension will be payable to insured persons who are or become permanently incapable of work and whose insurance satisfies the contribution conditions. These conditions are that not less than 156 contributions have been paid and not less than 48 contributions have been paid or credited in the most recent contribution year. Insurance for invalidity pension will apply in the same types of employment as insurance for disability benefit does at present. Insured persons with the necessary insurance may under existing conditions continue to receive disability benefit as long as they are incapable of work, but they are required to submit medical evidence periodically and they are paid by cheques [996] issued from the head office of the Department.

Under the pension scheme, it will be possible to dispense with medical certification or examination, except on rare occasions, and to pay pension at the post office of the pensioner's choice by weekly orders in pension order books. The insurance conditions for the pension will be the same as those now required to qualify for disability benefit on a long duration basis while the rates of pension £4 10s for the pensioner, £3 3s for an adult dependant, 18s for each of the first two qualified children and 13s for each additional qualified child, will be the same as the rates of disability benefit.

As the pension scheme is a development of disability benefit and indeed a replacement of it for certain categories, it is intended that any insurance under the Social Welfare Acts since 1953 which is reckonable for disability benefit purposes will count for invalidity pension. If that were not done, it would be at least three years from the commencement of the scheme before any person could have the 156 paid contributions necessary to satisfy the first condition for pension. Some persons have been receiving disability benefit for many years on foot of paid insurance which was wholly or partly under the former National Health Insurance Acts prior to 1953. Arrangements will be made to allow that insurance be used also to qualify for invalidity pension if necessary.

Regulations which I will make will define what constitutes being permanently incapable of work. These regulations have not yet been drafted but what I have in mind is that permanent incapacity would involve being totally incapable of work and the likelihood of being so incapable for an indefinite period and certainly for one of not less than 12 months.

The third new social insurance scheme is the retirement pension scheme also to be effective from 1st October next. This will provide pensions for insured persons aged 65 and over who have retired and whose insurance satisfies the contribution conditions laid down. These conditions are similar to those for old age, contributory, [997] pension but are applicable at an age five years younger—the person must have entered insurance before reaching the age of 55 years, have not less than 156 employment contributions paid and have an average of 48 contributions paid or credited per contribution year up to age 65. The rates of pension will be basically the same as the rates of unemployment benefit— personal rate £4 10s, and additional £3 3s for a wife or dependent husband with 18s each for the first two qualified children and 13s for each subsequent child.

The new pension will to a large extent replace disability and unemployment benefit for insured persons in the age group 65 to 70. It will be payable on pension conditions—by means of a pension order book payable weekly at a post office without the necessity of attending at an employment exchange to sign the unemployed register and without the necessity of submitting medical evidence of unfitness for work. Insurance for the new pension will apply to the same employments as for old age, contributory, pension and contributions under the Social Welfare Acts since 1953 which count for the purposes of the latter pension will be taken into account for the purposes of the new pension. This will enable retirement pensions to be payable immediately the scheme commences to persons who have retired. Regulations will define what is meant by retired. The drafting of these regulations has not yet been completed but the intention is that the definition will require a person to show that he has ceased permanently to be employed in insurable employment or work which, if not insurable, is of that nature and that he does not intend to resume such employment. It will, of course, be open to a person to withdraw his retirement and surrender his pension if he should wish to resume employment at any time between 65 and 70.

There are a few general points I should like to mention in connection with these new schemes. Firstly, persons drawing invalidity pension will be credited with contributions for each week of incapacity and these contributions will count for the purposes of [998] the other pensions in the social insurance system. Similarly, persons drawing retirement pensions will be credited with contributions for each week of retirement and these contributions will count for old age and widow's, contributory, pension purposes. Next, arrangements will ensure that there will be no duplication of payment of pensions either as between the new pensions or with the existing pensions-a person may draw invalidity pension up to age 65 and may then draw either invalidity or retirement pension but not both. At age 70, a person must choose between old age, contributory, pension and whichever of the other pensions has been in payment. In very rare circumstances, a person will wish to draw either retirement pension or invalidity pension after reaching the age of 70 because he will not be entitled to old age, contributory, pension or the rate of that pension which would be payable to him would be less than the rate of retirement pension or invalidity pension payable.

Finally, the new schemes of death grant and retirement pension will be among the long term schemes in our social insurance system with the old age and widows', contributory, pensions schemes. I think that it is only proper, therefore, that persons should be allowed to maintain their rights to these new long term benefits also if they should cease to be compulsorily insured. Accordingly, the scope of the category of voluntary contributorship which at present covers old age and widows', contributory, pensions is being extended to cover death grant and retirement pension also not only for persons becoming voluntary contributors in future but also for existing voluntary contributors in that category.

Turning now to the new social assistance schemes the first of these in Part II of the Bill is the old age, care, allowance scheme. This will be an extension to persons outside the present field of pensioners under the various schemes of the Department, of the arrangement made two years ago and extended last year by which £2 15s a week is paid with pension to an incapacitated old age or widow pensioner, aged 70 years and over, who [999] requires full-time care and attention which is given by a prescribed female relative and who would otherwise be living alone. The new scheme is designed to cover persons aged 70 and over who are similarly situated but whose means are too high to permit them to qualify for non-contributory old age pension. There will be an upper means limit for the allowance, £299 15s which has been fixed by adding the maximum means which a person with one qualified child could have and still qualify for old age pension to the yearly amount of the pension that will be payable in such a case. Means will be assessed for the purpose of this limit in the same way as for non-contributory old age pension. The conditions of the new scheme generally, for example, who will be prescribed as a female relative or what will constitute living alone, will be the same as those applicable in the existing schemes and like them will be set out in regulations. As Deputies will recall, the definition of female relative for this purpose was extended last year to cover not only daughters and step-daughters but also sisters, half-sisters, grand-daughters, daughters-in-law and nieces.

The new social assistance scheme of allowances for deserted wives is designed to deal with one aspect of the problem of deserted wives. Deputies are no doubt aware that this problem has aroused much interest during the past few years and the aspect of it which this Department is attempting to deal with is that of the hardship caused in the long term to the wife and children where the husband has deserted them and has failed to contribute to their maintenance. At present, cases of hardship may be taken care of by the home assistance authorities which can help meet the immediate needs but it is felt that the long-term situation should be dealt with on a more permanent basis. Under the new scheme of allowances it is proposed broadly to treat deserted wives as if they were widows claiming non-contributory pension. The same conditions as to the rates of payment, the calculation of means, the conditions of [1000] qualification of children, the methods of claiming and paying, will apply.

There is one point at which the conditions for a widow's pension are not adhered to and that is where the allowance will not be paid if the deserted wife is under the age of 50 years and has no qualified children. It was originally intended that the new allowance would cover only mothers of families which had been deserted, but it was then decided that it should also cover elderly deserted wives without dependent children or whose dependent children have grown up and who may find it difficult because of their age and other factors to obtain employment. The minimum age limit of 50 years has been imposed to meet this situation.

Deputies will observe that it is proposed to specify by regulation the circumstances in which a woman will be regarded as deserted. These regulations have not yet been finalised and I have a fairly open mind at this stage as to what the definition of desertion should be for the purposes of the scheme. It is clear to me, however, that the term “deserted wife” is emotive and that it has different meanings for different people.

There are some basic factors which I must bear in mind when dealing with this question of the definition of desertion. The first of these is that the allowance scheme is of the nature of a pension scheme and the governing consideration, that is, desertion, should be firmly established and be more or less permanent as, for example, widowhood is in the case of widow's pension. Secondly, I feel that desertion is primarily a domestic problem and that the allowance scheme should not be a possible factor inhibiting a reconciliation. For that reason, I am of the opinion that before title to the allowance could arise, the wife should have availed in so far as is possible for her, of whatever processes, legal or otherwise, are open to her, to effect a reconciliation or to oblige the husband to meet his responsibilities to support her and the family. I do not think that there can be desertion in the sense we are seeking to deal with, if the husband is contributing in any way towards the maintenance of the family.

[1001] These are considerations which I will have to take into account in defining desertion, and I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies on this difficult and delicate question. I am convinced, however, that it is essential at this stage to adopt a pragmatic approach and to get a reasonable scheme into operation as soon as possible. Accordingly, the legislation has been framed to permit the definition of desertion to be specified by regulations so as to give a certain flexibility to the scheme and allow it to be readily modified, where necessary, to effect improvements which experience may show are desirable. One final point I would like to mention in connection with the scheme is that payment of the allowance will be made by way of an allowance order book at the post office of the claimant's choice. However, arrangements have been made so that the order books will not be generally identifiable as being in respect of deserted wife's allowance.

Part III of the Bill deals mainly with the improvements in the existing schemes of social insurance and social assistance announced in the Budget Statement on 22nd April, 1970. The increases then announced in the field of social assistance will give an extra 10s a week to all existing non-contributory old age and blind pensioners making the maximum personal rate of old age and blind pension, £4 5s a week. The increase of 11s 6d in the weekly rate of widows non-contributory pension will eliminate the existing differential between that pension and the non-contributory old age pension thus making the maximum personal rate of widow's pension £4 5s a week also orphan's non-contributory pension will be increased by 7s 6d to £2 5s a week. The increases in the maximum rates of these pensions will enable the scale of means and rates of pension to be extended in each case so as to give additional rates at the bottom of the scales and thus make pensions payable to persons whose means are at present outside the limit for any pension.

The rates of unemployment assistance for persons in urban and rural areas are being increased by 10s 6d a week for the recipient making the maximum rate £3 12s for a single [1002] person and £6 8s for a married couple living in an urban area. Outside urban areas the corresponding rates will be £3 6s for a single person and £6 for a married couple. These increases of unemployment assistance at the maximum will have the effect of automatically extending the means limit for qualifications for unemployment assistance.

The upper age limit for orphans and qualified children under the social assistance schemes which I have mentioned is being raised to 18 years. The rates of payment for qualified children are also being increased by 2s 6d in each case making the overall payment 15s for each of the first and second child and 10s for each additional child. Thus a widow with four children will get an overall increase of £1 1s 6d in her non-contributory pension making it £6 15s. These improvements will all come into operation on the first pay day for the particular scheme next August.

Under the Budget proposals the rate of children's allowance for the third and each subsequent qualified child in each family under the general scheme of children's allowances will be increased from £2 to £2 5s a month. The rate for the first and second qualified child will remain unchanged. As announced in the Budget Statement, adjustments of the tax free allowances under the income tax code in respect of the third and subsequent child in families will offset the increases in the rates of children's allowances for families which are liable for income tax. These adjustments are designed to ensure that it is the larger families not liable for income tax which will gain from the increases in children's allowances—a four child family in such circumstances will get £6 10s a month as against £6 at present and a six child family will get £11 a month as against £10 at present. These increased rates will be effective from October next.

The Budget improvements in the various social insurance benefits and pensions will come into operation at the beginning of October also. They will provide an extra 17s 6d a week for recipients of old age contributory pension thus making the maximum rate £5 a week for a pensioner personally and £8 10s in all for a married couple. [1003] Recipients of disability benefit and unemployment benefit will get an additional 15s a week. There will also be a slight adjustment in the payment for an adult dependant to facilitate decimalisation and the new rates of unemployment and disability benefit will be £4 10s a week for a single person and £7 13s for a married couple. The rate of maternity allowance is also being brought up to £4 10s a week. The basic rate of widow's contributory pension will be increased to £4 10s a week also regardless of whether or not the widow has any qualified children. The orphan's contributory allowance is being raised to £3. The rates of payment in respect of qualified children are being raised by 2s 6d a week in each case while the upper age limit for orphans and qualified children is being raised to 18 years.

Certain rates of unemployment benefit which are payable where unemployment continues for more than 156 days are the same as the maximum rates of unemployment assistance in urban areas. As unemployment assistance rates are being increased from the beginning of August next, these particular rates of unemployment benefit are also being increased from then.

To meet the extra expenditure on the increased rates of benefits and pensions and the cost of the new social insurance schemes dealt with in Part II of the Bill, an increase in the social insurance contributions payable by employers and employees is necessary. The increase proposed from the beginning of October next in the rates of social insurance contributions is 5s 5d where all the insurance benefits including the new schemes are covered, with lesser increases where the benefits covered are restricted. The various rates of contribution are also set out in decimal currency terms to be effective from 15th February, 1971. The overall weekly employment contribution payable in respect of men in ordinary industrial or commercial employment from October will be 33s 8d made up of 30s 6d in respect of social insurance, 2s 2d in respect of occupational injuries insurance and 1s in respect of redundancy payments. Of this, the employer will pay 18s 3d and the employee [1004] 15s 5d. In the case of women in such employment, the overall weekly contribution will be 31s 5d made up of 29s 1d for social insurance, 1s 7d for occupational injuries insurance and 9d for redundancy. Of this the employer will pay 17s 1d and the employee 14s 4d. The increase in the lower rate of voluntary contribution covering widow's pensions only will be 1s 1d making it 6s 4d. The increase in the higher rates of voluntary contribution which at present covers old age and widows contributory pensions and, in future, will cover also death grant and retirement pension will be 5s 5d making it 16s 3d. A table showing the present and proposed rates of contribution appears in the explanatory memorandum.

In line with the improvements in the social insurance system generally in the Bill, the benefits payable under the occupational injuries benefits scheme are also being improved. The increases proposed are 15s in the rates of the main weekly benefits and allowances with proportionate increases of other payments. These changes will not involve any charge on the Exchequer as all benefits under the scheme are met out of the Occupational Injuries Fund which is financed by contributions paid by employers only. A minor adjustment of the contribution necessary on conversion of the contribution to decimal currency terms in February, 1971, is all that is required to meet the extra cost of the increased benefits.

Due to improved facilities for printing insurance stamps and pension order books, it is possible this year to bring the improvements in the social insurance schemes into operation from the beginning of October, which is three months earlier than in previous years. The time lag between the increases in rates of payment on the social assistance and social insurance sides is, therefore, reduced to two months— August and September. During that period however cases will still arise where non-contributory pension would temporarily be more favourable than the corresponding contributory pension. It was never the intention that the statutory provisions permitting a person to opt for non-contributory pension, if it were more favourable than the [1005] contributory pension should operate where the advantage would only be temporary, as the Departmental machinery is not geared for short-term switching from one pension to the other and back again. There is a provision in the Bill therefore to prevent such switching during the two months period in cases where the advantage would be a temporary one only. The right of a pensioner to switch where the advantage would be permanent will not be affected, and this is of importance in relation to the present Bill where the allowance for adult dependants of old age contributory pensioners is not being increased and any advantage that might accrue to such an adult dependant by opting for non-contributory pension would not be limited to the period August/September.

The Bill includes a provision to make a minor modification of the means test for non-contributory old age and widows' pensions. At present a person who is paying rent for a labourer's cottage is not assessed with any means from the cottage for pension purposes but a person who is paying an annuity in respect of the purchase of a labourer's cottage has the value of the cottage assessed against him although the annuity payment may be the same amount as the rent would be. To remove this anomaly, the Bill proposes to have the value of the cottage disregarded while it is being purchased by way of an annuity.

I do not think it necessary at this stage to go into the Bill in any greater detail as I feel sure that the explanatory memorandum will have given Deputies a good picture of the effects of the provisions of the Bill. To assist Deputies further, however, I will summarise the yearly cost of the various proposals in the Bill. There is £2,982,000 for non-contributory old age and blind pension, £645,000 for widows and orphans pension, £1,284,000 for unemployment assistance and £1,188,00 for children's allowance together with £310,000 for the new scheme of deserted wife's allowance and old age, care, allowance. The total cost on the social assistance side is, therefore, £6,409,000 in a full year, all of which will fall on the [1006] Exchequer. Against this there will be an offset of some £100,000 by way of increased income tax due to the adjustment of tax free allowances for children in that code. The gross cost to the social insurance fund of the new schemes and the improvements in existing schemes on the social insurance side will be £9,815,000 in a full year. Allowing for increased contribution income to the fund of £7,698,000 from the increases in contribution rates, the amount of the cost to be borne by the Exchequer will be £2,117,000 in a full year.

These are very substantial amounts but they arise out of very substantial improvements in the services administered by my Department. I have much pleasure, therefore, in recommending the Bill to Dáil Éireann and I ask for speedy and favourable consideration of it.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  At the outset, I should like to say that I am pleased with the Minister's brief which he has had handed out to us. On previous occasions I have expressed the view, and I do not intend any disrespect to the people who draft social welfare legislation, that ordinary people and even specialists in the field found it difficult to understand the way the legislation is presented. I often wonder if social welfare legislation could not be presented in a form somewhat similar to what the Minister has just read out. Over the weekend I went through this Bill, and, indeed, through the pretty full explanatory memorandum, but, quite frankly, I felt rather at a loss to understand many of its provisions because there were so many references to other Acts and other sections and other paragraphs. One would want to be an expert to derive any satisfaction from that exercise. However, the Minister's speech makes it easier for us to understand what is involved. In the second paragraph the Minister states:

As is usual in relation to social welfare legislation, the Bill is based largely on the extension of the existing social insurance and social assistance schemes and consists mainly of amendments of the existing legislation.

That makes the position clear especially [1007] in so far as I and other people felt that new social welfare schemes were presented in the Budget and in this Bill. What we have, therefore, are some improvements to existing schemes as well as some extensions of existing schemes. No one on this side of the House or, indeed, on any side of the House, can oppose the proposals in the Bill. My only criticism is that the improvements in the Bill do not go nearly as far as we would like them to go to help the unfortunate section who are to benefit under the Bill. Our entry into the EEC may help these social welfare recipients because we may copy some of the schemes which member states have. Some of those countries have a much higher regard for social welfare recipients and spend a much greater part of their wealth assisting them.

The modest increases here vary from 10s to 15s a week but since those figures were announced in the Budget on 29th April last the value of that 10s and 15s has greatly depreciated. Indeed, its value has been halved since then as has the value of the 10s or 15s which they received last October or January. In all sincerity I wish to say that the provisions of this Bill do not adequately meet the needs of those in our community who have to depend for their survival on the State. I think the innovations to which the Minister referred was the death grant. I think the Minister did say that nobody could benefit from this provision before March, 1971. Is that correct?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  That is right.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  We know that it is only by experiencing the working of social welfare legislation that we can come to understand what is involved. In regard to the death grants are we clear that where deaths occur in the families of insured workers they will qualify from there on, but none of them before it?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  They must have 26 contributions.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  I know, provided the contribution conditions are fulfilled.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  Yes.

[1008]Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  I take it that the new invalidity pension which is mentioned will for the most part replace the disability pension and that it will be covered to a great extent by what is already in operation. I take it that when the invalidity period is over people can opt to go back again and they will be insured or their stamps will be credited for the time they were invalided? Is this so? I do not like to be cross-questioning the Minister but this is the only way we can try to get it clear between us.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  They are given credit for contributions from the time they are drawing the invalidity pension.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  I see. This scheme is really an extension to the one that already applies, the disability allowances which are payable to disabled people.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  Particularly the permanently disabled.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  I notice that regulations will be made to define what “permanently disabled” means. This is a situation which most of us have come across from time to time. We have doctors differing and patients being very dissatisfied in regard to what “permanent disability” means. I hope there will be agreement between doctors about what constitutes disability.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  The Deputy means the degree of disability?

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  Yes. There is provision for an increase in children's allowances but I consider the increase far too meagre. The children's allowances paid in this country are among the lowest in Europe. In Belgium an allowance of 80s is paid for the first child; in France, it is 99s 8d; in Italy, 65s 4d; in Luxembourg, 77s 9d and in the Netherlands 59s 6d. In Italy the standard of living is the same as in Ireland but the allowances for children are 2½ to six times greater than here, depending on the size of family.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  These countries hardly ever get past the first child.

[1009]Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  Alter the law in the other respect and then we will not have to pay so much in allowances.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  Having regard to our concept of family and community, surely we should increase the children's allowances and thereby help the many large families in this country?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  The emphasis is on the larger family here.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  That may be, but the allowances mentioned in this Social Welfare Bill for the third, fourth and fifth child are far too niggardly, at least in comparison with other countries.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  The allowance will be £2 5s per child.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  It must be clear to all that it would be a good thing for any Minister for Social Welfare and for this House to agree that the allowances in this case should be increased at least twofold. I attended this morning a meeting of the Old Age Pensions Committee in Fermoy and I can state that one of the most embarrassing and annoying points at those meetings is the question of the means test for old age pensioners. While the argument can be made that the means test cannot be abolished, there should be some extension of the present limit. Many Deputies know of cases where, for instance, a small farmer may be undecided about the member of his family to whom he will transfer his holding, and the farmer is debarred from obtaining a pension because of this rigid means test. I should like to see this situation remedied because it is causing much hardship.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  The situation is improving each year.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  The improvement this year is negligible. There is reference made in the Bill to not including the cottage plot——

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  The statutory limits are also increased.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  To such an extent that one would still not be happy to sit on the board of an old age pensions committee.

[1010]Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  It brings in a lot of new payments.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  I am glad to see that the Minister has made some provision for deserted wives. This was part of the Fine Gael policy on social welfare as published last June and it was long overdue. I take it that this scheme relates also to children deserted by their fathers. That was one of the points about which I was not too clear and perhaps the Minister would clarify the position. Can the Minister state whether children whose fathers have deserted them are included in the regulations?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  The orphans' pensions are increased and the age limit is extended to 18 years.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  I know that, but in cases where the father has deserted the children, are the children included in this Bill?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  No.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  Then I think it is a pity because there is the situation——

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  Where the father and mother are gone an orphan's pension is paid.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  What is the case where the father deserts the family but the mother is still with the children?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  That is covered in the Bill.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  I realise that the wife is covered but are the children also covered?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  Yes, exactly the same—the same as for widows' pensions.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  The Minister states “These are considerations I shall have to take into account in defining desertion”. I can well appreciate the difficulty of defining desertion because one always hopes that the couple will be reconciled. However, with the help of the investigation officers, the social welfare officers and officials of local [1011] authorities, there will be little difficulty because all the cases will be judged on their merits and they will be sorted out.

I am glad to see that the Minister proposes to eliminate the 1s 6d differential between the non-contributory old age pension and the widow's pension. Most Deputies will agree that the differential caused more annoyance and trouble than many other matters and I am glad to see it is now removed. There is, of course, the other side to the coin, that the money will have to be found somewhere. I notice that the contributions will be substantially increased as from 1st October and an industrial employer will have to pay 18s 3d and the employee 15s 5d. I have often wondered if we could not have a graduated system of contribution whereby the lower-paid worker would have to pay less than his more fortunate brother who would receive a higher weekly wage. I hope that some day some Minister, perhaps, the present Minister, will look into the matter and see if a graduated system could not be introduced. From the point of view of the employer as well as the employee it would appear to be a far better way of doing it provided that it can be worked out without too much book work.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  We have Government approval for a pay related scheme benefit.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  How soon does the Minister think it will come up?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  As soon as the officers in my Department can get around to preparing the legislation. They are very busy and understaffed.

Mr. R. Barry: Information on Richard Barry  Zoom on Richard Barry  I am satisfied knowing that something is being done. I do not intend to delay the House with any more discussion on this Bill. I mentioned some of the allowances which I think should be increased. Our whole social welfare code is inadequate. Those of us who are better off have no objection—I believe this is the feeling throughout the country—of paying a little more to help the less privileged. Increases of 7s 6d and 10s a week do not really help matters. These people [1012] are still the victims of the British poor law system which I believe should be completely changed. The allowances are inadequate because the value of money is depreciating weekly. We should devise a system so that these people, whether they have contributory or non-contributory pensions, can get greater benefits. Many of these people have given great service to the country. I do not think the taxpayers would begrudge giving them an increase.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  We in the Labour Party naturally welcome improvements in social welfare benefits. The Government are saying here that they are introducing a new benefit, namely a death grant. I would remind the Government that in the 1952 Social Welfare Act they eliminated the death grant introduced by the late Deputy Norton in the inter-Party Government. The Government are now bringing in this death grant and boasting about it. When the death grant was first brought in it amounted to £20 for a husband or wife and £6 for a child. Twenty years later the Fianna Fáil Government are introducing a death grant of £25. I presume the money is intended for funeral expenses. On 9th July, 1968, the Minister for Social Welfare said that £25 would be inadequate at that time for funeral expenses. If that was said two years ago by a member of the Government, how far will £25 go towards funeral expenses today? I do not believe it would even open the grave, as they say. I wonder why the Minister chose the figure of £25.

With the introduction of the death grant it appears as though the Government have resisted the pressure of the insurance companies who did not want a death grant to be provided. Poor people were being fleeced by weekly contributions to the insurance companies. It would be appropriate at this time to have an inquiry into the costs of funerals because they are prohibitive. People have to go into debt for many years to pay the costs of the funeral. I heard recently of the case of a poor widow whose child had died The Dublin Health Authority provided a hearse for the coffin but nothing for the mother. When I inquired about the matter I was told [1013] that the hearse could bring the coffin to Glasnevin but the mother would have to get the bus to Glasnevin in order to see the remains of her child. This is the sort of arrangement provided under the poor law relief.

I do not think a £25 death grant means that the Government are providing benefits under the Social Welfare Act because they threw the death grant out in the 1952 Act. I hope the industrial workers, who after all are the people paying the contributions, realise that it is they who are making them and not the general public. Each year amendments and changes are made to the Act.

As we are talking about making application to join the European Economic Community, we should consider a completely new social welfare code. Deputies should be provided with information about the social welfare benefits payable in Common Market countries in order that we can make comparisons between what is paid in the EEC and what is paid here. As far as I know, our social welfare benefits are the lowest in Europe. When I asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he would state what it would cost to provide the benefits payable to people in Northern Ireland here, he said that he could not ascertain this. If we are to enter the Common Market we must provide the same social welfare benefits. In the past 20 years we have had over a sevenfold increase in insurance contributions and less than a fourfold increase in benefits.

Social welfare benefits are not keeping pace with the spiralling cost of living. We should look at the subsistence level and find out how many people are living below that level. Certainly the Minister for Social Welfare is not concerned with the subsistence level or what constitutes poverty. It is one further justification for having a full-time Minister for Social Welfare and not a part-time Minister.

Two years ago the Minister for Social Welfare said that it would be wrong to have an amalgamation of the Department of Social Welfare with the Department of Health. The Minister said that the workings of the Department of Social Welfare were complex [1014] and warranted a separate Minister. The present Minister for Social Welfare is also Minister for Labour. The Department are concerned with persons who are ill, unemployed or invalids. The Department must be dynamic and watchful of the affairs of the people. Hundreds of letters are received about payments due to persons in need. The Department must have their own Minister and must seek to improve the social welfare code. The officers in that Department must be concerned with what constitutes subsistence level and must endeavour to carry out surveys which would show the number of persons living below subsistence level. They must be concerned with persons suffering from malnutrition, who are living on bread and tea because they cannot afford proteins. A flexible system of help is necessary for persons in need.

The new benefit for deserted wives is long overdue. Members of the Opposition Parties have been calling for it for many years. We have seen the problems and have been asked to make representations on behalf of deserted wives. Ireland may be unique in having so many husbands who refuse to face up to their responsibilities. When I first started practising medicine I met many deserted wives. They never knew where their husbands had gone. The men went out to work but never returned. There is an alarming rate of such desertion. At first it stunned me to think of husbands disappearing and leaving their children unprovided for. The wives had to go out to work and the children were not being properly provided for at home. Home assistance was provided for deserted wives but it operated for only one month and then ceased. The deserted wives had frequently to renew their applications for assistance. There is a problem in deciding what is a “deserted wife”. I do not think that what the Minister has said will solve the problem. The Minister said that if a husband makes any contribution to the home the wife should not be considered a “deserted wife”. I know from experience that such husbands send home £1 infrequently but the remittance is not accompanied by his address. The husbands sends £1 perhaps once a month or [1015] once every few months. I hate to think that the deserted wife is deprived of an allowance by virtue of the fact that £1 will come in an envelope. These wives are scrupulous about telling the truth and the £1 they receive debars them from receiving social welfare benefit. Where there is a possibility of reconciliation the allowance might prove to be an inhibiting factor. I appreciate this. Would it not be better to err on the wrong side and to ensure that the wife got payment? Reconciliation may take place but the husband may leave home again and the unfortunate woman then has to renew her application for home assistance.

I cannot see how we should operate the scheme at the age of 50 years where the woman is living alone. This would be wrong. We must be flexible about this scheme. The Minister should not apply it too rigidly. What the Minister has in mind might be altered by civil servants and regulations might be made which could not be altered. There must be flexibility. I am glad to see that the children of deserted wives are to be treated as orphans and will be entitled to benefit as such.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  As dependants.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  In 1968, the Minister for Social Welfare said that the home assistance payments were unsatisfactory, that home assistance was the weakest link in the whole social welfare field and he promised to look into the matter and to consult with other Members of the Government in order to have something done about it. I do not see anything being done about it here. I was wondering how much progress the Minister is making towards improving the home assistance scheme. It is a most unsatisfactory scheme. It does not operate in the manner in which it was intended to operate. Perhaps the Minister, when replying, would give us details of what he proposes to do in this matter.

The Minister stated some time ago, in reply to a question by Deputy Corish, that he was hoping to arrange a system whereby children's allowances would benefit those most in need. This [1016] Bill does not make any such provision. We must ensure that there is a means test so that those for whom this scheme was originally intended will benefit most. Our rate of children's allowances is really farcical when compared with the rates payable in the EEC countries. Deputy Barry enlightened us by referring to the rates in those countries. We cannot be proud of our social welfare code or about the children's allowances paid here. Our allowances look ridiculous when compared with those paid within the EEC. If we are seriously considering going into the EEC I would hope we might be successful because those who most need help might benefit. We would have to provide proper social welfare benefits for our people. The Minister stated that he would provide a means test. I do not see any provision for a means test in this Bill. I note that retirement pensions are to be paid at an earlier age. This is important because a person should be able to look forward to a period of retirement in normal health and 65 is considered a good age for retirement. We lag far behind other progressive countries in this matter. If I read the Minister's speech correctly, it would appear that the retirement age applies only to contributory pensions. Perhaps the Minister will tell me if that is so?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  Yes.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  What about non-contributory pensioners? Must they wait until they reach the age of 70? Surely there will be no difference in so far as health is concerned? Why should there be discrimination of this kind? We must not discriminate against any of our citizens in this way.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  This is a beginning.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  If the Minister were dynamic enough, he would have set the retirement age at 65 for men and 60 for women regardless of whether they were contributory or non-contributory pensioners. Perhaps some arrangement could be made whereby some of these pensions could be transferable as is the case in other countries.

I am glad to see that provision is being made for the payment of pensions to deserted wives. I am glad, [1017] also, that the Minister's Department had the foresight to ensure that there will be no means of identification in relation to these people.

While I do not advocate anything revolutionary, I would like to see the Minister considering some way of contributing towards rent in the case of recipients of social welfare assistance. I am dealing wit a case at the moment of a man who, for himself and his wife, receives a total of £6 17s a week out of which he must pay £2 3s 1d in rent to Dublin Corporation.

Mr. Davern: Information on Noel Davern  Zoom on Noel Davern  I fail to understand how that could be so.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  I have proof of this case. It seems unjust and unchristian that this should happen.

Mr. Davern: Information on Noel Davern  Zoom on Noel Davern  The Deputy is not doing his constituency work. He should hand the case over to Deputy Dowling.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  This is no laughing matter. It is a human problem which must be faced by these people who have no means of receiving any additional assistance. I wrote to the Taoiseach in connection with the matter and sent him details of the case. He informed me that he had no function in the matter and referred it to the Ministers for Local Government and Social Welfare. I have heard nothing since. Cases such as this should be highlighted here so that the House might know the condition of some of our people. There are some who may think that poverty and malnutrition are non-existent but I know that this is not so and that there are people who continue to suffer in silence, resigning themselves to their plight and thinking that this is all life can offer them.

Mr. Davern: Information on Noel Davern  Zoom on Noel Davern  I do not think a case such as that mentioned by the Deputy could be possible. There must be some other aspect involved.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  There is no other aspect involved. I have consulted with the corporation about the case and they, also, gave me the figure of £2 3s. 1d.

Mr. Davern: Information on Noel Davern  Zoom on Noel Davern  It is normal practice [1018] for the corporation to reduce rent in hardship cases. Does the man live in a private dwelling?

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  He lives in a corporation house.

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  I shall deal with that case if the Deputy will let me have details.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  Since the Taoiseach has said he has no function in the matter, I doubt if Deputy Burke could deal with it. Not very long ago, when the Taoiseach was asked to define poverty, he refused to do so. If we are to have a new look Fianna Fáil, I can only hope that they will be a party with a social conscience.

Mr. Dowling: Information on Joseph Dowling  Zoom on Joseph Dowling  The Deputy's party voted against the Budget proposals.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  Deputy O'Connell; other Deputies may speak later.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  I should like to see some form of liaison between the Departments of Social Welfare and Health, so that the Department of Social Welfare might help those in receipt of social welfare assistance or allowances, and who would qualify for medical cards, to obtain this extra benefit. It would be good if there were special consultation rooms in the Department of Social Welfare where people could discuss their problems with social welfare officers. Very often people who take their problems to the Department of Social Welfare are told that the particular problems are not for the Department and they are sent to the labour exchange. There should be officers in the Department with sociological training to deal with problems. I have no doubt that the Department are inundated with people seeking benefits and asking what happened to their cheques which went astray.

Another matter to which I should like to refer is that of the changing over from a widow's to an old age pension. When such change is about to take place, a person is asked to surrender her pension book and the result is that she may be without benefit for some weeks until the new book is [1019] issued. This is ludicrous. I wrote to the Department about this matter some eight weeks ago but so far I have had no reply. There must be some way of streamlining the procedure so as to ensure continually of benefit.

I am glad to note that serious consideration has been given to graded contributions. It is ridiculous that a person with an income of £13 or £14 a week or, perhaps, less will be paying 15s 5d, while a person earning £20 or £22 a week will pay the same amount. I should like to see graded contributions introduced. This is something which is long overdue. Will the 14s 4d apply to a girl earning £6 a week and to a girl earning £12 a week? It seems ridiculous that they should both pay the same contribution.

I always understood that the State paid one-third of the benefits into the Social Welfare Fund. The increased contribution income to the Fund will be of the order of £7,700,000 and the amount to be borne by the Exchequer will be £2 million which is very much less than one-third. I would like to know what happens in a case like this? The Government have always maintained that the State should pay one-third into this fund. Would this not indicate a trend now that the State will not pay one-third? Does this mean that from now on the people who contribute to the social welfae scheme will alone provide the improved benefits? It would seen more just that the Excheaquer should provide one-half and that the balance be obtained by an increase in income tax.

Tis contribution from the working-class people is a major means of financing social welfare benefits. Persons above the social welfare contribution limit are not contributing to the improvements in social welfare benefits. It is glaringly obvious to me that it is the poor who are helping the poor. It is the lower income group alone who are providing those benefits for the poor.

I should like to deal very briefly with the old age care allowance scheme. The allowance given to the female relatives concerned is a pittance compared [1020] with their earnings in the jobs they were obliged to give up in order to provide this care. There was a report out yesterday in Britain about this problem of children providing care for their parents. It showed a situation where single girls in so many cases sacrifices jobs, promotion, pensions and service benefits in order to provide this care for their parents but received a miserable pittance for doint so. When girls do this they save the State considerable expense and keep the old person out of institutions. If the parents should die within ten years or so the people who have been looking after them find themselves at the age of 55 without any job and with no allowance at all. This is a terrible injustice towards persons who have sacrificed so much to help their parents and who have relieved the State of its obligation to those people. Could the Minister see some way of providing for those persons who look after their parents? As more and more people realise that some allowance is provided they will leave their jobs and look after their parents but we should not victimise them for doing this. If they have to provide this care for a number of years it is not right that on the death of their parents they should be left without any allowance or benefit, deproved of a job and with no promotion prospects or pension. Would such persons qualify for social welfare benefits on the death of their parents? Could they be credited with social welfare contributions durng the period they provide this care?

This is a very serious problem and is one which needs to be looked into very urgently. Many people have decided to care for their relatives. For the most part, it is females who do this. I often wonder why it is insisted that the person who provides the care must be a female. In many cases care is provided by a son or a nephew. The word “female” should not be inserted here. I know of a few cases where sons came home from England to care for their parents. There should be some arrangement whereby they would receive the allowance.

As I said at the outset we in the Labour Party welcome any improvement [1021] in the social welfare service. We are glad to see that something is done for the people who are most in need but it should not be a stop-gap arrangement. It should not barely cover increases in the cost of living. Our aim should be to improve the benefits as much as possible.

I hope the Minister will seriously consider some of the suggestions I made about a survey of the degree of malnutrition and the number of people in poverty so that we could consider a new social welfare code. The Act of 1952 in relation to social welfare benefis is outmoded in the 1970s. It would be to the credit of the Minister if he were to produce a White Paper on social welfare services. We should at least try to give social welfare recipients a higher percentage of the gross national product.

There are a few people in the community who work but who do not pay stamps but who draw unemployment assistance. Such persons are parasites who are not helping the State. I should like to see this unjust system eliminated. I should like to see these people face up to their responsibilities and I should like that they would play their part and not be parasites on the rest of the community.

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  I have great sympathy with the last speaker. I was here when the vote was taken on the Budget and I could not understand why the Deputy and his party voted against the increases. This evening, speaking on behalf of the Labour Party, he tells us we should have better services. As far as the resources of the nation permit, we are improving the services. But the Deputy and his party voted against these increases. I do not know why. The Deputy is a decent, God-fearing man. This evening he tried to justify his opposition to the Budget under which these increases were given. He tried to justify that opposition by saying we are not giving enough. But he voted against what we are giving.

Increases in social welfare this year amount to £2,982,000 for non-contributory, old age and blind pensions. [1022] The Deputy voted against these increases. There is £645,000 for widow's and orphans' pensions. There is £1,284,000 for unemployment assistance. There is £1,188,000 for children's allowances and £310,000, a new scheme, for the benefit of deserted wives and provision for old age, care, allowances. All of us have the interests of our people at heart. As far as we are concerned on this side of the House, we are a Christian socialist society. We are most anxious to ensure that nobody in our society goes hungry or in want.

I have always taken a keen interest, as a member of the Dublin Health Authority for nine years, in home assistance. Under the auspices of the Dublin Health Authority we set up a welfare department for the benefit of our citizens. Last year the sum provided was increased from £50,000 to £500,000. The idea was that those living alone and those who had difficulty in meeting rent should have the rent paid for them and get between £3 and £4 per week, plus other amenities, such as meals on wheels and so on. The welfare department of Social Welfare and the Department of Health. I should be delighted to get from Deputy Dr. O'Connell particulars of the case to which he referred. The social welfare officers visit the old in their homes. They are most anxious to ensure that they are properly housed and properly fed. We all know that the aged are not always capable of looking after themselves. I shall be very brief because I have to go——

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  To a funeral.

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  ——to another function.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  The Deputy will be at more funerals now because of the grant.

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  I am very sorry we have offended the Deputy by increasing the allowances. I have great sympathy for the Deputy in the job he had to do here this evening. Knowing a little about politics, I realise it was a tough job. I have every sympathy with him.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  Hypocrisy of the first order.

[1023]Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  Nobody has any social conscience except the Deputy: if the Deputy believes that, he is entitled to his belief, but I do not believe it and nobody on this side of the House believes it.

It was never intended that social welfare should pay for everything. I know Dublin and the people of Dublin for many years and I know that the poorest of them make provision through insurance policies for their burials. They look after their relatives. It is only the isolated case which has to be looked after or buried by the local authority.

Children's allowances are increased under this measure. Contributory and non-contributory pensions are increased. Unemployment assistance is increased. So are blind pensions. All of these things are social advantages. If the resources of our nation would permit it, I should like every old age pensioner to receice twice as much as is being given at the moment. We are and always have been deeply concerned to improve the lot of all our people. The Minister has gone a long way in respect of relatives of parents who are ill at home. He was the first Minister to introduce this scheme for which we are deeply grateful. The extension of the] scheme will help to keep old people out of institutions or homes if the depenants get any help at all. In turn, the State will benefit. The trend nowadays, if a person is ill or unable to do anything, is for the children to try to get that a person a bed in some institution or hospital. The Minister has a perfect social conscience. Anything he can do to improve the position here and to encourage the care and treatment of more and more people in their homes would be a great social advance and, in turn, it will to a considerable degree reduce the demands on the Department of Health and on the ratepayers.

The various social welfare officers employed by the Department of Social Welfare and the Department of Health co-operate very well in dealing with their cases. Nothing is perfect but, as far as possible, we have a reasonably good welfare officer system in the city and county of Dublin.

I congratulate the Minister on the [1024] introduction of this Bill. He himself, his Parliamentary Secretary, his staff and the Department have been very helpful. Inevitably, certain benefits will be delayed but as far as possible the Minister and the offices of his Department have tried tio eliminate any misunderstandings that occur from time to time.

I trust our State will be able to continue to increase benefits for the weaker sections of our community. We have tried to ensure that nobody in our society will be hungry or in want. When Budget Day comes, we are always pleased that the State displays concern for those who require aid from the community. In the light of demands for housing, water, sewerage, rates, agriculture, and other matters, we have got a reasonable slice of the financial cake in each year and we trust that that situation will continue.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom Enright  This is a fairly detailed Bill. Before dealing with it, perhaps I should say that it is essential to have a separate Minister in charge of the Department of Social Welfare as distinct from one Minister looking aftr that Department plus the Department of Labour.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  That matter does not arise relevantly on this Bill. It is solely a matter for the Taoiseach.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom Enright  That being so, I wonder on whom we can pin some responsibility. Some delays in the Department are excessive. With a Department which cover a wide spectrum of social problems, it is in the natural order of things that we would have delays. A Deputy receives more queries in relation to social welfare than in relation to any other State activity. When I write to the Department of Social Welfare I receive an acknowledgement a few days later of receipt of my letter and informing me that the content of it is receiving attention. I may have to wait for weeks or possibly up to four months before the matter is finalised. Persons waiting for some social welfare benefit find these delays very disheartening. It is unfair and unjust that a person should have [1025] to wait a long period before receiving the benefit which, in most cases, the person is entitled to receive

I can give one example of a woman who has been waiting since the end of March for a widow's pension. Until recently she received no pension. In fact, she received two weeks pension since the end of March. She has seven children and she has had to wait that length of time. The local authority wrote to her for rent which was due. They told her that ejectment proceedings would be started against her if her rent was not paid. I wrote to the local authority and asked to have her rent reduced because her husband had died. I received a letter from the local authority saying her rates could be reduced or abated but they were nor prepared to grant her a rent reduction. The matter is with the solicitors for the council.

The main responsibility for the rent being due lies with the Department of Social Welfare. I have been in correspondence with the Department since the end of April or early May trying to get this pension. I have a full file on it and I can show it to the Minister or his private secretary at any time. That is only one example. This happens on numerous occasions. I have a vast number of files dealing with delays in the Department. For that reason alone, it is essential that we have a full-time Minister for Social Welfare.

A Bill has gone through the House in which I should like to have seen some provisions in regard to a person who has been partially incapacitated for work. I know different instances in which, according to the medical referee, people are fit for light work. They receive a very small allowances, perhaps in the region of £1 or £2. In the medical referee's opinion they are fit for light work, but invariably they find that they are unable to find light work in the provincial towns or villages. No light work is available. Most Members of the House will agree that it is almost impossible for people who received an injury to obtain light work. Perhaps a claim is pending for compensation. Other employers are somewhat doubtful about employing them because they are afraid that, if they employ them, they may have a claim [1026] on their hands later for increasing the injury. They are afraid that if they take them on they may later be sued as joint defendants or co-defendants.

People who are injured are paid on a certain scale for the loss of a particular part of the body. They get a lump sum payment or a payment per week. Perhaps in theory this is suitable. When this legislation was going through the House I believe that even the trade unions were in agreement with it. It is time the Minister had a further look at the Occupational Injuries Act. I should like to see it amended. These people can be living on the breadline, and I really mean the breadline, because they are drawing in the region of £1 or £2 a week. That is all they can get. Improvements could have been made in that Act. Under this Bill they should be entitled to receive more benefits than they are now receiving.

I was pleased to see that increases were to be granted to widows, old age pensioners, deserted wives and also in relation to children's allowances. I want to say to the Department, the Minister and the Minster for Finance, whoever he is when the next Budget is being drawn up, that tax increases in general will come into force the day following the Budget, but the increased benefits granted to recipients of social welfare are not paid until the following August, September, October, November, December of January. The increases in the price of foodstuffs, clothing and fuel come into effect on the day following the Budget, but the increases which those people receive, and which they require to meet the increased costs, are not payable until some months later.

In the last Bueget the turnover tax was increased by 2½ per cent, but the increase in the cost of living was about 12 per cent. Unfortunately many people who would be entitled to increased benefits have passed away and, while we are waiting for this Bill to be passed, many more people will not be here to benefit because they too will have passed away. Year in and year out tis is happening.

I have been in the Dáil for a year approximately. Last year I mentioned this matter when the Bill came before [1027] the House. I mention it again this year. I recognise that it is difficult to provide the money. All the stronger members of the community, the trade unions, the different bodies, the different associations, the people who can drive a bargain and the people who can go out on strike and hold up the country to ransom until they are granted their increases, have their increases granted retrospectively. They are in a strong position to bargain. They are in a position to hold out. They are bargaining from a position of strength.

Social Welfare recipients cannot bargain from a position of strength. It is our responsibility to recognise that they must be treated fairly and squarely and decently and honestly. It is up to us to ensure that their increased benefits are granted retrospectively to the day on which the turnover tax was increased. You must temper any form of Government with justice. When other sections of the community can obtain retrospective payments, there is a responsibility on us to ensure that the people who have been suffering under the increased turnover tax, and who have not yet got their increased benefits, are compensated.

Perhaps I labour the point, but it is important. Every member of the Fine Gael Party supports me fully in saying that these people should be granted their increased benefits retrospectively. The people who are to benefit by these increases, in many cases I believe, have run up accounts because of the increases in the cost of living. Everything went up in the last Budget, food, drink, fuel, clothing and medicine but to date the extra money needed to meet these extra costs has not been granted to people drawing social welfare benefit. I should like to see these increases applied retrospectively.

I am pleased that death grants are to be payable. I believe I am correct in stating that these grants are payable only in respect of social welfare contributors. I should like the Minister to confirm that at this point.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  Only insured persons.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom Enright  Will anything be payable [1028] except in respect of insured persons?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  Only in respect of people who are now contributing.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): And under a new stamp.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  There will be an element in the new stamp which will make provision for the payment of these grants.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom Enright  But it will be for contributing people?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  It will be contributory and will not be payable until at least 26 new contributions have been paid.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom Enright  Will that work in, in any way, with the allowances granted by county councils in the form of death grants to people who are unable to pay——

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  That is out of home assistance.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom Enright  I am referring to the grant payable by the council which is a very small grant.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  It does not affect this at all.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): It probably will.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  How?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): The county councils will probably cease paying.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  That may happen.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom Enright  Will people who are really badly off and have not stamped cards come in under this scheme in any way?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  No, it will be contributory only.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom Enright  In the coming Budget I hope some provision will be made for deserving cases who are unable to meet increased costs themselves. I recently came across a case of a person drawing military service pension in respect of whom a grant had been [1029] applied for. I should like some grant to be payable for people drawing IRA pensions and I should like provision to be made in this Social Welfare Bill for all those who are drawing Old IRA pensions and who are unable to meet the cost of burial. I know a case at present where the family are finding it very difficult to meet the funeral expenses.

I should like to see the free fuel scheme extended. The electricity allowance has benefited many people and those who are using it are very pleased with this scheme but I think it would be within the capacity of the Department to grant free briquettes as something home produced. These could be provided for old age pensioners and widows living alone. It should be quite simple to include such a provision in this Bill. Perhaps, by means of a separate book or, if that was not necessary, pages could be included in the old age pension book which could be exchanged at the local store for a supply of briquettes.

Government Departments, in the case of many new buildings, and State enterprises in some cases, are giving bad example by using oil for heating purposes. Such bodies should encourage people to use native fuel instead of importing oil from abroad.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  I do not think the Minister for Social Welfare has any responsibility in this matter.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom Enright  I realise that but he has responsibility for granting electricity and fuel allowances to social welfare recipients. The Minister could give a very good example, and give a lead to Government Departments, by allowing peat briquettes to be given free to old age pensioners. This would provide extra employment in Bord na Móna which would be desirable. There are many bogs throughout the country that have not yet been——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  We cannot discuss the development of bogs on this scheme. It would be irrelevant.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom Enright  I should like the Minister to include a scheme for the provision of free briquettes to people [1030] drawing old age or widows' pensions. I know a case of a person who was not aware of the number of units to which he was entitled. He lived alone and while suffering from a very bad flu he had no heat in the house except an electric fire and he allowed his electricity account to over-run his allowance. Because of this he is now faced with an account for £15 for arrears from the ESB and he has to meet this bill from an old age pension. That is why I mentioned this point. The person in question is from Ferbane which is in the heart of the Bord na Móna area. I think what I am suggesting is a good idea as it would provide employment and possibly lead to further extension of Bord na Móna's operations. The cost of such a provision would be very little and it would be of great assistance to people who require help and are grateful for any assistance given to them. This would be a very wise provision by the Minister and something that could be easily implemented at small cost while providing additional revenue for Bord na Móna.

Finally, I want to deal with the position of those caring for the aged. In many cases where a relative looks after an old age pensioner the Department are a little too strict in their interpretation of the rules. Where a medical certificate is obtained from a doctor to the effect that a person is ill at home and requires attention from, perhaps, his daughter, whose husband is working, even though the husband is working and even though the person who is ill is drawing an old age pension, the wife of the employed man should be granted a pension for looking after the person who is infirm or suffering from a long-term illness.

I am certain that people look after their parents out of love and out of gratitude for bringing them into the world and for being good parents to them, but a son or daughter with a large family and having to cope with all the problems of living from day to day, may find it difficult to look after his or her parents. Therefore, this allowance would be an extra incentive. It may mean that a person will die among his family and friends in the [1031] locality in which he was born instead of dying in some home where he knows nobody, however excellent such a home may be. The cost to the State of extending the scheme would be very small, and the cost of making such a payment to a son or daughter, niece or nephew, would be much less than the cost of keeping this person in some home having regard to the cost of nursing and medical staff and other institutional expenses. It would also mean that many of the much-needed beds in these homes would be available when required.

Dr. Browne: Information on Noel C. Browne  Zoom on Noel C. Browne  I wish to correct the impression which has been created by one of the Government Deputies that we are opposed to these increases. We are opposed to only one thing, the fact that the increases are so small. No party calling itself a socialist party or a labour party could oppose attempts to improve the conditions of the list of people included in this Bill, the disabled, the widow, the old person, the unemployed person, the deserted wife. They are obviously people who deserve every help society can give them. Our opposition is connected with the fact that such a pittance is being offered to people to live on because of the ineptitude with which the economy has been handled over the last half century by the different Governments who have been in control of our affairs.

There is nobody here on any side of the House who can seriously believe that out of £5 a week an adult human being can pay rent, pay for clothing, pay for transport, pay for adequate fuel supplies, pay for various sickness contingencies, not to talk at all about entertainment, recreation, tobacco or anything like that. The life which many people are able to lead on £5 a week must be particularly bleak and distressful. Not only have the Government Ministers in charge of various wealth creating Departments failed to create enough national wealth at a level which would allow us to provide a proper allowance for the old, the disabled, the widow and the unemployed, the most dependent section in our society, but they have also failed to control the price rises which have taken place with [1032] appalling rapidity over recent months and years.

One of the regrettable changes in the Fianna Fáil Party's attitude and social consciousness over the last 30 years has been the change away from the idea of taxation based on an individual's capacity to pay. In the early days Fianna Fáil based their fiscal policies on the socialist idea, from each according to his capacity to pay and to each according to his needs. That has been changed now, and it is noticeable that in the financial provisions for this Bill increased contributions to the fund amount to nearly £8 million of which the Exchequer pays a mere £2 million-odd. This shows that all the Fianna Fáil Government have now decided to do is to take the money from the ordinary consumer, the ordinary white collar or manual worker and redistribute it to them in the form of social benefits of one kind or another, taking good care to extract as little as possible from the really wealthy sector in society. It may be said that the employer pays a contribution and to that extent the wealthy sector of society is being soaked to pay for the less wealthy or the poor. That, of course, is not true, because most of us know quite well that it has been so organised by industry and by the employers that, by a simple adjustment in prices, it is now possible for the employer to recover his so-called employer's contribution to the social security scheme. He takes it back in the form of a slight increase in the price of the commodity. The employee pays his own contribution directly. He pays another contribution indirectly through an increase in the price of the commodity. He pays further, through the Exchequer, a contribution by the indirect taxes which bear most heavily now on the ordinary consumer and do not bear, as they did in the old days, on the very wealthy taxpayer who paid the highest possible taxes and in that way the burden of tax on the ordinary consumer was reduced. This change in fiscal policy towards increasing indirect taxation in order to save the very wealthy direct taxpayer has been one of the most retrograde developments in the social consciousness of the Fianna Fáil Party over the past ten or 15 years.

[1033] I should like to challenge the Minister, when he is replying if he would not mind, to tell us how he would advise an old person, a disabled person, a widow or anybody else in this group, to budget for a week's food, rent, fuel, clothes, emergencies, recreation, entertainment, transport and lighting on a £5 note. Does he seriously believe this can be done? If he does, can he give us a specimen budget for a week which he has tried out himself? I do not wish any disrespect to the present Minister. I am talking to a Minister. Can he give us a budget which he tried out? Does he feel he can seriously suggest that an old person, a disabled person or a widow, can live out his or her life on this very inadequate allowance which we pay to these people in our society?

A number of speakers said that now that we are going into the Common Market they hope that this or that will happen. That is an extraordinary way to approach this question. Similarly, people have made comparisons with Britain. Equity in relation to a human being, a member of our society, is something which does not change simply because one is associated with other countries or other communities. It does not alter because one must keep up with the Joneses with whom one is now coming to live in the Common Market or in any other sort of alliance. These questions of how people are to be cared for and to live out their lives in dignity are factors which are completely untouched or unchanged by any alliance which we may form in the future and are simply determined by the present needs of the individual in the light of the cost of living, in the light of conditions under which a person is asked to live his life among us.

For over half a century we have had the opportunity of creating a society here which would, first of all, epitomise what could be broadly called the Christian ideal, that is, in relation to how one treats the underpriviliged in one's community. I feel we have failed to do that completely. Secondly, there are many people on all sides of the House who have for years protested their unshaken determination and ambition to secure a united Ireland and they are prepared to use practically any means [1034] in order to bring this about but the one means which could make it easier to bring it about would be for us to be able to say to our fellow Irishmen in the north, no matter who they are or which side they are on: “If you come into a united Ireland you will find that conditions here are certainly as good as anything you enjoy at present.” Preferably, they should be better. Surely that would be the best possible argument which we could put forward at this very critical time in our lives in order to answer the real or imagined objections which these people might have to the prospect of a united Ireland? I can never understand how people who have protested their republicanism over the years and their anxiety to see a united Ireland cannot see that the first precondition to unity must be that we can maintain parity in relation to health, education, and to the allowances paid to all these dependent classes. It seems to me so self-evident that I cannot understand how all the political leaders over the years have not seen this. At the present time, when this is a much more emotive subject, should we not, even at this very late stage, see that we cannot continue to treat these dependent people in this way lest it provide one real or imagined barrier towards the resolution of the objective which, I think, we all genuinely want? Quite obviously, nobody, whether nationalist or unionist, would come into a united Ireland where the social benefits are as paltry as are now offered here by the Government.

Frequently it is said that we are a poor country and cannot afford to do any better than this. I do not accept that at all. For one thing there are examples of enormous wealth in the community held by a minority of people. There is a sector of society here which lives very well, indeed, and there is quite an amount of extravagant display of great wealth in this country today while these pathetically inadequate allowances are paid to a very large sector of society—the old, the widowed and so on. Even if that were not true my case always against the whole political and economic conception of private enterprise, capitalism, has been that every Minister—I have listened to every Minister who is [1035] a giving Minister, whether it is on Education, Health or Social Welfare— comes in with precisely the same story, that this is all we can afford and that we are a poor country. I feel that an honest man who looks around the world today and sees countries such as ours—rural, predominantly agricultural communities with a relatively small industrial arm—can see many countries which have overcome this apparently basic difficulty of being a predominantly rural or agricultural community and have created a very high level of social services. Some of the Scandinavian countries, particularly Denmark, are examples of this and New Zealand is an almost exclusively agricultural country.

Debate adjourned.


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