I beg to move:—
That this House views with grave anxiety the continuance of widespread and prolonged unemployment, deplores the inadequacy of the measures so far taken by the Government to ensure opportunities of employment for unemployed workers, and disapproves of the Government's decision not to introduce legislation to amend the Unemployment Insurance Acts so as to provide subsistence for workers unable to find employment.
It is not easy—I was going to say it was not possible—to add very much to the frequent claims we have made in the Dáil for greater activity and greater consideration on the part of the Ministry in dealing with the problem of unemployment. Shortly before the summer adjournment, on the 24th June, the matter was discussed in the House, and the only thing that has happened since has been an increase in the number of men whom we ought to be concerned about, and whose means of livelihood is less, in prospect at least, than it was at that time. That is to say, the problem of unemployment is greater to-day than it was in June. I do not think anybody will disagree with the statement that we do view with grave anxiety the continuance of widespread and prolonged unemployment. Everybody at times repeats the statement that the case is serious and requires treatment of an abnormal kind; that is to say, it is a disease which must be treated in a way apart and different from the ordinary course of life. I think we will also deplore the fact that the measures so far taken by the Government to ensure opportunities of employment have been inadequate. We have been told frequently of the measures that have been taken and the moneys that have been voted to assist local authorities, or by means of direct works to promote employment and reduce the number of unemployed persons; but whatever may be the claim on behalf of the Government in respect of that, nobody will contend, I think, that they have been adequate.
They have not been adequate because they have not resulted in reducing the number of unemployed persons to any material degree. Undoubtedly, had such moneys not been spent the numbers would have been greater. How much greater it is impossible to say, because as things are in the Department of Industry and Commerce it is impossible to get adequate and accurate statistics of the number of persons unemployed. I think the figures that are available are more unreliable than ever they were, not from any fault of the Department, but by the fault of the machinery that is available. The steps taken so far have been inadequate. A certain number of public works have been started and a large sum of money has been provided. Notwithstanding the provision of those large sums of money we still have immense numbers of people unemployed, and an ever-growing number—growing weekly at any rate—of people who are not only unemployed but are going out of resources to keep themselves alive. The claim is made, and has been made continually, that it is much better to deal with the problem of unemployment by means of the provision of employment than by means of insurance, or the payment of money in any form without return in labour.
I am making the claim that, if means of obtaining employment are not available, it is our duty to provide subsistence, and the best way to do that is by means of an extension of the unemployment benefit scheme. When we were discussing this problem in June, I made an appeal to the Ministry that they would, in the interim between the adjournment and the resumption, go into the question of extended benefits, of improving and extending the Unemployment Insurance Scheme, so as to ensure to the unemployed man who was willing to work benefits by means of an insurance scheme to cover the whole time that he was unemployed, certainly to extend considerably the period in which unemployment benefit would be paid. The Minister responded with sympathy to that suggestion. He said that the problem of providing employment was a very great one and could not be solved easily. "I am pointing out," he stated, "that when we are asked here to provide a remedy for unemployment we are being asked to do what is not, I think, possible for us to do. The best we can do is to alleviate it. There can be alleviation by way of relief and by way of extended unemployment benefit."
I think he meant by that that there could be alleviation by way of relief work and by way of extended unemployment benefits. Then he went on to say: "We had some hesitation in arriving at the decision not to pay uncovenanted benefit any longer. We had the position under review at various times since then and we are not tied in the matter. If, on further consideration of the situation, and if other measures do not sufficiently lessen the unemployment problem, we would be prepared to restore uncovenanted benefit. We do not want to do that, because we believe that the payment of uncovenanted benefit gives rise to abuses and has its own economic disadvantages; that it is not as good as a scheme of work, which perhaps might not cover as many people, but if we could meet an appreciable number of individual cases by works it would be better than meeting the larger number of cases by unemployment benefit."
The specific promise there was that "If on further consideration of the situation any further measures do not sufficiently lessen the unemployment problem we would be prepared to restore uncovenanted benefit." I take it that further consideration has been given to the situation and we must ask ourselves, and the Minister must ask himself, whether the other measures that have been taken have sufficiently lessened the unemployment problem to warrant him in not restoring uncovenanted benefit. I do not know what evidence the Minister may have as to the number of unemployed in the Saorstát to-day, as compared with the numbers in June, 1926, but I say it is very difficult to obtain any figures that can be relied on to indicate the number of unemployed persons. We have, from time to time, records of the numbers registered at the Labour Employment Exchanges. We have also the number of those who have current claims for insurance benefit. The latter are, of course, very much smaller than the number on the register, but those figures, at any rate, may constitute some index of the relative position as between June and November, though they do not do more than give an indication of the persons who are registered.
Those of us who are any way familiar with the problem know how true it is to say that comparatively few persons register after they have ceased to be in benefit. The figures that were given in July of this year as to the number on the Unemployment Register was 21,931 and the latest figures on the Register— I think last week's figures—are 22,496, so that even on that showing there is an increase of 500 since July, that is an increase of the registered unemployed. Therefore, there has not been any result in the way of lessening the number by virtue of the measures that have already been taken. In view of those figures, apart from any other knowledge that we may have of the extent of unemployment, it was a great disappointment to learn from the Minister for Industry and Commerce that because of the position of the Unemployment Insurance Fund he could not recommend such a change in the scheme as would involve a further deficit upon the funds. I have not got the exact terms of it, but some such answer as that was made by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and I take it that he was speaking, in making such an answer, the decision of the Executive Council.
I cannot reconcile the promise with the performance, and I therefore am asking the Dáil to agree with me that we disapprove of the Government's decision not to introduce legislation to amend the Unemployment Insurance Acts so as to provide subsistence for workers unable to find employment. Those figures, as I have said, can only be taken as an index, and they show an increase as compared with June. But to show how unsatisfactory those figures are, as a picture of the position in fact, I would remind Deputies from the country areas that they are now in November and that considerable numbers of men who are employed on the land in the summer become disemployed in November, and they do not register because they are not entitled to Unemployment Insurance, and it is not usual for the landworkers to register in the Unemployment Exchanges. So the number of men who have finished their summer employment on the land has to be added to those who figure on those registers.
Another factor that must be observed is that there is a growing stringency noted in the Department in respect of depriving of benefits men who may have a couple of acres of land on which they may work at certain times of the year. I read in the newspapers a couple of days ago a statement which may be taken as the views of responsible men, and while it may contain considerable exaggeration, it is for somebody to disprove the exaggerations if they prove to be so. It is an appeal for British ex-Servicemen issued by the Southern Irish Loyalists' Relief Association. It is signed by the Duke of Portland, the Duke of Northumberland, the Marquis of Lansdowne, the Earl of Selborne, Lord Danesford, and Colonel J. Gretton, M.P. These gentlemen are not intimately associated with the condition of the unemployed in the Saorstát, but no doubt they are advised by men in the country who claim to be intimately associated and directly interested in the conditions of the unemployed ex-Servicemen. This particular statement is not one which is, on the face of it at any rate, antagonistic to the Government of the Free State. On the contrary, it shows evidence of friendliness.