That Dáil Éireann is of opinion that the basis upon which income is assessed for the purpose of the means test in the case of persons entitled to old age pensions, blind pensions, and widows' and orphans' pensions, requires revision and in particular that in assessing income for such purpose, no cognisance should be taken of (a) gratuities paid to a pensioner by members of his or her family whether in cash or in kind; (b) any benefits received otherwise than in actual cash, and (c) casual moneys earned by the pensioner, and requests the Government to take all necessary steps accordingly.
In rising to propose this motion on the Order Paper standing in the names of Deputy Costello and myself, I might explain to the House that it is being taken to an extent out of its order on the paper, owing to the illness of one Minister and another Minister being engaged in the Seanad. I received an amount of documentary information from various organisations interested in the particular groups of pensioners referred to in the motion, but that information is not with me this evening, as I was not aware that this particular motion would be taken this evening. However, the motion is in itself explanatory. I submit to the House that this is not an unreasonable request to make at this particular time, in view of the circumstances that exist and the generally admitted situation, which requires a review of every State income, from the smallest salary or the smallest wage, up to the largest salary and the largest wage.
The motion which, in effect, deals with only three classes, old age pensioners, blind pensioners and the pensions of widows and orphans, asks Dáil Éireann to express the opinion that it would be advisable to carry out a revision. It does not make any demand on the Government; it merely requests a re-examination of the conditions of these people in the light of the circumstances that exist to-day. It asks, further, that in the course of that revision, special attention should be paid to the advisability of not taking into account for the purpose of assessing means (a) moneys paid to the pensioner by members of the pensioner's family, (b) gifts made to the pensioner in kind and not in cash and (c) any casually earned money which the pensioner may earn.
It is agreed on all sides that in view of the changed economic and financial conditions in this country and the acute spiral in the cost of living it is unreasonable, unjust and unfair to ask even the officer carrying the highest salary in the State to continue to exist on the same salary as he had prewar. It has been stated, rather unexpectedly, in so far as it was completely out of time, by the Minister for Social Services, that he intends to make a proposal to Dáil Éireann to increase these particular pensions by a certain amount.
This motion is not asking for an increase: it is asking the Government, in revising these pensions schemes, not to dam absolutely and ruthlessly all the wells of charity and all the little streams of assistance that may reach the very poorest people in our midst. It asks them, if a good daughter or son abroad in England sends £1 back now and then to an aged mother or father, £1 hard earned but £1 representing more than 20/-, representing a gesture of love and affection, of gratitude and appreciation for all that aged mother or father did for them, that the pensions officer should not step in and investigate and cut the unfortunate parent's meagre pension because of occasional gifts of that kind. It asks further, that if some kindly, benevolent neighbour, perhaps an ex-employer, who had that person in his service for perhaps 20, 30 or 40 years, animated with the Christian spirit displayed by a Samaritan, seeing that old age pensioner endeavouring to eke out a meagre existence on his estate, sends to that old age pensioner an occasional bag of potatoes, a bit of butter, a few poultry or fowl, or something to make that old age pensioner's life a little bit more comfortable and a little bit happier, those gifts should not be taken into account in order to reduce the income allowed to that unfortunate old age pensioner, blind pensioner, or widow.
It has now been announced as the policy of the Government—the considered policy which must be carried out as an urgent and imperative measure in view of the existing terrible circumstances—that they feel compelled to increase the old age pension by the princely sum of 2/6 a week. Assuming that some ex-employer of some old age pensioner is giving that old age pensioner a few shillings a week—giving the maximum allowed without reducing the pension—and that that ex-employer comes to the same conclusion that, in view of the appalling rise in the cost of living, he will increase his little grant to this old retainer by the sum of half a crown, the result under the present system is that the extra half a crown given by the State must be immediately taken away. That must be done or the person who is helping that aged person to a very slight extent must deny any increase to the individual. I do not think that was intended. I do not think that can be defended. I do not think there is any justification for the State taking into account gifts from a relative in cash or in kind. It may be and probably will be said that those were the conditions in the old age pension scheme years ago and before the present administration took over. That argument does not hold water. That may have been the system years ago but are we never going to improve conditions? If things were bad in the past are they to remain bad in the future and for all time? Is there no progress to be made in any direction because of the fact that things were backward years before? Surely, that is an argument against progress in any direction. Surely, that is an argument against increased State assistance of any kind or in any direction.
We all know that the relations between Government and public—between the Government of a State and the individual citizens of every State—have changed radically and drastically in the last 20 years and that day by day government in all States is becoming more and more responsible for services, social and otherwise. They are becoming responsible for services the responsibility for which now would have been regarded as lunacy in any administration 25 years ago. All that progress is healthy. All that progress is good and sound. All the progress is welcome. Again, it is common sense and sound administration to launch any scheme on strictly rigid lines. You must find out at the beginning exactly how you stand. But those rigid lines must be relaxed with time. That is normal. That is customary. The argument that the situation was such 15, 20 or 30 years ago is not an argument. It cannot be defended and it should not be listened to.
The next point is that it is Dáil Éireann—the whole of Dáil Éireann— that votes this money. It is not voted just by the Government or the Government Party. It is voted by the people of Ireland and it is the people of Ireland who subscribe the money. It is subscribed by every taxpayer and not just by those of the Fianna Fáil Party. I say without fear of contradiction that the people of this country, with their big generous Irish hearts, would assent to the request made here and that the people of this country would agree, if it were explained to them and if they had the same knowledge of these particular tests and barriers that we have here, that it is wholly unreasonable that because a son or daughter in England or America sends home some little assistance to the parents above a certain figure that the pension of those parents must then be cut, or the pension of the blind brother or the blind sister, or the pension of the related widow with her orphan children. That would not be the desire of the people. It would not be the desire of the taxpayers, rich or poor. It would not be their desire that gifts of any kind—food, clothes, or cash— should be taken into account for the purpose of reducing the pension. The mere fact that the gift is made in kind indicates in itself the necessity for such a form of external assistance.
The third class referred to in this request for exemption is the class where the opportunity for casual earnings arises. Casual earnings of old age pensioners should not be taken into account for the purpose of reducing the pension. We are living in a country that gradually and progressively is becoming depopulated. We are living in a country where in the last harvest there was not enough manpower or woman-power to save the harvest without practically disbanding the Army and, to a great extent, the Civil Service, while at the same time urging people to leave their ordinary occupations and avocations in order to lend a hand on the land to save the people's food supply and save the nation from starvation. To lay it down in such a situation that any old age pensioner who gave a day, or two, or three days now and then as a casual helper in a harvest field or did an odd day out fishing off our coast—and the population is without fish at a time when volunteers are feeding on our fish and making money out of it—would lose some few shillings a week off his pension was a travesty of all social justice.
The request made here is a simple request. We ask for a revision of this machinery. I take it that there is a revision being carried out at the moment in every Government Department with regard to all State services. We ask that a revision be carried out and that in carrying out that revision this particular little outside assistance to the pensioner should not be taken into account. That is the request made in this motion. It is to put this request that I stand up here to-night. I feel that the request finds an echo in the heart of every single Deputy irrespective of his geographical position in this House or of his political affiliation.