Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he is prepared to have restored to voluntary contributors to the social welfare funds (a) sickness benefits and (b) hospital and specialist benefits which ceased to be payable to them on 5th July, 1954.

Under the Social Welfare Act, 1952, which came into operation on 5th January, 1953, voluntary insurance is confined to insurance for widows' and orphans' pensions only, at a special contribution rate of 1/6 a week. The scope of the compulsory provisions of the Act is confined to persons working for employers and is further restricted in the case of non-manual workers to persons where remuneration does not exceed £600 a year. It is considered that so far as other classes are concerned, i.e., persons earning higher income or working on their own account, it is not unreasonable to expect them to make their own provision for periods of sickness. The difficulty of making satisfactory provision for premature death of the breadwinner is, however, recognised by permitting persons who cease to be compulsorily insurable to continue as voluntary contributors for this benefit only.

As regards persons who were already insured as voluntary contributors under the repealed Health and Pensions Acts the position was that the combined voluntary insurance under these Acts was due more to the necessity for administrative simplicity than to a wide demand for voluntary insurance for sickness benefits. In fact, the majority of voluntary contributors elected to become voluntary contributors because of the widows' and orphans' pensions insurance. The rights of these persons to sickness benefits and treatment benefits were not, however, terminated at once. They were preserved for a period of 18 months, that is up to 5th July, 1954, and this period can be further extended by any periods of sickness occurring after 5th January, 1953. This period corresponds to the period of free insurance under the repealed Acts during which a contributor remained insured and eligible for benefit after contributions ceased to be payable by or in respect of him.

I should add that the full benefits of the Social Welfare Act including treatment benefit but excluding unemployment benefit, to which voluntary insurance cannot apply, are worth a weekly contribution of about 4/9.

Might I point out that the principal reason given for the withdrawal of the facilities mentioned in the question was that those voluntary contributors in the majority will be covered under the 1953 Health Act, and I would like to ask the Minister would he be prepared, if the new Health Bill comes into operation and the suspension of those facilities is carried out, to restore these benefits to voluntary contributors?

I would like to point out to the Deputy that the Social Welfare Act of 1952 was passed—needless to say—long before the 1953 Health Act.