I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.
The purpose of this Bill is to extend and improve our existing social insurance scheme. The main innovations covered by it are:—
(i) the introduction of old age (contributory) pensions,
(ii) the extension of widows' (contributory) pensions beyond age 70, and
(iii) where the recipient of disability benefit, unemployment benefit, or widows' (contributory) pension has more than two qualified children, the payment of an allowance in respect of each child in excess of that number, instead of limiting the payment to the first and second, as at present.
In addition to these new features the Bill also provides for substantial increases in the basic rates of disability benefit, unemployment benefit, maternity allowance, widows' (contributory) pension and orphans' (contributory) allowance. Increases are also being granted under the Bill in the allowances for adult dependants and the first two qualified children.
Speaking in July last and again in December the Taoiseach, having mentioned the fact that since the present Government took office in 1957 it had twice increased the level of social welfare (assistance) payments—it has just done so again for the third time in the present Budget—referred to the fact that I was planning to introduce a scheme of contributory pensions and at the same time to enlarge existing contributory benefits and to increase their rates.
On the 11th December, last, in the debate on the Adjournment, the Taoiseach, outlining the Government's design said, as reported in Volume 178, Column 1543 of the Official Report:
The intention is to lay the foundation of a sound scheme now and then to build up on it as conditions permit. The main effect of this scheme will be to confer upon all former insured workers who are now beyond their labours a substantial improvement in their existing resources.
This Bill has been framed in accordance with that general principle. My purpose has been to work on the basis of existing services in order to simplify administration and keep administrative costs as low as possible. Accordingly in determining the classes to be covered by the new pension scheme it has been decided to adhere to the existing basis of social insurance, and thus to provide cover only for those who are insured for the main benefits under the Social Welfare Acts. For this reason self-employed persons will not be brought within the scope of the pension scheme, as they are outside the ambit of the existing social insurance scheme. Similarly, persons who are at present compulsorily insurable only for the purposes of widows' and orphans' (contributory) pensions, for instance, permanent and pensionable civil servants, officers of local authorities etc., will not be insurable for the new pension.
There is, however, provision in the present scheme whereby persons under the age of 70 ceasing to be compulsorily insured, may, under certain conditions, preserve their insurance for widows' and orphans' (contributory) pensions by becoming voluntary contributors. It will be necessary to extend this provision so that insurance for the new pension may also be preserved. Accordingly, voluntary contributors will have to be divided into two categories, based on the risks against which each was covered while he was compulsorily insured. Where, prior to becoming a voluntary contributor, a person was compulsorily insurable only for widows' and orphans' pensions, he can become a voluntary contributor for such pensions only.
If, however, his compulsory insurance covered other benefits in addition to widows' and orphans' (contributory) pensions, he can become a voluntary contributor for old age (contributory) pension and widows' and orphans' (contributory) pensions, as well. A person who is already a voluntary contributor at the commencement of the Act and whose previous compulsory insurance covered other benefits in addition to widows' and orphans' (contributory) pension, may elect to become a voluntary contributor for old age (contributory) pension and widows' and orphans' (contributory) pensions or to continue as a voluntary contributor for widows' and orphans' pensions only.
As Deputies will have seen from the explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill, the qualifying age for old age (contributory) pension will be 70 years both for men and women. A lower qualifying age would virtually necessitate the imposition of a retirement condition, with a concomitant earnings rule, at least up to the age of 70. The application of such conditions would, in effect, amount to a means test, and would add considerably to the administrative complexity of the scheme. In all the circumstances it is considered that the provisions in the Bill represent the best approach to the problem.
The contribution conditions for old age (contributory) pensions as set out in Section 16 of the Bill are briefly:—
(a)that the claimant has entered insurance before attaining the age of 60,
(b)that not less than 156 employment contributions have been paid since his entry into insurance, and
(c)that he has an average of 48 contributions paid or credited in each contribution year since his entry into insurance.
There is, as the House will agree, nothing extraordinary or unprecedented about these conditions. Indeed, more rigorous contribution conditions were, in fact, proposed for retirement pensions in the 1949 White Paper on Social Security which was the basis of the abortive Social Welfare (Insurance) Bill of 1950.
Under the present social insurance scheme in the 1952 Social Welfare Act, the conditions imposed for the various benefits include a "156 contributions paid" test for title to widow's (contributory) pension, marriage benefit and disability benefit of indefinite duration while for disability benefit and unemployment benefit, an average is also required of not less than 48 contributions paid or credited in the governing contribution year. There would appear, therefore, to be little scope for misunderstanding or misrepresentation in regard to the conditions proposed in the present Bill.
Yet, most surprisingly, there has been gross misunderstanding and consequent misrepresentation of them in quarters where I think this is inexcusable. For instance, I have learned that a certain Deputy has been telling his constituents that in order to qualify for the full old age (contributory) pension a contributor would have to be in insurable employment for an average period of 48 weeks in each year since his entry into insurance and in addition would require to have been in such employment for not less than ten years. Now this is just nonsense, and, as nonsense, one might ignore it. But for the sake of truth and of those whom the Deputy in question may have misled, it is necessary to make the position clear.
I shall take first of all the stipulation that a person must have entered into insurance before attaining the age of 60 years. This general condition will apply to all insured persons seeking the new pension. In the case of persons who attain the age of 70 years before 5th January, 1963, there could of course be no entry into insurance under the Social Welfare Acts prior to the attainment of the age of 60 years as those Acts only commenced on 5th January, 1953.
It is proposed, however, in regulations to be made under Section 13 of the Bill, to which I will refer later, to treat an entry into insurance under the former National Health Insurance Acts prior to the attainment of age 60 as effective for the purposes of the new pension and those regulations will also provide for the counting, where necessary, of contributions paid or credited under the National Health Insurance Acts towards satisfying the remaining two conditions for the new pension.
The first of these two conditions to which I have referred, condition (b), is quite simple, and should not be open to misinterpretation. It is that to qualify for an old age (contributory) pension the person concerned must have been an insured person and in that capacity must have paid not less than 156 employment contributions since his entry into insurance. I think I should emphasise that these contributions must have been paid, that is to say there must have been an actual transfer of cash for stamps in respect of each one of them. There is no alternative to actual payment of contributions in this case, and no provision, therefore, for crediting the insured person with contributions to make up a deficiency in the required number of 156.
On the other hand, in formulating the terms of the third condition which must be fulfilled in order to obtain a contributory pension, provision has been made to meet the case of an insured person who, because he is either ill or unemployed, is presumed not to be in a position to pay his contributions as an employed person or to have contributions paid by his employer in respect of him. This case which could involve hardship, is met, as any Deputy who read and understood the Bill must recognise, under Section 16 of the Bill.
Sub-paragraph (c) of paragraph 6 which that Section proposed to insert in the Fourth Schedule to the 1952 Act provides that the average of 48 contributions per contribution year is to be calculated on the basis, not merely of the contributions actually paid, but on those cash contributions plus the notional contributions with which the insured person has been credited. It is on the sum of the paid contributions and the credited contributions that the average is to be calculated. An insured person who is either too ill to work and notifies the Department of that fact or is unemployed and signs the unemployed register, will be credited with a contribution for each week of such duly notified illness or proved unemployment.
Thus, the Deputy to whom I have referred—and in my opinion, this is very regrettable—grievously misled his listeners when he told them that no one would qualify for an old age (contributory) pension who was not in insurable employment for an average of 48 weeks per year over a period of at least ten years. I trust he will now take steps to correct his erroneous statements and make the truth known to those whom he so woefully misled.
Deputies will, no doubt, appreciate that until the new rates of contribution proposed in the Bill become payable, nobody will have paid any contribution containing an element in respect of the new pension. If eligibility for pension were to be determined by reference solely to the new contributions, it would be some years before any pension would become payable. Thus insured persons within a few years of pensionable age and those now over that age would never be able to qualify.
It could be argued that those now over 70 are not entitled to any concessions for the reason that they have passed out of insurance, having derived therefrom in the course of their insurance life such insurance cover and benefits as they were entitled to on the basis of the contributions which they had paid. I am sure the Dáil will agree with me that such persons should not be deprived of the opportunity of qualifying for the pension, and accordingly provision is being made in Section 13 of the Bill to enable contributions already paid under the social welfare code to be taken into account. The manner in which this will be done will be set out in detail in regulations to be made under the section.
I should stress here what I have already mentioned earlier in relation to the conditions for the new pension that Section 13 also provides that the regulations made thereunder may modify the contributions conditions in the case of persons who entered insurance prior to 5th January, 1953, the date on which the co-ordinated social insurance scheme under the Social Welfare Act, 1952, came into operation.
It happens, however, that comprehensive insurance records are available only as from that date, and it is intended that the regulations will ensure that apparent shortages of contributions which are due to the absence of comprehensive records will not penalise a claimant for an old age (contributory) pension. As the result of this section, it is estimated that 23,000 persons who are now in receipt of non-contributory old age pensions, together with 7,000 adult persons who are dependent upon them, will qualify, respectively, for old age (contributory) pensions and the associated allowance in respect of dependent adults.
I trust that my friend, the former Coalition Minister for Local Government, will broadcast that good news to the Rosses.