I consider this one of the most important Estimates. To reply to Deputy Tully I am sure he will hear what happened at the Fianna Fáil Party meeting this morning but we do not know what happened at the Labour Party meeting yesterday and we probably will not know for a considerable time, maybe until such time as the history of the Labour Party is written. No matter what happens on Wednesday, and I am entirely optimistic about what will happen on Wednesday, the record of the Labour Party in coalition in the context of social welfare cannot be held up as a banner of honour, as an example to follow. That is a matter of ascertainable fact. When one talks about what goes on at party meetings one should examine one's conscience.
There has been many criticisms of the Department but when I looked at a document last night setting out the various areas in which the Department are operating I wondered how they work so well having regard to their many and varied responsibilities to the people who are entitled to social security. The words "social security" appeal to me. This is an old chestnut of mine which I shall deal with later. When there are so many people entitled to social security benefits the people administering those benefits must be under considerable pressure. We should recognise that.
Since the Fianna Fáil Government have come into office the whole area of social security has taken on a completely new and realistic look. This is not to suggest that everything is absolutely correct. Who is to say that instead of a £5 pension one would not like to give a £10 pension but the reality is that we must work within our own financial limitations? What Deputy who saw a person in very bad conditions would not like to get that person out of his difficulties? It is unrealistic to suggest that insufficient money is being given out.
As far as the Fianna Fáil Government are concerned every single penny that can be given to people entitled to social scurities benefits is given. There is no gainsaying that; the record is there. Deputy Tully made snide asides about future general elections but we can go to the country with a record which is ascertainable and identifiable. The record of Deputy Tully's party is equally ascertainable and identifiable but it does not measure up to our record.
The Minister for Social Welfare and his Parliamentary Secretary have moved:
That a sum not exceeding £75,326,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1972, 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.
This is quite a considerable sum and I, in common with every other Deputy, would like that sum to be three, four or five times greater. However, there are other areas of economic, social and cultural endeavour which must be taken into account when one is making up the national Budget on an annual basis. Any extra moneys which become available from time to time are directed towards the Department of Social Welfare.
I should like to deal with the term "social welfare". I know I am a bit of a bore on this particular subject but, having brought up the position of deserted wives, illegitimate children, paraplegics and so on, people have begun to listen to me and as a result of my urgings quite an amount of social legislation has arisen although I must say my urgings fell on receptive ears.
What I am about to say now has already been recorded in the Dáil Debates and will continue to be recorded until such a time as the situation which I am about to speak about is changed. One of the many functions of a Deputy is to bring about change in the way he thinks change should be brought about within the context of the disciples of one's political party. I would strongly urge the Parliamentary Secretary to bring to the attention of the Minister for Social Welfare the question of changing the title of his Department from "Social Welfare" to "social security". The word "welfare" reeks of the soup kitchen, the poor law, the county home and all the cretinous side issues that involved; it reeks of Victoriana. It has been with us since the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign in the 1830s and it is still with us today. I have taken the view over the short number of years I have had the honour to represent the constituency of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown that the word "welfare" should be changed. It is a small matter and may be the Parliamentary Secretary and his officials think I have been niggling, but I do not intend to be. I make the point as an observation and not as a criticism, in the hope that as a result of my observations this change will come about. I know my appeal will not fall on deaf ears, but I should be grateful if the Minister when he is replying would deal with the point.
I am very pleased to see the various reciprocal agreements with Britain being brought up to date. The question of deserted wives has been of considerable concern to me over the years, as has the position of illegitimate children in our society. I should like to thank the Department of Social Welfare for taking note of what was said in this House. Reciprocal legislation relating to deserted wives between this country and Britain is not entirely satisfactory, but I believe moves are being made there to introduce legislation whereby a husband who deserts his wife and goes to Britain can be prosecuted there with a view to getting him to pay whatever weekly sums his deserted wife is entitled to.
The amount of money given to illegitimate children and their mothers cannot in these inflationary times be described as generous. I have no doubt that the sum will continue to be increased as years go by in order to make the mother and her child as well off as one possibly can. It is a fact of life that we are living in a situation where money loses its value daily. This is not endemic to Ireland; it is the pattern in developed societies throughout the world.
During the Fianna Fáil term of office many innovations have been brought about in the Department of Social Welfare. One area which one would like to see improved is the position of the old in our society. I read an article on this very subject in a magazine entitledLand and Liberty, November-December, 1971. The article was entitled “Review and Reflection” by Robert Clancy, in which he comments on the place of the aged in our society. The expression “The poor we will always have with us” is anathema so far as I am concerned and I will not accept that from any quarter. It is my belief we should have a good and decent society in which the poor will no longer be poor and where they have a reasonable standard of living. I accept there are people who cannot help themselves, but we have an obligation to help them. It is totally unacceptable to this side of the House that the poor shall always be with us. This need not be so if we take a proper view of the whole philosophy of the workings of government, not only in the Department of Social Welfare, but throughout other spheres of economic endeavour.
Regarding the aged poor, Mr. Clancy states:
It is evident that the problem is basically an economic one. Making a decent living in a way that provides for one's old age holds the key to the problem.
This is the point I was making about the expression "The poor we will always have with us" and it coincides with Mr. Clancy's writing on this topic. He continues:
When we can solve the problem of having progress without poverty we will be in a fair way towards solving old age as a social problem.
Sometimes we shy away from the words "old age"; we use such words as "the later years" and "our senior citizens". If they are used in everyday language and in a fair context that is all right. But sometimes they are used by people who wish to escape from their responsibilities and, used in that context, they are used fraudulently. The use of such terms puts me on my guard about the person who is using them and the context in which he uses them, because he might utter these words in an effort to avoid his responsibilities.
No praise can be loud enough for the voluntary bodies throughout this city and country who are dedicated to alleviating the lot of the aged in our society and I have no doubt they will continue their worthwhile work. I would mention the home help services, the voluntary social welfare services and the various societies such as St. Vincent de Paul, the Little Sisters of the Poor and organisations of that calibre who work to lessen the stress of modern living on the old. I know the Minister for Social Welfare and the Minister for Health are appreciative of the work being done by these organisations. In effect, they are taking over the functions of the State. Perhaps the State should do the work they are doing, but it is a happy combination of the State and voluntary organisations working hand-in-hand. It is good that people make some voluntary contribution towards the society in which they live.
It is important that we take a hard look at the integration of the aged into housing estates and new housing complexes. People with money do not have problems in that context as they can buy the necessities of life and so maintain a good standard of living. However, those who retire from jobs that do not carry large salaries have low pensions and these are the people I have in mind. In some cases their families may be deceased or they may have been neglected by their families. A young or middle-aged couple may find they cannot cope with their parents and they may take the view that it is the responsibility of the State to care for them. One might regard this as tragic, but nevertheless it is a reality of life. If a young, or middle-aged, couple have not the necessary financial resources to look after their parents, then it is a matter for the State. Having accepted that principle we must integrate them into a society in which they will have a decent standard of living.
I urge strongly the integration of the aged into housing estates, and I consider they should be given flats or accommodation in schemes which cater also for young people. Once the old people have their own base their neighbours will look after them; from time to time the younger people may invite them to their houses perhaps to baby-sit or to do a similar service. This gives the old people a feeling of belonging and this is most important.
Lack of finances and a sense of boredom afflicts the aged. At the risk of being a little crude, to get the smell of old age when one visits the apartment of an old person is upsetting. This is tragic when one considers the emphasis placed nowadays on affluence. I do not believe in being a killjoy—quite the contrary—but we should reflect from time to time on the conditions of the less well-off sections in our society. It is an exercise in mental discipline, if nothing else; and if it does not prick one's conscience that is a matter for the individual concerned. I do not believe in moralising, nor is it my intention to do so now, but I would make that point with regard to the position of the aged in our society.
The Minister mentioned the information services in the Department of Social Welfare. It is good to know that there are booklets and summaries of social insurance and social assistance services available to the public. It is important to put on the record of the House once more that there is in the city of Dublin a public office at Beresford Place and that another office was provided earlier this year in the Phibsboro' Tower, which is intended for the personal use of callers there. I would like to thank the Minister for Social Welfare for providing that office. It is a welcome development and one which I know will not cease at the Phibsboro' Tower but will spread throughout the city and county of Dublin and also throughout the country. I am not familiar with the position throughout the country but I am satisfied that there are other places where information relating to social security entitlements is available.
One finds, in one's capacity as a TD, that people come and ask what their entitlements are. With all the waste of time from the point of view of the person concerned it is pretty frustrating that one cannot say that there is a social security office down the road and ask the person to call in there to get all the advice he or she requires. Instead, one is obliged to say: "The employment exchange will be open on Monday next, perhaps you can go down there?" The person usually says: "No, I will be working." You then say: "I will send you a copy of the pamphletSummary of Social Insurance and Assistance Services.” You then find the person comes back to you and states that he or she did not quite understand what was meant after reading that booklet.
This is another matter which should be guarded against. All those entitlements should be put down in clear, unequivocal language so that a person's entitlements are put down in figures rather than in words. If there is something which confuses people, including myself, more than anything else from time to time it is to have figures explained with a long piece of verbiage added. It is interesting to note that 45,000 copies of this booklet were ordered in the last reprint. It is distributed free of charge to Deputies, Senators, local authorities, trade unions and others on a mailing list. It is also issued to any individual inquirer and is available for consultation at employment exchanges, employment offices and post offices.
I would ask the Minister to examine the possibility of setting up information offices of the type already set up in Phibsboro' Tower. If the office is only to be staffed by one person, they should be dotted throughout the city and the country generally, particularly in the areas of dense population. This would take a lot of worry off the people entitled to these benefits and it would, to be a little selfish about it, take quite a lot of work off individual Deputies, not that I believe in complaining about anything a Deputy has to do. I always believe if a Deputy does not like what he is doing he can get out, so Deputies do not deserve any sympathy in this or any other context in the light of the type of job they are called on to do. "If you do not like the heat of the oven you can always get out of the kitchen" was an expression used by an American President, I do not know whether it was Roosevelt or Truman. That is the answer when that type of sympathy is directed towards Deputies.
I believe if these individual offices were set up throughout areas of dense population it would go a long way towards educating the people to what their entitlements are and it would also help the Department of Social Welfare because it would take quite a considerable amount of pressure off them in terms of inquires and so on.
Deputy O'Connell mentioned a case yesterday which I did not have an opportunity of pursuing. It is that of a woman who is a deserted wife and is in poor physical condition. She is in one of the Cheshire Homes in Dublin, in the Earlsfort Terrace/Harcourt Street direction. He mentioned that the woman cannot look after her children and therefore she is not entitled to support. As he described it she could not even afford the price of a bottle of lemonade. I really have not examined this case so maybe it would be wrong for me to predict what the outcome of it might be. I am quite satisfied that Deputy O'Connell did all in his power to bring about a situation whereby this woman of 31 or 32 years of age could afford a bottle of lemonade and I have no doubt that the Deputy in his generosity bought her whatever she required. If this is the position it is wrong that this should be the case. However, as I pointed out to Deputy O'Connell, I believe that that is not the position and that the matter has not been fully investigated and that after full investigation it will be found that she is entitled to something.
I realise that the conditions for deserted wives have to be very strict and if she has not got one dependant living with her it would be unfair to make an exception in her case, but nevertheless she is a deserted wife. Deputy O'Connell did not tell us where the children are living at present and whether in fact they are being looked after by the State or being looked after privately. If they are being looked after by the State surely in that way the State are discharging their obligations to some small degree to the unhappy mother. I told Deputy O'Connell I would mention this and I will pursue it. He gave me the name of the person concerned. It is fair to say that he also gave the name to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare. During the course of the day I will remind the Parliamentary Secretary of the case and I am sure he will solve it or attempt to solve it. One can never be sure as to the full facts involved but when one states that one can solve a case one has to be very careful because it might be unsolvable.
I should like once more to bring to the attention of the House, arising particularly out of Deputy Tully's criticism of the Government in relation to our efforts in the field of social security generally, that Fianna Fáil have nothing to be ashamed of in this respect. They have made available all the resources at their disposal. As I said already, we should like to give £10 where a beneficiary is getting £5. However, a budgetary problem is involved as well as an economic situation. Perhaps in the not too distant future we will be able to give people sufficient benefits to meet their needs.
We have a darned good social welfare staff and one realises this by comparing our social welfare entitlements with those of other social welfare structures, be it in Britain or the Six Counties. When we make such comparisons, however, we ought to be perfectly clear on what we are talking about. When a person says that one reason why the Six Counties would not join us is that our social welfare benefits are not as good as theirs, which are paid for by Britain, that is a fraudulent argument. It is fraudulent, peripheral and lightweight and people who make such arguments should sit down and examine the various entitlements and the relative positions of the recipients in either case.
Such an argument put forward as a justification for the people in the Six Counties refusing to reunite with us is as lightweight as that which suggests that they might join us if our contraceptive and divorce laws were changed. It is a fraud of an argument, totally out of touch with the reality of the position that exists and it worries me when people trot out such arguments without consideration, apart altogether from the effects such arguments may have.
We have done quite well down here in the matter of our social services. Perhaps we do not give as much as we should like to give but we have made a beginning and I believe that with a little modernisation within the Department we have the basis of a very good social welfare structure. We realise that nobody in our society should have to go without a minimum standard of living and I believe we can realise that ambition in the not too distant future. It will be a Fianna Fáil Government who will do it. A long list of new concepts in this field has been the result of Fianna Fáil efforts. We have nothing to be ashamed of. When the Opposition criticise us on this they should examine their consciences and think of what they did in Government not so long ago. Let them compare what they offered to what we achieved.
I wish to conclude by thanking the Minister for Social Welfare and his Parliamentary Secretary, Deputy Geoghegan, who is efficient and competent. When one brings a matter to his attention in the social welfare sphere he deals with it immediately. I should like to put on record also my appreciation of the officials of the Department who over the years have been most helpful to me in my efforts on behalf of my constituents.