Vote 46: Social Welfare.

Thursday, 12 December 1985

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 362 No. 11

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An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  By agreement Vote No. 46 will be brought to a conclusion not later than 12.30 p.m. today.

Minister for Social Welfare (Mr. B. Desmond): Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  I move:

[2124] That a supplementary sum not exceeding £50,000,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1985, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare, for certain services administered by that Office, for payments to the Social Insurance Fund, and for sundry grants.

Minister of State at the Department of Social Welfare (Mr. Pattison): Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The original Estimate for my Department which was passed by the House last May was for £1,323,149,000. A further £50,000,000 is now required to meet the increased cost of the services administered by my Department and will bring total Exchequer spending on these services in the current year to £1,373,149,000.

This Supplementary Estimate is required mainly to meet the extra costs resulting from the Christmas bonus payments made this month to recipients of long term benefits — including for the first time this year long term unemployment assistance recipients — a shortfall of income from social insurance contributions and extra numbers of unemployed. Higher than anticipated expenditure on the disability benefit scheme and an expected deficiency of £1 million in appropriations-in-aid receipts also contribute to an overall additional cost of £59.85 million which is partially offset by savings of £9.85 million on other subheads.

On the Social Insurance Section of the Vote an additional sum of £14.4 million is required under Subhead E. The £14.4 million is the additional amount payable by the Exchequer to the Social Insurance Fund to meet the deficit on the working of the fund. This is the net position. All of the contributory schemes of my Department are paid from the fund. The additional requirement of £14.4 million is arrived at taking account of likely savings and excesses on these various schemes and any variation on the expected yield from contributions by employers and employees. The latter is by far the most [2125] difficult element to estimate. Income from contributions this year is now expected to the £30 million less than originally estimated. Contribution income is affected by many factors which cannot be foreseen and provided for. In this respect higher unemployment is obviously a major factor.

The expected £30 million shortfall in income from contributions is partially offset by net savings on the expenditure items of the fund. In arriving at the net position a number of factors must be taken into account including the additional sums required to meet the cost of the Christmas bonus to long term recipients and the fact that equal treatment measures have not been implemented as early as expected. The most significant variations are expected to arise on the disability benefit scheme where expenditure will be about £4 million higher than provided for, on unemployment benefit where a saving of £16 million is expected and, arising from the reduced expenditure on unemployment benefit, a saving of £6.2 million is predicted on pay-related benefit.

In all, the expected net savings on the expenditure side of the Social Insurance Fund total £12 million leaving a net excess of £18 million when account is taken of the expected shortfall on contribution income of £30 million. The £18 million is offset to the extent of £3.6 million by an adjustment of an overdraw from Subhead E as at the end of 1984. In regard to the overdraw I wish to explain that final draws by the fund must be made from the Exchequer before the end of each year on an estimated basis because the actual figures of income and expenditure are not available until after the close of the year. Any overdraw or underdraw resulting is reflected in the amount payable by the Exchequer to the Social Insurance Fund in the following year.

On the social assistance side an additional £2.5 million is required under subhead G — Old Age Pensions — to meet the cost of the Christmas bonus. This is the net figure taking account of savings of £1.7 milion that would otherwise have arisen on the scheme.

[2126] In subhead L — Social Assistance and other Allowances — a further £2.7 million will be needed of which £780,000 is due to the cost of the Christmas bonus. The remainder of the excess arises in the main from increased numbers establishing entitlement to the services.

An additional £39.25 million is required under subhead I — Unemployment Assistance — due to a higher live register than had been anticipated at the start of the year. Also included is an additional £4.25 million for the Christmas bonus for the long term unemployed.

Subhead I, however cannot be looked at in isolation. Account must also be taken of the fact that there is a saving in the unemployment benefit provision under subhead E as already mentioned. Whereas provision can be made on an overall basis for any given number of unemployed, it is always very difficult to forecast the precise inter-relationship between the numbers receiving unemployment benefit and those receiving unemployment assistance. This brings about the saving of £22.2 million on unemployment benefit already referred to.

The overall additional requirement is offset by estimated savings of £9,850,000 on other subheads. This total is made up of a saving of £3,830,000 on subhead K — Miscellaneous Grants. The greater part of this saving is on the supplementary welfare allowance scheme where the take-up was not as great as that for which provision was made. A saving of £4,700,000 will arise on the family income supplement scheme where, despite extensive advertising by my Department, the number of people qualifying for supplements are fewer than had been foreseen. Smaller savings arise also on the rent allowances scheme and the Anti-Poverty Agency, the legislation for which has not yet passed all Stages.

These are, I think the main features of the Supplementary Estimate. I see the Estimate as highlighting the efforts being made by my Department to provide for the needs of those who have been caught up in the economic recession of recent years. The provision for unemployment [2127] payments is a clear indication of this — in 1985 between unemployment benefit and assistance my Department will have paid out over £632 million. We are all undoubtedly concerned at the continuing high levels of unemployment and the Government are doing their utmost in a variety of ways to alleviate the worst effects of this unfortunate situation.

It has been customary for a number of years to give a Christmas bonus payment to long term beneficiaries such as pensioners. This bonus was usually double the normal weekly rate of benefit. This year, in recognition of the needs of the long term unemployed, the Government decided to extend the Christmas bonus to cover those who had been receiving unemployment payments for 15 months or more. Because of the additional numbers involved the level of bonus was fixed at 75 per cent of the normal weekly rate. I am sure Deputies will agree that this is still a very welcome and worthwhile addition to the income of those who qualify and it will undoubtedly be especially welcomed by the long term unemployed who are receiving a Christmas bonus for the first time.

I would point out that an amount somewhat in excess of £20 million is being spent on this Christmas bonus. This accounts for the largest single part of the Supplementary Estimate. It is not quite accurate to say that there was a miscalculation of £50 million in the Estimate since the Christmas bonus has never been provided for in the main Estimate. Somewhat less than £30 million is being provided for the other items I have mentioned.

I recommend the Estimate to the House and I shall be glad to furnish Deputies with any additional explanations they may require.

Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  It is certainly a matter of great concern that the Government have had to introduce a Supplementary Estimate of this magnitude at such short notice. The amount involved — £50 million — is a huge sum by any standards. It clearly suggests that the Government [2128] in preparing their Estimates before this year's budget got their figures and projections completely wrong. If not, one has to look for a more sinister explanation, perhaps a calculated and deliberate attempt to misrepresent the facts.

When the Estimates were presented our spokesman on finance seriously questioned the validity of certain figures, particularly the projections made by this Department in respect of unemployment. The Government seemed to be quite satisfied that their sums were correct and that there would be no need for additional moneys.

An additional sum of £2.5 million is being provided for payments of old age pensions and blind non-contributory pensions. While most commentators highlight the increase in the number of young people in the population, there has also been a sizeable growth in the number of old people. I concede that it can be difficult accurately to calculate claims for this section of the community.

Between 1961 and 1981 the number of people over 65 years of age has increased by 20 per cent and estimates have been made that by 1990, or thereabouts, there will be a further increase of approximately 10 per cent; while within the overall estimated structure the percentage increase of people over 65 years is expected to diminish over the next few decades, the absolute number will increase and the biggest increase will be among the very old.

Members on this side of the House believe fervently and sincerely that it is paramount that in any socially just and caring society the cares and needs of the old in particular should be catered for. The State has an absolute obligation to ensure that old people have adequate moneys to provide for their basic needs and to allow them the privilege, honour and dignity of having some luxuries. It would be tragic if society were to reject in any way the needs of the old after spending so much time and effort to ensure that these people live to a ripe old age. It would be foolish for society to reject them in monetary terms when they attain this ripe old age. I do not have to [2129] remind the House that we should never forget that, with a bit of luck, in due course the rest of us will join the ranks of the elderly.

Let us study the statistics for this £50 million Supplementary Estimate. The additional sum needed for unemployment assistance stands out strikingly in comparison with the others. Four fifths of the total, almost £40 million, of this Supplementary Estimate are needed for payment of unemployment assistance. In other words, four fifths of this Supplementary Estimate are necessary to meet the increased payments needed to compensate those who are unemployed because of this Government's failure to provide jobs for them. Almost £1 million extra is required for deserted wife's allowance. Almost £2.5 million extra is needed for social assistance allowance for unmarried mothers. Almost £0.25 million is required for additional allowance for prisoners' wives.

The need for a considerable percentage of these additional sums is inextricably intertwined with the changes which have taken place in our society. Poverty, unrest and unhappiness in families are rampant at present. The poverty in which many families have to live creates unrest and unhappiness and is the greatest single cause of broken homes and broken marriages. One can imagine the stress, strain and turmoil which can exist in a household afflicted with the disease of unemployment where the hopes and dreams of the future are lost for most members of that family, where money is scarce and where genuine poverty exists. This is an obvious breeding ground for marital breakdown. I know of many cases that arose during the past year for which some of these moneys must be provided. Many wives are deserted because of the hopelessness and despair which have entered into the family home. Broken homes, broken families and deserted wives are becoming more and more common.

The collapse of work is a major factor in our society. Lack of work and the failure by the Government to provide it constitute an economic and social disease which can have far reaching effects. It is [2130] obligatory on any Government to produce policies and ideas to create a climate in which we can deal with this important issue. Something over a year ago this Government introduced what has become an infamous and discredited document which they called Building on Reality 1985-1987. I described it at the time as a document which could be more aptly called “Building on Unreality”.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Anything more than a passing reference to matters which have already been before the House is not in order.

Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  Certain things which relate to what we are discussing are contained in that document. In it the Government made various predictions in relation to the unemployment numbers, the problems, the cost of paying for the unemployment numbers as they existed then. They predicted that the unemployment number would be approximately 220,000 by the end of last year, that it would subsequently fall back to around 210,000 and would be reduced to around 200,000 by the end of 1987. These are the figures on which these Supplementary Estimates and the Government's budgetary strategy were based, and these figures were wrong.

They were wrong and misleading when they produced them. They are even more wrong now. Even when this Government produced these wrong and misleading figures they accepted that there was little or nothing they could or would do to deal with the problem of unemployment because they had conceded that the number would still be around 200,000 by the end of 1978. Since they came into office in December 1982, unemployment has increased from 180,000 to 230,000. In other words, 50,000 more people are roaming the streets jobless and the State must support them and their families. Hence the need for a Supplementary Estimate of the magnitude of this one and £40 million approximately of this is needed to pay for the failed economic strategy and failure to provide jobs.

[2131]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  For the record, I must point out that the business of creating jobs is a matter for another Minister.

Dr. McCArthy:  Yes, but this Department must pay for the failure to do so.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  This may be the result, but the Deputy should confine himself to what the Minister for Social Welfare is responsible for to the Dáil.

Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  I appreciate that, but unfortunately as a result of the failure of the other Minister and the Government——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  You can get at him on another occasion.

Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  ——the Department of Social Welfare must pay for it. That is why we have this £50 million figure before us today.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I must put it on the record that you are not in order.

Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  A society where the jobless total represents over 17 per cent of our population is heading for disaster. The official figure of approximately 230,000 at present unemployed is totally misleading because the Government have introduced a plethora of schemes which seem to have one purpose in mind, to keep the numbers on the live register down to the lowest possible level. On odd occasions during the past year the Government have claimed that unemployment figures seemed to be improving, but that is far from the truth. There are now approximately 38,000 people on job schemes and AnCO courses and for that reason they are not on the live register. At present there are some 19,000 people on job schemes under the aegis of the Department of Labour and a further 19,000 on AnCO training courses. If one were to add that figure of 38,000 to the figure of 230,000 one would arrive at the true number of unemployed, 270,000 or 20 per cent of the insured population. In [2132] other words, one in five in this society is officially jobless although the Government are pretending that the figure is as low as 17.2 per cent. Even that figure is an horrific indictment of Government policies.

If one were to include those on training schemes and AnCO courses the figures given understate the true position because there has not been any account in any of the figures of those who would join the work force if they thought there was any chance of getting a job. That figure is growing as married women give up the notion of ever getting a paying job. On top of that we now have the rising tide of emigration. It is a real factor in Irish life and the emigrant ship is sailing again. I should like to remind the Government that, although a person may emigrate and in so doing automatically remove himself or herself from statistics, he or she is still a very real part of the problem here. Unfortunately, the Government do not appear to have any solution to these problems.

During the past year the Department of Social Welfare and the Department of Labour introduced social employment schemes intended to take 10,000 people off the dole queue, but so far between 5,000 and 6,000 people have been taken on. It is unfortunate that that scheme is confined to those over 25 years of age. In fairness to the young people who have left school and see little hope of finding a job, the Minister should consider lowering the age qualification. The scheme was launched in February but did not commence until early summer. While I accept that it has accommodated some social needs and created some environmental improvements, particularly in rural Ireland, the scheme does not provide any long term solution to the problem. Those taken into the scheme will be employed for about 12 months and, when the year has expired, they will once again have to join the dole queue, that whole league of hopelessness which is our unemployment problem.

The Government have had ample time to face up to the problems of the less privileged sections of our society, the old, [2133] the sick, the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, but they have shown scant regard for the needs of that section of the community. Prior to the last general election Fine Gael and Labour unequivocally promised to produce a social policy which would ensure that the living standards of all those on social welfare would be maintained at least in line with increasing cost of living. They stated clearly that social welfare recipients would be looked after and cared for. That was the promise of the so-called social partners of Fine Gael and Labour when in Government.

Unfortunately, this uncaring and inhuman Government have reneged on those promises. They have turned their backs on those who supported them and implemented policies which have seriously eroded the standard of living of the less well off sections of our community, people who deserve to be treated better. That section of the community have been treated with contempt and disdain by this unscrupulous and uncaring Government. The Coalition have failed to deliver on any promise they made in the general election. Those promises were made with great aplomb. For example, in this season of Christmas the Minister for Social Welfare announced that there would be a 75 per cent bonus this year for old age pensioners, the chronically ill and the long term unemployed. Last Friday those people received their payments and, instead of getting a welcome Christmas present, they received a reduction of 25 per cent compared with last year's bonus.

The Minister, in his well recognised inimitable and flamboyant style, failed to inform the public that the bonus was 75 per cent of the amount given last year. For years Fianna Fáil gave a double payment at Christmas to old age pensioners, widows, the chronically ill and the disabled. This year those people have suffered a loss of approximately £12 in their Christmas payment. I should like to remind the Minister that we did not read that announcement in any newspaper. Those recipients were deprived of £12 and that was carefully concealed. Many of those people protested to us last week. That money was badly needed by them [2134] to give them a little extra luxury at Christmas. The amount may seem a pittance to the Minister but it is a lot of money to a section of our community who deserve to be treated better. I implore the Minister to accede to my request to give a genuine double payment to those people. I have no doubt that if he can be so generous, many old age pensioners, widows, the chronically ill and disabled will have a happier time over Christmas.

During the year the legislation on the European Equality Directive was introduced with aplomb into this House and subsequently passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. Before the summer recess the Minister claimed that 40,000 women would benefit as a result of that directive giving the same rights to them as to men, particularly with regard to social welfare. He promised that the legislation would be implemented by the end of the summer, or certainly in the autumn, but as time passes there are no indications of the date of implementation. I wonder if he has the political will to introduce it, or if this legislation has been permanently shelved. I believe he is afraid of some of the political implications involved from reduced payments to dependants of husbands, thereby increasing the unpopularity of the Government with the electorate. They do not want to face up to these consequences. As the main Opposition party spokesman, I pointed out at the time of its introduction that there were means by which the Minister could ensure that there would be no suffering, hardship or loss of money for any family with regard to social welfare payments. The Minister failed to take cognisance of that advice and he is now left with legislation which he is afraid to bring before the people.

What is happening with regard to the child benefit scheme about which we heard so much in the Building on Reality document? Like the tax credits scheme, the child benefit scheme is supposed to be having major operational difficulties and for that reason its implementation will be delayed. I presume it has been put into the distant future and may not be [2135] introduced in the lifetime of this Government. It is quite clear that this Government are not interested in the family unit. They ignored the matter of children's allowances when making their budgetary increases. I do not have to tell anybody in this House that that allowance has become an extra payment, particularly for the mothers of families, to be put aside to buy extras for the children. It was not an unreasonable expectation that those allowances should be kept in line with inflation, but the Minister and the Government chose not to do this. That was a cruel and callous decision. The electorate will not forgive a Government who ignore the family as the present Government have done.

Building on Reality mentioned three major items with regard to social welfare: first, that a new child benefit scheme would be introduced in 1986 to rationalise the structure of child support payments and give particular help to families of low paid workers; secondly, the European equality directive on equal treatment between men and women in matters of social security was to be implemented in 1985; and the third big item was the publishing of a framework for a national income related pension plan dealing, in particular, with pensions for the self-employed. I do not have to tell the House that of those three items not one has been implemented, or seems likely to be implemented in the foreseeable future. Any party or Government producing a programme such as that, resulting in a 100 per cent failure rate on implementation, would have only one avenue open to them, to get out before they were put out by the people and I do not believe that that day is too far away.

Mr. McGahon: Information on Brendan McGahon  Zoom on Brendan McGahon  Two years.

Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  Another item was the family income supplement on which a commitment was given last year by this Government. It was supposed to alleviate the suffering caused by the withdrawal of 50 per cent of the food subsidies. I am glad Deputy Bell is present because he [2136] had terrible problems in that regard and wrestled with his conscience to such an extent that he almost contorted himself. However, he was extremely pleased when the family income supplement was introduced, to be backdated a month or so. He was absolutely satisfied that 30,000 families would benefit enormously from this scheme. That would satisfy his conscience, clear his mind and give him no problem in dealing with the poor people of Louth.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Information on Michael O'Kennedy  Zoom on Michael O'Kennedy  He won the battle. His conscience came up second best.

Mr. McGahon: Information on Brendan McGahon  Zoom on Brendan McGahon  He was not put out for that, either.

Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  If you have an easily satisfied conscience it will not be difficult to satisfy it even on such a major issue as this.

Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell  Zoom on Michael Bell  It is a good job that some of us have consciences.

Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  Of the 30,000 families Deputy Bell was convinced would benefit, only between 7,000 and 8,000 have taken up the scheme and they got an average of £7 a week. Even the Minister would have to concede that, if only one-fifth of those whom he claimed would take up the scheme did so, the scheme was a total failure.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Information on Michael O'Kennedy  Zoom on Michael O'Kennedy  Hear, hear.

Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  This and other Departments have had such a litany of failures that if one tries to think of one success one cannot find it. The poverty and deprivation created by unemployment and failed Government policies have opened the way for social injustices of a hitherto unknown quantity. Only last week RTE had two successive programmes on the topic of illegal money lending. These programmes showed that this was rampant and that poor families on low social welfare payments, without jobs, without hope and without creditworthiness in the banking institutions had to resort for their [2137] essential family needs to borrowing from the financial vultures, the legal and illegal money lenders in most of our towns who charge exorbitant and illegal lending rates.

Proinsias De Rossa: Information on Prionsias De Rossa  Zoom on Prionsias De Rossa  On a point of order, could I ask how much time is left in this debate?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  I was going to interrupt when the next speaker offered. This debate must conclude at 12.30 p.m. and I have the following list of Deputies offering: Deputies Bell, O'Kennedy, Dowling and De Rossa. That means there are four offering and there are 40 minutes left. I would appeal to all concerned to bear in mind the time of conclusion.

Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell  Zoom on Michael Bell  The way the present speaker is going on, nobody will get in to speak. He rambles on.

Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  This illegal money lending with exorbitant interest rates is rampant throughout the country and the Government have promoted this by creating such poverty. They should be ashamed of their record. They should be ashamed of themselves for the poverty they have created and the social injustices which have arisen as a result of that poverty. This Government have had an appalling and unholy propensity for deception which has been well promoted and projected by those well known confidence tricksters known as the national handlers. I believe they would go to any extent to absolve them from their sins against the public at large. But, at the end of the day, the failures of this Government mean that the ordinary man and woman in the street will have to pay the piper. This Government are leading the country into national and international financial disaster. They are consumed with one single purpose, that being a sort of basic or animalistic instinct of self-preservation.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  I would ask the Deputy to return to the Estimate.

[2138]Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  It all relates to the policies that have produced the problem obtaining and which led to this Supplementary Estimates having to be introduced in an emergency. This Supplementary Estimate had to be introduced with amazing suddeness resulting from miscalculations or from a manipulation of figures which were not true. Were it not for the fact that we agreed to take this Supplementary Estimate today — the coffers of the Department of Social Welfare being dry — the public would not receive their cheques for employment, disability, invalidity benefit, all of which would not be paid this week. Obviously, therefore, we had to facilitate them in that respect because we should not like to see that section of the community deprived of the moneys they so badly need.

The Government are composed of an amalgam of political hypocrites who, as it were, flatter to deceive and whose deceptions have now begun to catch up with them in a big way. Sooner rather than later the electorate will drive them into permanent political oblivion. I am glad to see that Deputy McGahon is in such good form. The Christmas spirit must be making him feel happy because his political feelings could not make him so. However, I will leave that to him to sort out.

Mr. McGahon: Information on Brendan McGahon  Zoom on Brendan McGahon  I am enjoying the fairytales.

Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  In the meantime I can assure the House that we will oppose all these crazy policies which have been leading us on a programme for disaster. I have no doubt that Fianna Fáil will rise like a Phoenix from their last political defeat by the electorate achieved solely by deceptions and false promises. I have no doubt that this Government, the Minister, all his cohorts and friends will disappear like Halley's Comet into perceptible astrological non-existence and will not be found again for many decades to come.

Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell  Zoom on Michael Bell  The Chair will excuse me for laughing but that was one of the funniest [2139] contributions I have heard in a long time. To talk on a Supplementary Estimate for three-quarters of an hour without referring to it at all really took some doing. I suggest that the best thing the Deputy could do is send for Senator Martin O'Donogue because he was the guy who promised to eliminate unemployment completely in a period of four years.

Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  We will get Deputy Seán Treacy to advise the Deputy and his Leader.

Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell  Zoom on Michael Bell  It is a pity that this Supplementary Estimate has been introduced without giving us more notice. I am sure the Department of Social Welfare must have known it was necessary and it is important that we should be given a little more notice. I knew nothing about it until I came into the House this morning.

This Supplementary Estimate and the debate on it are important because they highlight a number of areas warranting explanation. For example, I do not see any reference to the free fuel scheme. Perhaps it is included in the miscellaneous section. I do not know what is the position of other Deputies but in my county there are many problems with regard to the free fuel scheme and there is much waste as well. There are four or five different agencies dealing with the administration of the scheme and different interpretations as to how it should be done.

There have been many references to savings in the Minister's document. I assume that part of those savings have been affected through the free fuel scheme. Perhaps the Minister could give us some information on that. If that is the case, I assume such savings have been affected by the confusion occurring in the administration of the scheme itself. For example, vouchers are being distributed at unemployment exchanges forming part of one scheme being operated by the local authority and administered by community welfare officers. There does not appear to be any set or standard procedure for the application of the rules [2140] or regulations of the scheme. Some people who have been on disability benefit for the last two years are receiving free fuel this year while others who have been on disability benefit for the last ten years cannot get it simply because they did not get it last year. I should like to know what the Minister has to say in relation to that matter. Not alone would one save money but the scheme would be rendered much more efficient if we had one central way of administering it. I would plead that its administration be removed from community welfare officers because, as far as I can see, they operate under different rules and regulations. Each one can interpret the regulations in his own particular, peculiar way.

I am not too clear either how the rent allowance scheme operates. For example, some community welfare officers will allow rent allowance where they believe there is hardship while others, in exactly the same circumstances, will refuse to do so. Again there does not appear to be any standard set of rules governing the operation of the rent allowance scheme. Some people believe they should have the whole of their rent paid. Others receive a supplement of £5. Some community welfare officers will tell you, “Well, if the Minister agrees, we can pay more than £5”. Certainly I am not too clear on how it operates.

With reference to the payment of benefits within the Department of Social Welfare the facilities available to recipients or applicants are inadequate. It must be remembered that the number of people drawing social welfare benefit has quadrupled in a short space of time. The net result is that the facilities available four, five or ten years ago remain the same. Certainly in my constituency no improvement has been effected in the facilities available other than spreading the payments over a longer period of time. They are now paying out on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and instead of having one long queue we now have four or five long queues. I am sure that Deputy McGahon will confirm that the same applies in Dundalk. No capital [2141] sums are being provided by the Department of Social Welfare for the purpose of improving the facilities.

Social welfare payments are now being made by community welfare officers. I do not see why they should be responsible for these payments. People are refused payments of unemployment assistance or disability allowance in the employment exchange and then sent to the other side of the town to be paid by the community welfare officer. Community welfare officers are not equipped to deal with this and there are now bigger queues outside the health centres than outside employment exchanges. It is a duplication of work costing millions to administer. I brought this to the attention of various Ministers for Social Welfare over the last number of years but my pleas have fallen on deaf ears. The Department of Social Welfare are making no efforts to streamline the system.

As a member of the Labour Party I welcome the Christmas bonus. Naturally I would have preferred it to be 100 per cent not alone for those who enjoyed it in former years but also for those who are eligible this year. It is the lesser of two evils; it is adding an additional £1 million to last year's payments. We must take into consideration that the long term unemployed are those who have suffered most and we support our colleagues on the Opposition benches who have asked for a 100 per cent bonus next year. However, I was amused to hear the Minister talk about paying the bonus before Christmas as the money was paid out last week——

Mr. O'Kennedy: Information on Michael O'Kennedy  Zoom on Michael O'Kennedy  We are talking about tragedy, not comedy.

Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell  Zoom on Michael Bell  Perhaps if savings can be made within the system next year the Minister will be able to pay the full bonus. One of the reasons for the substantial over-run is that you cannot budget for a Christmas bonus unless you decide at budget time that you will pay such a bonus. No Governments, including [2142] Fianna Fáil Governments, who paid the Christmas bonus ever budgeted for it when preparing the Estimates.

I should like an explanation of the over-run of £39,250,000 on unemployment assistance. I can understand over-runs under other headings but this is hard to understand because unemployment assistance is normally paid to those who come off unemployment benefit and, therefore, it should be possible to estimate accurately the number involved. People do not go from disability benefit to unemployment assistance and that is why it should be possible to estimate the numbers accurately.

I should also like the Minister to explain the miscellaneous grants. As Deputy McCarthy said, I welcomed the family income supplement but I did not accept it in exchange for the elimination of food subsidies. However, I am naturally disappointed that many people who are entitled to this benefit have not applied for it.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Information on Michael O'Kennedy  Zoom on Michael O'Kennedy  The only difference is that we are not propping up the Government as the Deputy's party are.

Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell  Zoom on Michael Bell  I know that Deputy De Rossa will have something positive to say in that regard. Deputy McCarthy referred to the social employment scheme which has been a success. Of course it is not an exchange for full time employment but it is a help. One of the biggest problems in regard to that scheme is that if married men with children benefit from it they will lose money and it would be a great help to the Departments of Social Welfare, Labour and Environment if that anomaly could be rectified.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Information on Michael O'Kennedy  Zoom on Michael O'Kennedy  We are discussing a symptom of the great malaise spreading like a virus throughout the country. We are talking about a sum of £50 million over and above what the Government projected at the beginning of the year. We are really talking about countless thousands of husbands, wives and children who are affected daily by the appalling levels of unemployment and the [2143] inadequate provision which we are making for them. We must all recognise that the terrifying reality is that husbands have lost their dignity. They are ashamed to walk on the streets because they have lost their jobs after 30 or 40 years. There are wives living with depression day in and day out because their husbands are forced to stay at home, pretending to be supporters of their families, men who contributed for so long not just to the support of their own families but also to the well being of the community. We see children affected by the inevitable tension which arises from this terrible problem. It is time that we looked at these people and provided them with what they need to maintain their dignity.

Ireland has the worst economic conditions of any democratic country in the world, and I am including poor member states — Greece and parts of Italy. Conditions here could be so much better because we have magnificant native resources. It is a great tragedy that this morning we have to support this Supplementary Estimate, if only to ensure that the level at which these people are forced to live will be maintained. If we did not support this Supplementary Estimate we would deprive them of that prop, which is already totally inadequate. We can talk all we want about crime, tensions and lack of respect for politicians, but until such time as we generate opportunities to tackle this awful problem, we will deserve this lack of respect.

We should do what we promise for at least one year. In the document Building on Reality, there is a graph which says that at this time of the year we would have an estimated 110,000 unemployed. Even within the first year this document had been proved to be a document of illusion because already the actual figures are way above the projected figures. In a written reply last January I was told by the Minister for Finance that the budget projections would be adhered to, unlike other Governments, and that they were providing for unemployment averaging 210,000. The Government were determined to prove that they would adhere [2144] to their projections this year but within months it has been proved that this document is but an illusion. On page 26 we were told that we had reached a peak of 220,000 at the end of 1984 and that figure would fall back to 210,000 or near the April 1984 level. This is the document which is the basis for the new economic reality, but the peak they spoke about has been exceeded.

Throughout the year we had an average of 230,000 on the live register. I will not repeat what Deputy McCarthy said, that the figures would be much higher were it not for emigration and the schemes which do nothing to restore dignity to our unemployed. The document went on to say that this will mean — not might mean or should mean — that between the end of this year and April 1987 employment creation will have absorbed the whole of the labour force increase and achieved the start of a reduction in unemployment. It is very clear that it means no such thing. This is the clearest demonstration that this document should be jettisoned and acknowledged as a fantasy. Compare what we are doing today with what the Minister for Finance told me at the beginning of this year. Compare what we are doing today with what the Minister for Social Welfare said at all times.

At the beginning of this year I met the financial editors of our newspapers and said that the projections in the document, Building On Reality, particularly relating to unemployment, were totally illusory and that there would be a budget overrun in this area. I put a modest estimate of £30 million on that figure but now the overrun is £50 million. In my wildest dreams I did not think it would ever reach that figure.

I agree with Deputy Bell that the manner in which this is being introduced is totally unacceptable. Three weeks ago the Minister said we would need a Supplementary Estimate to meet the needs of the unemployed. I did not know until I came here this morning that we were being asked to sanction this Supplementary Estimate. This is totally unacceptable from a Government who said that [2145] henceforth the business of this House would be conducted on the basis that what was provided for in the Estimate would be adhered to. They said we would have ample time to discuss normal Estimates, which we have not yet discussed, and they said — I want to emphasise this — that there would not be Supplementary Estimates. The Minister for Finance said at the beginning of the year that they would not introduce Supplementary Estimates, which had been part and parcel of previous administrations, because public expenditure was being organised in such a way as to ensure that they would not be required. We were told recently that spending was under control. What do these words mean? This is the greatest example of spending being totally out of control.

Apparently the Minister for Defence is chairman of the committee in Cabinet supervising spending. It is no wonder these figures bear no relationship to reality. Why have the Government said they will not introduce Supplementary Estimates when today we are discussing one of the biggest Supplementary Estimates we have seen in generations? What we are doing today is making a token contribution to what is a gnawing misery in our society. We are abrogating our responsibility and passing the burden to the voluntary organisations. We all know that were it not for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the other voluntary organisations, the people we are pretending to help, particularly those on unemployment assistance, could not possibly survive with dignity. However, even they are in no way capable of coping with this appalling misery that is a characteristic of our society today. Much as we admire these organisations, we should not have to depend on them to look after the old, the sick, and the unemployed. That is our job.

There has been an increase in the numbers obtaining unemployment assistance. In normal times people could hope to obtain employment after six months on unemployment benefit but that hope does not exist any longer. Most people are now in a state of permanent unemployment, [2146] unfortunately relying on a totally inadequate level of unemployment assistance. That is an indictment of the Government.

This day will be remembered as the day we erected a monument to the failures of the Government. The Minister present in the House is responsible only for his Department but the responsibility and the blame must be placed on the Government as a whole. To Deputy Bell I say that no Deputy here has a more moral conscience than anybody else. I know the Deputy is concerned but it is time he considered how long more he will prop up a Government who have proved totally and utterly inadequate to meet the problems of many thousands of our people.

Mr. Dowling: Information on Richard Dowling  Zoom on Richard Dowling  I regret very much that the Government have been put into the position where they have to introduce Supplementary Estimates at this time of the year. To some extent it reflects on our ability to budget properly for a full year. It has proved difficult not just this year but in many other years. It has also been a problem for the Opposition when they were in Government.

Reference was made as to the reasons for introducing this Supplementary Estimate and the high level of unemployment. That high level of unemployment is a reflection on every politician. We must ask ourselves what are the reasons and how we can pull ourselves out of the morass. This year total income tax receipts will be of the order of £2,500 million and that amount plus another £300 million will go to pay interest and repayments on foreign borrowings. They mainly arose in the years from 1977 to 1981——

Mr. O'Kennedy: Information on Michael O'Kennedy  Zoom on Michael O'Kennedy  We are not dealing with foreign borrowing now. That can be dealt with on another day.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  The Deputy had an opportunity to speak. Deputy Dowling should be allowed to continue without interruption.

[2147]Mr. Dowling: Information on Richard Dowling  Zoom on Richard Dowling  Having regard to the present position it will be exceedingly difficult for us to attack the high unemployment rate. VAT returns for the current year will be in the region of £1,450 million which is more or less the total expenditure on social welfare. I sometimes question what return we are getting for that expenditure. Many people have put forward good suggestions as to how to use the money more effectively. In the past three or four years there have been many excellent schemes in respect of social welfare payments. Unless we address ourselves to the major problem of tackling unemployment we will have failed. It is a crime of major proportion and it is a shame on all of us.

I welcome the payment to long term unemployed people although perhaps it does not go as far as we would have liked. They were the forgotten people in our society but now they will have an opportunity, through the various schemes, to get back into employment even if only for a short time. To some extent, it will help to restore their dignity. I regret that it was necessary to have this Supplementary Estimate but I support what the Government are doing.

Proinsias De Rossa: Information on Prionsias De Rossa  Zoom on Prionsias De Rossa  In the few minutes available to me I wish to convey my utter disgust at the attempts of this Minister and the Government to put across that this Supplementary Estimate of £50 million is being used to improve the conditions of those people on social welfare. In his speech the Minister indicated he was looking for an increase of £X million because of the 75 per cent bonus for certain categories on social welfare. He did not state that the cost of providing this 75 per cent Christmas bonus is £21 million as against a cost last year of £20 million. There is no real increased expenditure by this Government on the Christmas bonus: in real terms, there is a reduction.

The operation of the Christmas bonus this year means that the poor who are already on social welfare are being asked to assist others who are also on social [2148] welfare. It is a disgraceful and a disgusting approach to dealing with the poverty that exists in our society. Over one million people in our country are estimated to live below the poverty line and today the Government introduced a Supplementary Estimate of £50 million which we are told will improve the conditions of people on social welfare. In fact, it is simply a cover up for a wrong estimation at the beginning of the year of the level of unemployment that would exist at this time of the year.

In the past year the Society of St. Vincent de Paul have had to make a special appeal for aid because of the huge demand on their funds. Yet, in the Minister's speech today there is a statement that they have saved £3.4 million in the supplementary social welfare allowance provision in respect of a scheme intended to assist people who are at the very bottom of the pile in terms of poverty. I do not have the time to express my utter disgust at the approach of this Government towards the poor and the deprived. It is nonsensical for Deputies such as Deputy Bell to come here and whinge about this and that while saying that it is impossible to pay the additional 25 per cent of the bonus between now and Christmas. The real problem is that the Government have failed to get involved directly in job creation. They have not used our resources to assist those who are at the bottom of the pile in our society.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  Perhaps Deputy De Rossa does not understand the position. If we vote against the Supplementary Estimate people in most need could not be paid until Tuesday, when it is agreed the division would be taken.

Proinsias De Rossa: Information on Prionsias De Rossa  Zoom on Prionsias De Rossa  I appreciate that, but I want to express my disgust at what is going on.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I fully support the Deputy on what is going on.

Mr. Calleary: Information on Seán Calleary  Zoom on Seán Calleary  One and a half hours for a[2149] a Supplementary Estimate of this importance is far too short — it is nothing short of a disgrace.

Vote put and declared carried.

Proinsias De Rossa: Information on Prionsias De Rossa  Zoom on Prionsias De Rossa  May I request that my dissent be recorded in the report?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  There is no procedure for that.


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