Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Mar 1969

Vol. 239 No. 7

Committee on Finance. - Vote 47: Social Welfare (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:—
That a supplementary sum not exceeding £3,907,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1969, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare, for certain Services administered by that Office, for payments to the Social Insurance Fund, and for Sundry Grants.—(Minister for Social Welfare.)

Sir, in the past ten minutes we have listened to charges and countercharges across the floor of this House. I shall not address myself to any of these charges and countercharges since I was not present during the scene that took place last Thursday. But Deputy Tully, my colleague here, does not make charges lightly and, listening to his contribution on this Supplementary Estimate here today, I understood from a statement made by him that the Department of Social Welfare is engaged on a propaganda drive on behalf of Fianna Fáil through the medium of making files available to members of the Government and possibly TDs who have not made representations on the matters contained in the files. In other words, representations made by their colleagues are handed over to Party agents—by "Party agents" I mean members of the Government and Fianna Fáil Deputies—to help them to promote Fianna Fáil by underhand tactics. Mark you, I had some idea that was happening. I know it is happening so far as the Minister for Local Government, the man engaged in the last tussle, is concerned. He has treated this House with contempt since he became a Minister. There is nothing new in his activities.

So far as Deputy Brennan, Minister for Social Welfare, is concerned, I am somewhat doubtful because I regard him as a man of integrity. However, I have had some information in the recent past and I listened to Deputy Tully here today. It is outrageous, if the allegation is correct, that public servants should be paid to hand over files to people who have nothing at all to do with them, people who have not been asked to make any representations whatsoever about the matters contained in the files. I hope we will have from the Minister a detailed statement on this aspect of departmental activities.

I could not make a statement because I do not know what the Deputy is talking about.

Is my language not simple enough? Must I clarify?

I do not know what the Deputy is talking about.

I do not make allegations unless I have reasonable grounds to support them. I read a few letters lately that came from the Minister's Department to certain of his friends. I shall leave it at that. It is up to the Minister to clarify the position in the course of his reply.

I cannot do that when I do not know what it is all about.

I want to be fair to everybody. If I am asked, as a Deputy from West Cork, by John Murphy or Cormac Breslin to make representations on his behalf to the Department of Social Welfare, the representations and the fact that I have made them should not be made known through the Government agent in that constituency. That is what I want to guard against. It is no harm to make these statements here in the presence of the responsible Minister in order to give him an opportunity of saying whether or not there is any foundation for the allegations.

As I am on that score, so far as representations in relation to old age pensions are concerned, is it true that some Deputies have access to the appeals officer while others have not? That is a simple question. I will leave it to the Minister to answer it. Is there discrimination?

No Deputy has access to the appeals officer.

My information is different.

It is easy to say it, but to prove it is another thing. I am not aware of it.

I do not see why a Deputy should be precluded from calling on the appeals officer. In the main the responsibility of the Department of Social Welfare is to make available sums of money to people who are old, incapacitated, unemployed and so on. Everyone agrees that there is an obligation on the Department of Social Welfare to provide—to provide, indeed, in a more liberal manner—for such categories of our people. Since I became a Member of this House I have made the case here that the Department of Social Welfare should have other duties as well as handing out benefits. It should endeavour to create and contribute towards the creation of employment for those to whom they pay benefits. We have a relatively small population —2.8 million—in a small country stretching from Malin Head in Donegal to Mizen Head in Cork. The population is less by many millions than the population of medium-sized cities on the Continent of Europe. Why should it be necessary to have in the Book of Estimates a sum of almost £10 million, plus the amount in this Supplementary Estimate, to pay unemployment benefit to recipients? I have said time and time again that there is no proper co-ordination between the different Departments of State. We have a provision of £9,775,000, plus the amount in the Supplementary Estimate, for unemployment recipients this year. At the same time we are besieged by local bodies and by local development associations to have development works carried out in different areas. Is it not peculiar that, on the one hand, we pay unemployment benefit to ablebodied men, the vast majority of whom would prefer to be working and earning their money rather than going to the exchange signing for it while, at the same time, there is work waiting to be done all over the country? Surely there should be some co-ordination of effort? I maintain that money paid by way of unemployment benefit carries with it the obligation not to work. Why should that be? Why not try to help other Departments, such as the Department of Industry and Commerce, to establish industries in areas in which benefit is being paid, in which it must be paid because of lack of employment. Why not, instead of handing out the money completely free of obligation other than that one must not work, channel the money by way of subvention towards the establishment of industries, which, no matter how small, would be likely in the course of time to stand on their own feet? Would that not be a better way to spend this sizeable sum? I do not want to be misinterpreted in my remarks. I have made these remarks at the church gates in Cork as well as here in Dáil Éireann.

We have Departments existing as if no other Department existed. The Department of Industry and Commerce is supposed to be the Department with an obligation to promote industrial development. Did it ever strike the Minister for Industry and Commerce to say to the Minister for Social Welfare: "Look here, my colleague, you are paying £x in this area to people under the heading of unemployment benefit and under the heading of unemployment assistance. I wonder if we got that money could we get any little industry going that would give these people employment instead of having them travelling to the exchange or to the police barracks, signing for unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance"?

Did it ever strike the Minister for Lands when he reduced the Estimate for his Department to such an extent that in my own constituency 20 to 25 per cent of the workers in the forestry scheme are to become redundant within the next few months——

We cannot discuss that on this Estimate which deals with social welfare.

I am relating my remarks to the Supplementary Estimate now before me. I am entitled to that and I shall do it. If the Chair can point to the section or subsection that I am contravening——

Will the Deputy please listen?

I am listening, but I have my rights.

Yes, but will the Deputy please listen?

The question of employing men on forestry schemes or on any other scheme does not arise on this Vote. We are discussing disbursement of social welfare and not industry.

If you read the second chapter, Sir, you will find what you are disbursing. Under subhead (e) which provides for the payment by the Exchequer of the deficit on the social insurance fund an additional £341,000 is being sought. Do my remarks relate to that?

Yes. With due respect to you, Sir, I will continue.

I am afraid the Deputy will not.

I am afraid I have my rights here. I am an elected Member of this House. We are discussing a Supplementary Estimate of £3 million odd for the Department of Social Welfare.

For social welfare.

I am indicating in my statement that this money could be utilised in another way.

That would be a matter for another Minister. It is a matter for which this Minister has no responsibility.

If I mentioned this on the Department of Lands you would tell me——

Will the Deputy please come back to the Estimate? Otherwise, I will ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

I am continuing my statement. I thought you had a remark to make.

On the Estimate.

On the Estimate. I am reasonably conversant with the procedure of the House and, as a Deputy who has always been respectful to the Chair and who has endeavoured to obey all the lawful rulings of the Chair, I think I am entitled to express my viewpoint here on social welfare benefits, and I am quite entitled to say that this £341,000, and that part of the supplementary sum which is made available for supplementing unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance, could be directed towards more useful channels than the channels it goes through at present.

It would arise on other Estimates, but not on this one. We are dealing with social welfare.

I am dealing with this question.

If the Deputy is going to pay no attention to the Chair's ruling, I will have to ask him to resume his seat.

The Chair is becoming a bit dictatorial of late.

My decision is in accordance with the rulings of the House all down the years. If the Deputy wishes to argue with the Chair I will ask him to resume his seat.

I am not arguing with the Chair. I am arguing with the Minister and with the Government. I have no argument with the Chair.

Will the Deputy please come to the Estimate?

What I did mention earlier on——

We heard what the Deputy mentioned earlier on.

——was that there is no co-ordination between the different Departments of State.

That does not arise on this Estimate.

It is impossible to address yourself properly to the disbursement of the funds sought to be approved by this House unless you are allowed to indicate the way in which you think these moneys could be more usefully employed.

It does not arise.

My knowledge of procedure indicates that I am quite in order. No wonder then that the position obtains here that when you are speaking on one Estimate you must speak as if there was one Department and one Department only, and you must ignore the fact that there is the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Department of Finance and the other Departments which could use some of this money.

That would open the debate very wide.

The debate is open to discuss the £341,000.

I would ask the Deputy again to come back to the Estimate for Social Welfare.

Yes. We have in this Book of Estimates £9,775,000 paid to people who would much prefer not to get that money. We are now asked to add £300,000 odd to supplement such allowances. My claim is that —and I want to emphasise it—our Irish people, our Irish men, do not want to go to the exchanges for these moneys from the State. They would far prefer if those moneys were utilised to provide some kind of productive employment or to establish small industries.

The Deputy should not repeat himself. He said that three times. Repetition is disorderly. Would the Deputy please come to the Estimate for Social Welfare?

I am on the Estimate for Social Welfare. Unemployment benefit is part of the Estimate for Social Welfare. It is set down here on page 198 of the Book of Estimates. I am on the Estimate for Social Welfare. It is regrettable, indeed, that in this relatively small country with a proportionately small population, in the year 1969, with so much productive employment all round us, whether in cities or towns, with houses to be built, sewerage schemes to be provided, land to be drained, roads to be repaired——

That is not a matter for the Minister for Social Welfare.

I am indicating that this Government which have been in office for 13 consecutive years are so incompetent—and I must assume the people who are advising them are likewise incompetent—that we have this position that the Minister for Social Welfare has to come to the Dáil and ask, among other things, for an extra vote for unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance. In my view, if we had a competent Government in power—as we should have and I hope we will have in the not too distant future—that position would not arise and we would not have to vote and ask our citizens to contribute more than £10 million for unemployment benefit payments and almost £4 million for unemployment assistance payments. That is my view today and it was my view when I came into this House.

I want to state as a rural Deputy— and I am sure the same applies to urban areas—that more than 97 per cent of our Irish boys and girls do not want anything to do with unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance but, by virtue of Government policy, they are forced to have recourse to it with the greatest reluctance. That is something all Members of the House should address themselves to. You can fancy in County Donegal a man with a wife and two or three children, or a single man, having to go to the exchange and sign on this for money and, at the same time, all round him there are roads to be improved, forestry plantations to be planted or some other useful productive work which would be helpful to the nation and helpful to the economy if carried out.

What I am claiming now on this Supplementary Estimate, as it will be some time before we will have the major Estimate, is that the Minister —and I think he would get the commendation of all our people—should change the present system, and change the present procedure. He should go to the other Minister and say: "Look here, I am paying so much money to people who are able to work and who are quite willing and able to work if the work is provided, and I wonder, gentlemen, would any of you have any useful and productive schemes to make employment available for these people, rather than having them unemployed and going along to the exchanges?"

This is something I feel very strongly about. Cork County Council as the local authority, an employing body, will lay off, as happened, six men on a Friday night. Money will be available from the Department of Social Welfare to pay to them and, in some cases, that money will be equal to their wage rates, particularly in the case of married men with families. There are other jobs to be carried out by other Departments, by Finance, in forestry, by the Department of Local Government, in water, sewerage and housing works.

In a country where there is so much work to be done it is disgraceful that so many men are unemployed because of lack of funds. We have men idle and redundant because, we are told, there is no money available. Would not this £10 million help to establish industries and give employment in the western counties? It would help to keep our boys and girls who have to emigrate to England and America at home. Money can be found for this purpose but no money can be found by the Department of Local Government and other Departments to find employment. When I mentioned this earlier the Ceann Comhairle ruled that it was irrelevant but the time has come to take some action on this question. I want to repeat again and again, that I am completely against the position obtaining in this country in 1969 where we have £14 million paid out under this heading. I am all in favour of giving money to the old, to the mentally and physically handicapped, to those who cannot find work because of incapacity but it is ridiculous in this year of 1969 to be giving money to able bodied men because we cannot provide enough employment. The city of Dublin is crying out for more houses.

The Deputy will appreciate that he cannot elaborate this debate to include the question of housing.

I appreciate that, Sir, but there is so much useful work to be carried out that if we had proper organisation on top and better liaison between Departments of State the need for having so many of our people unemployed would not arise and neither would the need for such a huge vote from the State to provide unemployment assistance and unemployment benefit. Irish people do not like having to avail of unemployment benefit. Our people were brought up in a tradition of work. We know how hard they had to work in the past and we know that they would much prefer to be helping to improve a road, to provide a waterway or to build a house than to be going to the employment exchange.

The next question I want to deal with is that part of the Supplementary Estimate dealing with old age pensions. I am well aware of the difficulties of people existing solely on the pension. I know that while the means test is applied generally many old age pensioners live with their relatives in reasonably affluent circumstances and in these cases the pension may not be of supreme importance to them. I know the problem of formulating legislation to deal with these different matters. I can appreciate the difficulty of giving a higher pension to a person living alone or who is incapacitated and giving a lower pension to a person who is active and able to look after himself or herself. To deal with those problems the health authorities should come in and level off where the State is unable to devise means of getting around these problems.

I want to say this to the Minister— I have said it before and it is not a question of political kudos for the Labour Party, it is a simple appraisal of facts—that this country is the only one in Europe that has not changed the qualifications for the retirement allowance. We have had old age pensions since 1908, almost 62 years, and there has been no change in the qualifying age. It is time that the age limit should be changed. I am well aware that it would cost money to do so but I also feel that it would not cost the amount we would be told it would cost if we put down a question on the matter to the Minister for Social Welfare.

We all know that a large percentage of the money paid to pensioners finds its way back to the State through taxation. A man draws his pension and gets a pint and out of that the State gets 1/4d plus 2½ per cent turnover tax. On the purchase of other goods which are highly taxed, such as other drinks, cigarettes and tobacco a great deal of the money finds its way back to the State. When the old age pensioner buys tea, sugar, bread and butter, which are all taxable, part of his pension finds its way back to the State.

Possibly there would be an answer to this problem if we had the position that all people had to wait for the pension until they were 70 years of age but that is not the case. Some people qualify for pensions much earlier than 70 years. All our professional people, our public employees, qualify for pensions at 65 years but the man who does not qualify at 65, the man who has to wait until he is 70 is the man who has to be out in the wind and the weather. These are the people, the people with the much tougher jobs, who have to wait until they are 70 and then face a rigid means test to qualify for the allowance. Unless they have no means or have no house they will not qualify for the full pension of £3 5s per week.

Is it not time such outlandish regulations were changed? Is is not time the regulations were changed whereby a man owning any house, no matter how poor or small it is, deemed to be worth more than £25—imagine such a house in 1969—is not entitled to the £3 5s weekly according to the regulations of the Fianna Fáil Government which are implemented through their Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Joseph Brennan? It is very difficult to get that across to old people. Picture an old bedridden woman in her little hovel. Unless the pensions officer asserts that that hovel is of a value less than £25, she cannot get £3 5s weekly. I come now to the question of the introduction of the pension at 65 years. Undoubtedly, it would impose——

The Deputy is aware that he may not advocate legislation on this Estimate.

I shall slip over this. I have in mind that additional taxation would be required. The Labour Party will always support additional taxation which we deem justified for useful and productive measures. I am well aware that money does not fall from heaven but must come from the pockets of our people. I want to ensure, however, that the poor devil who is working on the road or on the farm or who is struggling for a livelihood in a small shop will have a chance of sitting back at 65 years of age just the same as the fellow who is doing reasonably well all his life and who will get not only his pension at 65 but a gratuity of 1½ years' salary— and in some cases before reaching that age at all. We want to do what our Constitution spells out: we want to cherish all our people equally. If this were put into operation it would mean that more employment would be available because more people would be leaving their jobs and farmers and shopkeepers would be leaving their farms and businesses five years earlier——

The Deputy is very ingenious but, at the same time, he is advocating a change in legislation at this stage.

I am aware that, on an Estimate, one is not supposed to advocate legislation——

Particulary on a Supplementary Estimate. We are very much confined, on a Supplementary Estimate, to the headings.

I am anxious to get it across to the members of the Government that there is discrimination in our community in the giving of pensions and that that discrimination should be removed. I am aware of the difficulties. Our Party are prepared to support the legislation and the taxation that will necessarily ensue. When all aspects are taken into account, the amount involved will be found to be not nearly as high as the Minister would allege. Some sections of our community are very well favoured and it is time to bring up the other sections into line. I remember that when this pension was first given these people were termed "septuagenarian paupers". Our old people are esteemed now. The majority are not subjected to such out of date terms. We regard them as our senior citizens and we all hope to live long enough to be in that age group one day. In all the years, we have not changed the limit: it is some time now since I mentioned this point. I understood from a statement by the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy J. Brennan, some 15 or 18 months ago, that some immediate action was to be taken. We have waited now in order to give the Minister a chance and he has certainly had sufficient time.

Speaking of old age pensioners, I should like to refer to the assessment of means. I realise that the social welfare officers must do the job they are paid to do. There are certain standard regulations and it is their duty to follow them as fairly and as impartially as possible. Some of them measure up to our standards: they are fair, just and impartial. I cannot understand, however, why some social welfare officers assume that every old person in this country who applies for a pension is dishonest. Do we not ask every week in this Chamber to let people of 70 years hand over their means to their families so that the young people can get married and make a living for themselves? Why, then, should old people applying for a pension in such circumstances be considered dishonest? It is disgraceful and outrageous that a person who has saved maybe £2,000 over a period of 50 years of struggle and hard work and then gives a certain amount of it to his son and a certain amount of it to his daughter, and so on, is considered dishonest if he then applies for a pension. Such a social welfare officer should be given another job.

I have seen people who made over money to their family in good faith. Could it not be said that almost every one of our people of more than 70 years of age is suffering from incapacity of some kind or another? It is indeed distressing when the pensions officer says to the type of person I have been talking about: "No, you did that in order to get the pension". Why can we not have the same system that operates in relation to a farm so that, once it is handed over and properly assigned, the matter is accepted without further question? Our senior citizens are honest people with a religious tradition and it is unlikely that, in the winter of their days, they would try to obtain money under false pretences. I resent very much a social welfare officer saying to an old woman, in effect: "You are not honest". If the circumstances warrant it, well and good. I have already mentioned that several social welfare officers do a good job and are very conscientious and endeavour to help the applicants as much as possible and to give them justice. I am emphasising this evening that money is holding several people back from their pension rights by virtue of the fact that it is being determined by the appeals officer here in Dublin that, for instance, John Murphy gave Mary, his daughter, a sum of money and gave his son, John, a sum of money for no reason other than to be able to qualify for the old age pension.

Let us get out of this rut in which we have been for too long. An appeals officer in Dublin who will uphold that kind of contention should find some other source of livelihood. Instead of hindering and obstructing our people of 70 years of age from assigning any property they have to their families, let it be a farm, a shop or money, and letting the young man or woman take over, we should be encouraging and asking them to do so, thus giving our young people an opportunity to settle down in their own country and not having to emigrate as so many have had to do before them. I regard this matter as one of great urgency. I am very dissatisfied when I see it happening and I am justified in taking up the time of the House in dealing with this grievance. Irrespective of what a particular social welfare officer may do, there is an obligation on the appeals officer to deal with such cases.

I should like to know how many decisions of the social welfare officer are changed. Are appeals now just a formality, where a case comes to the appeals officer who leaves it on his desk for three or four months and then makes a decision similar to that of the social welfare officer? That was not the case when I became a Member of this House. Then we had a right to go to the appeals officer and discuss with him the pros and cons of each case, giving him our advice with regard to particular applicants. Now only the favoured few can go. When Fianna Fáil came into office a former Minister for Health, Dr. Ryan, decided that this practice would be wrong and would probably give some advantage to Opposition Deputies and that, as far as doling out State benefits was concerned, it should be confined to Fianna Fáil members and Fianna Fáil agents only. This is something which should be rectified.

As a Deputy elected by the people I am entitled, when an old age pensioner comes to me asking me to make representation on his behalf, to go to this man in Aras Mhic Diarmada and see him in his glass cage to discuss the case. That was the position when we had democracy here as far as social welfare was concerned. But this right of Deputies was filched from them by Dr. Ryan and was never given back except to the favoured few. We find Fianna Fáil people writing to "Dear Jack" or to "Dear Jim" saying that they are going to review Mary Murphy's case because it is implied in her letter that she is a Fianna Fáil supporter and that they will help to couch the letter in favourable phraseology. Letters, of course, are framed differently to different Deputies. After this discussion I will get a letter in cold terms but a member of Taca or a member of Fianna Fáil will receive a letter in nice flowery language. "Dear Liam, you were speaking to me about John Murphy and I will look into his case. You may rest assured that I will do the best I can for him." That is the type of letter they will receive but in other cases it will be "A Chara" and "Mise le meas" and that stuff. These are matters which should be aired in this House. If citizens qualify for pensions, then they should be entitled to them irrespective of which Government is in power.

If this Department was functioning properly from the head down, which unfortunately it is not—and when I refer to the head I mean the Minister —there would be no need for anyone to come along to a TD or a county councillor or any other public representative asking him to make representations. There would be no need for Members of this House or of local authorities to trouble themselves making representations if we had a smoothly operating system of inquiry. I fail to see why any old person should have to ask anyone to intervene on his or her behalf.

In regard to the part of this Supplementary Estimate dealing with additional allowances for widows' pensions I should like to make a spceial plea on behalf of widows. Where widows are entitled to contributory pensions they will get them and they do not have to undergo a means test; but a widow with a young family, who has a shop or some other property, may not be able to assign that property to a member of her family, if she were entitled to do so, because of their age. Not alone is she suffering from the handicap of having lost her husband but having lost his earnings, whether he was a farmer, shopkeeper or whatever vocation he followed of a noninsurable nature. Special measures should be introduced to help such widows. They are getting the full belt, if I might use the expression, of the regulations. One can picture a widow with nine, ten, 12 or 13 cows on a farm, whose husband has died a relatively young man, and who has three or four young children. The likelihood is that, because of her interest in the farm and because of the wretched means test she must undergo, she will get no pension or a very small pension. We must change the regulations for widows in such a position. We must help such people who have been unfortunate enough to lose their breadwinners and do not qualify for a pension under our contributory schemes or from other sources. I do not see why this system cannot be changed during the current year, or next year, so that it would come into force on the 1st April. The Parliamentary Secretary or any Member of the House will appreciate such people's difficulties in qualifying for pensions.

I should also like to refer to the need for the Minister for Social Welfare to encourage local authorities to pay blind welfare allowances. A small percentage of people in Cork have lost their sight and we have an obligation to such people to help them. In regard to the Cork Health Authority, I would not give it any credit as far as paying blind welfare allowances is concerned, and I am only saying what I would say to the Authority itself. I do not see the need for all these measurements in the case of blind people. The maximum allowances we can give are relatively small. We should be liberal in our approach to the blind and in applying the regulations governing the granting of allowances.

The only other group to which I referred are those who are physically or mentally handicapped and, particularly, elderly, bedridden people. I hope when introducing the general Estimate next year the Minister will have some good information for such sections of the people. It was suggested to me that when people go beyond 80 they should get a supplementary allowance. Only a relatively small portion of the population reach that age, and I throw out the suggestion so that it can be considered.

I conclude by supporting the allowances involved in the Supplementary Estimate and agreed to by all Parties in the House. I hope, so far as the moneys provided for unemployment benefit are concerned, a more useful method of expending that money will be found in the near future and that the new method will provide much needed employment of a productive nature for many people who are forced through Government policy to live on unemployment benefit or assistance at present.

I want to mention old age pensions and the means tests. There is more than one means test connected with these pensions. The means tests could be more streamlined because, not only have we the test mentioned by the previous speaker, the £26 per year, but there is the further test which I think the Minister should abolish—the test introduced during the credit squeeze of 1965, or perhaps the following year, when the increase given then was made conditional on whether the applicant had means or had not. It transpired in the administration of this increase that, if the applicant had even 1/- a year income, the 5/- increase was not granted. There is, therefore, a category of old age pensioners at present who are caught by this provision. It is time that the Minister abolished it.

You can take the example of an old age pensioner living in a council cottage. If it is a vested cottage, although the pensioner does not in the strict sense own it, the tenancy debars him or her from getting the full old age pension. If the son were the vested owner, or any other member of the family, and the old age pensioner lived in the cottage he would, although his means was no different from that in the other case, get the full amount. This is a niggling regulation which should be abolished as soon as possible.

I also want to mention a point dealt with in recent legislation. That is the allowance paid to old age pensioners where a daughter or step-daughter leaves employment and resides with the old person, because of his age or infirmity, in order to look after him. The regulation is that, if they have three years' social welfare contributions in employment, then a payment of £2 5s extra is allowed to the old age pensioner concerned. Unfortunately, as I have discovered, this does not apply to daughters wo have worked in Northern Ireland or Great Britain. Very frequently such girls come home to look after the father or mother, or both, who are old age pensioners and they thus lose their wages. Such girls should get the same treatment as daughters who have been working at home and give up their employment to look after the old people. Irrespective of where the Irish girl has worked, if she has given up work to look after her father or mother or both, the special allowance of £2 5s should be payable in respect of that daughter or step-daughter.

I am glad that the Minister some time ago indicated that the question of payment of old age pension at 65 is being considered. As a result of the consideration, which I hope will be favourable, I trust this will be done.

In referring to means the previous speaker criticised the Department in regard to old age pensions where a person, on reaching the age of 70, distributes his wealth and is refused the old age pension. Deputy Murphy did not indicate how far this should go or if there should be any limit to it. If a person of unlimited means distributes his wealth and applies for an old age pension at the age of 70, should he get it? In giving it to him should other people who are more entitled to it and more deserving be paid so much less? It is all very well to advocate that those who distribute their means among their families should be considered, but not everyone who does this should be considered. There are people who have reached 70 and who may wish to distribute their wealth but they should be, by no means, granted a non-contributory old age pension which is rightly reserved for those who need it. There is a very strong case to be made that the amount of money being paid by the Department of Social Welfare in children's allowances should not be given to those who have unlimited wealth, as is being done at present.

I can see the logic of Deputy Murphy's suggestion about the unemployment assistance and benefit which are benefits paid when work is not available but I cannot see the logic of saying: "Take this money away and establish with it industries which will give employment to the people concerned". This is absolutely unrealistic and is not facing facts. Surely the amount of money being paid to any individual in unemployment benefit or assistance will not create a job? It is estimated that in order to create a job many thousands of pounds are involved. It is not looking at hard facts for a Deputy to say that it is just as simple as this: there are so many people unemployed who are receiving either unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit; all you have to do is take this money from them and with it establish jobs to employ these people. The creation of one job may cost £40,000 or £50,000. This money which is paid to an unemployed person would certainly not go any distance towards this. There is no point in trying to create a fear in the minds of those who are unfortunate enough to be unemployed that any Party in this House would compel them to do work which may not be economically paid or which may not give a return for a decent day's work. There are countries where people are put to work whether they like it or not, whether the work suits them or not or whether it is productive or not. We do not want to be in that category. Deputy Murphy was not realistic in the very fine picture he painted of what could be done if this money were utilised to establish industries and to do other things.

In regard to people receiving unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance, there is provision in the case of married people who have families for children up to the age of 16 years. In many cases there are handicapped people in the family; they may be 17 or 18 years of age but are not able to work. I feel they should be treated on the same basis as children of school-going age. This is something that we in Donegal have done in respect of cottage rents. As well as allowing for children up to the age of 16, we have allowed for physically and mentally handicapped members of the family who are over 16. I would suggest to the Minister for Social Welfare that it is only right that this should be done. It would be a help and the extra payments are just as necessary in respect of a mentally or physically handicapped boy or girl as they are for the school-going children under 16 years of age.

I want to bring a few points to the Minister's notice. One concerns sickness benefit. Only last week I had to get in touch with the Department on behalf of a married man with a family who applied for benefit on 18th February, 1969. He was confined to a Dublin hospital for a few weeks and then came home for a few weeks. His wife called to the exchange several times for benefit but no benefit came down for him. He had returned to work before he got it a month later. That is not a proper system. I appreciate that the various benefits have been increased but I think there should be a better system devised. Where people are sending in their certificates every week they should be paid their benefit every week. It is not fair to a married man with a family to have to wait so long for benefit. There is no reason why a better system should not be evolved.

I had another case where a man applied for benefit on October 13th last. This man was in England in the year 1967 and had his card stamped over there for the greater portion of that year. I got in touch with the officials of the Minister's Department and they did their utmost for me. They have written on numerous occasions to the British Ministry of Pensions. At first they said his date of birth was not the same as what they had. A birth certificate was sent on but the case is not yet finished. The man is over his illness now but he was out of work for three or four months without getting any benefit. Eventually he applied to the county council for home assistance and the most he could receive from them was £1 a week because the Department do not refund home assistance paid by the county council while a man is waiting to get benefit from the Department. There should be better communication between the British Ministry of Pensions and our Department of Social Welfare. The officials told me they had written and had got no reply. I phoned again and got the same reply. Eventually I had to put down a question to the Minister for Social Welfare. It is on today's Order Paper but was not reached today. The Minister and the principal officials of his Department should arrange for better communication between the British Ministry of Pensions and the Department. If there are reciprocal arrangements there they should be made to work.

Deputy Cunningham raised a point about the 5/- increase in old age pensions for those with no means whatever. This increase was only given if a pensioner applied for it. I had a case where a man applied for it and was granted it but he was very aggrieved that he did not get arrears from the time the increase was introduced. I feel any pensioner who applies should get the arrears from the time the increase was granted. This man was so incensed that he wrote to me asking when the Minister announced this increase and other questions. To satisfy him I wrote to the Secretary of the Department and I wrote "Old Age Pensions Section" on the envelope. I just got an acknowledgment. I think I was entitled to a little more than that if only to satisfy that man that he was not entitled to this increase except from the date of his application. It is most unfair that an old age pensioner without means should not get the arrears from the time the increase was brought in. I would ask the Minister to refund these arrears to these people. This was a travelling man with no means and he did not know about this regulation the Minister brought in. I think people like that should get the 5/- from the date it was introduced. He did get eight weeks arrears, that is from the date he applied. I felt I should have got a decent letter from the Department replying to the various questions this man had sent to me which I forwarded to the Department with a covering letter.

I do not propose to detain the House by making a lengthy speech on this Estimate. I should like to congratulate Deputy Michael Pat Murphy on covering the whole field of social welfare so comprehensively. Everything he has said is true. The suggestion that there should be a certain amount of co-ordination between Departments is a wise one. It might not be wise, as the last Fianna Fáil speaker has said, in the short-term, but it would be in the long-term. I believe the Minister for Industry and Commerce, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Social Welfare and other Members of the Cabinet have a part to play in ensuring that jobs will be arranged in different areas, probably at different times, in order to remove the necessity for paying unemployment assistance to a number of men.

As long as I can remember, no substantial increases have been given to social services recipients. If there is one factor that has contributed more than anything else to the retention of Partition it has been our inability to give social welfare benefits approximating to those obtainable across the Border. The Labour Party will at all times support any suggestion of an increase in social welfare benefits. Everybody in this House can be certain that any Irish Catholic north of the border who is dependent on social welfare will vote Unionist in any election in the North, and we must agree that that man is right because otherwise he will be cutting a stick to beat himself. We cannot expect him to vote Nationalist or to vote Republican or to vote something that might eventually bring him under the control of an Irish Government, which would mean that he would get only half what he is now getting by way of social welfare benefits in the North. This is a very complex problem. We are passing through a time when to give increases of any kind represents a problem. That is why I would not force any issue where finance is concerned. I am not unmindful of the existing economic trouble. Nevertheless, it is our duty to provide for our people. I know too well that throughout the length and breadth of this country there is hunger, misery and want. That is not a fairytale. It is evident in every town.

Various suggestions have been made, with some of which I would agree and with others of which I would not agree. I would not agree with the suggestion that the old age pension should be payable to any man at 70 years of age irrespective of his wealth or the extent of his property or his bank account. I hope I shall never live to see the day when Lord Elveden will draw the old age pension. It would be governmental madness to bring about a situation of that kind. However, I would certainly support, as I know my Party will support, any effort to improve the lot of those in need.

I often wonder what our position would be if we never had emigration, if we never had that terrible haemorrhage that took from the shores of Ireland thousands of our finest men and women. As long as I can remember, Fianna Fáil have been telling the country that they and they alone have the cure for unemployment and emigration. I can see plainly now that they have a cure for unemployment and emigration, but it is a long-term cure.

The debate is confined to the headings of the Estimate before the House. The Chair cannot allow a debate on employment or unemployment.

I made the suggestion because I thought it was related to the Estimate. I wanted to say that the Government have a cure for emigration in so far as they created a position which in the long term would cure itself: all the people who could not get a living at home would be gone and there would be no unemployed. However, I bow to your ruling, Sir, if you think I am wandering from the subject before the House. My Party will support anything that will alleviate the position of people in the lower income group, and I refer particularly to pensioners and other social welfare recipients. Anything that can be done to further their interests will always have the support of the people sitting in these benches.

(Cavan): This Supplementary Estimate is really to provide additional sums to implement the promises made to the social welfare classes in what I would describe as the spring Budget of 1968. Of course, we on this side of the House agree that this money should be made available to carry into effect the social welfare payments provided for in the spring Budget of 1968 and the Social Welfare Act which followed. It is opportune to remind the House that since the social welfare payments to old age pensioners, to widows, to orphans, to unemployed of one category or another, were fixed by the Budget introduced in the spring of 1968, the cost of living has been forced up by Government action. Indeed, it has been forced up by a second Budget introduced in the autumn of last year, a Budget which made no provision whatever for compensation for the social welfare classes, who, by that second Budget of 1968, were deprived of what they had hoped to receive, of what they were promised in the spring Budget of that year. I made the point here on a previous occasion that, when it is necessary, for one reason or another, to introduce a second Budget in any year, a Budget which imposes very substantial taxation indeed—might I say record taxation—as did the Budget in the autumn of last year, that Budget should compensate the social welfare classes who are deprived of what they were led to expect from the spring Budget.

This is a shabby sort of trick to play on social welfare classes. It is particularly shabby in an election year. We had an election last year. We had the spring Budget which gave 7/6d to pensioners of one kind or another and increased unemployment benefits. That was before the referendum. After the referendum we had the autumn Budget which neutralised these increases through the medium of blistering taxation with no provision whatsoever to compensate those who were deprived of their lawful rights. It is no harm that that should go on the records of this House. The Government should be warned that this is not acceptable and should not be repeated.

The social welfare payments to the categories covered by this Supplementary Estimate are totally inadequate. As the last speaker said, we are passing through a period of economic crisis. Indeed, that has been said several times but, when we on this side of the House draw attention to extravagance of one kind or another, such as the referendum of last year or Ministerial transport, we are told by the Minister for Finance, although he is not answering the particular question, to grow up. We are told that whatever was spent on the referendum was a mere bagatelle and that mature politicians would not dream of mentioning it here. When a question was asked about Ministerial cars today, in view of the pending speed limits, the questioner was brushed aside by the Minister for Finance, with a wave of his hand and "piffle", "nugatory expenditure". But all these things add up. If we can so lightly brush aside expenditure of that sort we should be in a position to be more generous with old age pensioners and the social welfare classes generally.

This Supplementary Estimate provides money for the payment of old age pensions. These pensions should be paid at the age of 65. That suggestion was described by the Taoiseach as "pie in the sky", something unobtainable, something that thinking people would not seriously suggest. When the old age pensions were introduced in 1908 the qualifying age was 70. Since then our whole standard of living has changed. We have a five-day week; we have two and three weeks' holidays with pay. The whole pattern of living and employment has changed drastically. Yet the qualifying age, 60 odd years after the passing of the Act, still stands at 70. It should be reduced immediately to 65. If that were done a great many of the payments now made to social welfare classes between the ages of 65 and 70 would merge in the old age pension and it would not cost the country as much as one might think.

Many people between the ages of 65 and 70 are in receipt of sickness benefits. Others are in receipt of disabled persons' allowances from local authorities. Others are drawing unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit. They qualify for these benefits because of their age. They cannot be provided with suitable work and they are, therefore, rated as unemployed. All these categories could be covered by the old age pension if the qualifying age were reduced. It is quite easy to get accepted the case for a fortnight's or three weeks holidays. There is no trouble putting through a case for a five-day week or shorter working hours. When it comes to the old age pensioner, however, he must wait until he reaches 70 years to qualify notwithstanding the fact that his fellow workers are, if in Government or local authority employment, forced out of that employment at 65. They are told they are not fit to work. They must retire. But the old age pensioner is told he must work on until he is 70. I hope that when the Minister for Finance comes to draft his Budget, irrespective of that upon which he may clamp down or irrespective of the directions in which he will find it necessary to save, he will not do so at the expense of this category of pensioner.

So much in a general way. I should like to avail of this opportunity to raise a few points which I think can properly be raised within the Rules of Order on this Supplementary Estimate. An old age pensioner is entitled to free light, provided he or she is the tenant or the occupant of the house and is the account holder with the ESB and provided no one else is residing in the house except an invalid or persons who fall within a very narrow category.

I came across a case recently of an old age pensioner of 77 years of age who, after a fairly strenuous struggle, had succeeded in having electric light installed in his house. He applied for a free supply under the scheme but, so far as I could follow the explanation given, he failed to qualify because there was another person living with him in the house. In this case the only other person living in the house is his widowed sister who is in receipt of a widow's pension. She is not 70 years of age. If I interpret correctly the circular which was sent out, that old man will not qualify for a free supply of electricity until his widowed sister attains the age of 70 years.

Not necessarily.

(Cavan): I suppose if she became an invalid—

Is he an invalid?

(Cavan): No. He looks about 50 but he is 77. He is not an invalid. He is 77 years of age and he is drawing the pension. She is about 67, and she is drawing a widow's pension. She looks a worse case physically than he does, and he is 77.

Why does a woman grow old sooner than a man?

(Cavan): At any rate he has been refused a free supply of electricity because this young lassie is living in the house with him. It would be reasonable to amend the regulation to provide for cases like that. I know it is not easy to draft regulations that will not be abused, and I can see that, if the Minister were to grant a free supply of electricity to every non-contributory old age pensioner in the country, without any qualification, he could be supplying light to some very wealthy householders. The tenant could be a non-contributory old age pensioner, and he could have wealthy sons and daughters living in the house. I am not making a case for them. The Minister should look at the regulations in this case and take an overall authority to give a free supply of electricity to an old age pensioner in necessitous circumstances.

That is covered.

(Cavan): This old man came into me and brought me this circular, and the category of such people who might reside in the house with him was underlined. One was any other person over 70 years of age. That excluded the widow.

Or a person necessary for his care.

(Cavan): I am in correspondence with the Minister's Department about this case. I think I am correct in saying that this man looks to be in remarkably good health at 77 years of age.

That does not help him.

(Cavan): I agree, but he is still 77. Irrespective of the state of his health these two people should qualify for a free supply of electricity either individually or collectively. I suggest that the Minister should look at the regulations and, provided that the householder satisfies the Minister that he was an old age pensioner in necessitous circumstances, he should qualify.

The next matter is a hardy annual as far as I am concerned. I want to appeal to the Minister to pay the non-contributory old age pension or the widow's pension to persons who leave this country and go to England to reside with their sons or daughters who have emigrated. We have this problem of emigration, and apparently we are going to have it in the foreseeable future. It is only natural that old people who are left at home in isolated loneliness, in houses that are no more than hovels, or have ceased to be habitable, should want to go to join their sons or daughters who are, perhaps, married and householders in England. It is to the great credit of those sons and daughters who have emigrated that they welcome their aged parents who go to join them in England.

I know the Minister's answer is that in the case of the contributory pension this could be operated but in the case of the non-contributory pension it is difficult if not impossible to operate, because the Minister must see to it that someone who is in receipt of pension qualifies within the means test. It is as simple as that. There is the Department of Health and Social Security in England and I am sure they have many officials throughout the length and breadth of Britain. We have arrived at reciprocal arrangements. The Minister has entered into a reciprocal arrangement with the British Ministry of Health and Social Security under many headings. I do not think it likely that there would be abuses under this heading. I do not think it likely that a person over 70 years of age will take up gainful employment in Great Britain if he goes there. He could win the sweep or the pools, or he could go to the races and hit the jackpot. Again that is not likely.

This problem could be got over by entering into a reciprocal arrangement with the Minister's counterpart over there. I am sure they would be prepared to check up on these people every now and again, first of all to see that they are alive and, secondly, to confirm that they have not suddenly become possessors of great wealth. They could become possessors of great wealth in this country too, because they could have a prize bond and they could draw a prize of £5,000, or they could buy a Sweep ticket and win a prize. It is just as difficult to check up on their means here as it is to check up on their means in Great Britain.

I want to emphasise that this is a social problem, particularly to be found in this country, because it is linked with the problem of emigration, because we are a small agricultural country living beside a vast industrial country, and because for the past 150 years or more our people have been going there in great numbers and are still going. When they go there it is likely that they will get married and settle down there. It is cruel that these old people cannot go over and enjoy the old age pension. I know it may be said that their sons and daughters can take them over there, but they cannot draw the pension. If they went there with even £3 or £3 5s a week they would not feel pauperism. They would feel that they were paying their way and they would be enjoying the company, hospitality and friendship of their own sons and daughters. Under this heading I make an appeal to the Minister's heart rather than to the head of his colleague, the Minister for Finance.

Dealing with the unemployment benefits section, I come across cases where a small farmer goes out to work for a building contractor for six or eight months and applies for unemployment benefit. He has legitimately affixed the required number of stamps to his card but because he has a farm he is held not to be unemployed, not to be available for work. I have made the case to the Minister's Department that if this man was prepared to go out to work with a building contractor—I think he was also employed by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs—it is obvious that his farm is small enough to get on without him and that his wife is prepared to do the work in his absence.

In those circumstances the best possible evidence that he was seeking work and was prepared to work is that he was prepared to go to work with the building contractor or with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. That being so, and having paid the required number of contributions, he should get the benefit of those contributions. It is not likely that you will get those who have 100 acres or very big farmers going out to work and then seeking to draw unemployment benefit. The men who do this will be very small farmers or borderline cases. The best evidence that can be produced is that they went out to work when work was available.

The case has been made to the Minister a number of times in this debate and it was brought up yesterday by way of a Parliamentary Question of the 45/- per week which, in theory, is paid to a daughter or step-daughter who comes home to look after her mother. The Minister's officials must see that it is next to impossible to qualify for this payment. The fact that the Minister was able to tell the House that since the introduction of the scheme about 100 persons had qualified shows how difficult it is to qualify for this payment. I agree that if there is anyone else in the house capable of looking after the parent and if the daughter comes home to do so she should not qualify. The only test should be this—does the mother need nursing attention, is the mother or parent capable of being left in the house on their own? If the parent cannot be left alone in the house in the absence of somebody to look after them then this allowance should be paid to the person who looks after them provided that person is not working.

The test should be—if the daughter is not there, would the parent have to be moved to the local old persons' home? If that is established and if the daughter or step-daughter looks after the parent, then the Minister should pay the pension to the daughter. I do not think it would cost a great deal. If you apply the test I have suggested, if the daughter is not available and if the old person is removed to the home, it will cost the ratepayers or the taxpayers considerably more than the 45/- per week. I suggest that the Minister should look at that problem in the light of what I have said.

The only other matter to which I wish to refer is the certification of recipients of unemployment benefit or assistance. At the present time they have to go to the Garda station within their own district and this matter needs to be taken up by the Minister with the Garda authorities. At the present time the Garda authorities insist that the applicant for unemployment benefit or assistance must sign on at the Garda station in his own sub-district or at the designated Garda station. In my constituency that leads to a lot of inconvenience and hardship because in order to sign on at the appropriate station a person may have to undertake an extra journey of three or four miles. He should be allowed to sign on at the nearest Garda station or at a Garda station which, within reason, he would nominate himself. I had a young fellow with me the other day who does not ride a bicycle. He would have no trouble in getting to one Garda station but there is no means of transport whatever to the one to which he has to go. I suggest that the Minister and his officials should look into that aspect of the matter.

I have raised these points in all seriousness and in the conviction that there is considerable weight in all of them.

I should like to take the opportunity of the Supplementary Estimate to raise some pertinent points about our social welfare policy as it is operated by the present Government and which I maintain is based on a Victorian plimsoll line concept of benefits which are barely sufficient for survival. A harrowing example is the old age pension rate. Those on social assistance are given barely enough on which to survive. Recently, in answer to a Parliamentary Question, the Leader of our Party elicited some figures from the Minister and, as a result, he estimated that some half-a-million men, women and children in this country are living on or below the poverty line: these are the people that exist in statistics. Many of the poor do not appear in statistics simply because our present social welfare system chooses to ignore them. A good example of this are the unmarried mothers and their children.

I do not think our social welfare system caters adequately for the unfortunate members of our community who must avail of it. The inability of the present system to cater for these people is acknowledged by the existence of home assistance grants. If we were to speak about any Government Department as adopting a negative attitude then, without doubt, we could point an accusing finger at the Department of Social Welfare because this is one Department where every effort is made by officials to hinder any application for assistance or benefit to which people are normally entitled. The whole concept within this Department is to obstruct people in every way and to hinder them from getting benefit. This negative attitude is predominant in the Department of Social Welfare right down through every section of it. This is the Department which should have a social conscience. This is the Department which should see to it that the poor afflicted people are protected and given the benefits to which they are entitled. The entire attitude of the Department is oriented towards denying people the benefits to which they are normally entitled. I must emphasise the negative attitude which is more apparent in this Department than in any other Government Department.

I know people who have gone down to inquire about their social insurance, their benefits, their cards, the misplacement of their cards. These people find that the attitude of the officials in the Department is, in effect: "Do not bother us about it; go across to the labour exchange." No effort is made by the Department of Social Welfare to help or to facilitate people in any way. They actually regard these people as second-class citizens who are deserving of nothing.

There is a regulation under the Social Welfare Act whereby widows in receipt of widow's pension, provided for them by their husbands, and who are then compelled to work, receive only half benefit when they become ill despite the fact that they pay the full contribution. Despite many requests by Deputies on all sides of the House, the Minister has refused to consider rectifying this tremendous injustice. It is a damning indictment of the present system that a married woman can work, pay for her stamps and, if she becomes ill, can draw full benefit despite the fact that her husband may be working. The widow is deprived of full benefit because she is in receipt of a widow's pension which was provided by her late husband, through his contributions. I realise that this Supplementary Estimate does not entitle any Deputy to advocate legislalation but this is a glaring example of a tremendous injustice which should be rectified as soon as possible. If the Minister were to bring this matter before the House, he would have the support of every Deputy.

I am afraid the Deputy is advocating legislation.

Yes. I am glad to hear that the Minister is seriously considering payment of the old age pension at 65. We should feel ashamed that we did not introduce this years ago and that we expect people to go on working up to the age of 70 before they can obtain any benefit. I want to know when the Minister will introduce this proposal. There is no use in saying that he is considering it and there is no use in allowing this matter to drag out interminably. Here and now, the Minister should state when he proposes to bring forward this measure.

The question of the non-contributory old age pension or widow's pension is a sore point with many people. I came across a case, which I brought to the attention of the Minister, of the recipient of a widow's pension who was completely homeless. She had nowhere to live. She had a non-contributory pension of £3 3s or £3 5s per week. Being homeless, and in the light of the fact that she could never be considered for accommodation by the housing authority, she sought employment and got a post as a caretaker-cum-cleaner with a free room plus £1 a week wages and she had the £3 3s non-contributory widow's pension. An official of the Minister's Department called to see her. He estimated her wage at £52 per year and, in addition, the rent of the room at £2 12s a year— one shilling per week. As a result, this poor person was deprived of 17/- a week from her widow's pension of three guineas a week. In consequence, she was compelled to work for 3/- per week due to this rigid attitude which was adopted by the Minister's Department. The Minister should make it very clear to his officials that rigidity in interpreting the rules and regulations is wrong, unjust and unchristian. I should like him to make it clear to this House that his officials must adopt a more Christian and just attitude to the recipients of non-contributory pensions.

A short time ago, I had occasion to see the Minister about the question of home assistance which, I understand, is operated by local authorities and over which the Minister has no control, although the money is provided. His only obligation and duty in this matter, I understand, is in relation to the employment of home assistance officers. He has some function in that matter. It is a bad state of affairs that there is no control over home assistance and that there is no obligation on the local authority to pay an adequate amount of home assistance to the destitute.

We had an unfortunate group of people who were the victims of the recent strike. We saw them picketing Leinster House. Their plight was brought to the attention of the Minister for Social Welfare who felt he could do nothing to help them because their case had gone before an appeals officer and the length of time it would take for their case to be considered by an appeals officer was perhaps a month. Meanwhile these people were not given adequate home assistance. We would all like some change in the system so that moneys could be provided immediately by local authorities, under a proper home assistance scheme, for the necessitous and the destitute. All health authorities have an obligation to relieve the destitute but it is not stated to what extent. I do not think it is relieving the destitute to pay £3 to a man and his family in time of need. We should not humiliate these unfortunate victims in our society by merely offering them food vouchers and expecting them to exchange these vouchers all at once. Money must be provided for them and a more flexible system adopted adequately to relieve their destitution.

The Minister has rejected all efforts made by Deputies on all sides to have the three days' waiting time reduced. His argument has been that people who need social welfare benefit can legitimately do without the first three days' benefit. I do not agree with him. The person who needs social welfare is a person who is not financially comfortable and who incurs the extra expense of medical treatment and of drugs. There are glaring examples of people who have suffered terribly as a result of these regulations which the Minister refuses to change. In addition to this, we have the unnecessarily long delays in dealing with applications for social welfare benefits. The Minister says that the people will be paid after the second certificate. He must know there are many cases in which this has not occurred and that the result has been disastrous for householders. When a family is waiting for the cheque on a Friday evening and when it does not arrive they must go through a weekend of starvation, literally, when there is no effective body to deal with an emergency such as this.

I wonder if the Minister or the Department could devise some more effective means of ensuring that people who have submitted social welfare certificates could be paid on time and some means of providing these application forms at doctors' surgeries so that patients could get them immediately. It should not be beyond the competence of the Department to streamline the system and ensure that application forms are available immediately. There should be no delay.

I should like to deal with the question of the mentally and physically handicapped and to say that I deplore the regulations which impose a means test on the handicapped. I remember one particularly glaring example of injustice where a man was handicapped to the extent that he could never walk but because the Department considered that his married brothers were prosperous he could not receive any allowance as a physically handicapped person. I know that the local authority has the power to decide on this matter——

I do not like to interrupt the Deputy but disabled persons' allowances would be a matter for the Department of Health.

I would just like to say that I object very much to the application of a means test in cases like this. In our social welfare policy or programme we must consider the question of abandoned wives and unmarried mothers. They must receive some income. It is not sufficient to say that home assistance is available because in many cases home assistance applies for only four weeks. I know of one wife who was deserted and was completely destitute and she received home assistance for four weeks after which it was discontinued and all she had was recourse to the courts for a maintenance order which could not be enforced because her husband was in England. We should provide regular and continuous means of assisting these people. We might consider a service which would be administered on a community basis with a corps of trained social workers to inquire into these problems. This is one matter in which the Department of Social Welfare must work in close co-operation with the Department of Health. You cannot separate the two because only by close inter-relationship between them can we meet the problems of those in need of help and cater properly for them.

In regard to appeals officers, I should like to know if they are medically qualified persons. I have seen many cases rejected by appeals officers and intensive inquiry could elicit no information about them. I brought one case to the attention of the Department. It involved a person who had been declared fit for work and whose appeal had been rejected by the appeals officer on no fewer than four occasions. Finally, when I pressed the matter and insisted on an independent consultant's examination and the person was found unfit for work, the Department conceded that the person was not fit for work and was entitled to social welfare benefit. This is an example of the negative approach of the Department in endeavouring to prevent people from getting benefit. Instead of adopting a positive approach and endeavouring to help people to get the benefits to which they are entitled, their attitude has been obstructive in every way. Where an injustice like this took place there was no apology from the Department. They conceded that a mistake had been made and only after 18 months, and only after I had intervened, was it rectified. I do not think this is right. The Department should have endeavoured to help that person.

Frequently, we hear from people whose cards are lost. Just recently one person was told the cards were lost although they were submitted to the Department. In another case this person told me the priest for whom she worked submitted the cards in person to the Department. Again, the cards were lost. There must be something wrong with a Department where cards are lost. This is a very important matter for a person who must claim unemployment or social benefit. I do not think the Department is working properly or operating efficiently if it can lose cards. It is not a question of a letter or a form being mislaid. Where a person's entitlement is rejected as a result, it is a very serious matter. It is a terrible indictment of the Minister's Department if cards can be lost, or lost for three, six or eight months and finally discovered somewhere in forgotten files. This is not an isolated case but a regular occurence in this Department. We cannot overlook this fact or gloss over it because people suffer as a result of this. We must have it rectified as quickly as possible.

I realise that employment exchanges now come within the ambit of the Minister for Labour. Unemployment benefit is paid for a certain length of time. It has concerned the Department of Social Welfare for so long that I must refer to it. No effort is made to offer employment to the people concerned. Many of them say they have never been interviewed. It is just outside the Minister's scope now——

That would be a matter for another Minister and another Department.

Only very recently. The Department of Social Welfare fell down on this matter for too long and we see the results of it now.

I should also mention the poor law assistance. The Minister may not be aware that we have poverty-stricken people in the country who cannot afford to pay funeral expenses. We have them in great numbers. I saw a case recently of a woman who had buried her husband. There was no insurance. Four weeks later her mentally retarded child died. There was no insurance and no money to provide for funeral expenses. The health authority would provide a hearse and coffin but would not provide a mourning coach. The woman was told to get the bus to Glasnevin and the hearse would be at the gate and she could meet it there. When I inquired of the local authority I was told that there was no provision for a mourning coach, that the woman must take the bus to the cemetery. The official said the law was antiquated. It is about time we changed it. It provides a total of £20 for funeral expenses. Is the Minister aware that the undertakers take on this service as a matter of charity, as everybody knows that £20 would not cover funeral expenses? We should look into this matter seriously and see if we can rectify the position and provide a more realistic sum. These cases are not as isolated as the Minister may think. When people are destitute somebody must come to their assistance. Invariably, it is the neighbours who help out, as happened in this case, to provide the mourning coach.

Free travel for old age pensioners and other persons is an excellent idea of which I approve. I support it strongly, but some liaison should be established between the Department of Health and the Department of Social Welfare because those who must avail of it generally do so to keep hospital appointments. They are told to report at the hospital at, say, 9.30 a.m. but the travel concession does not come into effect until after ten o'clock. The Minister should look into this. I do not want these people inconvenienced during the rush hour. We do not want to have them travelling during peak hours. Perhaps, through some closer liaison with the Department of Health, notice could be given to the hospital explaining the situation so that these people could be properly facilitated. That should be done. People are deprived of their rights because of the regulations and if we cannot change the regulations we should at least inform the hospital so that people could avail of the concession.

While the idea of the free electricity allowance is admirable the application of it is not so good. I find that people are deprived of the allowance if they have somebody nursing them or caring for them. When it is established that somebody is doing this very charitable service the allowance is stopped immediately. We should not apply these rules rigidly. The purpose for which the concession was established is gone if we apply the regulations so rigidly. We should not discourage people from attending to the aged. We are advocating that the aged should be nursed in their homes, thus saving the health services substantial cost. We should not impose penalties on people because of this. Where it is established that a person needs nursing care and that it must be provided by a member of the household, son or daughter or granddaughter, the free electricity allowance should apply as should the free television and radio allowance. I ask the Minister to consider this point.

I have been fighting a case for one man for over 12 months. He has been insured from the very early days of the State. His cards were lost. I have written over 20 letters to the Department and the officials have not yet established the man's right to either unemployment or social welfare benefit. He has given them all possible details as to where he worked and on what occasions, dating back to 1914. Where a situation like that arises the onus is on the Department if they cannot find the cards at least to say: "We will establish that you have been there. We cannot find the cards. We will have a sworn affidavit or something like that to show that you worked over those years." We should ensure that this man or people like him obtain social welfare or unemployment benefit. When such a person finds he is deprived of benefit he fights the battle on his own. It is a terrible injustice that such a person should be deprived of social welfare or unemployment benefit. This case has been going on for quite a few years and in spite of attempts to establish where this man was employed the Department has refused to yield on this matter.

I shall not delay the House any longer except to ask the Minister if he will try to get his Department to adopt a more charitable attitude towards people and to facilitate them. A positive attitude by his Department could alter the image of the Department of Social Welfare. He should seriously consider this point.

This Supplementary Estimate affords me an opportunity of saying a few words on the Department of Social Welfare. I want to say at the outset that I have no criticism of the officials of the Department with whom I have had dealings at long range and at short range. I have had to write letters from time to time to the head office. Dublin Deputies probably have more dealings with the Department than rural Deputies but I must say that whenever I troubled them I found them courteous, from the man on the lift or at the door to the people I met in the offices and they did not always know me as a Deputy because I went in in the ordinary way and later announced who I was. I found everybody courteous and helpful.

In this country, as in other countries, great advances have been made. Benefits have increased down the years. Successive Governments, within the resources available to them, have increased benefits to social welfare recipients in general. Of course we could increase them much more if more money were available. We have increased benefits to certain necessitous persons and while this may be a great help to some people it may not be a great help to others because individual cases vary so much. You could have the case for instance of an old age pensioner or two down the country with a right of residence, living in a happy environment with in-laws and so on. They may be well cared for and perhaps the son or daughter is prepared to provide little comforts for them. In that situation they may be able to save a little out of their incomes. On the other side of the scale in towns like Ballina, Crossmolina or Castlebar you may have an old age pensioner living on the pension, maybe in poor health and having to buy drugs and tablets as well as the necessaries of life. To that person I would like to be very generous and, if possible, would stretch the regulations to cover such persons. I am sure the Minister would too if he could see a way of getting around the regulations. It is not easy of course.

We in the west of Ireland have a big problem in the matter of old age pensioners and widows and orphans. As the Minister knows, because he is a rural Deputy, many of our people emigrate to England to supplement their incomes. Some of them are seasonal workers. They are prepared to do hard work. They work on building sites and some of them become building contractors in a big way. Some of these workers send sums of money home, particularly while they are single, and quite often it means that the father or mother is expected to deposit that money in the bank or post office. There are no pockets in a habit and they cannot bring it with them into the next world. It often goes against them when the investigation officer comes to check their means when they apply for an old age pension or a widow's pension.

It should be appreciated by the Minister and his Department that these people have very hard lives and that they contribute in a big way to the economy of the State, and have done down the years, by their remittances, sometimes fortnightly cheques of £10 or £20. The Minister for Finance has a rough idea of the amount of money these people send home annually from England, America and other countries. I feel they are entitled to certain consideration. I am asking the Minister this evening to consider this. He is familiar with the problem because he comes from a rural area something like my own. I am asking him to try to amend the law so that a broader means test will apply to the congested areas. When you consider the difficulties and the battles that these people have to put up to rear their families they are entitled to special consideration. They have been denied an opportunity of living at home under successive Governments. The small holdings of land perhaps were not capable of maintaining them in reasonable comfort. They went off on the boat and they made a big contribution. In return a special case could be made for old age pensioners, widows and orphans living in the congested areas.

Indeed, although I am not a city man I have sufficient knowledge of this city to know that a special case could be made for many people in this city also. I spend a lot of my time in the city and I know the hardships and difficulties these people go through. I have met them in their homes from time to time and a case can be made similar to that which can be made for the people in the rural areas. Take the case of a widow with a small shop or some other sign of prosperity. The husband may have had a car which is on hire. Perhaps these things would create an impression in the mind of the investigating officer that there was wealth around when in reality it was not wealth but a millstone around the necks of the people concerned. A widow might have a small business with a turnover of £100 or £200 a year which would be of very small significance, particularly if there is a big family.

The British pensioner gets the pension at 65 years of age and many of them come home to Ireland and draw their pensions here. In the West of Ireland I have noticed many Americans who, due to the high cost of living in the United States, would consider it an advantage to come and live here when they are eligible for pensions. I would add my voice to that of Deputy Dr. O'Connell in asking the Minister to grant pensions here at age 65 to bring them into line with American and British pensions. This will take money, which is not so plentiful at the present time, but if the Minister has to dip a bit deeper into some pockets, particularly the pockets of those who seem to have money for luxury items, it should be done.

On the question of unemployment benefit, in the Minister's constituency and in my own as well there are many smallholders with valuations of between £2 and £7 who are receiving what is commonly called the dole. They may not be in regular employment locally. Occasionally the county council come in and take away a corner or do some other small job, and these people get work for a few weeks. How can you expect these people, in this day and age, to live without some little help? I know many fathers of families who draw £4 or £5 which helps to keep them at home in Ireland with their families, which pays for the groceries and enables them to put 10/- or £1 aside over a period to buy a little pair of shoes of some other necessity for the children. People pay taxes on their groceries, their cigarettes, the bottle of stout and so on, so quite a sizeable amount of this money finds its way back into the Exchequer.

I was asked to refer to the fact that domestic servants must have ten years stamps—the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—before they qualify for benefit. If that is so, that is bad law. I fail to see why domestic servants should be regarded as third-class citizens and why they would not be eligible for benefit as other people in various types of work are eligible. People will tell you it is nearly impossible to get domestic help nowadays, and it is no wonder if that is the law.

Another matter I wish to raise is in connection with people in receipt of British pensions. I know a tailor who went out of business due to rural depopulation and the fact that nowadays people buy their clothes off the peg. He was a sensible man and an admirable tradesman. He went over to England to seek employment and stayed there until he qualified for a British pension, which he gets regularly. He applied for a free radio licence and he was told he could not benefit under the scheme because he was not in receipt of an Irish old age pension. This man who came over from England makes his contribution to the Exchequer; he is a taxpayer like everybody else and it is wrong that, through no fault of his own, he should be denied the benefits of free transport, free light and a free radio licence for which other old age pensioners are eligible. It is not of his own choosing that this man went to England. Economic circumstances obliged him to go.

Finally, I have no complaint to make about civil servants in any Department. On one or two occasions I met a few hotheads but one meets them in any walk of life. I remember having a run-in with a civil servant, but he apologised afterwards and told me he had been with the dentist. We are not always feeling in the best of form, and I would not like to criticise any civil servant. Investigation officers, appeals officers and other such people are subjected to a lot of criticism. I criticised one of them on a previous Estimate, but I realise they are working according to a set of rules and regulations. They are not spending money out of their own pockets. They are answerable to the senior officers in their Department, and if there is any question of money being paid out which, according to the regulations, should not have been paid out, there is trouble right along the line. While we could be critical of them, and it would, perhaps, be good in an election year to slate them, I do not propose to do it.

I give my views. The applicant will give the best side of the picture and sometimes, when you make inquiries, you find there is a little bit of money here or there but, by and large, if the Minister could possibly meet me I would appreciate it very much. The people in the congested areas are obliged to give up their homes and go across to England or elsewhere to make a living. They are worthy of special consideration. If the allowances were more generous it might be some encouragement to them to stay in the west of Ireland where now, thank God, the majority have good homes, particularly in the rural areas, because of the generous grants given down through the years.

I shall not delay the House unduly but this is an Estimate in which the Labour Party have a very real, live and active interest. Within the confines of the Minister's Department we are concerned in particular with the masses of the underprivileged. We are concerned about those against whom the winds of adversity blow most harshly. We are concerned with the aged, the widowed, the orphaned, the sick and the unemployed. We are concerned with destitution and poverty. Let no one pretend that the incidence of these social evils is less now than it was a number of years ago.

A large proportion of the money devoted to social welfare is paid by the worker. The insured male worker contributes 11/- per week to a social welfare stamp and his employer contributes 13/5d per week, making a total of 24/5d per week per contributory stamp. The State pays one-third. The female worker contributes 9/10d per week by way of personal contribution towards a social welfare stamp. Now, 11/- and 9/10d are sizeable bites out of the wage of the lower paid manual worker, the domestic servant, the builder's labourer and so on and it is becoming clearer and clearer to these workers that they are getting very little, in fact, in return for the contributions they make.

When one examines the social welfare code and the various regulations governing the payment of benefit one can come to only one conclusion and that is that the whole social welfare code was conceived with quite extraordinary ingenuity, designed to deprive from benefit rather than to assist in securing benefit. The whole process is to hinder rather than to assist in the securing of the benefit for which the working classes contribute, to which they are entitled as of right and not as mere charity. Mere charity is what it would appear to be judging by the approach of some of the people who dole out these various benefits.

It is all too easy to be deprived of benefit. All sorts of strictures are laid down in the regulations designed to trap the applicant and to deprive him of benefit by one means or another. Before a man is granted unemployment benefit he must satisfy the Minister's Department that he has not lost his employment by reason of a stoppage of work due to a trade dispute at his place of employment. We had, as my colleagues have pointed out, instances in recent months in which hundreds of workers were deprived of unemployment benefit because they were involved, in a most indirect way, in a trade dispute. These hundreds of workers had to call on home assistance and that was granted only grudgingly and after a great deal of investigation.

The Minister will recollect that I tabled a question to him a short time ago in regard to the undue delay in the payment of benefit to workers in a factory in my constituency. As a result of a stoppage of work in which they were not involved, these workers failed to secure unemployment benefit until I raised the matter here.

There are many regulations governing the payment of benefit. No benefit will be paid if the applicant lost his employment through his own, as it is described, misconduct or left his employment without just cause. In quite a large number of cases applicants are disallowed benefit on one pretext or another; because they lost their employment due to misconduct—a nasty word; because they left their employment due to the overbearing and tyrannical attitude of the employer, or his representative. The first thing the employment agency office will do is to ring up the employer concerned and if the employer, as employers are likely to do, reflects on the operatives concerned the employer's word is taken and the men are disallowed benefit for six weeks, pending appeal. Six weeks is a long time to try to live on the wind in these times of very high prices, and a very high cost of living. In many instances when this humilitating code is applied, the applicant gives up in despair and finds alternative employment or, which is more likely, he scrapes a few pounds together and heads for the boat to England.

He may also be refused benefit for what is termed as refusing an offer of suitable employment. Here again, the Department will decide what is suitable employment. If he refuses or fails to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity to receive training, provided now by An Chomhairle Oiliúna, or if he has not taken advantage of any reasonable opportunity of obtaining suitable employment, he can be disallowed benefit.

I have known people to be disallowed benefit on this pretext. Very often this stricture is invoked against applicants. If he is convicted of an offence in relation to unemployment benefit or, indeed, if he winds up in prison he is disallowed benefit. I have known an instance of that recently in my constituency. So, for genuine reasons of unemployment we have known people to be held up in their benefit interminably, and at least over six weeks. They have to face the ordeal of going before an appeals board and being interrogated sometimes in a pretty ruthless fashion. I am a member of such a tribunal and I have sat in on these cases very often. Some of the officers who come down from the Department to us are thorough gentlemen. Others are not so nice, and the rugged attitude they adopt towards unfortunate men or women, obviously in order to deprive them of benefit, leaves much to be desired. Some of them are more suited to the role of a gauleiter in the old Nazi Party, than the role of a humane officer intent on doing justice in a humane way. That is only one aspect of the social welfare code in respect of those who claim unemployment benefit.

I believe the whole code is particularly prejudicial to the interests of the women of this country. The manner in which we have contrived to defraud the women of this country of their entitlement under the social welfare code is nothing less than disgraceful. We pride ourselves on being a great Christian country, and we tend to frown on the idea of women working after marriage. We are over concerned, perhaps rightly so, about the duties of women in the home and to the family. On that basis, is it not strange to find—and the social welfare code lays this down—that unless a woman continues in insurable employment for at least 26 weeks after marriage, she is deprived of all benefit under the social welfare code, even though she has been working in insurable employment all her working life since she left school at 14 years of age.

Unless she works on, she loses unemployment benefit, disability benefit and, most important of all, she loses maternity benefit. She loses the allowance for the six weeks before and the six weeks after the birth of her baby. Is not that a penal clause? Is not that an affront to Irishwomen? Should it not be deleted from the social welfare code forthwith? In so many ways we militate against women in this code, and against widows who claim contributory pensions. It is startling to reveal that, unless a woman is entitled to a contributory pension on her husband's stamps, she does not get it. She is entitled only to a non-contributory pension subject, of course, to an odious means test.

I have known instances where women were obliged to work after the death of the husband to maintain themselves and their families. They have put on stamps over a long number of years. Is it not disgraceful in the extreme that, no matter how many years these widows work on after the death of the husband, their stamps are not recognised or allowable for a contributory pension? Only the stamps they put on prior to marriage and only the husband's stamps are credited.

It is a well-known fact that there is a large number of women in this country who have been abandoned by their husbands. There is a number of cases before the Minister's Department from me already of women who have been abandoned by their husbands over a very long number of years. These men are presumed dead sometimes, and they are certainly missing. Many of these cases have been the subject of investigation by welfare officers here and in Britain. It is virtually impossible to get anything like a pension for these abandoned women and their dependants. Surely it is high time to recognise these women as widows in the strict sense of the word, as completely and utterly abandoned and proven to be abandoned. We have shown evidence from the Garda in the area and from the police in Britain. All these factors are discarded. We seem to disregard the long and interminable suffering of these women. Is it not sufficient suffering for them to have been abandoned by their life's partner, to have been discarded in such an inhuman way? Almost invariably they have had to go out to work to maintain their families. They have had to humiliate themselves by calling on charity and home assistance. Has not this State got an obligation to come to the rescue of these unfortunate women and provide them with a positive pension, call it what you like? If we feel we are not entitled to call it a widow's pension as such, we can call it what we like. Let us at least acknowledge this human problem in our midst. It is not sufficient for us to sweep it under the carpet and pretend it does not exist. We know the problem is there and it is high time that we faced up to it and provided some positive income for these women abandoned by their husbands.

I do not have to reflect on the inadequacy of the non-contributory widow's pension and I want to avail of this opportunity to appeal to the Minister, the Government and the Fianna Fáil Party to wipe out once and for all from the social welfare code all reference to non-contributory pensions and assistance of this kind. More and more we find claims for contributory pensions growing and the number of applicants for non-contributory pensions of all kinds decreasing rapidly. There is too great a disparity between the contributory and the non-contributory elements and it is time we did something to bridge that gap. The more we bridge it the more it will appear to the Minister that he should abolish the non-contributory element altogether. Speaking for the Labour Party and speaking for the vast majority of the working classes I can say that we would be proud as insured persons to pay extra over and above the 11/- contribution for males and 9/10d contribution for females in order to bring about equality for the non-contributory element. We would pay these increased contributions willingly and the employers would not begrudge them either. Why should the State lag behind?

Apart from the economic need to bridge the gap there is also the urgent necessity of eliminating altogether the odious means test involved in the non-contributory element. This odious means test for old age pensions and for widows' pensions is particularly nauseating at the present time. I have been a member of an old age pensions committee for a long time and I do not hesitate to say that I know of no good purpose served by these committees. They are effete and sterile things. They can do no good whatever and it is high time they were abolished. All they can do is to humiliate the unfortunate applicant, the old, sick applicant who has the temerity to come before these committees.

The committees will recommend the maximum pension to most applicants because the people on these committees are very generous but their recommendation is subject to the review of the local welfare officer and the Minister's Department who have the overriding decision in every case. This is why these committees are ineffective. They serve no purpose. Abolish them. The code they administer is disgusting to the extent that a wealthy farmer with vast acreage and stock, say 100 acres with 50 bullocks, sheep and pigs, will qualify for the old age pension because it is alleged that he has handed over his farm, stock and assets to some member of his family.

The next case coming before the committee may be that of an unfortunate man down the street whom we all know to have no assets but who may have a small pension, say from Britain, or a military service pension. Because he has this miserly pension which could not compare with the vast resources of the other man his application is rejected. There was a case in recent months of a wealthy man in my own town who disposed of his property for £7,000, whose family are in professions, and who got the pension. Others of the type I have referred to, because they have a few shillings more than the miserly amount stipulated in this book here, get nothing at all. Is it seriously contended that because these people hand over their property to their next-of-kin they are worse off by doing so? They continue to live in opulence and comfort. I have no respect for a code of that kind and this is why I say we should wipe out the non-contributory code altogether and abolish the old age pensions committees.

I have noted the improvement in the reciprocal arrangements between ourselves and our opposite numbers in Great Britain but I still feel that the Minister should take steps to ensure that those Irish emigrants who have qualified for the maximum British pension and who want to return home to this country should be facilitated to draw the maximum pension here without any threat to that pension. I would like to see a recognition of the British rates of pension.

The Deputy seems to be getting to the point where he is dealing with the main Estimate. In the debate on a Supplementary Estimate we are confined to the subheads in that Supplementary Estimate.

I appreciate that but I wish to make certain points on this important matter. We did expect more from the Minister on this particular occasion having regard to the imminence of a general election. It might have been felt that this was the time to make the great breakthrough, to give the pensions at 65 years of age and to bring these allowances up to a standard which would provide at least frugal comfort for the recipients. I am merely touching on the fringe of these things in the hope and in the belief that the Minister will avail of an early opportunity to improve the sorry situation.

When the Minister is next increasing these various allowances, especially for the non-contributory classes, the assistance classes, I trust he will liberalise the means test and that we shall have no more of this dirty pretence of granting increases to non-contributory old age pensioners, widows and the like and then stipulating that these increases apply only to persons of no means or, as applies today, to persons whose means do not exceed £26 per annum. This is a fraud. This is making a mockery of the sufferings of these people. This is a gigantic fraud. It happened on a number of occasions in this House. We saw banner headlines on the Evening Press as a result of a Budget speech. Time and time again it happened—“Five Shillings For Old Age Pensioners”, and the like—but, when we got the Bill in this House a few weeks afterwards, it transpired that these increases would be granted only to persons of no means whatsoever. Quite a large preponderance of those unfortunate people never saw that increase because the code was so niggardly that the welfare officers valued even the old bed that the old person was lying on and the shelter of the roof and they were assessed as means, even if only at one shilling, and they got no 5/- or 7/6d increase and it was all a fraud. Now the limit is £26 a year—again, a very miserly amount. Some of these officers, whom I know very well, will look for means with a fine-comb and a magnifying glass and, if they do not get £26 a year in order to deprive a person of the increase in pension, I do not know what to think. Invariably, hundreds, thousands, will not qualify on this basis.

I want to avail of this opportunity to develop a little further a matter I raised recently in this House with the Minister in respect of the insurability of meter readers employed by the ESB. I raised some questions with the Minister recently on this subject and I was extremely dissatisfied, as indeed were many of my colleagues of all Parties with the disdainful attitude the Minister adopted. I do not say that the Minister or his Department were responsible for this dastardly deed in the first instance. It was, I think, the ESB who drew this matter to the attention of the Department of Social Welfare. Employment such as that of meter reader with the ESB was always held to be insurable under the Social Welfare Acts.

The Deputy will appreciate that if we could deal with various points like this the debate would so be widened that we could not keep it within the confines of a Supplementary Estimate.

If I cannot seek redress in regard to what I consider the wrongs done to those people under a measure of this kind, will the Chair please inform me when I may get a suitable opportunity of doing so? I do not wish to transgress the Rules of the House in any respect. I merely want to try to secure justice for a section of people who feel totally aggrieved in relation to the Social Welfare code.

That would seem to be a matter to be raised on the main Estimate.

May I advert briefly to it?

The Chair is allowing the Deputy to advert to it but the Chair would hope the Deputy will not widen the scope of the debate.

I shall not. I wish to point out for the benefit of the House and the country that the ESB raised a question as to the entitlement of their meter readers to be insured under the Social Welfare code in May, 1967. A test case was heard by the Department of Social Welfare. The deciding officer came to the firm conclusion that the meter readers were not employed under a contract of service and consequently were not insured under the Social Welfare Acts. I do not know whether the officer concerned in the Department of Social Welfare realised what he was doing but he has done incalculable harm to a large number of men who are employed by the ESB in this fashion. Many of them are men who were insured all their life but their more recent employment with the ESB is the operative employment, for benefit purposes, under the Social Welfare code. When it was deemed that the stamps appended in respect of meter readers were invalid, they lost all benefit.

This being very light work, I further pointed out to the Minister on the occasion, many of them were men who were invalided to some extent, who were incapacitated. I am not concerned in this issue with persons who were meter readers part-time. I am concerned with semi-invalided men who were doing this work as a means of livelihood and who, when disallowed, lost all benefit with resultant very considerable hardship. I should like the Minister, with a sense of humanity, to look again at this issue, to ascertain the numbers of men concerned, especially those dependent on meter reading for a livelihood and consequently dependent on the stamp for social welfare benefit, and to see what he can do to redress the wrong which has been done to these unfortunate people.

I want to mention, too, the allowance in respect of an aged parent whose daughter or daughter-in-law is caring for him or her. I have made representations on a number of occasions where a daughter or a daughter-in-law was obliged to relinquish her employment in order to care for her aged parent or parent-in-law. I submitted all the relevant information to the Minister's Department, and indeed I addressed my representations to the Minister himself, but except for receiving mere acknowledgment none of these cases has yet been dealt with. It has been alleged to me by some applicants whom I am representing that persons who went to another Deputy had their cases resolved some time ago. I want to say that my representations to the Minister, his predecessors and to Aras Mhic Dhiarmada generally, have been treated with courtesy and the utmost despatch and I am not reflecting on them in any way. However, I telephoned the Department last week and gave them this information and even still none of these cases has been resolved. I would ask the Minister to look into this matter. I am not alleging unfair play as such and I feel the real reason is that, this being a new scheme, there has probably been an avalanche of applications for this new special allowance and it may be that the staff in the Department are unable to cope with them. Nevertheless, it is disturbing to think that representations made six weeks or two months ago have not yet been resolved. Except for a mere acknowledgment we have not been told what exactly is happening.

I think it is pertinent to say that the Minister has a responsibility in regard to the payment of home assistance and in regard to the free footwear and free fuel schemes. Would the Minister ensure the extension beyond March of the free fuel scheme, which operates from November to March? The weather can be very cold and harsh in April, and indeed in May, and the Minister might consider the feasibility of extending the free fuel scheme to April or to May. He might also consider the desirability of extending the scheme to large towns. It is confined in the main to cities but the need for the scheme is as great in many towns and villages as in the larger cities. The free footwear scheme has reached a sorry state and the word "free" is a misnomer because it is no longer free.

The Deputy may feel that the Chair is putting him off but in the Supplementary Estimate there is nothing about these schemes under any of the subheads. The Chair has allowed the Deputy to mention these matters but they do not appear under any headings in the Supplementary Estimate before the House.

I accept your ruling, Sir, but I have been waiting here some considerable time and listened to my colleagues ranging far and wide on matters they considered appropriate. Nevertheless, I appreciate that the Chair is right to draw attention to the specific matters in the Supplementary Estimate. I should like to mention now the difficulty of securing unemployment assistance in very many cases where the condition is laid down that one must secure a qualification certificate. My experience is that it is becoming more and more difficult to secure this certificate. Various stipulations are laid down and recently a rigid means test has been applied. Many people in urgent need of unemployment assistance are deprived of it and are put to great inconvenience in securing it. I would hope that the dole, as we know it, would be granted in a more generous and a more humane way.

I do not apologise to anyone for having taken up a little time on this very important Supplementary Estimate because a large number of our people depend on the various benefits granted under the social welfare code. We can do a lot to alleviate human suffering and misery by having a more generous, more careful and more dignified approach to this matter; or we can make life pretty miserable for thousands of our people by dealing with this important code in an offhand and disdainful way. We should treat people as human beings, should treat them with dignity, and ensure that whatever allowances are payable will provide the recipients with a reasonable standard of living and eliminate human misery. I hope that the Minister will soon bring in a provision that all these benefits will be paid at the age of 65 and that all references to non-contributory and assistance classes will be wiped out of the code.

I agree with the previous speaker when he says that the net is tightening and tightening a bit every day as far as the issue of qualification certificates to people applying for home assistance is concerned. If one looks at the unemployment assistance which is payable to smallholders one finds that the method of calculating means is beyond description. This is only applicable to counties like Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway, Cavan, Monaghan, Longford, Clare, Kerry and the congested parts of West Cork and West Limerick. That clearly indicates that it applies to the poorer parts of these counties. I am surprised at the Minister for Social Welfare because he is a Donegal man, and certainly if he has not got this problem in Donegal he is going to find it in the portion of Leitrim which he recently took into his constituency. He leads the people to believe that a farmer with a valuation of one pound has the equivalent of an income of £20 a year. That basis of calculation might be suitable for parts of this country where the land is much better—one thinks of Meath, Westmeath and Dublin—but it is a ridiculous calculation for the poorer parts of the country. I think that figure should be halved. There might be some sense in it if he said £10 of income per £1 valuation. Up to that period £10 per £1 valuation was the figure usually used by county managers and local authorities to calculate the income of the small farmer but under the 1965 Act it went up by 100 per cent to £20. I hope that in the near future the Minister will have another look at it.

When one examines what these unfortunate people get one finds, taking the person with one adult dependant and one child dependant, that his income is only £4 4s 6d. That is inadequate today. In the published policy of this Party we clearly indicate that we are quite prepared to increase this figure by 40 per cent. Certainly, when the Minister had to introduce a Supplementary Estimate he should have increased that payment to these unfortunate people who are living in desperate conditions. Even with the 40 per cent increase one might ask if it would be sufficient. It would mean that these people would have to live on £5 18s a week. As was mentioned earlier, it often happens in election times, with Fianna Fáil people moving around, that it is said that if you support any Party other than Fianna Fáil you will lose your unemployment assistance, your old age pension, or your widow's and orphan's pension or any other benefit coming under this heading. Our people have become mature and I suggest to the Minister and his Party that if in the next election, they have no way of trying to secure votes other than intimidating persons in receipt of social benefits, it is a degrading and a desperate thing for any political Party to stoop to. As we have clearly indicated, we believe the qualifying age for an old age pension should be lower.

The Deputy is dealing with what might be advocated by way of legislation which is not before the House.

I agree entirely. If an old age pensioner applies for a pension, having reached the qualifying age, the means test is so severely operated that if he has £1,000 and disposes of it to his daughters or sons or does anything like that he is deprived of his pension because the Department officials seem to think that is the right thing to do. I certainly do not agree with that. The means test has been rather rigidly enforced. Everybody knows what happens in the case of persons seeking the extra 5/-. Take the new benefit which it was proposed would be paid last year, some 46/- per week to a person looking after an aged parent, whether a daughter or daughter-in-law or nephew or niece. I think the Minister admitted yesterday in replying to a question that there are only 100 persons in receipt of that benefit. If that is the situation the scheme has not been operated as it should be and the best means of operating it would be for the official concerned—a doctor presumably—to decide whether the person residing in the house is capable of moving.

Coming from Sligo/Leitrim I am conscious of the fact that quite a number of persons from that area benefit under the Social Welfare Department, many more than in other counties. We have now reached the stage when the old age pension does not cover the cost of keeping an old age pensioner. Were it not for the fact that many of them are living with their relatives and are saved the expense of rent and the difficulty of working out their own budgets more of them would have to be sent to the county homes. The majority of old age pensioners get only £3 and only the few who have absolutely no means and no valuation get £3 5s. Meeting them, as we do, and hearing their grievances we are fully convinced that the time has come to increase the old age pension substantially. It was never more necessary than in this year.

I have been discussing the matter with social welfare officials and they are surprised that these unfortunate people manage to keep body and soul together. They go into the home of an old age pensioner and discuss this with him. They find that the old age pensioners have it so worked out that one week they will have a shilling, perhaps, over while in another week they will be a shilling in debt. The same purchases are made week after week and beyond that they cannot go. It is sad to think that those who gave of their best to rear their children and worked hard on small holdings should find themselves with their families gone to England leaving them with no means except £3 a week to keep body and soul together. I would ask the Minister, whatever else he does, to try to give old age pensioners a substantial increase.

We cannot advocate increased moneys on this Supplementary Estimate. That would require legislation.

I come from a county which adjoins Northern Ireland and when one compares the social welfare benefits paid to our people with the benefits paid to the people in the Six Counties one wonders how our people survive. It is unbelievable that they can live on such meagre allowances.

This morning before I came to Dublin I had to contact the Department of Social Welfare by telephone about an aged couple whose allowance has not been paid since 22nd December. That is serious. I read on the paper this evening that this question had been raised in the Dáil today. It is very important that the Minister should take it up. One week people may get the pension on Thursday, the next week they may get it on Saturday or perhaps even by the following Monday morning they may not have got it. This matter has been raised here today and I am certain the Minister will take steps to straighten it out.

As every Deputy knows a great part of the time a Deputy spends in making representations to Departments is taken up making representations to the Department of Social Welfare and to the Minister for Social Welfare but mainly to the Department.

This is one of the most important Departments in the country because the people this Department helps are the people with the lowest incomes and the people who are most in need. For this reason the Department must be run on humanitarian lines and possibly unlike any other Department strict adherence to the rules must be abandoned if the necessary service is to be given to the lower income classes. For that reason it is well, even coming towards the end of a session, that the Minister should listen and Deputies should give their views as to how the services should be improved and how we can, within the resources of the State, increase the benefits and allowances to the social welfare classes. The Minister has been told—I have heard Deputies tell him here—that the time has come to increase old age pensions. I am certain that the Minister, coming from a county——

The Chair must remind the Deputy that he cannot advocate what requires legislation.

I said that the problem must be approached in a humanitarian way and that the rules applying to this Department should not be interpreted too strictly. I would also infer that the rules of debate on the Supplementary Estimate might be stretched a little in order to allow Deputies to bring home to the Minister the facts of the case. I will bow to your ruling, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and I will attempt, in so far as I am able, to make the case without contravening the rules.

The Chair would like to keep the debate within the limits within which it is confined.

I will not pursue that line of argument. I think the Minister and possibly the House recognise the case.

One thing that we as Deputies often find when we meet people who claim, and have the right to claim, benefits under the social welfare code is that they tell us that when officials come to investigate their claims, they are rather harsh in their approach and get down to the bare bones of the situation and that there is very little flexibility in their approach. Officials are trained to do a job and of course it is hard to blame an official if, when he investigates a case, he goes strictly according to the rules but it can happen that an official who is not familiar with the circumstances of the area in which he is operating might be too harsh in his approach and might not be prepared to listen sympathetically to a reasonable case that might be made to him. By a reasonable case I mean one in which all the circumstances are examined rather than going strictly according to the rules laid down in any section of the code. I would ask the Minister and his Department to ensure that when officials, particularly in the west of Ireland, are instructed to investigate claims, they will give them the most sympathetic consideration rather than examining every detail. We must admit that there are many people who, if they do not get sympathetic treatment, will be institutionalised. Everybody in the House knows the tremendous cost involved in institutionalising a person compared with the cost of maintaining him in his own family. I am not suggesting that the Minister and his Departmental officials do not know this but there are, I know, investigation officials down the country who do not realise all the factors involved. I would ask that it should be standard practice in the Department that the approach should be as lenient and as flexible as possible.

With regard to people who have to look after relatives I had a case brought to my notice during the week of a young man whose mother is unable to move from bed. This young man had been ordered out to work by the local labour exchange. When he went to work he got a message that his mother was seriously ill and he had to go home. There is a doctor's certificate to prove that this woman will be unable to move around on her own. She needs care and attention but it is not exactly the kind of case that needs to be institutionalised. However, this man will have to stay at home to look after his mother or else his mother will have to go into an institution. I always feel that it is far better to have a person looked after at home than to have them go into an institution. Under the social welfare code this man can no longer draw unemployment assistance, and he has been so told by the local employment exchange. The social welfare code should be flexible enough to allow this man to draw his unemployment assistance while he looks after his mother. I should like the Minister to examine this case, because, while legally my point might not be substantial, in reason something should be done about it.

There is also the case of a person on disability benefit whose stamps run out and who can no longer claim benefit. This person is told he must get 13 further stamps before he can continue on disability benefit. If this person is unable to work, how can he get 13 extra stamps? His doctor's certificate is no good to him. This rule is so unreasonable that nobody could look at it and say that it is something that should be continued.

Other Deputies have referred to people who qualify for old age pensions in England and come back here to live. These people were born here, their wives were here all their lives and their families were reared here. They come back from England and just because they are getting an English pension, although it is a mere pittance, and because their income is beyond a certain figure, they are told they are not entitled to the old age pension. Here there is need for a humanitarian and humane approach. These people who qualified for an old age pension in England were sending money home to keep their families here and to keep the economy and the balance of payments of this country on an even keel. Without them I do not know where this country would be, because recently I found out that emigrants' remittances in the County of Mayo last year were far more than all the social welfare payments that went into the county. There should be more flexibility here, and I should like the Minister to examine the matter.

There is also the case of the widows whose husbands were not fully qualified, who were a few stamps short of the 156 that would qualify them for the full widow's contributory pension. Again, there is this finicky approach where nobody is prepared to bend just that little bit to ensure that the widow gets a contributory pension. Seeing that the social welfare benefits are not up to the standard of living costs at the present day, the Department should wherever possible bend in the direction of being more humane and more generous.

I was very happy with the debate even though it ranged over a very wide area, considering that it is only a Supplementary Estimate and allowing that at times one could perceive a slightly electoral atmosphere in the contributions. This money, as I said in my opening statement, was required to provide for the increases given in the Budget to social welfare recipients and to meet cases where the Estimate fell short of what was required. It will always be impossible in my Department to estimate accurately what is required. One cannot foresee the contingencies that can arise in any direction, even the number of persons who may attain the qualifying age for pensions or the number of people who may become sick in a particular year. It is understandable that sometimes there is overestimation and at other times underestimation.

I should like to deal with the various points raised by Deputies, but it would be a very long exercise and it is hardly necessary. Many of them were overlapping, but I shall run over some of them. Deputy Ryan's opening statement for the Opposition was mainly on principles and I shall come to that later. He did make reference to the amounts being granted not being sufficient to meet the cost of living. I should like to remind the House that all increases granted, in recent years particularly, were far in excess of what the cost of living index would have justified. The cost of living was not used as the criterion in making payments.

Deputy Harte and many other Deputies mentioned the question of English pensions. It is only necessary for me to say in that regard that an English pension must be regarded as another form of means. Just because it is a pension does not mean we can disregard it, unless we pass special legislation to ignore it. For as long as we have a means test any means of which the applicant is in possession must be taken into account.

In recent answers to Dáil questions I have referred to the problem of persons with English stamp records in relation to the home care of aged people and I pointed out that separate legislation would be required to meet this. Many people do not qualify under the scheme whereby an extra £2 5s per week is paid in respect of a daughter or step-daughter who has to give up insurable employment to take care of one or both of her parents. It is merely the beginning of what is, I think, an important scheme. Many applications have come in, all of which will be carefully examined and all of which should prove valuable in finding out the magnitude of the problem, but many of those who apply cannot possibly have read the publicised qualifications necessary to qualify under the scheme.

Take the case of a person who is too young to be in insurable employment: if a young person, who is about to go into insurable employment, stays at home there is a problem.

I am talking about the scheme as it is operated at the moment. It is designed to meet a particular case. It is the case of the person in good insurable employment who has to give up that employment to take care of a parent and who, for that reason, does not qualify for unemployment benefit because she is not available for work. There are people who give up insurable employment, draw unemployment benefit for as long as they can and, by doing so, certify that they are capable and available for and generally seeking work. Then they apply for benefit in respect of a parent, pointing out they are not available for work because they have to stay at home. Now they cannot have it both ways. This is a detail, but it shows the type of problem that can arise. This scheme meets the case of the person precluded from qualifying for unemployment benefit because she is tied to the home looking after a parent and does not fulfil the qualifications necessary for benefit.

This initial toe-in-the-door effort is very valuable and could, I think, lead ultimately to the promotion of a better scheme. But there are so many things that are desirable one just has to get one's priorities right from the point of view of making the necessary finances available.

Deputy Harte raised the case of bankrupt employers whose employees discover that their stamps have not been paid up. They have no redress. These cases should be a warning to all employed persons to ensure that their cards are being stamped correctly. There is certain action open to such employees and to the Department but, as has been explained frequently here, there are also cases in which there is just nothing to be got.

Many speakers referred to the three waiting days. I have answered questions on this matter recently. One of the things which justifies these three days is the frequency with which we would have people getting occasional days now and again. The short-term applicants would increase if we did not have this waiting period. This does not hurt the intermittent applicant for benefit. In his case, unless a period of, I think, 13 weeks has elapsed, there are no waiting days and so the inconvenience, if any, is minimised in those cases which might be most adversely affected.

Deputy Harte referred to free travel, free electricity and free television and radio licences. He could see no merit in them. All he feared—he was, of course, talking politically—was that people might attempt to claim credit for providing these facilities; he said it cost nothing to have them carried on the buses; nothing to give them free electricity and nothing to provide them with free television and radio licences because all the bodies involved were State sponsored. That is so much nonsense. The services are paid for. The free travel is a very useful amenity because it enables old people to go out and visit. I am glad the facility is availed of to a considerable extent. It is an excellent scheme. It will cost a good deal; it is not just a book transaction as far as we are concerned. It will be paid for by the taxpayer ultimately. The same is true of electricity and television and radio licences. All these schemes are movements in the right direction, towards doing things for the older people among us, things which extra money granted to them would not give them. I should like to see more of this type of assistance.

Deputy Harte referred to a specific case in his home town. Other speakers also raised specific cases. I should like them to write to me giving me all the details and I shall have them examined to see if anything can be done. We will always have marginal cases. That is inevitable in any scheme. So long as there is a means test there will always be marginal cases. I do not think there is much one can do at the moment to eliminate such cases.

Deputy Tully dealt with the things he would like to see improved. He paid tribute, I am glad to say, to the officials of my Department. It is very easy for all of us to indulge in attacks on faceless people who administer schemes. It is not often we hear tribute paid to them. They are not infallible. They may make mistakes. Sometimes we have not enough of them to do the amount of work that has to be done and we have to suffer the occasional embarrassment of unnecessary delay, but 99 times out of 100 there is just cause for any delay that occurs.

Deputy Tully had a complaint, which he said was referred to him by an ex-employee of the Department, regarding a file dealing with an old age pensioner being given to another Minister or shown to another Minister. I can only say quite frankly that I cannot equate what he said with anything I have known to happen in the Department in my time. I do not see anything wrong in any Minister of any Government, at any time, having the right to see any file in any Department. I hope that will always be the case. Frankly I was never asked by any member of the Government to show him a file on an old age pensioner.

Old age pensions are decided by appeals officers who have statutory functions, and interference with them by Deputies on any side of the House so far as I am aware is nil. Even if it were not, interference would be ineffective. Deputies have the right to put forward cases in support of particular claims and to give information they may have which others may not have had. I can neither confirm nor deny this complaint because I have absolutely no knowledge of it. If the Deputy were more specific about it, it might recall something to my mind that would make the cap fit. At the moment I cannot.

Deputy Tully raised a number of matters which are well known to be what might be called minor anomalies. I was disappointed that he did not refer to some of the matters about which he used to complain. We have tidied them up in recent times. Nearly every year when the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is before the House, we take the opportunity to correct some of the things which we learn about in the course of the administration of schemes which are part of the social welfare code. These all go to solidify and co-ordinate a system which, despite what anyone says, I think is the superstructure of a good social welfare code, on which any Government can continue to build, to expand and to improve. It is a superstructure which is well laid, and it is not a lot of ad hoc decisions or piecemeal schemes as some people would suggest. I could submit it for examination to anyone who is inclined to make these remarks or allegations quite glibly, or perhaps after a superficial examination of the system.

Deputy Murphy referred to access to appeals officers. I do not know if anyone has any particular privilege in regard to appeals officers. I should like to refute this. When people write to me, if there is information they can give which has a bearing on the case, it is brought to the attention of the appeals officer if and when he is deciding the case. Deputy Murphy, this year as well as last year, dealt with something which I often talked about in this House particularly when I was on that side of it and, indeed, on this side too, that is, the question of providing employment for unemployed persons. I do not know if the Deputy would believe how deeply we have examined that problem in the Department. I can only say it is a very difficult problem and one which it is not as easy to solve as he suggested.

Deputy Murphy suggested that this money should be used to provide factories or industries, and that there should be more co-ordination and liaison between Departments in order to provide work for these people. The people receiving these benefits are scattered all over the country in different places and, unless we start an employment camp of some kind and bring them all into it, it is not as simple as the Deputy suggests. There are small pockets here and there from Cork to Donegal, and the amount which they are receiving would, unfortunately, play a very poor part in establishing an industry which would be suitable for their employment. The whole basis in dealing with the social services must be the provision of employment, and the provision of suitable employment is not always easy for particular age groups. That must be perfectly obvious to everyone.

Deputy Crotty referred to specific cases also. He has a question down for answer tomorrow. Again it is a question of delay. I will not go into it because it is an individual case and the name is supplied, but I can assure him that, if he went into it very accurately, he would find that there are good reasons why it was not merely difficult but practically impossible for a speedy decision to be taken in that case.

Deputy Fitzpatrick referred to a number of specific cases also, all of which I think he said he had brought to our attention already. One related to free electricity for a sister and brother living together. The brother is an old age pensioner. I should like to remind persons who may have that type of problem that this is a case that could qualify if the sister's care is essential to the brother with whom she is living. However, in this case the Deputy made it clear that the brother was a very active man, even more active than the sister. He also advocated pensions at 65 years as did most Deputies. I will deal with that in a general way later on.

Deputy O'Connell was highly dissatisfied with the approach of the Department to the whole question of giving social welfare benefits. He said we were pursuing a Victorian plimsoll line approach to these matters. I should like to point out again that we should understand that we cannot apply just a humanitarian approach. Deputy Lyons suggested we should be flexible and sympathetic in our approach. The people who go out as investigation officers and who are in any way concerned with compiling the necessary information which leads to a decision on qualification must necessarily be guided by the statutory regulations which we in this House have laid down for them. It does not permit of a personal decision however one may be motivated by a desire to help and to have a humane approach and however one's conscience might be likely to react.

Hard and fast rules are laid down for the application of a means test and, while we have a means test, we must ascertain whether a person is qualified or not. In order to do that, I am afraid you cannot avoid having a certain approach and asking for certain information. It may be that in their approach some of these officers are not as courteous as they should be but, by and large, they are usually regarded as people who observe all the necessary courtesies. Indeed, any instruction or training they have in that respect is towards making their approach in the proper manner.

They go there to help the applicants, although people sometimes feel they go there to hinder them. The idea that they are out to prevent people from getting what they are entitled to is wrong. They are there to learn if the person is qualified according to the regulations. Even where the means test does not apply there are other regulations and qualifications. You do not get benefits in any country in the world just as you go to a railway station and buy a railway ticket. You have to satisfy certain conditions about your contributions, about your medical condition. You do not march up to the hatch and say that you want your benefit because you are ill. We must have people who know these regulations to see that the applicants qualify under them. If they do not get the proper information the first time they have to go through the matter again and again and then delays occur.

Deputy O'Connell questioned the medical qualifications of these appeals officers. They have available to them the advice of the medical referees who are men well qualified and accustomed to dealing with cases of every kind. They may resort to obtaining specialist advice if that is found to be necessary. To those who criticise this system I would say that sympathy and social conscience are not the things which guide an official, however much he would like to use this yardstick. He must obey the statutory regulations laid down for him by this House. If we can relax the regulations and completely abolish the means test then we can go knocking at the doors of the people and asking if there is anyone inside who wants social benefits.

Deputy Treacy at the beginning of his speech complained about the cost of the social welfare stamp and then finished up by proposing that there should be all contributory benefits and that all should be made to pay for the benefits to those who are not employed. I would like to see everybody contributing so as to be able to operate a system similar to that operated in other countries where they have 100 per cent employment insurance but we have a big assistance section directly financed by the Exchequer. We have a relatively small number of insured persons and in that situation the social welfare burden is relatively a very heavy one. Deputy Ryan was making comparisons about the lack of progress made by us and I went to the trouble to obtain figures which show that we are paying one-fourth of our total tax revenue in social welfare, which is not bad. I think it is excellent. The remarkable increase in the last ten years, as I have frequently said, is the greatest assurance of our catching up in the near future with many of the other countries operating this insurance system.

Deputy O'Hara from the west of Ireland, defended what is commonly known as the dole, or unemployment assistance. He is in a position to know a few things about it. Sometimes unfair criticism is made of this system. When we applied the means test to small farmers it was done for the purpose of enabling a small farmer to qualify for unemployment assistance and at the same time not to regard this unemployment assistance as a disincentive to operating his holding to the best advantage. In the past we were accused of putting a premium on laziness and on doing nothing because it was pointed out that if a small farmer improved his holding he would lose the unemployment assistance. Under the new system any extra income accruing from the better management of the holding, the selling of a few more cattle or an increase in tillage, does not affect the amount of unemployment assistance of which the smallholder is in receipt.

This is a step in the right direction. Deputy O'Hara rightly pointed out that the smallholder or the rural recipient of unemployment assistance who spent it on his children or on the provision of the necessaries of life for his family spends it with the shopkeeper. So there is a circulation of money which is very necessary and which has been a great help in maintaining at home many people with large families who otherwise would have had to leave. Like Deputy O'Hara, I make no apology for this and I entirely agree that it provides an essential circulation of money in areas where people who criticise the system would be very slow to go to live at all. I think that covers most of the points made by the various speakers.

I did not say that a Minister had not the right to look at a file. I said that a Minister had got a file which contained an old man's pension book and held it for five or six weeks when the book should have gone back to the old man.

I would say that did not happen.

I know it happened. I do not want to make a row about it.

Will the Deputy give me particulars?

I do not want to cause any trouble but if it happens again I will.

If it happened, it happened without my knowledge.

I phoned the Minister's office to find out if it was there the file was and it was in another Minister's office, not the office of the Minister for Defence, in case he might be blamed for it.

The question which was most referred to was that of British pensions being assessed as means. I have already dealt with that. Such pensions are regarded as the same as any other means. We would have to bring in legislation to disregard them the same as had to be done by the Department of Defence in respect of service pensions. You must consider the fact that our own people have to be content with one pension only. These people are lucky in having a pension which puts them above the limit. That is their good luck. I think it was Deputy Treacy who suggested the abolition of sub-committees. He said they were a useless lot who did not perform a very good function. I am one of those who believe that the sub-committees should be allowed to continue.

Hear, hear.

I have not a very hard and fast opinion. I could be persuaded to abolish the system but I did see one particular use for them: they do act as a buffer between the State and the applicant.

It started because the Minister's predecessor said he would abolish them. He said they were useless. We know where the idea came from.

They very often make themselves appear useless when they make recommendations which they know are not in accordance with the facts before them. But many of them go into the cases very carefully and recommend what they think is near enough to the correct thing. They often possess information, due to intimate knowledge of the applicant, which can be helpful. They can perform a useful function in that way. The investigation officers have been castigated and accused of being too severe and unduly difficult but they know that their work will be examined. I can see use in them.

I shall not go into the whole question of home assistance now, much as I should like to. We have it under examination. It has some good points too. At one time I was not prepared to admit it had any good points but, however antiquated or Victorian it may be, one advantage is that the intimate knowledge is there, too, with regard to the applicant. The home assistance officer can go to the house concerned and immediately pay benefit. This is something we could not do. Therefore, irrespective of what change may take place, I should like that immediate and intimate contact to be preserved because it is one of the strongest points of the scheme, if it has any good points. There is much improvement to be made in the scheme.

Those people who talk about having the qualifying age for old age pension reduced to 65 may not have read the Long Title to the Bill which I introduced in the Mansion House on 21st January, 1969. It will be a first step towards paying pensions at 65. We shall also provide death grants. Somebody referred to funeral services and complained that the home assistance code does not provide coaches for the mourners. Death grants will be payable to the relatives of the insured person or to the dependants in the case of death. The Bill will also provide for pensions for invalids on a limited scale. These are very definite steps in the right direction. Every social welfare scheme we have introduced tended to expand immediately. One has only to look back on the children's allowances scheme to note the various improvements made down through the years which I hope will continue to be made as time goes on.

Nobody can divorce improvements in the social welfare code from the fundamental basis of all that one can do, namely, economic expansion. Deputies frequently deride the suggestion that we are keeping the services expanded in accordance with economic expansion and improved national income. These are the factors which must basically receive prior attention if we are to get to the root of the cause and eliminate in many cases the necessity for having to pay social welfare benefits. I said here last year or the year before, and on many other occasions, that no Minister will ever be told from the Opposition side of the House— irrespective of what Government are in office — that he is doing enough for the welfare classes. It is an emotional subject and the nearer it comes to election time the higher the bidding goes. I do not think we should allow ourselves in regard to this serious matter to enter into any serious auction on what we should like to do, had decided to do or proposed to do for the weaker sections of the people.

We are not near enough yet, Minister, are we?

I could sense that atmosphere as Deputy Lyons was speaking. Let us hope that we shall always be prepared to devote a generous percentage of the national income to these very important sections—particularly the old people, the widow and the invalids. Any improvement in the economic system or in society, as such, cannot much improve the position of these sections. You cannot make an old man young. The only thing you can do is to ensure that he gets reasonable comfort. This we can do by continuing to apply more of the nation's wealth to his wellbeing, whether in cash or in kind—such matters as the free travel scheme, the free electricity scheme, the free television licence scheme. I should like to commend highly those persons who are doing much useful work for the old people. Indeed, I would hope the day will not be far distant when myself or the Minister for Health, or both of us, will cooperate with the social workers who are doing useful jobs which nobody but they can do. These are things which make the life of these people happier and which, at times, provide assistance which no Department of State could give. I think of the meals on wheels and such types of service. I hope that in our future extension of the health services, these things will get a high priority. That is my objective.

I mentioned already that we are preparing draft legislation for what the British call "graduated benefits" under a pay-related scheme. I would hope that we would have it available soon. Again, it is a scheme that has caused a good deal of research and a good deal of work for the limited staff we have available for it in the Department. I am glad that reasonably good progress has been made and that the scheme will shortly see the light of day. This is only one of a number of schemes: there will be other times to talk about them. I would not have dealt at such length with this Supplementary Estimate tonight but for the fact that, without casting any reflection on the Ceann Comhairle, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Acting Chairman, the debate did tend to range over a very wide field. In fact, to me, the debate was no different from a general debate on my annual Estimate.

The Minister was not annoyed, was he?

I was very pleased with those Deputies who approached it in a constructive way—and they were most Deputies in the House. As I said at the outset, one could foresee election atmosphere and at times to some extent it did tinge the debate. I hope I have not even thought of an election. I am too magnanimous to be influenced in any way-by any such thought.

One would not think that the Minister was a politician at all.

I thank you for giving us this necessary money to pay for the benefits, not as Deputy Fitzpatrick said, the promised benefits, but the benefits we are already paying.

Vote put and agreed to.