Social Welfare Bill, 1990: Report and Final Stages.

Friday, 30 March 1990

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 397 No. 8

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An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Since there are no amendments on Report Stage we proceed to Fifth Stage in accordance with Standing Orders.

Minister for Social Welfare (Dr. Woods): Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  I move: “That the Bill do now pass”. This is a particularly important Bill as it is the largest one of its kind since 1952, excluding a consolidation Bill in the meantime. It is very important because it provides for an increase in the general rate of 5 per cent in social welfare payments from July next. It also provides for an 11 per cent rate for 16 different groups of people and it will, therefore, target very great resources to those depending on social welfare. The resources in a full year amount to £216 million.

The Bill also provides for a number of very valuable improvements in the whole social welfare system, one being the extension of the child dependant allowance to the age of 20 for certain long-term social welfare recipients where their child is still in full-time education. This is an important improvement for those dependent on long-term social welfare payments.

The Bill also provides for the exemption of low paid workers from PRSI and a major new lone parent's allowance scheme. I agreed on Committee Stage in relation to that scheme that I “shall”[2000] bring in regulations — there was an argument about whether the word “may” should be used — as soon as possible. This will be a very important development.

The new carer's allowance is another very important aspect of the Bill and, following the passage of the Bill through the House, I now have power to include certain people in receipt of disabled person's maintenance allowance who need full-time care and attention. The House agreed to an amendment in this respect which is a very welcome development.

There are a number of smaller items in the Bill which are also of great importance, including means tests improvements under which income from the sale of a pensioner's home will not be assessed as means for an old age pension in certain circumstances. This will be of great benefit to old age pensioners who wish to sell their homes and use the proceeds to supplement their incomes to move into sheltered accommodation or a smaller home. Up to this, that income would have reduced the social welfare payments and would have made it less likely for them to take the step of selling their home and using the income.

There have also been improvements in the means test for income received by mná tí in Gaeltacht areas in respect of students they keep in the summer; payments from this source will not be included as means. Apart from the major benefits in the Bill there are quite a number of smaller ones. The Bill, in conjunction with the budget, will have a major impact on those who depend on social welfare and who benefit from it.

There were a number of other amendments, including those in relation to invalidity pensioners who transferred to retirement pensions. They will now retain their entitlement to the extra benefits even though they have transferred from invalidity pension to retirement pension.

Another feature of the Bill is that a companion will be allowed to travel free with a recipient of disabled person's maintenance allowance. That will be particularly useful to handicapped [2001] people, especially the mentally handicapped. I emphasise that this Bill will have a major impact because it brings very substantial improvements in social welfare payments and is very much in line with the agreements made with the social partners under the Programme for National Recovery. It will greatly benefit people who depend on social welfare payments. The discussions on Second Stage and Committee Stage were very worthwhile and far-reaching. The spokes-persons for the Opposition parties gave the Bill a thorough airing and examination, especially on Committee Stage. During the course of the debate on this Bill we had the opportunity to talk about the facilities provided and the arrangements made. We pin-pointed deficiencies and weaknesses and areas where further improvements could be made in future. I will bear in mind the view expressed by Opposition Deputies and by Members on this side of the House in relation to further improvements which would be very valuable in future.

The Bill takes effect from the beginning of April in some aspects, although the major impact will be from July and one provision comes into operation in October. I thank Deputies for throughly debating the Bill which will have a major impact in the area of social welfare. In a full year the sum involved is £216 million which represents the largest sum ever devoted to this area by any Government.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Before calling Deputy Flaherty, I wish to advise the House that debate on Fifth Stage is limited and, and under Standing Orders, is confined to the provisions of the Bill.

Miss Flaherty: Information on Mary Flaherty  Zoom on Mary Flaherty  I will do my best to confine myself to the provisions of the Bill, although it will not be easy. I wish to thank the Minister for his development of the social welfare system during his years in office. Perhaps he does not act in the most auspicious context as he is a member of one of the most conservative Governments over the last decade. I know he fights a difficulty battle and he has often referred to the difficulties [2002] involved when there is a limited budget. Within the constraints under which he operates he has done what he can and there are welcome improvements in the Bill. The Minister has made concessions and I particularly thank him for accepting the proposals in relation to the DPMA inclusion and the carer's allowance. I regret that he did not take on board the appeals system. It will have to be debated in the future.

I also welcome improvement in relation to means testing although I would have liked him to have gone further in relation to the free electricity allowance which is confined to those over 80 years of age. That is unduly restrictive and should have come down to at least 75 or 70 years of age when most people suffer a certain amount of immobility. We discussed yesterday the changing pattern in this area and I am sure that is something we will be coming back to in many different contexts.

We on this side of the House have a fundamental objection to Part II of this Bill. The Minister for Finance in the budget gave a package of moneys in the context of social welfare and tax reform but only less than one quarter of it went to the social welfare area. In this area there are many poor people by virtue of the cutbacks. Those who are dependent, unemployed and ill and also their families have borne the brunt of the cutbacks of the last decade. During that time the problem has been ongoing but it has got worse in the last two years.

As the Government indicated, we are now coming into a period of growth. Of the moneys reallocated in this budget, insufficient was given to tackle the problem in the social welfare area. We do not believe the relative position of many poor people will be substantially changed as a result of Part II of this Bill, which is the heart of the Bill. All studies show that to give cash benefits to people is perhaps the most direct way to assist them, particularly in the context of the times in which we live. I do not have a clear picture of the extent of unemployment in the forties and fifties or whether it was as great as it is now; but despite our best efforts it will [2003] be with us for another decade. In that context Part II of this Bill is an inadequate response to a group of people in society who, through no fault of their own, have great needs. There was an onus on the Government to act more generously in the gross package they put together for social welfare recipients, in the context of the total give-away in the budget.

We welcome the reforms in Part III of the Bill in regard to lone parent's allowance. I congratulate the Minister on his steady progress in this area. On the carer's allowance, in Part IV and V of the Bill, I have more mixed feelings. Again, it is the Government rather than the Minister that should be taken to task here because it is arguable whether this matter is the responsibility of the Department of Social Welfare. The Minister went a good distance in the establishment of the carer's allowance and the extension of the categories who could qualify. He accepted amendments which were initially suggested on this side of the House and that is to be welcomed.

The rigid means testing in Part IV of the Bill is the single most problematic feature of the carer's allowance. Its application is limited so extensively that there will be a great deal of disappointment. By its introduction the Government are acknowledging the unpaid, valuable, human and socially desirable contribution of people, largely women but sometimes men, who provide care in their homes for people who would otherwise have to be institutionalised. The Minister could have gone further in regard to carer's allowance, but I know he said he will look at it again. That is a budgetary matter and maybe one on which we can look forward to seeing some progress.

In the context of the level of unemployment, if we can acknowledge the unpaid work by providing a benefit and in that process free up employment for other people, there would be a double advantage. It would be in effect a sharing of work and the cost to the State would not be great. It is clear that, if we are to provide employment in greater numbers [2004] than in the past, one thing we will have to do is acknowledge the work, much of which is in the female area, which has been taken for granted to date. It is only when you replace a woman in the home that you fully begin to appreciate the economic value of what they do. We are not happy with the response to this whole matter. As I have said, the Government are more to blame than the Minister. The Minister has taken substantial intitiatives and we welcome them. I hope he will, as he said on Second and Committee Stages, use the powers he has given himself in relation to means testing.

Part V of the Bill regarding appeals is to be welcomed. It is a very minimal move in the direction of creating a sufficiently independent body. I am particularly disappointed the Minister did not take on board our amendments in this regard, but perhaps when this Bill goes through Committee Stage in the Seanad our colleagues there might manage to convince him to move a little further in this area. Certainly there are many people in the Seanad, both in the parties and on the Independent benches, who have particular knowledge in this field and have a very close relationship with those most affected by the appeals system. There was great disagreement here yesterday about the role of Deputies and whether it should be written into Bills. I hope that debate will be carried further in the Seanad. It would be very desirable for people to have rights as laid down in legislation rather than be at the mercy of the intercession of their local TD via the Minister. In saying that I am not making a narrow party political point.

Part VI of the Bill deals with the integration of two major funds. That matter was hardly debated in this House and again I hope there will be an opportunity to develop it further in the Seanad. Perhaps the fact that there is more representation from industry in that House will make that possible. I will not keep the House too long, but I just want to refer to the miscellaneous section of the Bill. As I have said, there are some improvements in means testing which we welcome; but there are many more which [2005] we would like to have seen, particularly the overall earnings disregard. A change in that area would have been highly desirable. The position regarding unemployment, the difficulty for people in getting out of unemployment, part-time work and so on, could have been improved.

Supplementary incomes are vital and would be of immense help in reducing the poverty numbers — something on which we have disagreed at great length. That would be possible if there was greater flexibility for people to work without being penalised for every pound they earn.

With the extent of unemployment in this country, many people have been marked for life and it would be very difficult to improve that position without extra flexibility in our system. We were most disappointed to see no progress in this area. The Minister has indicated that although it was not possible for him to respond to disability benefit and unemployment benefit recipients in a formal way, he will look at what he can do for them within the powers available to him.

I ask the Minister to raise the age for dependant allowance to 19 years for the children of people in these categories. I know some people in this category are on high incomes, but for those who are not, it is heartless to cut off the dependant allowance when the child reaches 18 years. This has a very dramatic and negative effect on a family in receipt of unemployment benefit and suffering from the effects of unemployment or on disability and suffering from the medium or long-term effects of illness. These are factors beyond their control and we should try to assist them. Perhaps the Minister can reflect on this over the weekend. If we extend the age limit for entitlement to dependent allowance, these children can finish their second level education without having this support cut off from the family. I know that if we extend the age limit the allowance will be paid to some families who do not need it, but there are sufficient numbers in the category who really need it to make it [2006] worth while until such time as the whole system is reformed.

The exemption of earnings below £60 in any week from PRSI is the wrong way to go about reforming the PRSI system. It leaves a great many people on low pay within the tax net. While I welcome the improvements in the social welfare schemes, they are inadequate. While we commend the Minister for his efforts in improving the system during his three years in the Department and note that significant progress has been made, we will oppose this Stage for the reasons I have outlined.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I understand that we are now dealing with the Bill as a whole and that we are free to comment on each section.

I join with Deputy Flaherty in commending the Minister on the debate. While we may not have changed the Bill fundamentally by amendment, it is agreed that the teasing out process has given us a better understanding of what the Minister has been endeavouring to do. We are now in a better position to explain the social welfare system.

Section 4 gives the dates when the increases will come into effect. We would have liked the increases to take effect from an earlier date, but the Minister explained the cost factor involved and said it would cost £46 million to do so. I think the Minister has taken on board that our concern about dates is an indication of the extent people are depending on social welfare; any changes in social welfare significantly touch the lives of 1.5 million people. This is an indication of the importance of the Department to people in poverty. I want to record my dissatisfaction with the dates, but I have to accept that they cannot be changed.

Section 7 lays down the ceilings for PRSI contributions from both employers and employees. I suggested that the Minister raise the ceiling, but he almost shuddered when he realised that removing the ceiling would increase his income. He also did not have an estimate of the amount that would flow to the State coffers if he took this action. The only reason [2007] I suggested raising the PRSI ceiling was to make more money available for distribution to people in need, which is the whole concept of social welfare.

Section 9 exempts employees earning less than £60 per week from PRSI payments. I think that income level is too low, but at least a threshold has been set to exempt people from PRSI payments. The difficulty about setting low limits is that this tends to lock people into the low income category. This has happened in other areas. This is a reforming step which we must welcome. I would have liked this exemption from PRSI to be applied to employers.

Section 12 is one of the central reforming sections. We compliment the Minister on removing some of the stigma from one parent families. We are still concerned, however, about the restrictive means test. We welcome the fact that this puts people into one category and applies one set of criteria to them.

Section 15 refers to maintenance of spouses. There was general agreement that the State is justified in seeking retribution from the spouse who has absconded and the Minister confirmed that he will be extending his remit outside this jurisdiction with the co-operation of social welfare agencies in other countries. In the past if people shirked their responsibilities to their families and went to Britain it was impossible to get court orders against them. This is a weakness in the existing system of means testing people for deserted wife's allowance. The Minister has liberalised the section somewhat in that the State will make the effort to track down the relative and make him liable to support his family. We wish the Minister luck in this regard. Unfortunately the number of deserted spouses is increasing by the day.

We have debated Chapter 5 at length and it would be inappropriate at this stage to go into it again.

The new carer's allowance is an innovative feature and the Minister reckons that the numbers eligible will be 8,000, an increase from the 2,000 who qualify for the prescribed relative's allowance. [2008] However, the Minister admitted that not all 8,000 people will qualify for the maximum amount. We found that the spouses of social welfare recipients will benefit from this extension. Many thousands are caring for their old incapacitated relatives at home and for that reason this allowance is welcome. One has only to look at the Schedule to see all the categories who will benefit.

If one looks at the list of categories involved one will see that the increase for an adult dependant, where payable, will be £31. I accept that in exceptional cases the increase will be higher, and there will be exceptions. Those categories will get little benefit under the scheme but the usual adult dependant spouses, if they opt out of being adult dependants of their husbands and into the carer's allowance scheme, will gain in the region of £14 per week. The Minister is extending what was the restricted prescribed relative allowance and that is welcome. The increase is limited but it is a benefit. Any increase in a benefit to a home is welcome, particularly for those who are in the social welfare categories.

Miss Flaherty: Information on Mary Flaherty  Zoom on Mary Flaherty  It is regrettable that throughout the debate on this important Bill we have had so few Members present in the Chamber. We should have more Members present for the processing of a major Bill through the House.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I should like to make it clear that I did not call for a quorum.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. V. Brady): Information on Vincent Brady  Zoom on Vincent Brady  I should like to thank the Deputy.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I accept that the amount of time for the debate on the Bill is limited and I am anxious to ensure that Deputy Byrne gets an opportuntiy to contribute. I am anxious to draw attention to the response of the Minister to the debate on Committee Stage. There is no doubt that [2009] I would have been happier if the amount of the allowance was greater but the Minister has introduced improvements and we should welcome them. On Committee Stage the Minister included those in recept of disabled person's maintenance allowance in the carer's allowance scheme and that too is welcomed. His amendment stated:

.... or who is in receipt of a prescribed payment under section 69 of the Health Act, 1970; I welcome the Minister's decision to include recipients in that category. The Minister has indicated that he intends in the regulations to indicate the categories of DPMA recipients who will benefit under the new scheme. I have no doubt that those in receipt of that allowance will benefit under the provision which extends free travel to those who accompany those who qualify for free travel. That decision is welcome.

Late last night I received telephone calls from recipients of DPMA who were anxious to know if the person accompanying a recipient of that allowance would qualify for free travel. I was asked if a DPMA recipient would qualify as a person in need of care under the section. We will have to wait until the Minister produces the regulations before we know who will qualify. He has warned us that it will be for certain categories — those in wheelchairs and those who are incapacitated to a large degree. However, the Bill gives the Minister certain powers in the regulations to do that. It gives him the power to extend the categories and to be more liberal than is already outlined in the Bill. I welcome the regulation that gave him that power. I welcome also the fact that he can do this without having to come back here. If he had been reducing any of the categories which are already legislated for in the section, he would have had to come back here. I want to record my appreciation of the Minister for listening to the Second Stage debate and the pleadings on Committee Stage, and for having brought forward his own proposals.

Section 9 deals with the appeals officer. [2010] A specific promise was made in the Programme for National Recovery that a chief appeals officer would be provided. This is a new office and we welcome the opportunity to see it some day with the Minister, following his kind invitation yesterday, possibly having a discussion with the chief appeals officer and liaising with him on how we see his office functioning. I am sure he will not resent public representatives having a dialogue with him. In doing so we will be establishing our right to represent the people who elected us, particularly in the sensitive area of social welfare.

It was under this section that the controversy concerning the lack of dialogue between the Department of Finance, their records section and the Department of Social Welfare was teased out. Having listened to the Minister yesterday I know he will take on board the points made in Deputy Flaherty's parliamentary question and in Deputy Taylor's to the Bill. Even if an appeals officer is not considering allowing an oral appeal, the valid point regarding the lack of dialogue betwen the two Departments should be taken into account before a final decision is made.

I hope he will speed up the process of means testing because that is where there are delays. The special officer provided for in this legislation, amending the 1981 Act, with the existing regulations allows people the right to ask for all these things, to request oral hearings and to get them. I hope that the new section 19 provided for on Report Stage will allow for that procedure.

I had reservations on section 23 concerning the dissolution of the occupational injuries fund, the redundancy and employers' insolvency fund and the transfer of moneys from those funds to the social insurance fund. I was not happy with where responsibility would lie but the Minister has reassured us that that responsibility will now rest with his Department. The redundancy section and the employers' insolvency scheme are still in the Department of Labour, but the actual funding is provided by the Department of Social Welfare. There [2011] was an overall saving to the Exchequer in this regard as suggested by my colleague, Deputy Byrne. This was an opportunity to transfer the savings as a benefit to social welfare recipients. Because of that change there was an overall saving to the Exchequer.

Section 32, as amended, changes the qualification contributions. This is a welcome change. Any change in that category is welcome although the Minister admits that the moment a change is made another problem is created elsewhere. The Department of Finance watch all these changes in case we cannot control what happens.

I should like to refer briefly to section 33 which was not referred to on Committee Stage because of the guillotine and we had to bring forward some of the more important sections. Section 33 provides for a continuation of a payment after death to a widow who is on a separate pension. An enormous amount of trauma and unhappiness were created in homes where it was considered they were entitled to this breadwinner's allowance when it was discovered they were on separate pensions and that that pensioner was excluded. This provision allows those widows, although they have a separate pension, to qualify for the breadwinner's allowance. That is a welcome change in the Bill. I do not want to make a political point but it was the Minister's Government who removed it initially. It existed as a right previously but was changed when there were two separate pensions involved.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  It was the equal treatment for women that created the difficulty.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  Everybody can take the blame for that. In the European context, regulations were laid down, everyone wanted to be fair to women but it created anomalies in this area. Everybody in this House would agree that on the death of a husband, who is the breadwinner, even if his spouse has a separate pension, that is a time of trauma and expense. That is the time when every penny that can be [2012] got for the widow is essential becuse the cost of a funeral now is £1,000 and the maximum death grant is £100. A widow could be left in dire circumstances unless she has savings. Occasionally when husbands die who have not made contributions since 1970, their widows are debarred from getting the death grants.

I would ask the Minister to look at that issue because it is appropriate that his Department would be responsible for the payment of death grants to all insured contributors, even if they had not worked since 1970. Many of them worked long before then and had made many contributions, admittedly not to this section because it did not exist at that time and therefore no payment could be made. On the basis of ordinary common justice, when contributors who had been insured with the Department of Social Welfare die there should be a responsibility to pay this grant. This is a move in that direction. I welcome the fact that the breadwinner's allowance paid after death will now apply to all widows, irrespective of whether they have a separate pension or were a dependant on their late husband at the time of their death.

Section 34 provides a welcome exemption for temporary residence in the Gaeltacht areas. This is an innovative and important section. It is confirmation of the fact that every facility and incentive should be given to people to go to Gaeltacht areas and that the mná tí will not be penalised under the social welfare code for being the hostess providing bed and breakfast at very little profit, if any. They are giving a service in the Gaeltacht areas which stretches from County Waterford to the west. I would have liked the Minister to have applied the same exemption to the carer's allowance. I gave him that idea but he did not take it on board.

Section 35 exempts the money from the sale of the principal residence of a person who, because of old age or infirmity, has to move into a nursing home, a welfare home or a geriatric home. The proceeds from the sale are not now considered to be means. I am not sure whether the proceeds from the sale of [2013] the home, if invested, are also exempt because we did not have the opportunity to debate this section. Perhaps the Minister when replying, if he has that facility, would confirm whether the investment of the proceeds from the sale of the home is still excluded from means.

Under the 1970 Health Act the health boards are empowered to take a contribution of pensions and other incomes towards the cost of keeping people in long stay institutions whether welfare or geriatric homes run by the State. The beneficiary is allowed to retain 25 per cent of their social welfare income for their own needs. I am interested in hearing the Minister's interpretation of the term “income derived from the sale” in section 35. Section 36 deals with PRSI contributions The Minister proposes setting the employment contribution rate at 6 per cent with effect from 6 April 1990, 4 per cent from 6 April 1991 and 5.5 per cent from 6 April 1992 and to set the minimum annual contribution at £208.

Section 47 provides that people on unemployment assistance can participate in vocational training opportunity schemes without losing their unemployment assistance. This was a thorny issue in the past for people who wanted to participate in training opportunity schemes so that they could be reintegrated back into the workforce, qualify for a job or improve their chances of getting a job. In the past, people had to be available and fit for work but if they participated in such schemes they were debarred from receiving unemployment assistance because technically they were available for work. I am glad that they will now be afforded the opportunity to participate in such schemes. There was limited participation in the pilot scheme which was introduced throughout the country. I hope the Department will publicise this scheme by way of an explanatory leaflet so that unemployed people will know that they can participate in vocational training opportunity schemes without being debarred from qualifying for unemployment assistance.

Section 49 deals with the increases in [2014] certain pensions and benefits when a recipient reaches 80 years. Previously a person over 80 years had to be living alone in order to qualify for certain schemes. This is a progressive step and recognises the problems faced by elderly people. My mother, who is 87 years, is living alone because she wants to be independent. If somebody wanted to live with her in the past she would have lost her entitlement to free electricity. At least she will now be entitled to have somebody living with her, if it becomes necessary at some stage, and still qualify.

Miss Flaherty: Information on Mary Flaherty  Zoom on Mary Flaherty  Does the Deputy know that the average male life expectancy is only 74 years?

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I am only worried about my mother; my father, God be good to him, has gone to his rest.

Miss Flaherty: Information on Mary Flaherty  Zoom on Mary Flaherty  As we all will in due course.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I welcome this move. I believe the age limit has been set too high but at least the Minister has taken a step in the right direction. We could be knocking one another for ever and trying to score political points but I thank the Minister for acknowledging the difficulties faced by this group of people who have to live alone. When we were in Government we reduced the qualifying age for the old age pension from 70 to 66 and perhaps the Minister will reduce the age limit in this section from 80 to 70 years or lower in view of the fact that people of 60 years will now be entitled to receive a preretirement pension. I want to thank the Minister for the documentation he gave us yesterday in regard to this pre-retirement pension. I have only read half of it yet——

Mr. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  I read it all and it makes very interesting reading.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I was preparing my speech for this debate so I did not have time to read all the document. It gives an idea of how complicated regulations can be. [2015] People of 60 years and over will not have to sign on any more but will receive a payments book instead. This move will be welcomed by these recipients. I hope the Government will not take credit for a major reduction in unemployment figures as a result of this move. I expect that about 7,000 people will qualify for this type of payment. There could be a sudden improvement in the unemployment figures when these people stop signing on but they will still be unemployed and some of them may resent the fact that we do not consider them to be available for work. Many sprightly 63 and 64 year olds still hope to get a job, and they would provide a very useful service if they were given the opportunity.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  It is an option.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I welcome that option but I hope these people will not think that we have excluded them from the workforce. These people were put under a lot of stress when they had to queue up, which they had to do in rural Ireland, outside unemployment exchanges in order to sign on. The facilities in many employment exchanges are very poor. I welcome the list the Minister gave yesterday of the improvements being carried out to employment exchanges around the country. However, many exchanges need to be improved urgently. I think Deputy Byrne invited the Minister to visit some of the worst employment exchanges in his constituency.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  I invited them to visit the newest ones——

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  And you asked him to bring RTE with him.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  ——but a barricade was put up outside and they did not come.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  No doubt RTE will visit the worst ones. Deputy Flaherty also referred to some exchanges in her constituency, the catacombs, which need to be improved. I acknowledge that many [2016] employment exchanges need to be improved. Sixty year old people who were unemployed had to queue in the rain to prove that they were available for and willing to work and at least this option will remove the need for them to do this.

There are many other items I could refer to but I will not do so because I want to give Deputy Byrne his constitutional right to make a contribution. I am glad there has been an increase in child benefit after three years. Even though it is only a very small increase, 2½p per day, at least it is a recognition that child benefit plays a role in the income in a home. I hope that now that the Minister has recognised it is a necessary payment he will increase it every year in line with inflation and not in the miserly way he has done on this occasion.

I am glad the Minister has recognised in section 6 that children of 18 years are still dependent on their family while they are in full-time education. I welcome this recognition by the Minister and I ask him to raise the limit further next year. He has also rationalised the number of the payments from over 30 to six. I welcome all these moves.

As all of us know, social welfare is an extremely complicated area. Up to 30 per cent of the problems experienced by our constituents relate to social welfare. Some 1.5 million people receive social welfare payments every week and we have to keep addressing the problems we see in this area. Many innovative moves have been taken in some areas but we are still tinkering around with others. I hope that the Minister, when he has finished his battle with the Department of Finance, will address some of the problems in the social welfare area. If the Minister does this he will be doing a service to a very special category of people. In spite of the disputes about the level of poverty, I believe all of us would agree that anybody depending on social welfare has to live very frugally. We should do whatever we can to help these people in future Bills, or regulations, which will allow more people to benefit. I look forward to further debates on this area as [2017] spokesperson for the Labour Party. I dealt with Social Welfare Bills in the other House, but this is my first opportunity as spokesperson to deal with a Social Welfare Bill in this House. I hope I have not been out of order in addressing all the sections of the Bill. Because some sections have only been dealt with briefly and we believe there are some anomalies in the Bill we will be opposing it.

That is not to be taken as a reflection on the Minister but as a signal to this House that we are not satisfied. The Minister when he was in Opposition was never satisfied either. Now that he is in Government we want his previous views on social welfare to be reflected in the legislation. He has done something in the area of social welfare and we are calling on him to do more in the future.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The figure the Deputy asked me for is £86 million.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  I do not know if I should protest now or inquire of my party Whip why I am afforded only 20 minutes to speak on this Stage.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The Deputy should only speak for a few minutes. This is just Report Stage. The Deputy is doing very well and should not feel upset.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  Does the Minister require time at the end of the debate?

Acting Chairman (Mr. Wyse): Information on Pearse Wyse  Zoom on Pearse Wyse  If the debate has not concluded by 12.30 p.m. I have to put the question.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  This Bill is a mixed bag. It has both good points and bad, things one would recommend and things one would criticise. Most of the people who support The Workers' Party are recipients of social welfare payments, so it is unfortunate that in debating this issue we have to go into the boxing ring with the Minister with our hands tied behind our backs. Twenty-two of our amendments were ruled out of order because they could be adjudged as involving a potential charge on revenue. That leaves us [2018] on an uneven pitch because most of my amendments argued for bringing forward the dates of payments and raising the recommended rates of payment under the different schemes. It is unfair, having put our arguments and got majority support in the House, that these measures cannot be carried out.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  That relates to the budget. The Deputy will have his opportunity when the financial side is discussed. What is happening now is not undemocratic.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  One point I made was in relation to child benefit. Children return to school in September and it is at this time that their parents are under tremendous strain financially. Therefore, the child benefit payment stands out as being inappropriately placed in October. It should be paid much sooner.

We also argued for raising the means test base to a minimum of £30. It is unfair that the base is set at the miserable level of £2 and that there is a clawback for every £2 in excess of that in respect of those in receipt of certain benefits. It is unrealistic that it should be so low in this day and age. This base excludes a huge number of people from receiving benefits who are morally entitled to do so. We are talking about an increase in the numbers in receipt of the carer's allowance to 8,000; but the scheme is so restricted that far more people will be disallowed benefit than will be in receipt of it. Some of those people are sacrificing their whole lives to look after elderly, mentally handicapped or physically handicapped relatives and the State is giving them no help. This part of the Bill is far too restrictive. The qualifying conditions for the carer's allowance are far too narrow.

Unemployment and social welfare assistance rates are far too low. In 1985 the Commission on Social Welfare recommended a payment structure with a common basic payment between £50 and £60. In today's figures that would be between £50 and £65. Yet we have allowed only a £45 supplementary welfare allowance base and £45 a week for unemployment assistance. Despite the [2019] Minister's claims that we are catching up and surpassing the recommendations of the commission, that glaring example of £45 payment exposes the Minister's hypocrisy on that score.

There are other areas dealt with by the Commission on Social Welfare where we go nowhere near compliance. For example, they argued that single applicants for unemployment assistance aged 18 to 25 years should be entitled to a standard allowance irrespective of household circumstances. That is the most humane approach. The least the State could do for young people aged 18 to 25 years, a very demanding period in young people's lives, is to treat them as individual human beings who should be given independent means other than what their parents can afford, even though they may be living at home and getting full board.

I do not want to knock everything in the Bill because it is a mixed bag. There are some things on which we should compliment the Minister. There is one item in the Bill which is dear to my heart because I made representations to the Minister about it. That is the bus pass for the companion of the DPMA recipient to travel on the bus. I argued at the time that in many cases, even though the recipient of DPMA had free entitlement to use the bus, because of incapacity they could not physically make it alone and that their companion, brother, sister and so on would have to pay the fare. I acknowledge that there has been a move in the right direction. Handicapped persons can now have a companion travelling with them.

Miss Flaherty: Information on Mary Flaherty  Zoom on Mary Flaherty  Not old age pensioners or invalidity pensioners.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  That is true. I also want to praise the Minister on the exemption for about 50,000 people earning £60 a week or less from having to pay PRSI. It is a move in the right direction but it highlights the huge number of low paid workers. If 50,000 people are earning less than £60 per week it is frightening to [2020] think of the next layer who are almost equally poor.

Earlier we fought a battle about the right of an appellant to have an oral hearing. We lost the vote but that is democracy in action. We felt that everybody should be entitled to an oral hearing on appeal. In a future Bill the Minister might address the problems facing people who are permitted to have oral hearings since the whole procedure can be very intimidating when a person has to sit in a rather bare and sparse room with two officials. Next year's Bill might contain some innovative schemes whereby appellants will be met——

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy must address himself to the contents of the present Bill.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  I am addressing the question of appeals.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy is making other suggestions.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  We went into detail about who may or may not be represented at appeals. The case was made during the debate that a person walking in off the street, perhaps poorly educated and with low self-esteem, may not be able to make his case in a professional manner to the two officials he will meet. Instead of politicians taking their constituents by the hand and sitting with them for an hour or so, when they should be doing better work on behalf of the nation, the Minister might recognise the need for advisers to appellants to assist in preparing and presenting their case.

Twenty-two of my amendments were ruled out of order. I am not complaining but I wish the rules would be changed.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  Mine were also ruled out of order.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  I am very concerned that the Minister did not include, under miscellaneous payments, provision for the 40,000 married women who are entitled to £20 million in back money as a result [2021] of the Cotter and McDermot case in the High Court. The EC directive on equal treatment for men and women in matters of social security has been breached on two occasions. Further cases are to be taken before the European Court of Justice. There are 20,000 part-time women workers who should be eligible for class A insurance. I am worried that we will be dragged through the European Courts and I do not think the Minister should allow matters to go that far. He should make provision for repayments to beneficiaries under the Cotter and McDermot judgment and start working seriously on behalf of the 20,000 part-time women workers who are eligible for Class A insurance.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The Cotter and McDermot figure is £200 million, not £20 million.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  If the court found that the money is owed, the Minister will have to make provision for payment. We cannot run away from the court's decision.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  It is not in the Bill. We went through all this on earlier Stages.

Acting Chairman:  Debate on Fifth Stage must be very specific. A Deputy must address the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  It is provided that any old age pensioner over the age of 80 will qualify for free electricity. It is a step in the right direction but, as Deputy Flaherty has pointed out, the average life span of a man is 73 years. It would appear that very few men will qualify under this [2022] scheme. The age bracket is ridiculously high. The Minister could have been more reasonable and started it at 70, with a view to eventually bringing down the qualifying age to 65.

On the question of pay-related benefit, the Minister is raising the floor from £69 to £72. This is not fair and is morally wrong. This benefit has been constantly reduced since 1981 but while the benefit decreases the Minister does not reduce the PRSI contribution on a par. This is a con job. Workers continue to pay their rates of PRSI which will cover them for pay-related benefit but the net benefit is getting smaller. It is a dishonest approach. Why not be honest and announce that pay-related benefit is being abolished so that we can get on with the job of looking for proper unemployment rates?

We will be joining Fine Gael and Labour in opposing the Bill on the grounds of inadequacy, insufficient payments, rigid means testing, the absence of provisions to compensate those who should be compensated as a result of the Cotter and McDermott case and the absence of moves in the direction of giving class A insurance to 20,000 part-time women workers.

We congratulate the Minister on the innovative sections of the Bill but it does not go far enough in dealing with the crisis of poverty, which is partly due to this Government's inept handling of the economy.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  It is a great Bill and I thank those Deputies who contributed.

Question put.

Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Aylward, Liam.
Barrett, Michael.
Brady, Gerard.
Brady, Vincent.
Brennan, Mattie.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Burke, Raphael P. [2023]de Valera, Síle.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fahey, Jackie.
Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
Flood, Chris.
Flynn, Pádraig.
Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
Harney, Mary.
Hillery, Brian.
Hilliard, Colm.
Jacob, Joe.
Kelly, Laurence.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Kirk, Séamus.
Lawlor, Liam.
Leonard, Jimmy.
Leyden, Terry.
Martin, Micheál.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, Jim.
McEllistrim, Tom.
Callely, Ivor.
Clohessy, Peadar.
Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullimore, Séamus.
Daly, Brendan.
Davern, Noel.
Dempsey, Noel.
Dennehy, John. [2024]Molloy, Robert.
Morley, P. J.
Nolan, M. J.
Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Leary, John.
O'Toole, Martin Joe.
Power, Seán.
Quill, Máirín.
Roche, Dick.
Smith, Michael.
Stafford, John.
Treacy, Noel.
Wallace, Dan.
Wallace, Mary.
Walsh, Joe.
Wilson, John P.
Woods, Michael.
Wyse, Pearse.

Allen, Bernard.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Byrne, Eric.
Carey, Donal.
Connor, John.
Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
Cotter, Bill.

Creed, Michael.
Currie, Austin.
Deasy, Austin.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Dukes, Joe.
Durkan, Bernard.
Ferris, Michael.
FitzGerald, Garret.
Flaherty, Mary.
Flanagan, Charles.
Foxe, Tom.
Garland, Roger.
Gilmore, Eamon.
Harte, Paddy.
Higgins, Jim.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kavanagh, Liam.
Kemmy, Jim.
Kenny, Enda.
Lowry, Michael.
McCartan, Pat.
McCormack, Pádraic.
Mac Giolla, Tomás.
McGrath, Paul.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Jim.
Moynihan, Michael.
Noonan, Michael (Limerick East).
O'Brien, Fergus.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Gerry.
O'Sullivan, Toddy.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Reynolds, Gerry.
Ryan, Seán.
Sherlock, Joe.
Spring, Dick.
Stagg, Emmet.
Taylor, Mervyn.
Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
Timmins, Godfrey.
Yates, Ivan.

Question declared carried.


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