Thursday, 13 March 1975
Dáil Eireann Debate
Major de Valera: Last night I said that in the present depressed state of the economy and, more particularly, because of inflation and rising consumer prices, it was both necessary and equitable to give the increases in social welfare that this Bill provides. If, as the Parliamentary Secretary claims, he is doing better than just meeting the increases in the cost of living for those concerned, then more power to him and he is to be complimented on doing that. However, it is the recipients who will be in the best position to judge the real extent of the benefits conferred by this Bill against the outgoings they will have to meet in the present inflationary situation. I hope these benefits will be advantageous for them but they will be in the best position to judge the advantage. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary is right in his claim and, if he is, I compliment him. Apart from that, there is very little else that can be said on that aspect of the Bill.
As I pointed out last night, the full import of the Bill cannot be assessed without taking it in the context of current financial legislation of which it is a part. Last night I had to recall the main consequences of various financial provisions for the current year and place the Bill in this context in order to assess its true value. To summarise the points that put this Bill in its proper perspective, it is part  of the series of transactions that started before Christmas with a resolution imposing taxation by increasing the price of petrol, postal charges and health contributions. One could regard those as the first part of the budget. In January we had the budget proper. It increased taxation and it also gave reliefs. It was a budget operated in more or less the traditional way and that particular part of the budget now is being implemented by the Finance Bill which gives effect to the taxation already imposed and to the reliefs contemplated.
Next in sequence was the Capital Gains Tax Bill which will mean more taxation and then there was the Wealth Tax Bill. This morning we gave leave to introduce the Capital Acquisitions Tax Bill and, presumably, that will impose more taxation. In fact, some of the pessimists maintain that it will nullify the granting of reliefs with regard to death duties. Lastly, there is the Bill we are discussing now which provides for increased contributions. Some of these measures are imposing taxation, such as the provision before Christmas, the Wealth Tax Bill and the Capital Gains Tax Bill while other measures provide reliefs. It is difficult to balance the accounting but one must consider what the taxpayer is being asked to pay and what reliefs he is getting.
It is important to remember that every salary or wage earner is contributing to taxation but the number of people covered by this Bill is very small. They are most deserving but it must be stressed that numerically they are very small. The majority of the citizens are called on to pay the bill and it is as well to realise that all the benefits given by the State ultimately come out of the pockets of the taxpayers, either directly from the individual or through the taxation of corporations and businesses.
The reliefs given under the Bill will cost the wage and salary earners more in their contributions in stamps. It is true that these people have got tax reliefs from the Minister for Finance but now they will have to pay more  in their social welfare contributions and one is cancelling out the other. It may not be a precise cancellation but while there may be some little relief given in PAYE there will be an increased charge in the social welfare stamps. It must be asked whether the wage and salary earners have gained anything. Are the reliefs given a reality or does it mean the State is taking more and not giving a net relief? That question will be answered by every wage and salary earner in the country and there is no use our belabouring it now in the House. However, it is a point that must be considered.
Last night I referred to the reliefs given to industry. Taxation reliefs are most welcome to businesses at the moment because they will help them to survive economically. They are socially necessary so that employment may be maintained but here we have a situation very much like the case of the wage earner. The Minister for Finance granted reliefs in the January budget but in this Bill the Minister for Social Welfare has increased the contributions. When it comes to the accounting of the individual company or employer, will there be a net gain or a loss? We can be certain that the reliefs given will not mean there will be a net gain. I am not going to say the contributions are in themselves a complete loss but it is necessary to subtract the increased outgoings from the increased reliefs in order to consider the net situation. That question can only be answered individually because it will depend on employment content and other factors, but we must query what is the net practical result. Will it be a gain or a loss for industry? I fear in particular for the industries we most want to help, those with the high employment content, because I think the net result will be a loss. I hope I am wrong in this. There are calculations I could advance to support the argument that it could be a net loss and that the gesture of the Minister for Finance with regard to reliefs is nothing more than a gesture. The increased contributions required under section 13 to meet the current  employment situation will constitute a very heavy item of taxation. There is no sense in fooling ourselves because certainly we are not fooling anybody else. Irrespective of whether we call it a contribution or taxation, we are taking money from the wage and salary earners.
Of course, I admit the Minister has to find the money. I do not want to play the easy game, to say that we should give the contributions and then to crib at paying them. I am not doing that. I am taking this in the whole context of the financial legislation. The Minister must do what he is doing and therefore the money has to be found. Taken in the whole context of financial policy at the moment I think there is a lot of illusion here and the Government's financial policy is not realistic and is not helping the economy. I hope that is a model statement from this side of the House which an Opposition Member is entitled to make.
Is there any real benefit? The wage earner, the company and business people will judge for themselves. We took in taxation about £50 million from increased petrol and postal charges before Christmas. The list of charges in this Bill does not include health and redundancy charges on the stamp. The cost of the stamp, or whatever way the contribution is taken, is a very sizeable proportion of the wage packet the wage earner gets and the employer will also have to make a sizeable contribution. It is not a question of taking a few pence, like you take in a collection box outside a church door. We are now taking substantial sums every week from both employee and employer.
In relation to the pre-Christmas budget an increase was put on health contributions. Petrol and postal charges were levied on all economic activities, which are shared by both employer and employee. We have discussed the budget in which there are reliefs and taxation. As far as I can sort out my figures something between £45-50 million is taken in taxation. The Parliamentary Secretary said:
On the social insurance side, the gross increase in expenditure from the social insurance fund is estimated  at £26.6 million to the end of December, 1975, of which £23.7 millions will be met by increased contribution income leaving £2.9 million to be borne by the Exchequer in that period. The total cost to the Exchequer for the period April to December, 1975, will therefore be £25.3 million. As I have already indicated, the Exchequer will, in addition, provide £7.1 million towards the cost of additional unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance claims. The special contribution increase of 31p is intended to provide a further £7.9 million towards the cost of these additional unemployment claims.
It is extremely hard to do accurate accounts. The Parliamentary Secretary can correct me if I am wrong but it seems to me, taking those figures, that he will take £23.7 million more in contributions and in addition he will take the best part of £8 million for the special levy to meet additional unemployment claims. I am at a loss to know if the £7.1 million which he mentions has to be provided or if it is accounted for already in what is taken in the budget. On top of the £50 million taken in the pre-Christmas budget and the second £50 million taken in the January budget we have the £30-40 million taken now. It seems in all this operation the taxpayer is being called on to pay a substantial amount this year.
I now want to say a few words on the economic basis of the Bill, to which I already referred. If I understood Deputy Hogan O'Higgins correctly she stated that there was a disincentive to a man being employed. The impression I got from what she said was that an incentive was being built in for people not to work. I just want to recall that point and I will not labour the disincentive for people to work. The whole approach of this is to tend to depress employment rather than increase it. This is at a time when we are told a special levy has to be put on to cater for the increased claims because of the current high unemployment level, which, according to the last figure I saw, is 103,000. Everybody in employment has now to  be levied. This is all right socially but it means that there is less money available to pay people in productive work. Employers have to tighten their belts, have to resist expansion and are tempted to lay off people.
The whole tendency in such an approach is to restrict opportunities for employment not increase them. It is intimidating enough to find that the unemployment figure has grown to the stage where we have to make such a special provision to finance unemployment benefits but it is more frightening when we realise that the logical consequences of that are that the opportunities for re-employing those people are being restricted by that very measure and that the reliefs which we were told were designed to help industry, to promote employment, are being taken away by the provisions of this Bill, necessary and all as they are. The net effect is to discourage expansion in employment.
This is a matter of grave concern for the House, too serious to indulge in political argument as to who is at fault. We, both Opposition and Government, have to face it as a fact. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to take my remarks in that spirit. He may ask: “What is to be done about it?” Having made my point that reliefs have been cancelled by increased taxation, the net result in the present unemployment situation of the financial policy of the Government, as I have attempted to summarise it in the short time available, is to depress employment and to aggravate the current economic depression which I have freely said on this and other Bills has been largely contributed to by factors which no Irish Government can control locally.
That is all the more reason why we should do all we can to promote economic activity and expansion for employment. My argument is simply, on a broad national scale, that the entire financial approach of the Government, in the budget and otherwise, has been depressive and not expansionist. I pointed out at some length that the Labour Party in the past co-operated  with Fianna Fáil's progressive proposals and that substantial headway was made. I pointed to the first section of this Bill and I did not do so to get kudos but to try to draw a lesson from history.
The measures I spoke about were effective because they were subsidiary and ancillary to a positive progressive policy of development and expansion. I do not intend to go into the distant past but I will go back to the collapse of the last Coalition Government in 1956. They had got into the same kind of economic difficulties. It was not entirely their fault—there were the environmental factors that I mentioned. They got into difficulties and Fianna Fáil came into office. What had we to do?
First of all, there had to be a positive programme for recovery, followed by two programmes for economic development and expansion, the Lemass programmes of the sixties. They brought this country into the modern era and developed us to the stage that placed us in a position to join the European Community and to be in the position that we were in yesterday, a proud day for all of us. I am glad we on this side were able to congratulate the Taoiseach and his Government for the events of this week. Although not taking credit for them, I have to say they were the culmination of a gradual historical process.
What I am coming to is that the success of social welfare legislation in the past depended entirely on the programmes for development and expansion, what I call the Lemass programmes, because I think all sides of the House will acknowledge his contribution to the economic development of this country in the fifties and sixties. It was that which made social progress possible, because social progress is always based on economic progress —if the economic basis is not there, purely social action will not result in real benefit or a real increase in wealth or a real raising of levels.
That is the lesson I want to bring home here at the highest level. What we lack at the moment, and what must be got, is a progressive policy such as  we had after the recession of 1956— first the recovery and then the expansion on a planned basis such as the late Deputy Seán Lemass implemented, with the able support of his administration and the then secretary of the Department of Finance, Dr. Whitaker.
Major de Valera: I will finish immediately. Having said so much on the Bill, I commend the Parliamentary Secretary to action because otherwise he will be coming back looking for more levies to subsidise more unemployment. Instead of looking for extra money to subsidise unemployment, we should be looking for programmes to supply employment which would relieve the Exchequer and benefit the community at large. Thank you for your indulgence and I apologise for trespassing on the rules of order.
Mrs. Desmond: Thank you. I want to assure the House and Deputy Byrne that my intervention will be brief. Social welfare legislation and the Estimates generally attract a large number of contributions demonstrating the concern of all of us for the welfare of the people at large, particularly those in need. This is what social welfare is all about. It represents the best yardstick by which one can measure the social conscience of a Government. Progress in social welfare services is made not in response to pressure groups but rather through the genuine social concern of the Government  for the people and their problems.
To that yardstick this Government have measured up very well. They have honoured their commitments to the people and have taken a big step towards redistribution of wealth by this Bill and the package of tax bills which we have been discussing. It can be said truthfully that the increases granted in this year's budget do not just keep pace with the rate of inflation. They are not merely increases keeping pace with inflation. They are meant to represent real progress in the relative position of social welfare recipients vis-á-vis other sections of the community. The maintenance of the status quo would satisfy none of us on these benches. Certainly, it would not satisfy me and I am more than certain it would not satisfy the Parliamentary Secretary because the record in social welfare since he took office has been a truly exceptional one. Since then expenditure has increased from £92 million to £210 million, an increase of 125 per cent, which is nothing if not impressive. Generally, I am not impressed by percentages. I have always held the view that to apply the same percentage increases to social welfare recipients or wage earners on £10 per week as one would apply to those on £50 or £100 per week is not justice. But I am impressed by the real widening of the scope of the social welfare code and the improvement, in terms of real money, brought about as a result of the deliberate actions of the Government.
I am impressed particularly by the introduction this year of a cost of living increase to become effective in October. That represents a major change in attitude to those dependent on social welfare and serves to keep them in line with other sections of the community, applying to them the norm one applies to people better able to look after their own interests. It is in stark contrast to the attitude displayed towards social welfare recipients over the years, when increases were announced in the budget and became operative only some six months later when price increases and  inflation generally had more than taken their toll of the meagre resources of those people. That is something about which we, when in Opposition, complained frequently. It is heartening to find that the Parliamentary Secretary has improved that situation considerably and we are grateful to him for his sympathetic attitude towards people in the low-income category.
The reduction again this year of the age limit in respect of the old age pension and the easing of the means test has made life happier for some 156,000 of our fellow citizens, 11,500 of whom are new pensioners.
We have brought into the social welfare net also adult dependants of non-contributory pensioners. That was brought about last year and their lot has been made happier as a result of further increases. One found it difficult to understand why it took so long to realise the existence of those adult dependants and have their needs met. They are amongst those people whose lot has been made happier as a result of the action of the Government and of the Parliamentary Secretary last year and again this year.
Substantial increases have been granted also in both non-contributory and contributory widows' and orphans' pensions and, indeed, in the deserted wife's allowance and unmarried mothers' allowances, the latter two allowances having been granted for the first time last year. They represent substantial increases and an improvement in the lot of those people. The Parliamentary Secretary would be the first to concede that in this area there is no room for complacency. There remains a vast difference between the living standard of such people and that of the majority of other citizens, indeed that of the majority of two-parent families.
If that vast difference in the standard of living of one and two parent families is not apparent, very often it is because of extreme sacrifice being exercised on the part of the single  parent concerned. Under the Bill the new non-contributory pensions will be paid at the rate of £14.75 or, if the single parent concerned earns a maximum of £6 per week will bring in a total income of £20.75. If the pension is a contributory one, the total amount payable will be £15.80, which still falls short of the requirements of the home and family. I am applying those figures to, say, a widow with two children or somebody in that category. There is no gainsaying that overheads exist for such people and that none of the benefits or allowances available to older people, such as free electricity, free travel, free television and so on apply to them. I am not advocating that the ideal solution would be to extend such services to them. Rather am I advocating that the requisite amount of money for such people properly to run a home still has not been reached. We have a long way to go before such people receive justice from their fellow citizens. Indeed, if one accepts the principle of pay-related benefits, there should be a case for their extension to widows. I have heard that case made and I think it is a valid one. It is in keeping with the thought that a wife, on the death of her husband, should be facilitated as far as possible in maintaining the standard of living she enjoyed during his lifetime. I know the Parliamentary Secretary is very alive to the plight of such persons.
The record of the Government and the Parliamentary Secretary as applicable to women generally, has been a fairly impressive one. We have had quite an amount of improvements implemented in the social welfare code, as it applies to women, since the Government took office. We have had the introduction of single women's allowances; for the first time we have had a deserted wife's allowance and an unmarried mother's allowance. We have had the payment of children's allowances to the mother of the family for the first time, a move which eliminated a great deal of stress and concern in many cases. For women workers we have had the retention of accumulated title to  social welfare benefit on marriage. There has been the continuation of disability and unemployment benefit for the first six weeks of widowhood. Working widows, already drawing money from the social welfare fund, receive only half the rate of benefit when they are ill. There has been a concession made to them by the abolition of their contribution towards a stamp. We have had the credited contribution for insured women, on leaving their jobs, to care for aged relatives, provided the aged relative qualifies for a prescribed relative's allowance.
All of those were recommendations of the Commission on the Status of Women, all of which were fairly readily conceded by the Government. There are a few areas outstanding but they are rather more complicated and not as easily implemented as the others I have enumerated. There is still the special rate of benefit payable to married women which needs to be examined. Indeed, married women should be treated the same as any other workers. The special rate applicable to them must be examined. I think that rate should be abolished and the flat one applicable to other workers made applicable to them. We still have the payment of a housekeeper allowance to single men and widowers, with dependants, during periods of unemployment or illness. That housekeeper allowance has been extended now to single women and widows. Up to now there appears to have been the assumption that women could provide such services for themselves. To draw such a general assumption that because one is a woman one can provide such services for oneself is to be discriminatory. This is an area the Parliamentary Secretary is having investigated to ensure that that discrimination is eliminated as soon as possible. I do understand that they are complicated issues; were they not they would have been eliminated already.
The maze of social welfare legislation that exists—the Parliamentary Secretary referred to some 60 Acts and 310 regulations—makes us realise  how involved all of this is and how difficult it is, with the best will in the world, to eliminate some of the glaring injustices which exist and which we have inherited in the social welfare code. Down through the years we have clamoured for the codification of social welfare legislation. The only people who are conversant with it are people like ourselves who deal with it from day to day. It is impossible for the average person, who rarely in his lifetime has occasion to refer to social welfare legislation, to know what his entitlement is. Therefore we welcome particularly the promise of the Parliamentary Secretary to codify and, we hope, simplify all these Acts and make them more readily acceptable and understandable to all the people.
In this Social Welfare Bill there is provision for the increase in social welfare contributions. Nobody welcomes increased contributions but improved schemes must be paid for, and part of the increase this year is to meet a special contingency, and we are heartened by the assurance of the Parliamentary Secretary that this is temporary. Much of the criticism about contributions must come from those on very low wages, particularly women workers who are still on little more than half the wage rate applicable to their male colleagues although the work they do is very often equal and comparable. I can understand their criticism about the rate of contribution. The Parliamentary Secretary in his brief referred to contributions proportionate to wages earned by various categories of workers. This is a good innovation and one which I hope will be put into operation without too much delay.
There are certain benefits to which contributory workers are entitled the improvement of which might mollify those who complain about increased contributions. For instance, adult dependants of an insured worker are not covered for dental, optical and surgical appliance benefits. To find that their dependants are not covered for such benefits often comes as a surprise and a shock to many workers. This is a matter which I raised in the House by way of parliamentary question  a few times. If dependants were covered for these benefits insured workers would feel they were getting a squarer deal than at present.
One question which arises frequently in this House is that of the delay in payments. If this was something that happened only this year I could probably understand it because the scope of these schemes has been so widened that there is a massive job in trying to administer them. This complaint has been with us for many years and therefore I do not think I am being over critical. I do not want to represent myself as criticising the Parliamentary Secretary, because his task is greater than that of his predecessors. However, delays in payments result in a great deal of hardship for the people in need of benefit. One can imagine that, if a normal week's wages allows for the bare necessities of life, when one becomes sick or unemployed, it is of vital importance to the household that the social welfare benefit be paid regularly. Yet we have the spectacle of people coming along to us as public representatives saying they have had to wait five, six or seven weeks for payment. I know the Parliamentary Secretary is doing his best to eradicate this delay, but once again, on behalf of the people who I know are suffering, I would ask him to give this matter particular attention in the months ahead.
I have a special welcome for the Parliamentary Secretary's plans for the future. I note particularly his plans for incorporating self-employed people in the social welfare scheme. I know several self-employed people on a very small scale who cannot retire because no social security exists for them. I also welcome the plans to codify the social welfare legislation. I know that in the years to come improvements in social welfare will take place on a massive scale. I compliment the Parliamentary Secretary and all those who are helping in identifying poverty. It will take a concerted effort to eradicate it completely, an effort not confined to the Department of Social Welfare but involving many other Departments as well: Local  Government, Education, Justice and Health. What causes poverty is very often lack of money but that is not the only cause. Therefore the Government as a whole must be involved in the eradication of poverty.
Mr. Callanan: Like Deputy de Valera I welcome this Bill. We have no intention of opposing the Second Reading but certain sections of it may require amendment. The Parliamentary Secretary said at one time that the Government had concern in this matter. I can assure him that every Member on this side of the House has great concern for the unfortunate people who have to live on social welfare.
Were it not for the Parliamentary Secretary and his Department, there would have been a landslide against the Government in the last two by-elections. There was no policy except in respect of two subjects: the candidate and the amount of social welfare benefit being paid out. I welcome this attitude to social welfare. The benefits are good but they would be just as good if we were in power. There are moneys now for social welfare that were not available in the past, and the need for social welfare is greater every day because of inflation. The Parliamentary Secretary said he has given more than what is needed to meet the increase in the cost of living. But with the increases occurring every other day—bread now and something else tomorrow—I have grave doubt that he is only keeping in line with the cost of living and inflation.
I hope my remarks on the Bill will be constructive. I have always stood up for the lower income group and I am very worried on one score and I want to make this case particularly in respect of the people in the west of Ireland that I represent. Many of them in my area are social welfare recipients. Deputy Desmond mentioned slowness but I do not attribute blame  for slowness because if every Deputy bothers the Parliamentary Secretary as often as I do and wrote as many letters, the staff in the Department would need to be increased. I am embarrassed to have to write letter after letter, week after week, on social welfare matters. This indicates the number of dependants on social welfare. So many in my area are dependent on social welfare that I am very worried. It is not true that we want to live on social welfare. If the people in the disadvantaged areas could get jobs or more land, they would prefer it to drawing social welfare. I think the great increase in social welfare is in respect the small farmers and this is rightly the case because these people cannot exist unless they get it.
In respect of this type of social welfare I again ask—and I am tired of asking—that the Parliamentary Secretary would seriously consider some way of assessing income other than on a poor law valuation basis which is a cruel system in some cases that I meet in my area where you have land valued at about half-a-crown an acre. A man might have 100 acres of it and he may be able to draw social welfare while on the other hand an unfortunate man may have what is known as “landlord's land”. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to take special note of this. Long ago when the landlords owned the land of Ireland it was essential to have a certain valuation to get on the grand jury. Some landlords applied for increased valuations and were successful. This type of land now carries a very high valuation and there can be a very poor person living on a £30 valuation farm. He is excluded from small farm social welfare where another type of land may carry a very low valuation and the owner, who is pretty well off, is able to qualify for social welfare.
It is a difficult problem to assess means fairly but certainly the poor law valuation is about the most unjust way of doing so. We see this demonstrated down the country every other day. I sympathise with people with poor holdings and high valuations. They are excluded from social welfare and from health cards. They are  the people living in poverty at present —they can get nothing and must pay for everything while they have not sufficient land to make a decent living. A fair way should be found of deciding who is entitled to social welfare. Again, I emphasise strongly that we do not want to continue living on social welfare. At present the Government are doing a good and necessary job. I believe we or any other Government would do the same thing. Between petrol, postage and other taxation an extra £50 million has been raised since before Christmas. The agricultural subsidies are covered because of our EEC membership and all this is being given out in social welfare.
I may be old-fashioned, unlike present-day economists. When I was young I was told that if I could not make ends meet at the end of a year I was going the wrong way. Now, apparently, it does not matter if, after the year, you are down £90 million—I believe it will be £125 million this year. I understood that if I borrowed money for productive purposes it was all right but if I had to borrow to get enough to eat, I was in danger. Apparently, there is that danger at present when we have to pay social welfare but if we are going into debt in order to do so I wonder where it will lead. Perhaps it is all right but there is a big change in the way economists think today and the way they thought when I was young. Twenty years ago, if you were short a few million pounds you were at danger point. Now it does not matter apparently and you can go as far as you like into debt. Nobody seems to worry now if we go into debt for current expenditure but I wonder if eventually somebody will have to worry about it.
On the question of payments to relatives, this benefit is only paid to the relative if the person is bedridden. Is it not harder for a woman to look after a person who may be very old but is not confined to bed? A person confined to bed will not fall in the fire. A young woman who has a husband, or if there is anybody else in the house, cannot get the allowance unless the old person is bedridden.  Nine times out of ten it is harder to look after the old person who is able to go around and has to be always watched and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider this whole matter. I find people coming to me asking if they can get an allowance for an aged relative who is not bedridden but is more difficult to look after and I have to tell them they cannot get it. That provision should be altered.
There is the question of widows who have no income, except a cache of about £5,000, drawing a non-contributory pension. I believe that £100 is excluded from that and 5 per cent of the balance so that the person would be entitled to a full non-contributory pension of £7.30. When that person qualifies for an old age pension all that is excluded is £25 which was known long ago as the “funeral allowance”. In 1975 you would not buy one side of the coffin for £25. The means of that widow is calculated on the £5,000 with deductions of £25 and 5 per cent of so much and 10 per cent of the remainder and she qualifies for only £5 old age pension. There is something wrong when she cannot get the same amount as she got as a widow. I am talking of a non-contributory pension. It is a different matter in the case of a contributory old age pension. This is a very serious matter and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give it serious consideration. The £25 for funeral expenses should at the very least be £100 at present to cope with inflation. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will consider that very seriously.
In section 5 the amount for a widow has been increased from £5 to £6 but if a person has investments which yield an interest of £1 a week she does not get the increase. This section is a disincentive to old people to save a little money. The £25 for funeral expenses is ridiculous. Social workers have come to me since this Bill was published and they have made those points to me. I have been a member of an old age pension committee for 25 years. A person with  savings of £1,400 or £1,500 should be allowed the £6. This is absolutely essential.
I must now refer to the increase in the contribution. I have been talking to social workers about this matter too, and I have been told that this will be a severe handicap to a social worker who is trying to get, for example, an ex-psychiatric patient a job. Such people are not well paid but even so employers will be reluctant to take them on because of the increased contribution.
In my area we go into the problem of social welfare because we are concerned. If there was a Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Secretary sitting there I would make the very same speech because I do not believe in playing politics with social welfare. I have never done that since I came into the House. I am just pointing out what has been pointed out to me by people who have their fingers on the pulse of the question of social welfare.
There is another problem in relation to old age pensions. If a man with say, ten acres of land away from his house, which is not well stocked, applies for the pension the capital value of the land is assessed against him. If he had it let, the letting value would be assessed against him and that would not be so bad. If he had it well stocked, the stock would be taken into consideration and that would not be so bad but if it is just there with practically nothing on it the full capital value, with land prices as they are at present, will put him completely out. We have had cases of this. This is very wrong. The capital value should not be taken into account, whatever about the letting value.
This is how those things work. Perhaps they may not come to the Parliamentary Secretary's notice but in a debate of this kind we should bring to his notice what we consider to be wrong with the social welfare system. I have been asked by people close to this matter to place those matters before him and get them changed. There is the question of the difference between widows in the assessing of their means; there is the £25 which should be increased to £100; the Parliamentary  Secretary should allow people to have at least £1,300 or £1,400 before cutting the £6 to £5 and there is the question of the piece of land, perhaps ten acres, which could deprive a person of the old age pension.
An employer's redundancy contribution shall be at the rate of thirteen new pence per contribution week in respect of each eligible male employee and thirteen new pence per contribution week in respect of each eligible female employee.
Mr. Callanan: It is relevant but if you rule that it is not relevant I will not quote it. This increase in the redundancy payment in addition to the price of the stamp will be a hindrance to finding employment for people.
An employee's redundancy contribution shall be at the rate of five new pence per contribution week for an eligible male employee and four new pence per contribution week for an eligible female employee.
With those increased payments employers will be very slow to take people on and I am afraid we will have a good deal of redundancy. People will think twice about employing these people. If these social welfare recipients were allowed to take up employment they would not expect a very  high wage. If they offer for employment they are told that, if they are employed, the employer will have to pay for the stamp and pay redundancy. This is putting more and more people on to social welfare. I am worried about the cost to the Exchequer and to the country as a whole.
All are agreed with the increases given and the allowance for the single woman is a very good thing. I do not agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that the increase will be more than enough to meet increased costs. It will be barely enough initially but, if inflation continues at its present rate, it will certainly not be enough eventually. We all know the increases that are taking place at the moment on essential commodities. I doubt if these increases will compensate for the increases in the cost of living.
I have pointed out what I regard as snags in our social welfare system. I hope my figures are correct. I did some research on the figures. My figures in regard to the widow are quite clear. I do not intend to hold up the House because I believe that, whatever impact one makes at the beginning, if one repeats onself too often the inpact is lost. We welcome these increases. Last year the Parliamentary Secretary described his Government as a Government of concern. We are also concerned on this side of the House.
In our organisation we are trying to get the small farmers off social welfare. A great many are drawing benefit now who were not drawing benefit before. The people did not want benefit when Fianna Fáil were in Government. It was easy to live. It is not easy to live now. I was worried during the by-election to hear a speaker say at a church gate all the social welfare this Government were giving. This is not the proper approach. The proper approach would mean there would be no need for social welfare. I do not think the Government are heading in the right direction. Some alternative must be sought. I assure the Minister that any amendments we may table to this measure will be constructive amendments designed to improve the Bill.
Dr. Byrne: One is very pleased to see included in this legislation section 18 which deals with the anomaly which existed in the provision of school meals for children from urban areas attending schools outside the functional area of the urban authority. It is interesting to see this provision included so expeditiously in this measure. It is most pertinent to the situation on the perimeter of the Dublin metropolitan area. With the extension of the city many urban areas are now straddling the city boundary and children attending primary schools which are not within the city boundary are deprived of free school meals. This section is, therefore, most welcome. There was a good deal of agitation particularly since the building of the Ballymun satellite town. I think it was this that brought the matter to a head.
Last week I tabled a resolution in Dublin Corporation in anticipation of this section being passed to ensure that these children will no longer be deprived of school meals. No Fianna Fáil speaker so far has adverted to this. Apart from Ballymun satellite town with over 3,200 dwellings, other schools in the area will also benefit. The Dominican Convent in Ratoath Road, which provides school meals for most of the children in the Cabra West/Santry area up to secondary level, will also be able to avail of the free school meal system. I am sure they will be extremely greatful to the Government for making this possible. The provision in relation to this is very simple. It means that if more than 50 per cent of the attendance at the school is from an urban area or from houses administered by an urban authority they are entitled to get school meals. This is only part of what we are covering in this Bill. We can also see that attempts are being made to provide for those children as they go through life after school, through married life and right up to the old age pension. We are providing assistance in some form for every member of society.
I want to refer to one or two sections of the Bill I am not in complete agreement with. I should like to see greater  safeguard against abuse contained in the Bill. One likes to see increased benefits made available in unemployment assistance and sickness benefits but there is a very high degree of abuse in regard to those allowances. I should like to see the Minister for Social Welfare and the Parliamentary Secretary investigating this. There are possibilities—I speak from experience —of abuse in relation to sickness benefit. It is very disturbing to see how easy it is for this to happen and the blackmail general practitioners can be subjected to by people who wish to abuse this benefit. We have always handed out increased allowances to people without putting in some penalty in the case of abuse. In the United Kingdom they have increased the number of inspectors to inquire into the widespread abuse in relation to social welfare benefits. We should also do that and we should make sure that the penalty for abuse is sufficient to act as a deterrent. I believe the possibility of abuse is more widespread in largely populated areas because it is easier to shrink back into the darkness of society than it is in rural areas.
The Minister should ensure that the benefits go to the people who need them rather than to people who do not want to work. Under the present system people can be marginally as well off on unemployment assistance as they would in full employment. Everybody knows this goes on. There does not appear to be an effort to dissuade those people from abusing those benefits. If they were prevented there would be more funds available for those legitimately in need of benefit. I hope the fact that other countries have attempted but failed to eliminate this form of abuse does not deter us from adopting a new approach to try to eradicate the abuse in relation to unemployment assistance and sickness benefit.
In relation to old age pensioners I make a plea to the Minister to investigate the possibility of having a more thorough meals on wheels system for those people. I should also like to have a more widespread fuel voucher scheme for them. We all know of the  recent huge increases in fuel costs. In an area I know well where the only form of heating is gas the bills of many old age pensioners have gone from £10 to £80 a quarter. They cannot understand this. The increase is greater than the increased benefit they are getting from the Department of Social Welfare.
During the Arab-Israeli war I asked the Minister for Transport and Power to give special consideration to the provision of oil to the Ballymun housing area where the only form of heating is gas or oil. The Minister said he would give consideration to this. The heating is available but the cost is astronomical. It is part of the structure, whether it is an electric fire or gas central heating. Those people cannot light a fire and cannot avail of the free turf because they have no place to burn it. I heard there was a proposal to do away with fuel vouchers. I should like to see a scheme introduced to extend fuel vouchers to the aged, the widows, deserted wives and all deprived families. These vouchers might be used against fuel bills where the free turf cannot be availed of because the houses have no fireplaces.
I have here a note I received yesterday with regard to fuel costs. The person concerned pays £4 for gas and £6 rent and recently he got a bill amounting to £70 for back payment of gas. In that household there are ten people depending on one man's wages. The previous speaker mentioned that people are less well off nowadays and this is true. Heating costs have risen very considerably and a person must earn a good salary before he can provide heating for his home. Many people are unable to pay their fuel bills and the supplies are disconnected from their houses by the ESB and the gas company. Sometimes the local authorities are involved when oil-fired central heating is concerned. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government is present because I am sure he is interested in this matter from the point of view of future planning. It is no use building houses if people cannot afford to heat them.
It is quite on the cards that once  again people will end up in debtor's prisons. They may eventually find themselves in Benburb Street or Keogh Square because of their failure to pay for their fuel costs. In Ballymun and in the high-rise flats in Kilbarrack the fuel costs are part of the rent and if people are unable to pay it they may be evicted and put into substandard accommodation under the control of the local authority.
This situation is somewhat similar to the approach of the Arabs with regard to oil; it is a form of blackmail and the weaker sections suffer as a result. In connection with the fuel crisis it might be possible for us to trade livestock or agricultural products with the Arabs for fuel or, alternatively, we should do more to develop indigenous fuels. Another possibility is that students from the oil-producing countries who come to Ireland for third-level education might have their fees adjusted in the light of the present fuel crisis.
I should like to compliment the Minister for Social Welfare for the increases granted but I think those granted to widows could have been somewhat greater. I am glad to note that if inflation continues at its present rate it is possible that next October people will receive a further increase. We should emphasise that fact so that people may not be too frightened at the rising cost of living.
I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to ensure that when unemployment assistance or any other aid is given the family of the recipient gets the benefit. In many cases the wife and the children are forced to go to the home assistance officer for help because the husband has spent the benefit on drink. It might be possible to devise a system so that a percentage of the benefit is paid to the wife. Certainly the regulations should be re-examined because at the moment many families are not getting any benefit from moneys paid by the State. Home assistance should be more flexible, particularly with regard to the payment of fuel bills. The recipients should be told that home assistance is not an allowance to which they are automatically entitiled.
 The children's allowances are good. We would like to see food and other subsidies introduced for everyone but we realise that any money we have left over should go to the most fragile section. Instead of giving subsidies for heating and for food to all sections they should be restricted to the categories mentioned in the Bill.
Ruairí Brugha: Any Opposition will welcome increases in social welfare benefits, but directly related to these payments and increases this year is the failure of the Government to deal with internal inflation which directly affects the value of the benefits. Social welfare increases are not of much use to the recipient if he is losing the value of the increases in a short space of time because of the effects of inflation.
In this sense, the Government's policy can be seen to be operating against the interests of the social welfare categories. Therefore, this Government are becoming known as that which rested on inflation. The transfer of the increased cost of the stamp to the employers and employees at a level of £6 million in this year is a hidden tax form. It is a rather frightening situation that a Government would impose in the budget a tax of this nature on employment and development in order, in effect, to cover up their own extravagance and their failure to balance their own accounts.
As a result, we find the Minister for Social Welfare saying that they are increasing social welfare benefits when the real position is that the Government are depending more and more on the industrial side of the economy while their own policy is putting people out of employment. It seems to me that the eventual outcome will be similar to that in undemocratic countries where consumers pay more and more for goods than they have money to do.
The real policy of the Government is inflationary and determental to the interests of those depending on social welfare payments, because if the value of such payments is to be maintained the Government will have to face up  to their failure to provide adequate means to reflate the economy. This is directly related to social welfare benefits because, lacking a determined policy to reflate the economy so as to keep even those currently employed in their jobs so that a proportion of their earnings will contribute to the support of the social welfare categories, in effect the Government, simply by increasing social welfare payments, are merely getting involved in a vicious cycle in which the recipients, in three to six months, will be back where they started.
That is the real dilemma facing the Government, caused by their budgetary system which has lowered the value of social welfare payments to the recipients. As far as one can see, inflation is prevailing at a higher level. This is not just an Opposition comment. It has been said in the past couple of months by a number of competent European people that we have been failing to deal with our internal inflationary situation, the part for which the Government through their fiscal policies are responsible. In so far as the Government have failed and are failing to provide a reflationary input into the economy they must be held responsible for the effects of inflation on social welfare beneficiaries.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare (Mr. Cluskey): First of all, with one exception I should like to thank the Deputies who contributed for the constructive and thoughtful way in which they discussed the Bill. The exception is Deputy Dowling who came in like a volcano and was just as constructive. If I were Fianna Fáil Whip I would see to it that my Deputies came in and kept to the script that was provided for them. Deputy Dowling did not contribute very much to the debate.
On the other hand, we had some thoughtful, constructive comments, particularly from Deputy Andrews whom I take this opportunity to welcome on his first appearance as spokesman for social welfare. I should also like to take this opportunity to express appreciation of his predecessor, Deputy Faulkner, whom I always  found to be constructive and courteous in the dealings I have had with him. Deputy Andrews, as many Opposition speakers did, welcomed the Bill. They welcomed the provisions under which substantial increases are being given to the various categories catered for. They also welcomed the element in the Bill that I am particularly pleased to see there, the innovation of a review of these in October to ensure in this time of inflation that social welfare recipients of benefits and assistance will maintain the full value of the increases provided in this Bill.
There seems to be some doubt—I am not sure whether it is as a result of political scoring or misconception —whether or not the increases granted in the Bill constitute a genuine increase in the standard of living of the beneficiaries. I speak now not of my own opinion but of a statistical fact published by an impartial source giving a true picture of exactly how much social welfare recipients have benefited. It is not merely compensation for an increase in the cost of living. There have been substantial benefits granted and there have been increases in the standard of living in recent times. If one examines the cost of living increase from July last year to April this year, one finds it amounts to 15 per cent. In July last there was an across-the-board increase of 18 per cent granted to social welfare recipients. This Bill provides for an across-the-board increase of from 21 per cent to 23 per cent. One does not have to go into the realm of higher finance, as did Deputy de Valera, to realise that on the basis of those factual figures there has been a substantial increase in the standard of living of those people.
I am not suggesting for one moment that many people in receipt of social welfare benefits—and particularly assistance—are, as yet, adequately provided for. I realise there is quite a substantial difference between the family who have to live on social welfare benefits, or particularly on assistance, and another fortunate enough to have the main breadwinner earning a proper industrial wage.  There is a very substantial difference between the standards of living of those two types of families. It is wrong and dishonest to suggest that there has not been substantial improvement, even if there is room for further improvement, which undoubtedly, there is.
Deputy Andrews and others posed some questions to me with which I shall try to deal. Deputy Andrews spoke about the role of various voluntary organisations, the desirability, indeed the need, to support those voluntary groups engaged in such work and I agree fully with him in that respect. Over the past 18 months or so we have endeavoured to involve voluntary organisations to a much greater extent than heretofore; indeed, to try to relate and co-ordinate the activities of statutory bodies and voluntary organisations because, if we are to be successful in attaining our goal and the direction in which we wish to progress, it is essential that the community and people be involved and contribute towards their attainment. As yet, unfortunately, there does not seem to be full realisation on the part of some people, and indeed on the part of some people in this House who contributed to the discussion on this Bill, of what the actual facts are with regard to certain people within our society. There seems to be a reluctance which I fail to understand, or a refusal, to see what is so obviously around us would we but take the trouble to open our eyes. In fairness, I should say that most of that lack of realisation seemed to be on this side of the House rather than on the other. Deputies who can stand up and say that in their opinion there is no such thing as real poverty in our community bewilder me. I cannot understand them. I cannot understand how any thinking person would not realise that not only have we poverty but we have it in fairly serious proportions.
Deputy Andrews asked the number of people who will benefit under this Bill. The total number of adult beneficiaries is 498,100; adult dependants 140,900, child dependants 282,100, giving a total of 921,100 persons, plus  656,800 children's allowances. Excluding children's allowances the number of people who will benefit from the increases provided for in this Bill is approximately 30 per cent of our population.
Deputy Andrews and other speakers mentioned the increase in the cost of the insurance stamp, implied that it was a tremendous burden, would disrupt the whole economy of the country and in fact constituted a crippling increase on workers. Were one to stray into this debate with no knowledge of the social welfare scheme or previous Acts, one could be forgiven —particularly having listened to Deputy de Valera—for thinking there never had been an increase in the price of the stamp, that this was an innovation, that the Government were, for the first time, increasing the price of the stamp. The implied suggestion that this was a new departure was ludicrous.
Over the years the practice has been that the budget is announced on budget day by the Minister for Finance. He enumerates the various increases granted, giving some details of the social welfare increases provided in the budget. The amount of stamp contribution is a matter for this Bill which gives legal effect to the provisions of the budget. Deputy Dowling suggested that there was a con game being engaged in; that last January the Minister for Finance would not state what was the price of the stamp, that we were engaged in this con game on the whole Irish nation. Had Fianna Fáil been in the position where they could determine when the price of the stamp was to be made known to the Irish people, I wonder would they have done it three days before the by-election in Galway. Most certainly not. We had nothing to hide about the price of the stamp. The normal procedure was operated and the only departure that I could possibly see was that we announced it and circulated the Bill with all the details in it before the by-elections, because, be quite sure of this, in the field of social welfare we have nothing to fear from the electorate, including the price of the stamp.
 However, I am not suggesting for one moment that the financing of the whole of the social welfare services is satisfactory. In fact, this system has grown up over the years without any serious thought having been given to it. Social welfare over the years has been used as a political expedient and there has been no planned approach. No one has sat down and looked at the whole sphere. No one has determined what we want to provide and what steps are necessary in order to provide it.
I questioned the financing of social welfare in the Estimate speech last year. As far as I know—and I have done a considerable amount of research into it—the first time it was ever questioned was on that occasion. I have again raised the matter of financing in introducing this Bill. We have started an investigation and examination into the whole financing of both social welfare and health services. Deputy Eileen Desmond mentioned this morning—and I agree with her—that if you have a flat rate of contribution, the lower paid workers in our society must come off second-best. I do not believe that the way we are now financing it is the most fair and equitable that we can devise.
When you come in and find something that has been established and, apparently, accepted over long years, it is not possible to tear that down and do away with all the elements in it that you do not like, that you do not think are right, unless you want to be totally destructive. It is necessary to put something in its place, to build a proper structure, before you tear down the old one. We are in the course of doing that, and I shall refer to that a little later.
Deputy Andrews also asked about the operation of the Poverty Committee and wanted to know what was happening at EEC level and what was happening here at home. As the House knows, the Poverty Committee was formed of very eminent people, people who had established a reputation over the years for their concern and their knowledge in this field. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking those people for the very  dedicated way in which they have gone about their work. All of them are very committed. All of them have very many duties to perform other than that, but they have given a very large part of their time and talents towards devising schemes which will be to the benefit of the people who fall into that category.
That is at the home level, but irrespective of what happens in the EEC, the committee will go ahead with the operation of four schemes, and they have been allocated £200,000 to enable them to do that. We are very hopeful that the schemes will get the backing of the EEC. We have the approval of the Commissioner, Dr. Hillery, and I should like to express my appreciation to Dr. Hillery for the work he has done and the interest he has shown in relation to poverty schemes at EEC level.
The schemes the committee have devised—three of them have been submitted to the Commissioner— are: (1) to monitor the effects of the revised Home Assistance Bill which will come before the House in the near future; (2) a campaign about welfare rights to ensure that everyone knows what their entitlements are under the various Acts in the previous social welfare and social services generally, and to ensure that they can take up these benefits with the least possible difficulty to themselves; (3) community action; and (4) the promotion of social service councils.
I emphasise that these schemes are going ahead irrespective of the decision of the EEC, because the Minister for Finance has provided sufficient money for the operation of four of these schemes. But I am hopeful that in June, at the next scheduled meeting of the Ministers for Social Affairs in Brussels, approval and ratification of financial assistance in the operation of these schemes will be obtained. We believe this Irish initiative will be beneficial not only to many of our people but to the people of the Community and, indeed, to the Community itself. I think it is fair to say that it lacks the human face that  was talked about at the Paris Summit.
A number of speakers have commented more or less on pay-related benefits and in recent months I have noticed very much an image coming across of the unemployed as a huge number of layabouts who do not want to work and will not work if work is offered to them. Unfortunately, this image was portrayed in the House and to some extent in the media. I recall a particular item during a news broadcast on television when a gentleman, who was described as a leading industrialist, claimed and gave figures to bear out his statement, that a particular worker was better off financially not working than if he were working. When I examined those figures and made the appropriate calculations it was quite clear that the figures given and the assertions made were totally inaccurate. But once something like that is publicised it is nearly impossible to get the true picture across.
Mr. Cluskey: If these people would take the trouble of examining the pay-related scheme they would see that there are safeguards which make it impossible for the situation to arise which they claim is widespread.
I did not agree with some of what Deputy de Valera said—indeed I have completely opposite views in some cases—but I should like to say that his was a serious contribution of the type I like to have. To a large extent, we have had it in this debate and it is necessary in regard to social welfare if we are to achieve what we want to do in this area. There is no way in which poverty can be eradicated unless the people first face the fact that it exists and to a considerable extent and accept that it cannot be solved unless the 80 per cent, approximately, who are fortunate enough not to experience poverty conditions are prepared to play their part and not merely give lip service.
 I heard poverty discussed from Fianna Fáil benches in a serious way for the first time during this debate. That is a very encouraging sign. Deputy Andrews assured us that Fianna Fáil are about to produce an extensive policy document on the whole area of social welfare, particularly in relation to poverty. I very much welcome that development, belated though it is, because I did not discover or invent poverty; it was there and has been there, and it has grown because of the operation over many years of our social and economic system. The problem can never be solved by sweeping it under the carpet and refusing to acknowledged its existence. If we are to succeed in solving it, we must first ensure that its existence is acknowledged and try to get the commitment of the community as a whole—not excluding workers who are in relatively much better circumstances. Some of the double talk on the matter of poverty —Deputy Andrews cited the Simon Community—reminds one of the itinerants, or indeed, the Simon Community; everybody agrees with the work that is being done and pays lip service to it; they talk of the dedicated and devoted workers but their attitude is : “By God, do not put them near me.” That is the public attitude which we have seen over and over again. That must change. We have a responsibility as a society to the less fortunate and we must live up to it.
To illustrate the point, an old time socialist in the 1930s was talking about socialism and saw a man listening at the back of the crowd. This man did not look very prosperous and the socialist speaker said : “Tell me, friend, if you had two houses would you begrudge one to a neighbour?”“Certainly not,” said the man. “If you had two bicycles, would you begrudge one to a neighbour?”“Not at all,” said the man. “If you had two greyhounds would you give one to a neighbour?”“Not likely,” said the man. “Why?” asked the speaker. “You would give one of your two houses or one of your bicycles.”“Yes,” the man replied, “but I have  two greyhounds.” That seems to be the attitude of a large number of our people—they are prepared to solve the problem at the expense of somebody else. It cannot be done like that; It must be done by those who have a little more being prepared to give something.
It is not fully realised—I am confirmed in that belief by some of the views expressed here—how pay-related benefit and, indeed, unemployment benefit in general operate. Personally, I am very glad that I was associated with the introduction of pay-related benefit because it is very closely linked with poverty in this way. There are two types, the people who are permanently unemployed and others who because of periodic, economic difficulties become unemployed, are employed again and again become unemployed.
The average worker spends what he earns on his wife and family providing a reasonable standard of living for them but very few, if any, are able to put by money week by week. If that worker is hit by unemployment, as many are now hit in this country, the family is immediately faced with severe difficulties which force them to go into debt. I have seen people unemployed through no fault of their own for prolonged periods and they and their families were put into the poverty-stricken category from the beginning. The poverty lasted, if the unemployment was prolonged, for a very long time and it took a long time to recover and repay the debts accumulated during unemployment.
Pay-related benefit does not give a worker more than he would get if he were working but it keeps his head above water and keeps his family in reasonable comfort during that prolonged period up to six months. It also saves him from the situation of being in debt for two or three years after resuming employment—and I have known such cases. Before people condemn or distort the working of the pay-related benefit scheme and its effects they should think very carefully and examine for themselves how it operates and what it is designed to do.
 Social welfare has grown up in a very haphazard way, with bits put on here and there. Undoubtedly, some moves were dictated by immediate and obvious needs and some by political expediency but I believe no serious consideration has been given to the overall structure and overall operation. In this country we have to face many difficulties that are not shared by other EEC members in the social welfare and social security area. For instance, we have a very large number of self-employed people who have no social welfare cover. They amount to 31 per cent in Ireland compared with 7½ per cent in Britain. That 31 per cent poses a very serious difficulty in trying to create an all-embracing comprehensive social welfare system. Some of them are not covered by PAYE—actually none of them. Their incomes fluctuate. Some have more than one job but when it comes to cover we find there is an element missing and that is the employer.
We have also considerably more people in the non-active age groups —that is to say under 14 years of age and over 65 years of age—than many other countries. Our percentage in these categories is 42 per cent compared with 36 per cent or 34 per cent in some other countries. That posed great difficulty in trying to structure a comprehensive social welfare system but I believe we are now on the road to achieving that. If one looks at what has been done, what we are in the course of doing and where we hope that will lead us eventually, one will see that this Government on coming into office sat down and made a serious survey of the whole area of social welfare and, having done that, decided first of all what was wanted, in what direction it should go and what steps had to be taken in order to get there.
If one looks at the first phase one sees that the most immediate need was increasing substantially the rates of payment to recipients. That undoubtedly has been done. The second essential and urgent step was to extend the coverage. We did that by abolishing the income limit, by bringing in such people as unmarried mothers,  deserted wives, prisoners' dependents and single women; we did it also by lowering the age for qualification for old age pensions. We reduced very, very substantially the means test which operated for qualification for many social welfare benefits. Those immediate actions which we took in the first, second and third budgets have brought a large number of people within the scope of the social welfare system. This has been a very significant start to getting where we want to go. At the moment we are trying to deal with the reform of the home assistance scheme of which Deputy Andrews was very rightly critical. I agree with him because I believe the way the home assistance scheme operates at the moment is a reflection on us who call ourselves a Christian society. I am glad in the very near future a Bill will be brought into the House to reform the operation of the home assistance scheme. That will be a very major contribution towards the reform and the development of a comprehensive social welfare and social security scheme.
I referred to pay-related benefit which a person can now enjoy if he is unemployed or sick but we are also in the course of trying to introduce a system of pay-related pensions for the self-employed. As I stated earlier, a discussion paper will be introduced in the middle of this year on these two aspects of further development of the service with a view to putting before interested people and groups various alternative ways of catering for those obvious needs. I emphasise it is a discussion document. It is one which the Government will put before the people. We have already invited many interested persons and groups to make submissions on these subjects. When the paper comes out we hope it will give rise to constructive discussion in those two areas which will enable the Government to proceed with legislation along the lines that would be most beneficial to the maximum number of people.
A number of Deputies very understandably commented on the very complex nature of Bills dealing with  social welfare. I said in my opening remarks that not only does it provide great difficulty for a Deputy trying to do research in order to make a constructive contribution on legislation which comes before the House but it is the cause, in my opinion, of a lot of hard, laborious, non-productive, time-consuming work for the officials of the Department who could be far more usefully employed in other areas. It also provides a great deal of difficulty for the very many people who, in a voluntary or in a professional capacity, are engaged outside the Government service in this particular area.
In the Department we have initiated work to try to correlate the various laws and regulations covering this area but as Deputies who have any knowledge of this matter will appreciate it is a very long, complicated and difficult task. There is no question of this consolidated Bill being produced next week or next month. We will be extremely fortunate if we have it this time next year. However, I can assure the House it will be proceeded with as speedily as possible.
We hope with the work that has been done, which I have outlined, the work under progress at the moment in relation to home assistance, self-employed pay-related pensions which will be completed in the not too distant future, as well as income-related pensions and insurance for the self-employed, there will be a new and more equitable financing system for social welfare. Work is in progress at the moment on that aspect. We hope to move towards the creation of a single assistance system. I believe with those developments we can have a comprehensive approach.
In conclusion, I appeal to Deputies and other interested parties to realise if we are to build the type of society which we could justifiably be proud of, with regard to how we cater for our old, sick, injured and deprived, there must be a knowledge of what the actual situation is and an acceptance of the realities of that situation. There must be a commitment. I can assure the House that a political will exists in this Government to eradicate this  evil from our society. I sincerely hope every Member of this House will give this the necessary support, not only by going through the lobby in divisions but by ensuring that there is a commitment among the 80 per cent of our people who do not belong to this particular category. It is undoubtedly a difficult task to eradicate it. I think we have managed to alleviate it to some extent. Even though it is a long and difficult task there is no question but that it can be done but it can only be done if we are committed to doing it.
Mr. Andrews: We are entirely in favour of the pay-related scheme but in the nine months up to 31st December, 1974 £8 million was collected under the pay-related benefits scheme and a sum of £3 million was paid out. I asked what happened to the £5 million or what is being done with the balance that has not been spent. What figure would the Parliamentary Secretary consider a minimum standard at which people might live, in other words, the poverty line? I do not necessarily expect the Parliamentary Secretary to have the figures off hand but if he has, perhaps, he would answer those two questions.
Mr. Cluskey: This is a new scheme. It has only been in operation since April last and it would be a little premature to start making predictions about how it will develop in the future. We have not yet got the financial position after a full 12 months operation of the scheme.
Mr. Andrews: There was £8 million collected and £3 million spent. I am just wondering what the Parliamentary Secretary is doing with the £5 million after nine months operation of the scheme. I am just wondering what is happening——
Mr. Cluskey: Of course. The Deputy is talking about the operation of a scheme from April to December last. I do not know what the financial position of the scheme is now. The Deputy is talking about last December.
Mr. Cluskey: Yes and many things happen in three months. I do not think any responsible office holder would be in a position to start speculating about the future operation of a scheme that has yet been in operation for 12 months.
Mr. Cluskey: I do not know what it is so I would have to examine that first. With regard to the question of the minimum income, that is a very serious question and I know it was asked in a very serious way. One of the great defects I found in Social Welfare when I went into it was that there was absolutely no provision for research within the Department. We could not undertake research in any field. There was not one penny provided under any heading. We have now managed to set up and get finances for the operation of a development research section which can undertake research. This is one area into which I believe we could very usefully do research.
Another area in which we are doing research is to find out how effective are the benefits that are already being provided in certain areas and for certain  categories. It is not possible for me to give the Deputy a figure of what constitutes the poverty line. Some people have attempted to do it. I personally do not think there has been any scientific approach to establishing the proper figure but I believe we are now equipped and financed in the Department to undertake this type of research. The lack of it in the past was in no small way responsible for what was the rather haphazard development of our social services over the years.
Mr. Andrews: There has been a lot of research done outside the Department over the years and there is quite a large volume of literature on the subject. I am sure it is available to the Parliamentary Secretary as indeed, it is available to me and I would strongly recommend that he should get his officials to research documents like social studies over the last ten years.
|Last Updated: 14/09/2010 21:01:12||Page of 56|