Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Bill, 1936—Money Resolution. - In Committee on Finance.

I move:—

That it is expedient to authorise the payment into the Pensions Investment Account created under the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act, 1935, out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas, of such annual contributions as are necessary to give effect to any Act of the present Session to amend and extend the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Acts, 1935 and 1936.

I should like to say a word on the Money Resolution and then I imagine the remaining stages of this Bill will pass with considerable despatch. This most excellent social service is to be further extended, and as the Minister said in his opening remarks, this appears to be the kind of social service which, from every point of view, social and economic, is good. It avoids many of the pitfalls associated with other social services which could conceivably interfere with the desirable working of the economic system under which we live. Nobody in the House wants a widow of 55 years of age or one who has children dependent upon her to become a wage-earning person in order to live. It is infinitely preferable that such a person should be safeguarded against distress, and it will be no loss to the economic life of the country that she should be relieved from any kind of inducement to go out and seek remunerative work. Therefore, no economic objection of any kind can be raised to this service except the usual one of making sure that we have made prudent provision for the finances necessary to maintain it. That question can arise on another occasion, with general reference to all social services.

I should like, however, to take this occasion to make a suggestion relating to this particular social service and to all others obtaining in the country at the present time. Since this State was founded, the object of each Administration has been to mitigate, in so far as their resources permit, the rigours of the capitalist system, and the rigours which inevitably arise out of a social system founded upon individual enterprise, by improving the social services. That has meant that we set up one service after another and, in doing that, I think we did very well. I hope that our resources and inclinations will permit us to continue in that course.

But we are now reaching a point when we have so many social services that co-ordination is becoming necessary, and it is becoming vitally necessary from two points of view. The first is this: that where you have seven or eight funds, out of which indigent people have a right to get relief, you will find that the cute fellow, who is probably not strictly entitled to help from any of them, is able to wangle assistance, sometimes not only out of one fund, but out of two or three. You will find that the person for whom these funds are primarily intended, that is the simple person who cannot understand the machinations of red-tape, who is really deserving, who has no one to help him to get what he is entitled to under the law, finds himself driven from pillar to post when looking for the relief which he stands in need of. He or she asks for employment assistance and is told, "You ought to get outdoor relief." The person goes to the relieving officer and he says, "Why have you not got the widow's pension? Try to get the widow's pension and you will not want relief." He or she tries to get the widow's pension and is told that he or she is probably a charge on another fund.

He could not get a widow's pension.

I appreciate the Deputy's jocular intervention, but this is not an easy point to expose and I ask the Deputy to postpone his jest until I finish. What I want to secure is that in certain fixed areas, say, in each county there would be a co-ordinating officer for all our social services and that eventually we would have a Minister for social services. So that, if any person, however simple, was destitute or in grave distress, but could not bring himself within the ambit of any scheme known to him, that person would be able to go to some individual in his own county and say to him: "I cannot make out what I am entitled to, but I know that your duty here is to see that the citizen gets his rights under the law when he stands in need of relief of one kind or another. These are the facts of my case. Do not start reading the law to me. Do not start telling me that somebody will look after me. I want to know from you what you are prepared to provide for me." I want that co-ordinating officer to examine the facts of that case and see that the aggrieved individual gets whatever assistance he is entitled to, and if it appears, under the peculiar circumstances existing in this particular case, that the person is not covered by any existing scheme, that it will be his duty immediately to prepare a memorandum and forward it to the responsible Minister to say: "This is a class of case which has come under my notice and I bring it now under yours, so that if similar cases are arising in other counties you may have the requisite material to form a judgment as to whether further social legislation is not desirable to cover this peculiar class of case which has so far been overlooked."

That is one very special reason why this matter should be attended to. There is another immensely important reason, and it is this. If you examine our present social services, you will find that they are being administered by all sorts of different Departments. Each Minister who is responsible for one service must set up a machine in his own Department adequate to operate that service efficiently, or as efficiently as the existing law will permit. That means that you have an immense increase in the overhead cost of getting money, voted by this House, out to the indigent people entitled to it. I think we could effect immense economy in the overhead charges of these social services if we could coordinate them all, and made one Minister and one Department responsible for their administration. I know that certain social services are administered by the Government, and others by the local authorities, but I do not think any such difficulty should be allowed to stand in the way, and that whatever steps might be necessary effectively to co-ordinate them ought to be taken. It would be impossible for anyone casually to adumbrate a complete scheme to achieve that purpose here and now, because it is a matter on which there would have to be careful inquiry and expert evidence heard from those in direct touch, but I feel that very important work urgently awaits us in regard to these matters.

The last aspect of this question that I want to touch upon is this, that if we are to devise social services in this House, we should be extremely careful—if and when a desire from existing charitable institutions manifests itself—of the form of assistance we give, because it would be an unmitigated disaster if existing charitable institutions were brought under any kind of bureaucratic control, or made the subject of any bureaucratic interference, in consideration of any contribution they might get from the State or from local funds, because the whole essence of the successful working of charitable organisations is that the persons working them are acting bona fide and disinterestedly. If not, no amount of bureaucracy will make the charity what it ought to be. We have further to consider if we desire to make State or local funds available to charitable institutions. I am not arguing that that should never be done, as there are exceptional circumstances in which it may be necessary to do it, but we ought to bear this in mind, that if it is known that a particular charitable organisation is receiving funds from the Government, many charitably disposed persons will inevitably say: “If I have 10/- or £1 to give in charity this year what is the use of giving it to such and such a society? Their funds are guaranteed by the Government. All they have to do is to spend as much as the object of their charity requires, and if there is a deficit at the end of the year they can get a contribution from the Minister for Local Government for whatever amount is necessary to make up the deficit.” If that is so, people will turn their charitable donations elsewhere, and will begin to get the impression that if one charity gets assistance of that kind then other charities ought to get the same kind of assistance.

What are we discussing now?

I admit normally that that has nothing to do with the question before the House. I see the Chair looking at me askance. Perhaps the Chair thinks that I have strayed.

The Deputy may safely omit the word "perhaps."

If I have strayed I apologise. I admit that I have, but I was following a certain line of thought, all in the sacred cause of co-ordination. I believe that if a scheme is put forward it will be favourably and sympathetically considered on all sides. I submit this is a matter of considerable urgency, and that no unavoidable delay should be tolerated in getting on with the work, with a view to examining the problem so that existing evils might be abated.

Deputy Dillon has raised a point to which I adverted on a previous occasion. There is considerable merit in his suggestion, as in respect to local government we seem to have built up the Department on the example furnished by Great Britain, where the equivalent Department does approximately the same kind of work and discharges the same functions as the Department of Local Government here. If we look at the position in France, Belgium, Holland and the Scandinavian countries, we find that they thought it desirable to separate the functions of local government proper from other functions; for instance, social services are here combined under the Department of Local Government. Since 1922 a variety of legislation has been passed here, a large proportion of which is administered by the Department of Local Government. Such administration has, in my view, tended to make that Department a large and from the administrative point of view rather a cumbersome Department. I think it is a tribute to the efficiency and the loyalty of the staff of that Department that such legislation has been carried through with relative smoothness, but the time has arrived, as Deputy Dillon pointed out, when some consideration should be given to the question of detaching social services from the Department of Local Government and combining them with social services administered by other Departments. For instance, we have rather a piecemeal method of adminiistration of social services, such as the widows' and orphans' pensions under the Department of Local Govment, unemployment insurance and unemployment assistance under the Department of Industry and Commerce, payment of old age pensions by the Revenue Commissioners, while national health insurance is administered by the Department of Local Government. Actually we have three Departments concerned with the administration of our social services because of the piecemeal character of these services. Owing to the manner in which they were introduced and the uneven dates of their introduction, it was not possible to provide a proper scheme of co-ordination for such legislation. The Minister has already had representations from the trade unions urging him to do something in the way of co-ordinating certain social services. For example, there is no reason for having to affix three separate stamps to three separate cards. The trade unions have urged that there should be co-ordination there, so as to get these services combined in one card by the simple process of having a single stamp.

Deputy Dillon admittedly strayed from the resolution. I do not want to debar Deputy Norton from following the bad example set, but I do submit that the whole scheme of co-ordination might be more properly debated on the Estimate for the Minister's Department. The Deputy may refer to it briefly now.

I am almost finished. but with all due respect, I submit that I did not travel as far as Deputy Dillon.

The Chair does not institute comparisons.

Deputy Dillon said that if grants were to be made to certain organisations they should be charitable organisations. There was no provision for that in the Bill. I am calling the attention of the Minister to the fact that with more comprehensive widows' and orphans' pensions legislation more burdens will be placed on the Department of Local Government. Here, Sir, I just want again to enter a plea for the separation of the social functions of the Department from its ordinary functions in respect of local government, in the hope that I can excite the Minister into bringing this matter before the Executive Council so that when we are having a new Constitution some provision will be made for the creation of a separate ministry of social services, and the co-ordination under that ministry of the various social services at present dealt with by a number of Departments.

I should like to raise on this Bill one point that I raised on the Second Reading. I should like, in particular, to raise it on the Money Resolution, because it may be more convenient to do so than to wait for a section of the Bill, as the matter at issue is not dealt with specifically in any section of the Bill. I suggested to the Minister on the Second Reading of the Bill that provision ought to be made so as to enable a person who has been in insurable employment, but who went out of insurable employment and in fact does not follow any particular employment, to become a voluntary contributor. Take for instance the case of a person who has been perhaps in the State service. While there, he is covered for widows' and orphans' pensions purposes under the main Act. If he is superannuated on the grounds of ill-health or old age, in either eventuality he is probably not able to follow any further employment, but the risk of death is always there, and the risk becomes particularly terrifying in view of the smaller income which a person has in retirement. I inquired from the Minister on that occasion whether it would be possible for him to introduce an amendment to this Bill, so as to enable persons in such circumstances to get themselves covered under the contributory sections of this Act as voluntary contributors, in the same way as they are permitted to become voluntary contributors if, being in insurable employment at a rate not exceeding £250 per annum, the rate should pass over that limit. In those circumstances they are entitled under the main Act to get themselves insured for the purpose of contributory pensions which, under this Bill, are very much better than under the non-contributory sections. I asked the Minister on that occasion to look into the matter and he promised to do so. No amendment has been submitted by the Minister for the Committee Stage, and I should like to inquire from him what the result of his consideration has been.

As the Minister is aware, a large number of people made applications for pensions under the original Act. Will it be necessary for those people to make fresh applications, or will the claims already in the Department be considered?

All the applications which were made when the 1935 Bill was being considered, and after it became an Act, have been kept and are being revised at present. In the case of anybody who has already made a claim, and who has not been granted a pension, that claim will stand good.

Then it will not be necessary to make a second application, at the moment anyhow?

It will not be necessary to make a second application. It is possible for a person who, in other respects, complies with the law, to become a voluntary contributor for a widows' and orphans' pension.

Even if his rate remains below £250?

In the case of a person whose salary is under the limit of £250, it is permissible for that person to be a voluntary contributor.

I am afraid there must be some misunderstanding on this particular point. A person who is in insurable employment, that is a person who is insurable for national health purposes, or is in an excepted class, is compulsorily insured for the purposes of widows' and orphans' pensions. So long as that person is employed in an insurable capacity or in an excepted class, he is compulsorily insured for widows' and orphans' pensions purposes. Suppose, for instance, that person retires from insurable employment because his health is bad, and he does not then follow any particular employment, that person it seems to me under the main Act is not empowered to become a voluntary contributor. If the Minister now says he is, I should like to know under what section of the main Act he is entitled to become a voluntary contributor.

I cannot give you the section of the Act, but he can become a voluntary contributor.

I can understand that in certain circumstances. Suppose a man has £240 a year, and his employer comes to him and says, "I propose to give you £260 a year as from next week." If a person goes outside the £250 limit, within 12 months from that date he must exercise his option of becoming a voluntary contributor, but if he has less than £250 the question of becoming a voluntary contributor never arises because he is a compulsory contributor. In the case of a man who is not following any employment at all, but living on a pension of, say, £1 per week, under what section of the Act can he become a voluntary contributor?

Section 71 of the Act of 1935 says:

(1) Where any person who has been employed in an excepted employment to which this Act applies (not being a married woman) ceases after the date of the passing of this Act to be so employed, such person may, subject to the prescribed conditions, become a voluntary contributor under the National Health Insurance Acts.

(2) Where a man who is not an insured person marries a woman who is an insured person by or in respect of whom one hundred and four contributions have been paid under this Act, he may, if he gives notice within the prescribed time after the marriage and in the prescribed manner, become a voluntary contributor under the National Health Insurance Acts.

Do I understand that the Deputy is concerned with a person who never was insured?

Not precisely. I am concerned with the case of a person, say, who is working to-day for £3 a week; who falls into bad health; who is unable to continue to follow his employment; who is compulsorily retired from his employment and receives a pension of £1 per week. He is unable to work any further because of his bad health, but the risk of death is greater than if he were an ablebodied man. Is that person now empowered to become a voluntary contributor when he ceases to follow any employment?

If he has been in national health insurance and paid the usual contributions—even in a case where he has been out of employment there is an arrangement for a free year —I understand that he can become a voluntary contributor even though he is not at the time in employment.

And even though he may have been in an excepted class and not in insurable employment?

That applies to excepted classes also.

Will the Minister say anything on the general questions raised?

On the question of the co-ordination of social services, I discussed this matter in the House when in opposition, and I have not lost sight of it since I became Minister, but my time since I became Minister, aside from the ordinary work of the Department, has been employed in trying to improve social services rather than in co-ordinating them. I have not lost sight of the matter. I have discussed it—I will not say frequently— a few times with responsible officials in the Department, but it has perhaps not got all the attention it might get, or all the attention that it could get, in view of the fact that I and the Department officials have been so busily engaged on constructive matters in relation to social services. I feel, like Deputy Dillon and like Deputy Norton, that sooner or later a step in that direction will have to come, that co-ordination of social services must be secured, but when it can be tackled I cannot say at the moment. I would not like to make any promise.

May I ask the Minister if he has overlooked the fact that probably the most immediate and most effective improvement that could be made in social services would be their co-ordination——

I thought it much more important to bring in the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Bill.

——as well as of the fact that through the economies effected thereby it might be possible very largely to extend the existence of those services?

Question put and agreed to.
Resolution reported and agreed to.