Poor Relief (Dublin) Bill, 1936—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The purpose of this Bill is to continue the provisions of the Poor Relief (Dublin) Act, 1929, until the 31st March, 1937. It will be remembered that the Act of 1929 became law on the 20th December, 1929. It was to continue in operation until the 31st March, 1931. The Poor Relief (Dublin) Act, 1931, extended the operation of the Act of 1929 for a further period of five years. That period expires on the 31st March, 1936.

The main provision of the Act of 1929 is that it empowers the three local authorities in Dublin City and County to assist able-bodied persons outside of the workhouse or, in other words, to give them home assistance. The necessity for this provision arises from the fact that a scheme in pursuance of the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923, for the abolition of poor law unions was never brought into operation in Dublin City and County. Had such a scheme been introduced the restrictions on outdoor relief imposed by the Poor Relief Acts would have been removed and it would have been possible to grant home assistance to any person unable by his own industry or other lawful means to provide for himself or his dependents the necessities of life.

I understand that the question of adopting a scheme for Dublin City and County was under consideration some years ago. It was not possible to get the authorities concerned to agree to adopt a joint scheme for the city and county, and the project was abandoned. In the absence of a scheme under the Act of 1923, the only means of bringing the city and county into line with the rest of the country as regards home assistance was legislation. The legislation was necessarily temporary in view of the proposal to make comprehensive provision for public assistance in the whole country. It has not yet been possible to have permanent legislation enacted. As stated in the memorandum circulated in connection with the Expiring Laws Bill, a permanent measure to supersede the temporary legislation is at present under consideration and will be introduced shortly. Meantime it is thought well to continue the provisions of the Act of 1929 for another year so that the authorities concerned may be able to assist the classes to which it applied without requiring them to enter the workhouse.

The Minister tells us that this Act is being extended only for another year because other legislation will be introduced in the meantime that will take the place of this Act and no doubt take the places of other Acts before the year, contemplated as an extension under this Bill, is finished. The present occasion, however, provides an opportunity that should be availed of to make some remarks in regard to relief in the City of Dublin and to show to what extent the unemployment assistance scheme has been made a real swindle on the ratepayers in the City of Dublin. There was a very considerable amount of talk from the Ministerial Benches at the time the Unemployment Assistance Act was introduced as to the great relief that would be afforded local authorities in the City of Dublin by that Act but, so far from its being any relief to the local authority, it has piled on additional burdens on the ratepayers of the city as if the workers, the employers and the citizens of Dublin as ratepayers were not also paying considerable sums towards the general work of relief.

When the assistance of the able-bodied in the City of Dublin was given solely under the Outdoor Relief Act of 1929, for the year ended March, 1932, the total amount of expenditure from the rates was £111,900. Again, in the year ended March, 1933, when the relief of the able-bodied was provided entirely from the rates, the amount paid out of the city rates was £125,000. The year ended March, 1934, saw some of the developments in unemployment in the city which arose out of the general policy of the Government and the fact that such a large amount of national income had been lost through the reactions of Government policy on the agricultural industry. The total amount provided for relief of the able-bodied from the rates rose from £125,800 in the previous year to £173,000 in the year ended March, 1935. In the following year the unemployment assistance scheme began to operate.

What is the position for the coming year? The position in the coming year is that the ratepayers of the city have to provide, through the rates, a sum of £41,000 towards the relief of the able-bodied. As well as that they have to provide a lump sum equivalent to 1/6 in the £ towards the maintenance of the unemployment assistance scheme. In order to provide the Government with the produce of that 1/6 in the £, a sum equivalent to 1/8 in the £ has to be levied on the City of Dublin so as to provide for the cost of collection and other incidentals in addition to the sum which has to be contributed towards the unemployment assistance scheme. A penny in the £ on the City of Dublin realises £7,500. The amount realised by that rate of 1/8 in the £ is, therefore, £150,000 and, in addition, the ratepayers have to pay £41,000 directly for relief. The total bill to be paid by the ratepayers of the City of Dublin for the coming year is, therefore, £191,000 or nearly £20,000 more than they paid for outdoor relief in the city before the Unemployment Assistance Act was ever introduced. If that is not a swindle on the ratepayers of the City of Dublin, I do not know what would be. Instead of bringing relief to the ratepayers, this huge amount of more than £190,000 is going to be paid from the rates in the city towards the general scheme of unemployment assistance and relief to able-bodied persons during the coming year.

The City of Dublin provides, as I have said before, additional contributions by workers and by employers, and additional imposts on the general taxes of the country, in order to keep up the position of relief. I should like to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary where that peculiar circle is going to end, of a rising cost in the rates, in spite of the Unemployment Assistance Act and considerably rising figures in unemployment. If the Parliamentary Secretary will take the trouble of looking at the records of the Dublin Board of Assistance for the last few weeks, he will see that, for the eight weeks ending 18th January last, compared with the eight weeks immediately preceding, the cost of assistance to the able-bodied has risen by an average of £127 a week. In the period of eight weeks we have just passed, compared with the similar period of eight weeks in the year before, the cost of relief, through the rates, to the able-bodied in the City of Dublin has risen by 21 per cent. If he takes the actual position on 18th January last, he will find that whereas 1,552 men were assisted last year, 2,046 had to be assisted this year in that particular week, commencing 18th January, 1936. That is, 494 additional cases of men had to be assisted from the rates in that week as compared with the same week last year.

In the case of women, there is an increase of 317 cases in the same period, from 1,453 to 1,760. The percentage increase in the number of cases that had to be dealt with that week as compared with the same week last year is 26.5. The citizens of Dublin expect to know where they stand with regard to a continuance of this increasing burden. The Minister for Industry and Commerce was kind enough to warn industrialists in Killarney the other day that, as time went on, they would have to shoulder increasing burdens in order to provide the cost of government, according as the Customs duties fell. We ought to be told in Dublin, at the beginning of 1936, how long we are going to have a continued rise in the total number of unemployed in the city and a continued rise in the amount of money that has to be taken from the ratepayers in order to give those unemployed people some kind of relief, because if the position, from the viewpoint of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, is that industry will have to bear increasing burdens in the future to pay for the cost of government, it is nearly time we took stock of the general situation, in the interests both of the ratepayers who have to provide the money and the people who are unemployed at present and who have to be relieved.

There is another aspect of the matter that calls for very close consideration, and for very close co-operation between the Minister for Local Government and the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Recently, in Dublin, unemployment assistance had been withdrawn from a certain number of men. They have been given relief work, but that relief work has been of a spasmodic and desultory kind. Take the case of a man who, because he was an army reservist, with a wife and eight children, got only 16/- through the unemployment assistance scheme and 6/- from the rates. He was denied unemployment assistance and was put on work. He was delighted to get the work, and he would be delighted to get 28/- a week for doing three days' work if he could get it, but he did not get it. He was removed from the operation of unemployment assistance and was put on work, but the work gives him three days' payment one week, two days' payment in another, and two days' payment in another. The result was that between the withdrawal of unemployment assistance and the withdrawal of relief he found himself worse off when he was working than when he was idle. The case had to be retaken up by the Home Assistance people in the City of Dublin and dealt with as an urgent case.

It is only a sample of what is going on in the city, and the Minister for Local Government should demand and get from the Minister for Industry and Commerce much more co-operation in dealing with whatever relief schemes are going to be instituted in Dublin to substitute unemployment assistance than he has been getting in the past, and particularly than he has been getting for the last few weeks, because it seems to be nobody's business. An arbitrary decision is taken that unemployment assistance is to be stopped and that there is work to be got, but nobody has any concern for the man and his wife and their expectations of income. Very great hardship can be caused in cases like that, and very great bitterness of feeling amongst men who gladly turn aside from the getting of unemployment assistance to work, and who find that they are being fooled in the matter of work and deprived of the income they expected.

Very urgent and very important questions require to be discussed in connection with it, and I think the Parliamentary Secretary should tell the House what he has to say at this stage of the Bill on the points I have raised. Before the Bill passes through the House, the House should have an opportunity of hearing from the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister a more detailed statement than has been given of the general position with regard to our expectation in respect of the employment to be given to replace the unemployment assistance scheme here, what hopes the ratepayers of the City of Dublin can have that this huge burden of rates is going to fall instead of rise week by week, and what hope the people who are paying these large sums in rates have to seeing the large number of unemployed in the city decreased.

I do not care to complain about a generous application of the Standing Orders, but it seems to me that Deputy Mulcahy has wandered over a rather wide field. Most of his speech has been devoted to a criticism of the Unemployment Assistance Act rather than to a criticism of the principle enshrined in this Bill.

I am criticising the amount of money which has to be raised in rates in the City of Dublin.

I take it that the Deputy wished to convey the general suggestion that the Government has failed in its duty to make adequate provision for the unemployed. I assume that I interpret the Deputy correctly?

The Parliamentary Secretary would interpret me more correctly if he interpreted me as saying that the Government, by their statements and by their actions, have fooled the ratepayers in the City of Dublin into believing that they were going to be relieved of the burden, whereas it has been very substantially increased.

The Deputy knows, perhaps better than many people in this House, that it is not so easy to fool the ratepayers in Dublin as some people imagine. The Deputy himself has had a long experience of trying to fool them, and to an extent, I think, he must agree that he has been found out. He has quoted figures showing the number of able-bodied unemployed at certain periods in recent weeks. He naturally selected such figures as would bear out the impression that he wished to convey.

I quoted the latest figures available.

I have figures before me dealing with this matter for the quarters ending March, June, September and December, 1931, and for the corresponding periods in the year 1935. In 1931 Deputy Mulcahy was himself Minister for Local Government, and the Party opposite were responsible for administering the affairs of this Twenty-Six County area. I find that in December, 1931, there were 3,052 able-bodied persons in receipt of home assistance, and that in December, 1935, the number was 1,202. Now, I think that these figures are correct, and it seems to me that, if we have succeeded in reducing the figures by over 100 per cent., we have nothing whatever to apologise for either to this House or to the country in general.

Has the Parliamentary Secretary another figure besides 100 per cent?

I will leave the Deputy to work out the actual percentages. I have not worked them out, but I have given the exact figures as they appear in our returns: 3,052 in December 1931, and 1,202 in December 1935. The percentages can be worked out at leisure.

Can the Parliamentary Secretary say in what week of December, 1935, there were only 1,202 able-bodied persons in receipt of home assistance from the Dublin Union?

The quarter ending the last Saturday of December, 1935.

What does the Parliamentary Secretary mean by the quarter?

The figures before me are for the last Saturday of March, June, September and December. I can give the figures for every year from 1931 down to December last.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary give the figures for the last Saturday of December, 1934, and the last Saturday of December, 1935?

Certainly. The figure for the last Saturday of December, 1931, is 3,052; for the last Saturday of December, 1932, 2,342; last Saturday of December, 1933, 3,428; last Saturday of December, 1934, 870, and last Saturday of December, 1935, 1,202.

Men and women?

No. The Deputy, I think, made it clear that he was referring to able-bodied men. I do not think anyone is foolish enough to deny that there is an unemployment problem and that there is considerable distress amongst a section of our people. If all Parties in the House were agreed that, regardless of the cost, the money must be found and the necessary taxation imposed in order to solve the unemployment problem, I think there is no doubt that it could be done.

Where is the Government's unemployment plan?

If the unemployed have to wait until the Deputy's Party is in a position to put any plan into operation, then God help the unemployed.

Where is the plan that was promised in 1932?

The Deputy is participating in it.

In what—the plan?

From time to time it is suggested that we should spend more liberally, in fact lavishly, on our social services, and to give the Opposition their due, when measures are introduced here extending the social services as well as the necessary financial provision for them, they usually take kindly to such legislation; but then when they go down the country they hold up their hands in horror on public platforms about increased taxation. I, at any rate, find it hard to convince myself that there is not a certain amount of hypocrisy about their whole approach to the unemployment problem and their whole approach to our social services. They encourage the Government to spend lavishly on our social services, and then immediately when an increase in taxation is necessary in order to provide additional social services, they go down the country and make all the political propaganda that they possibly can out of that.

Did not the spokesmen of the Government Party go down through the country and say that all these social services could be provided without putting a penny of additional taxation either on the taxpayers or on the ratepayers?

Out of the £2,000,000 that was to be saved.

Under the Principal Act —the Poor Relief (Dublin) Act, 1929— the local authorities are given power to organise schemes to provide work for, and to absorb, the unemployed. Now very little has been done under that heading, and if Deputy Mulcahy has not changed his view since he was Minister for Local Government in 1931 when he was piloting a measure such as this through the House, he will agree now, as he agreed then, that the local authorities are very suitable bodies — well-equipped and well-informed—for dealing with this problem, and for putting up schemes that would assist in absorbing the able-bodied unemployed on their home assistance books. The fact is that practically nothing has been done under that heading, and I am quite sure that Deputy Mulcahy is still of the opinion that the local authorities could make some kind of a more practical and effective contribution towards the solution of this problem than they have been making.

Than the present one that has been made. I do agree to that.

By the local authorities?

No, by the Office of Public Works.

So long as Deputy Mulcahy agrees with me that the local authorities are not doing everything that they might do in that regard, and so long as we get away from the suggestion that the Government have not done everything that it was possible to do within the financial resources at their disposal, well I am quite satisfied if we are in agreement even to that extent.

The Parliamentary Secretary can make a bouquet for himself out of very little material.

As to the actual principle embodied in the Bill, there has not been any criticism of it. I take it that the House is agreed that it is necessary and desirable that the local authorities in Dublin City and County should be permitted by law to give home assistance to the able-bodied unemployed. That is the only principle embodied in this Bill, and seeing that there is general agreement on that, I do not think it is necessary to delay the House further in discussing it.

I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary why it is that with the Unemployment Assistance Act in force the citizens of Dublin are being called upon to pay during the coming year £20,000 more than they were paying even in the big third year of the present Government's office, and why they are being called upon to pay £80,000 more than they were paying before the present Government came into office? I would like him also to explain the figures he has quoted which I am not prepared to controvert at the moment. Why is it that, in the City of Dublin, relief to the able-bodied went up during the last eight weeks for which I have returns by £127 per week or 21 per cent. of the total expenditure?

I am afraid I shall have to ask for notice of these questions.

I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to be in a position to answer them on a subsequent Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for Thursday, 20th February.