Social Welfare Bill, 1983: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

When the House adjourned for lunch I was referring to certain aspects of our social welfare legislation and the need for reform. I made reference to the anomalies which exist in the context of deserted wife's allowance and deserted wife's benefit being available to wives who are deserted and left with dependent children but no such allowance being available to husbands. I urged the Minister to consider reforming this area of our law and to seek the possibility of introducing a single parent allowance which would not discriminate on grounds of sex but which would deal with the real needs of single parent families. I hope it will be possible for such an allowance to be introduced and that the Minister will give serious consideration to it. It would greatly ease the difficulties and burdens faced by many single parent families. I referred to the fact that the basis on which the present allowance is paid is totally discriminatory and has little rationale attached to it.

In the context of the present economic climate the supplementary welfare allowance scheme the Minister briefly referred to during the course of his speech has a particular role to play. Under this scheme payments are available as a right in particular circumstances but there are payments of discretionary nature which supplementary welfare officers or community welfare officers can make in certain circumstances. I have no doubt that in the context of the difficulties being experienced by many families who are affected by unemployment additional assistance will be sought by them through this scheme.

There are two problems with the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which I urge the Minister to tackle. I have representations from some of the officers employed as supplementary welfare officers or community welfare officers and from many people who have made applications under the scheme. The problem from the point of view of the recipients relates to the manner in which the scheme is administered and from the point of view of those who administer the scheme the controls which are exercised over them through the Department of Social Welfare. Applicants seeking assistance frequently complain that it is very difficult to get any of the discretionary payments the Government empower the supplementary welfare officers to make available in a variety of different needy circumstances.

Those administering the scheme complain they are hampered by Departmental guidelines. It is suggested that these guidelines are in conflict with legislation relating to the supplementary welfare allowance. It appears there is a real problem here.

For some reason unknown to me the Department of Social Welfare under successive Governments regard these guidelines given to community welfare officers as matters of such great national importance that they cannot be made available to anybody else. There is no Member of the House, to my knowledge, who has available to him a copy of the guidelines. I am aware of the fact that members of different health committees including the one with which I am involved, the County Dublin health committee, sought copies of the guidelines directly from the Department. They have been refused. This is particularly strange in view of the fact that the scheme is effectively administered through the health boards. The health boards cannot have access to guidelines relating to a scheme administered by them and controlled by the Department of Social Welfare. There is a suspicion that the content of these guidelines differs substantially from the content of the legislation.

Community welfare officers find themselves in an invidious position. As employees of the State they are reluctant to act contrary to the guidelines but know that in complying with the guidelines which I understand came into force during the course of the Fianna Fáil administration of 1977-81 and have remained in force under successive Governments since, they are actually in breach of their statutory functions under the social welfare supplementary allowance legislation. They come across instances where under the legislation they have discretion to make payments to people in need of such payments but their interpretation of the guidelines is that it is strongly suggested through the guidelines that such discretionary payments should not be made.

I appeal to the Minister to recognise the fact that there is a need to remove the social welfare code from the aura of mystery and mystique which surrounds it. Decisions on administering all aspects of social welfare law are made by officers employed by the Department. Often reasons are not given for decisions taken particularly when applications for allowances or benefits are turned down. People who are refused benefits or allowances are suspicious that they are being done out of an entitlement. There is a need to remove the aura of mystery which surrounds the manner in which the Department administer allowances and benefits. The refusal by the Department to publicly make available the guidelines used by all officers administering the scheme is a classic example of the secret approach which is adopted in this and all other areas. It is unnecessary.

It is unnecessary. If the Act is being properly administered and the guidelines comply with the legislation, there is no reason why they should not be made publicly available. By not making them available suspicion is created in the minds of the public. It puts health boards, who are responsible for the administration of the scheme, in an impossible situation. They are supposed to exercise political responsibility for the manner in which the scheme is administered, but have to do it with their eyes closed because they are unable to see the guidelines used by their own officers.

I appeal to the Minister to arrange for these guidelines to be made available to each Member of this House, because we all get queries from constituents about the supplementary welfare allowance code. It is indefensible that these guidelines have not been made available to members of this House. I also appeal to the Minister to make available copies of decisions or judgments of a general nature on social welfare applications by deciding officers. In the United Kingdom a whole body of law has developed relating to the social welfare code. People there can clearly see what their entitlements are and ascertain, with or without professional advice, whether a particular claim would be successful and how people making claims in similar circumstances were dealt with. We have never arranged for publication of decisions of this nature. This adds to the secrecy surrounding the operation of our social welfare code. It is in everybody's interest to know how legislation passed through this House is administered and that it is fulfilling the functions for which it was originally intended. It would also help us to be aware of anomalies and problems that arise and to press for reforming legislation when it is required.

I also wish to refer to payments made available through the Department of Social Welfare to tenants of formerly rent-controlled dwellings whose rents have now increased as a result of legislation and who are in need of financial assistance to make the increased payments fixed by the District Court. There is a great deal of confusion about this scheme. Elderly people feel threatened and upset at the sudden and rapid increases in rents they have to pay for homes that many of them have lived in for decades. They are not aware of provisions that are available to assist them in meeting these extra rental payments. The type of payments available should be publicised and all Members of this House should be given the fullest information about the criteria being used in the making of these payments.

A special effort should be made to ensure that the availability of these payments is communicated to those who are most in need of them. The Minister might even consider using the good offices of his colleague, the Minister for Justice, to ensure that district justices, when fixing new rents, make it known to a tenant whose rent is increased that they may seek social welfare support in making the compulsory higher payments. I am sure I am not the only Member of this House who has received representation from constituents who have to pay increased rents and are uncertain of what to do. I have received representations from many constituents who were unaware of the fact that there was any assistance available to them.

In our present financial predicament there is little room for major innovations in our social welfare code. However, there is a great deal of room for manoeuvre in reforming aspects of our existing social welfare laws that are discriminatory and where removing them would not cost the State large sums of money. If we made available to the public the method of deciding social welfare applications, publication of decisions, and made available the supplementary welfare allowance guidelines, it would do a lot to assure them that our social welfare legislation is being properly administered. We must get away from the secrecy surrounding its administration.

Many families are feeling the effects of the severe economic recession and those who have never sought assistance in the past are now doing so. I know the officers employed by the Department try to deal compassionately with people seeking assistance, but in some instances that compassion is lacking. There is often a great delay in replying to correspondence from members of the public — as well as from Members of this House — who are trying to ascertain why their application for assistance has been turned down. I would like to see the Department operating more efficiently than heretofore. The Department is probably under more pressure now than in the previous decade but there is a need to ensure that people who are in distress and dependent on the social welfare system are treated with compassion.

I agree with the closing remarks of Deputy O'Hanlon that the social welfare code must be regarded as a service available for those in need and entitled to assistance. There must be a crackdown of abuses in the code and we must ensure that the minority who abuse the social welfare code are not used as an excuse by the deciding officers to behave as if the vast majority are applying for benefits to which they are not entitled. The concern of the Department of Social Welfare, once the statutory provisions are enacted to make the benefit available, should be to ensure that those entitled to allowances should have them paid to them. On occasion it seems the concern of the Department is to split hairs and, if there is a 50-50 decision due to legislative anomaly, all too often one feels the Department err on saving an extra few pounds for the State rather than acceding to the application.

We should all of us, whether in Government or in Opposition, remember that the Department of Social Welfare is a service Department designed to provide assistance for those entitled to it under the laws made in this House. I would hope that in the coming year, which will inevitably be a difficult year, all those who seek assistance, and who are entitled to it, will be granted it. I hope that those of the general public who query decisions made by the Department because they feel they have not been properly dealt with or badly dealt with will have their inquiries swiftly and sensibly replied to in a humanitarian and considerate fashion. I look forward in the years ahead to the Minister implementing at least some of the reforms that have been suggested.

This Bill is part and parcel of the budget provisions announced in February and can only be regarded as an attack on the old, the unemployed, the sick and the pregnant. I intend to go into some detail to show why I consider that to be case but, before doing so, it is essential to make the point that social welfare policy cannot be divorced from the rest of Government policy in other areas. The attitude displayed in other areas of Government will obviously be reflected in the approach we have to social welfare recipients and Government policy towards them.

The approach of the present Government seems to be one of battening down the hatches and hoping against hope that the present recession will come to an end in the USA and in Europe and that the proverbial tide in the affairs of men will save all our skins. To me that is no policy at all. If a Government have any purpose in a modern State it must be that of planning the economy, no matter how distasteful that may be to the free enterprise lobby which seems to control the two major parties in this House. Planning must be more than simply accepting the existing state of affairs and hoping to manipulate as best the Government can the resources within a collapsing economy. Even if we accept for a moment the approach of the present Government, which concentrates on balancing the books, in my view they are even failing in manipulating the resources within those terms of reference. They are failing to implement their declared concern for the less well-off. In fact, they are reneging on that concern because they are reluctant to tackle tax evasion and tax fraud, twin evils in our society today and, as a result, they find themselves in the position that they must take from the weakest sections in our society.

In the recent general election the Labour Party manifesto indicated that social progress must not stop in times of economic difficulty. An adequate social system must be paid for and the burden spread more widely. They also said social welfare expenditure must be maintained in line with the cost of living. This Social Welfare Bill moves away from that position and moves to a point where the Government hope to maintain social welfare benefits and expenditure in line with take home pay, not in relation to what it costs a person to live but in relation to average take home pay, the take home pay apparently of the average industrial worker. That, again, is reneging on a solemnly made promise at election time.

On the other hand, when negotiating for joining the present Government the programme arrived at between the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party indicated, as is indicated in this Bill, that unemployment and disability benefit would be kept in line with take home wages and salaries. Here we now have a dilution of the Labour Party principle and that is now being extended to all social welfare benefits despite the fact that the joint Fine Gael/Labour programme stated that expenditure on social welfare benefits would be maintained in ment are moving away now from what they declared themselves to be in favour of three or four short months ago. That is why I say the Government are reneging on their promises to the less well-off in our society.

The sharpest cuts in this Bill have been made in relation to the ill, the unemployed, those on short-time working, and those claiming disability, maternity or unemployment benefit to whom pay-related benefit was also payable. The position now is that these people can lose anything up to £20 a week on benefits for which they paid over the years. Some of the increases indicated, the 10 per cent for short-term and 12 per cent for long-term benefit, may in real terms amount to an increase of only 2½ per cent. In some cases there will be a net loss of 20 per cent in real terms.

This whole Bill is an attack on those least able to carry the burden of the present recession. The present pay-related benefit is calculated on the basis of a person's gross weekly earnings from 1981 to 1982. Not only will the Government be cutting pay-related benefits completely for those on short-time but the benefit is being related to a year which is up to 12 months old. It is not related to their current earnings and that results in a cut in income. The combined effects of all the apparent minor adjustments will be far harsher than most people realise. In some cases people will lose up to £20 per week. It is most unsatisfactory that people who have paid for pay-related social insurance should now be faced with the fact that they will not get this insurance. The idea when it was introduced was to enable people to ensure against short time working, unemployment or illness and it is questionable if the Minister has a legal right now to deprive these people of these benefits. If private insurance tried to do this it would be definitely deemed to be illegal and there would be a legal remedy for persons so affected.

Perhaps the greatest conflict of all in the present social welfare code is the decreases which will be brought into effect at the beginning of April and the fact that increases which have been given to various categories will not come into effect until the end of June — a gap of three months. Fianna Fáil have made political points in complaining about that kind of activity when they had imposed similar things themselves and they have done so in relation to pay-related benefit for short-time workers. Not alone did they include that in Estimates for the year, but inThe Way Forward they indicated very clearly the trend which they intended to pursue, and that was one of the reasons why they ultimately lost power last November.

There is need for a rethink in relation to social welfare and what exactly it is all about. The last speaker, Deputy Shatter, indicated that it was a service — and of course, it is — but it is a service which the people who are working in this State are paying for either by PRSI contribution or general taxation. They are not getting something for nothing. It is entirely improper for any Minister to come into this House and say, "Right, you have paid for this but you are not going to to get it because we need the money for some other activity". It is a common approach of Deputies in this House to say that there is no such thing as a free dinner, and of course there is not. We are all aware of that, but there is the question of how effective the Government are in taking in or collecting or ensuring that those who can afford to pay for various services are paying for them, that those who can afford to pay a greater share in income tax are paying that share and that those who have been levied are paying that share which they have been levied. I refer in particular to areas of the population who pay a very small proportion of their income in income tax compared to others in order to pay for the running of this State.

In answers given to me recently in this House by way of written reply the Minister for Finance indicated that the PAYE worker on average is paying £1,600 a year in income tax while the farming sector are paying an average £550 per annum. That is taking the average over those who would not pay any tax in the normal run of things and those who pay a great deal more tax than the average figures indicate. Those figures indicate gross inequality in the way that income tax is levied. Further figures indicate a fall in the return from inheritance tax. I will read out some figures. As a percentage of total taxation, income tax rose from approximately 25 per cent in 1972-73 to 30 per cent in 1982, while capital taxes fell for the same period from 3.5 per cent to 2.2 per cent. Taxes on company profits rose slightly from 3 per cent to 4.7 per cent, mainly from the increase in the number of companies in existence, while at the same time taxes on inheritance and gifts as a percentage of total income tax fell from 1.9 per cent to .3 per cent.

To put that in perspective in terms of cash, in 1972-73 the real value of taxes on inheritance and gifts was £8.6 million while in 1982 in real terms the value of tax on inheritance and gifts fell to £2.1 million. That is a clear indication of the type of approach pursued by not just the present Coalition. The Coalition were in power from 1973 to 1977 and a decline in inheritance tax commenced in that period. The decline continued while Fianna Fáil were in office from 1977 to 1981 and continues to the present day. Despite the fact that wealth tax, property tax, capital acquisitions tax and all such taxes declined, at the same time income tax on PAYE earners is rising and those who are least able to meet the present recession are being asked to take a cutback in their earnings.

Therefore, the present Government are taking the wrong line completely in relation to social welfare. At a time like this, because of increasing levels of unemployment — and therefore sickness seems also to increase — greater amounts of money need to be made available for social welfare purposes. I would accept the argument that no money is available if I could see a realistic effort being made by the Government to tackle those areas which are not paying their share of the taxes.

The Minister in his speech makes an extraordinary admission that something like 11,000 companies in the State have not to date paid their PRSI contribution to the Revenue Commissioners for up to two years. That is entirely unacceptable on two levels. First of all, to allow companies to act in that fashion gives them the edge over those companies who are efficient in operating their enterprises. The PRSI contribution and the tax which are being withheld are being used as a form of cheap loans. It is unsatisfactory that companies which are inefficient and unable to meet their commitments should be allowed, using State funds in this way, to compete with companies who are paying their way, paying their share of running the facilities in this State. The social welfare provisions would be acceptable if all efforts were being made to raise more money elsewhere but clearly that is not being done and it would appear from the general approach of the Government that they have no intention of seriously going after those who are not paying their share.

The introduction of PRSI in this area was an advance in our social code and it appears that a start has been made at dismantling that code. The ICTU said last night in a statement that it would appear that this Government are going to out-Thatcher our friends across the water. The whole approach of the Government is one of hoping that things will get better. It is clear, from answers which I have received in the last few days to questions in relation to unemployment and Government policies in that regard, that the Government, effectively, have no answers. They are forming committees here, there and everywhere and have no clear idea how to deal with the present recession.

I do not hold with the view that unlimited funds are available at any time for social welfare benefits. Clearly, all the services provided by the State must be paid for from some source or other. The State must take control of the economy and utilise the available resources, using the millions collected in taxes from the workers to invest in those available resources. I am talking about direct Government involvement in industrialisation. Unless the Government become involved in that area, there will not be enough money for any of the existing services. It is pointless for Ministers to say that they do not have the money. They are failing to collect money which is available from people who are in a position to pay and at the same time misusing the available resources.

We have referred frequently to our belief that private enterprise has failed to provide for the industrialisation which this State needs. So long as the present approach is adopted, that will continue to be the position. So long as hand-outs are given to private industry, regardless of how they use that money, and so long as it is thought easier or more palatable for Governments to take money from those on social welfare and more and more money out of the pockets of the PAYE sector, instead of adopting a realistic, progressive approach to industrialisation, we will this time next year be discussing further cuts in social welfare benefits.

I intend to confine myself to two aspects of the social welfare system and the proposals contained in this Bill, in so far as they affect the scheme of unemployment assistance for smallholders. I am firmly convinced that the decision-making process within the Department of Social Welfare should be decentralised. I have the strongest objection to the proposal to discontinue the notional method of assessment of smallholders' means for unemployment assistance purposes. The notional system up to now has been based on the poor law valuation of the land. The High Court judgment of 30 July 1982 declared that the PLV system is no longer applicable as far as the relationship between the quality of land and its value in different parts of the country is concerned.

The Government should, and must, as a matter of extreme urgency, get an alternative notional system in place of the poor law valuation system. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill states that provision is being made for the discontinuance of the notional method of assessment of means for unemployment assistance purposes by reference to the rateable valuation of land. This memorandum states that the section provides that persons assessed under the notional method of assessment will be entitled to unemployment assistance on the present basis of calculation until such time as their means can be assessed on a factual basis.

The Minister, when introducing the Bill this morning, informed the House that the valuation system would be phased out within about three years. At the same time, he said that about 2,000 cases would be means-tested or investigated within the next three months. How will those 2,000 cases be selected for reassessment, as one must bear in mind that there are 14,000 smallholders receiving unemployment assistance under the notional system. Over the past month or six weeks, certain smallholders in certain parts of south Kerry have been means-tested. They cannot understand why they were selected for reinvestigation while other smallholders in similar, or better, circumstances were not selected. Some people think that anonymous letters are being submitted to the Department of Social Welfare and to the local social welfare out of petty jealousy, or perhaps, motivated by political reasons. Social welfare recipients should have their entitlements reassessed under a fair, sensible, regulated and widely-accepted system, rather than haphazardly as at present, which is setting the trend for investigations over the coming months.

The background to this scheme of unemployment assistance for smallholders is important. This scheme was brought into operation following the report of a commission set up to investigate and recommend ways and means of improving the lot of the smallholder in the 12 western counties and to suggest ways and means of enabling them to increase production on their holdings. This scheme, known as the small farmers' dole scheme, first came into operation in 1965. I recall, on coming first into this House in 1966 that it was operable then on a six-monthly basis during the winter months only, but it was extended in 1967 to cover the entire year. We know the thinking behind this scheme. It was that smallholders who were unable to make a living on their holdings should be assisted in order to keep more people on the land in those 12 western counties. The idea was that a scheme of unemployment assistance would be provided for such smallholders. Under the means-tested system any smallholder who improved his holding or acquired additional stock would have his unemployment assistance cut or substantially reduced; thus the incentive to improve a holding or increase production would be lost. We know what that scheme meant to smallholders in the west and south-west. We know also what this scheme meant to local communities, to the small towns and villages in each of those 12 western counties. It meant that local villages become viable which, in turn, led to increased business in small towns in those western counties principally because those smallholders were able to expend this money sensibly in increasing production, improving their holdings, thereby generating increased spending in local economies which in turn benefited those communities.

We must also bear in mind — and this is very significant — that the population of the 12 western counties, with the exception of a few isolated areas, increased substantially in the years 1971 to 1981. I have no doubt but that the assistance available under the small farmers' scheme played a vital role in not alone maintaining that population but in its increase. It is a wellknown fact that smallholders who might otherwise have had to close their doors, emigrate or sell their holdings and move to Dublin in search of employment, for the first time under this scheme, were able to concentrate on their small holdings, get married, have a family and play a vital role in the development of their local economies. This was a scheme that operated very successfully. I know there were abuses to a certain extent as the years progressed when more and more people came within its ambit, as social welfare increases were granted in successive budgets and as the valuation theresholds were raised. But in so far as 80 to 85 per cent of smallholders were concerned it played a vital role in enabling them to provide for themselves and their families, to keep bread on the table, so to speak, during the winter months.

The Government must devise an alternative to the PLV system for that scheme. Indeed it is in the duty of the Government to devise an alternative notional system. It is not easy for an Opposition to come up with an alternative. I believe that the production unit accounting system, as recommended by the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association, and detailed in a revised January 1983 publication which was submitted to the Government in connection with farming taxation, is a sound one that should be examined by the Government as an alternative to the PLV system in the operation of the scheme of assistance to smallholders. This scheme is linked with productivity and is worthy of examination. The reason the Government are not now introducing an alternative notional system is that they want to have each smallholder means-tested as soon as possible. Indeed I was surprised to learn from a reply to a parliamentary question last week that EEC headage grants will now be taken into account in calculating means for unemployment assistance. I agree that the sale of milk and cattle must be taken into account in any means-tested system but allowance should be made for smallholders in relation to the time spent on their holdings and in relation to the time spent by their wives and families on agricultural activities. Experience has shown that, in relation to means tests as applied generally, these considerations do not enter in.

I have been an advocate for a long time now of the decentralisation of certain matters appertaining to the Department of Social Welfare. I should like to see explored the possibility of having the records section broken down at county level, operated on a county basis at local level. There are numerous complaints of delays in the processing of applications for unemployment assistance. These are understandable having regard to the ever-increasing number of persons coming on to the unemployment register and also to the fact that staff numbers are not being increased to cope with those applications. Delays in handling applications for unemployment assistance cause undue hardship and frustration to applicants and their families and this spills over on to local authorities and health boards. We are all aware of many instances of people seeking unemployment assistance waiting six, eight or ten weeks for a decision on their application and who must go to their local social welfare community officer to seek supplementary allowance. This adds to administrative costs in relation to this scheme.

I understand why certain cases must be referred to a social welfare officer for investigation of means but these cases eventually should not have to be sent to Dublin for decision. There should be a deciding officer in each county who could give decisions on applications coming before him or her within a reasonable time. I suggest the provision of more staff at local level and that there should be decentralisation of the records section. It would mean that applications for unemployment benefit could be dealt with quickly, that applicants would not have to wait considerable periods for decisions and that they could be paid promptly.

As regards social welfare disability benefits, I find it hard to understand delays of up to seven or eight weeks in many cases in deciding applications and getting cheques out to applicants. A system should be devised by which applications accompanied by first medical certificates would be processed through some local office based on area rather than a county.

I can recall when local social welfare agents maintained a supply of application forms and advised people on their proper completion. When that system was in operation delays never occurred in making payments because the forms were completed and the cheques were issued by the Department on receipt of the properly completed applications. Some local machinery should be set up to deal with the first application for disability benefit from any individual.

I am convinced that, if the suggestions I have made for the improvement of consideration of applications for unemployment assistance, unemployment benefit and disability benefit were adopted and the system streamlined, the Department would save time and money not only in regard to administration put in preparing replies to parliamentary questions. As far as I know, the vast majority of Deputies put down questions in relation to applications for social welfare services purely out of frustration. Undue delays are not the fault of any individual working within the social welfare code but of the system. The saving in cost of administration and the preparation of replies to questions would go a long way towards paying extra decision-making officials at county or local level.

The family income supplement announced by the Minister can be of tremendous assistance to families depending on low earnings, if the scheme is operated properly. I hope the Minister will give us details of the scheme as soon as possible. On numerous occasions each week during the course of my constituency work people in serious financial difficulties, whose incomes are remarkably low and who have difficulty in paying routine bills such as electricity accounts, come to me. Some weeks ago I asked the Minister by way of parliamentary question if he would be prepared to recommend that the Department would pay 50 per cent of electricity bills to families in certain circumstances. His reply was that the cost would be such that the Exchequer could not carry it in present financial circumstances. I can visualise assistance being given to such families under the family income supplement proposals the Minister intends to present.

I can never understand, and I have queried it on many occasions, the reasons for such problems in dealing with applications from self-employed persons who apparently have no employment at certain times. I understand it is the policy of the Department to base their incomes for means purposes on the previous tax year or financial year while at the same time persons in insurable employment, with incomes of between £15,000 and £20,000, would be automatically paid the benefit from the day they ceased to be employed or failed to get further employment. I should like the Minister and his Department to have another look at that anomaly. When the businesses of small business people fold up and they cannot get employment, they should be able to get unemployment assistance until they can procure employment.

I should like to compliment the officials of the Department of Social Welfare at all levels from the local district offices right up to the Minister's office. I have always found them most courteous and obliging. They are working in very difficult circumstances at the moment having regard to the various constraints placed on them. I thank them for their co-operation and the way in which they help public representatives. They show an understanding of the role of public representatives who try to sort out quite a number of difficult social welfare problems relating mainly to applications for unemployment assistance or benefit, disability benefits and pensions, daily and weekly.

At a time of austerity and hardship such as we are going through at the moment we in this House have a responsibility to ensure that the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society are protected and are not subjected to even greater hardships than they are already suffering. This Bill is intended so far as possible to ensure that the necessary benefits and assistance will be paid to the unemployed, widows, deserted wives and other social welfare beneficiaries.

Most of us would echo the sentiments expressed by the Minister when he said he regretted that the increases could not be greater this year. Last year the increase in benefit and assistance was to the tune of 25 per cent. Those of us who know the problems of the poor and disadvantaged would like to think that type of increase was possible this year, but it is not feasible. In order to ensure that the real needy and deserving will not suffer, cutbacks and reductions have to be accepted by the better off. We have to take a responsible position and ensure that there will not be any great hardship for people who need and deserve help.

Our social welfare system is not by any means a bad one. If we look at countries very much richer than Ireland we will realise that. If we examine the social welfare system in Canada and America we see that we are not at the bottom of the league. We are not rich by general western standards, but we can be proud of the social welfare system we have had. It is not as good as we would like it to be. In America and Canada there is no regular payment for deserted wives. When we make the comparison the deserted wife's allowance and the single mother's allowances are cases in point. We have a high percentage of single breadwinners and, judged by European or American standards, we have a low percentage of women working outside the home. We have a high dependency rate. We have more children per family than other EEC countries have. Despite all those facts, we have ensured that there is no great deprivation and that people are protected from poverty.

At the moment we are in bad economic circumstances, perhaps even in a crisis. Those of us who are employed know that we will have a pay packet at the end of the week or the month. We are the fortunate ones and we can make provision for ourselves. Naturally people will suffer from the cutbacks. There will be higher prices and higher taxes. For those of us who have jobs and security in those jobs, it is a time to sit down and reflect, and realise that this is not the reality for several thousand families. We must also realise that the pressures and stresses on those living on social welfare will be great next year.

The family income supplement was a feature of the Coalition budget last year. I was sorry it was not carried forward by the next Administration. In this Bill it is envisaged that it will cater for something in the region of 20,000 families. It is intended to assist families on low incomes. Many families are living on £60, £70 or £80 a week. They can be families with one breadwinner and up to six or seven children. They need and deserve extra help. For that reason I welcome the reintroduction of the family income supplement. I hope the allocation under this heading will not be eaten up by administrative costs. That would be disastrous. While I accept that there is a need to administer it fairly and equitably, it should be possible to allocate most of it directly to families in need. As was featured in the budget of the last Coalition, it was to cater for families where there was one worker not eligible for tax. I hope that when the Minister starts to formulate his policy on paying the family income supplement the administration will be as streamlined and as inexpensive as possible and that we will use existing machinery to pay it.

Voluntary funding to the value of £500,000 is to be made available to help organisations and groups in community work. This is very important, although I do not agree that we should consider the needs of people in terms of voluntary aid. That would be rather risky, as though we were getting back into the area of charity. I am sure it will not develop in this way. At a time of pressure and of hidden poverty it is desirable that money be made available to bona fide community groups who would be able to direct the funds where they are most needed. One is often struck by the difference that exists between one family and another. There can be great poverty in one family but not in another family, even though the income may be the same. The reason for the difference is a greater ability to cope on the part of one household. This is a personal problem and where possible men and women should be given information and help on how to cope with the family income and on how to make it stretch. We are all aware that in some families £70 can mean as much as £150 but in other families it will only mean as little as £25.

Section 17 relates to prosecutions. This is an area in which there has been much public debate and discussion. It is frequently implied, or even evidence is given, that people with big cars and who go on continental holidays are collecting social welfare, are on the dole or are getting public funds in some way. At a time when work is scarce and when public funds are limited we have a responsibility to ensure that public funding goes to the area where it is most needed. It is important to have standards. I hasten to add that I am not suggesting that those on welfare should lead lives of lesser quality than anyone else. Perhaps as a nation we are too quick to judge, but I pose the following question. When looking for someone to carry out work in our homes or in our gardens, do we ask if the person or the firm proposing to do the work has fulfilled the necessary requirements? How many of us will go for the cheapest price knowing that the person concerned is on the dole? Many of us will then complain about that kind of situation. I wanted work done at my house and I got in touch with various people whom I knew had work carried out for them. I was told that the work had been done but that the people who carried out that work would not do the work for me: I was told "They would not touch you with a barge-pole." I asked the reason and I was told it was because I would make inquiries about returning tax, about registration and so on. We have a responsibility to ensure that firms work in accordance with the required procedures. We must ensure that employers make the required returns in respect of PRSI and PAYE.

I make my remarks in the full knowledge that all our Ministers had an extremely difficult task in making the necessary cuts and in ensuring that we can pay for the services that are necessary and I know that this was more difficult in some Departments. However, I wish to refer to the abolition of the maternity grant scheme. The Minister said the grant was £8, which was very little, but the administration of the scheme possibly added another £3 or £4 to that amount. Nevertheless I regretted that the scheme was abolished. I would ask the Minister to consider the 15,000 women who qualify for it on their husbands' insurance. I agree that the maternity allowance is well worthwhile. There are 10,000 claimants who get a maternity allowance which is paid before and after the birth of a baby and there is also the 14 weeks scheme for women in employment. The group which concerns me most are those who were entitled to it on their husbands' insurance.

The maternity grant was brought in under the National Insurance Act, 1911. It operated from 15 July 1912. The amount paid in 1912 was £1.10s. It went up to £2 in 1920, which was quite a sum. In 1978 it was increased to £8. It has not been increased since. I would not dare to say that it is unimportant for any woman because for mothers at home any payment is significant and worthwhile. I know how much children's allowances mean to them. In 1978 the amount was depressed at £8. I am worried about this being abandoned. It is very difficult to reintroduce things which are abandoned. I should like the Minister to look at this category — the wives of insured workers — particularly since we are debating the amendment to the Constitution. This section are being discriminated against. The fact that the grant has remained at £8 reflects no credit on any Government. In other European countries a birth grant, which probably is not substantial, is paid to women who have a baby.

The Bill will ensure that we can maintain a reasonable level of help and assistance for those who need it. It is unfortunate that we cannot do more. We would all like to be able to do much more for the people we see in our clinics who are struggling on low incomes and trying to cope with ever-rising prices. They find it difficult to keep food on the table let alone have the luxuries which some of us take for granted such as holidays and cloths. It is important to protect this group.

I look to the future with optimism, but if we are to have any hope for the future sacrifices will have to be made. We will have some tough years. I do not envisage that we should have to concede that emigration is the answer to our problems. I do not see us working towards that answer in this Government. I was an emigrant in the fifties and subsequently returned. I benefitted from that emigration and I know the ardours and grim reality of having to leave the country. It is for this reason that the Government must take on the role of tough responsible government for the next four years so. that our children and their children will not be burdened with an unbearable national debt but will have a future with jobs here.

I preface my remarks by extending every good wish to Deputy Desmond on his appointment as Minister. We entered the House together and I wish him well. I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on this Bill and to have the experience of seeing such a Bill introduced by a Labour Minister. They are a minority party in the Coalition but it is being brought in by a Minister who has been as long on the sideline as I have and whose concern for the less well of and for social welfare recipients in general does not appear to be confined to Dún Laoghaire and Rathdown but embraces the whole country.

When I look at some of the provisions in the Bill I fear the Minister's concern may be somewhat diluted or modified west of the Shannon. As a representative of a Leinster constituency with a practically unbroken Labour representation I can understand how the gullible people who voted Labour are now asking: "Where are they?" Members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union who will be marching in Newbridge tomorrow will include people who are unemployed and on short-time in Newbridge, Naas, Kildare and elsewhere. They will ask the same question and will want to know where the Labour Party are and if those who espoused women's rights so vociferously in the past have become dumb now. Is the mild spring we are experiencing in tune with the mild Spring that does not like to ruffle the hard line attitude of a Fine Gael-dominated Cabinet here in the Dáil?

How is it that the Minister who could not be kept off radio and television before the election is not seen on it now, apart from a still life picture I saw the other night? I would like him to explain some of the changes that have been made. The introduction to the explanatory memorandum says that the Bill provides for increased rates of payment in the schemes for social insurance and assistance from the end of June 1983. It also says that occupational injury benefit payments are being increased. That is a PRO job because in many cases it is from 1 July.

I realise that the provisions of the Social Welfare Bill stem from the Budget. Our first priority would have been to provide employment. In the 1982 budget our first priority was to reduce inflation. We succeeded in reducing inflation from 23 per cent to 12 per cent in nine months, which was a very creditable performance. Even a casual observer would realise that jobs should be the first priority of Government. I cannot detect anything in the budget that will provide employment for anybody, apart from the special advisers that have been appointed in certain positions.

Fianna Fáil have a philosophy of caring for the less well off, the poor and the elderly. Our leader has been a trendsetter and pioneer in this regard. Proof of that can be seen in the 25 per cent increase in pensions which was provided at the end of every year for three years: it proves that that concern was translated into hard cash when times were not good. Naturally, we regretted that a 25 per cent increase was necessary to cushion these unfortunate people against inflation and that is why we applied ourselves to the reduction of inflation. On the Minister's own admission, 3½ per cent has been added to inflation by the provisions of the budget, and it more likely that 4 per cent has been added. The 10 per cent and the 15 per cent increases in pensions and other provisions in the budget will not cushion these people against inflation. It is important to remember, too, that pensions will remain static until the end of June but the cost of living will not. The 4½ per cent imposition, which started even before the budget, is in operation now and old people will continue to feel the pinch.

It has been argued by some people that this Social Welfare Bill will help to stop abuses, but I do not think so. It will not do anything to prevent spongers, nixers or those drawing the dole from abusing the system. We all want to see those parasites eliminated, but I do not consider that this Bill will make any difference in that regard. The purpose of the Bill is to give an increase in payments under social welfare insurance and assistance, and it makes quite a few changes. Fianna Fáil realised that there were loopholes in short-term employment, especially the three-day week and three-day social welfare payments. We intended to make it a two-day social welfare week and to reduce social welfare payments to five days in this instance. I am glad that this provision has been incorporated in the Bill. The balance should be weighted in favour of working rather than remaining idle and some workers and employers use the three-day week to benefit themselves. We must create a climate where there is a greater inducement to work rather than remaining idle or going on short-time. Naturally, if someone is going to pay tax for working there must also be a provision whereby people who get money for not working will also pay tax if the sums are comparable.

There appears to be a deliberate policy by the Government to make more people unemployed. Who pays the greatest burden of taxation? When the Government were in Opposition it was agreed that there was an unfair burden placed on the PAYE sector. We were told they were been sucked dry. This year it is worse than ever. The ceiling has now been raised to £13,000 per annum, but the benefits only apply to people earning up to £11,000 per annum. Why are people in the £13,000 income group paying for something from which they cannot benefit? In Kildare, where we like to have a bet, you get your money back if you have no hope of winning. The assumption is that if you cannot win, you cannot lose either. Last week there were two races where all bets were returned because there was not betting on the race. If people earning £13,000 contribute to a scheme, they are entitled to benefit from it.

I would now like to deal with the most penal levy of all, the 1 per cent to be deducted from salaries and which has brought the ceiling up to 8.5 per cent. That is a very savage increase on gross wages. Is it a temporary measure? Once our ancestors fought a tithe war when one-tenth of their hay or corn and so on was taken from them. The people rebelled against that and we are getting very close to a situation where the 8.5 per cent is also a tithe. I can well understand why the rumblings of discontent have become a clamour.

When we use terms like PRSI and PRB in a hackneyed way we should analyse their meaning. We must remember that the worker is paying for benefits and insurance; they are not a handout. The payments probably go back to the previous year on the understanding that certain benefits will be available if they are unfortunate enough to need them the following year. This Bill increases the number of waiting days to the fourth week instead of the third week. When the person paid the money they did not anticipate that they would have to wait four weeks. It is not aimed solely at spongers but at ordinary working people who are out of work through no fault of their own. You may well say to me, as the Minister might say: what is another week, or as Johnny Logan might say, what is another year? The PAYE people might well be saying "When is the next election?". I cannot understand the thinking behind the waiting period. If it is something intended to encourage people to work, we must remember that not a great percentage of the unemployed are spongers, so you are aiming at the 10 per cent and thereby victimising the other 90 per cent prepared to work.

Section 9 brings about a reduction in pay-related benefit. That is the benefit for which people have paid in proportion to their wages. The reductions have been brought down to 40 per cent in the first 147 days, 30 per cent for 78 days, 25 per cent for the next 78 days and 20 per cent for the following 78 days. Now we anticipated we would have to make changes in order to ensure people on social welfare would not have more money than they would if they were working. But these provisions here are much more savage and much steeper than anything we ever suggested or hoped to introduce. We certainly never went as low as 20 per cent in any estimate on which we decided. It would appear, then, that here the Minister has out-Heroded Herod. There is no point in harking back to what Fianna Fáil intended doing because you are the people in power now. You are the people who made the promises. You are the people who have broken those promises. You are the people who have reneged on the promises you made to the workers. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Dukes, did a very good hoovering job in the budget because every spare bob was taken up here. I sympathise with any Minister sitting over there who must now empty out the dust bag and let the people see what has happened.

Section 12 disqualifies apprentices in the 16 to 18 age group for children's allowances. As a previous speaker remarked, the maternity allowance is being withdrawn from 4 April. Very paltry sums are involved. I can understand why the previous Fine Gael speaker deplored the fact that a maternity allowance of £8 was being done away with. I realise the amount was out of date. Would it not be possible to incorporate this into some other type of benefit? I know the Labour Party are anti-amendment. It now appears they are anti-maternity grant as well. Can anyone tell me why there is no increase in children's allowances? This is the first time a year has passed in which we do not have an increase in children's allowances. The allowances have remained static. It would appear anti-children measures are very much in vogue. First of all, there is no maternity grant, no increase in children's allowances and, up to recently, there was to be no school transport. My reference to out-Heroding Herod is very appropriate remembering the massacre of the Holy Innocents. This is what we are seeing now in the Coalition programme.

There will be no double weeks benefit for the dependants of the poor. Deputy Dr. Woods in 1982 introduced the double week in September and December as a help to dependants of the poor. They will now be denied that double week. I have done a little calculation and I am informed that the delay in paying old age pensions to 1 July will save the Government £15.5 millions. It should be remembered that, if it does, it will also have taken £15.5 millions away from old age pensioners. It was obviously decided to make the old age pensioners do without that £15.5 millions, and the total saving for widows and others by this delay is £39.3 millions.

There are two other matters to which I should like to refer. Employers who take social welfare contributions from their employees and do not remit those contributions to the Department should be pursued and prosecuted. When a worker applies for his pension a very, very exact analysis is done of the amount of stamps he has and there is no redress if he has not the correct amount. Any employer who acts in such a criminal fashion, who takes money from the worker and does not pay it to the Department, should not have his action condoned. There is an opinion at large that certain elements in the Fine Gael Party do not regard such criminal action as criminal, as one would imagine they should. Those who believe this is not a crime should be disillusioned.

This Bill is a very retrograde step. In shipwreck the usual cry is women and children first. I would add old people as well. These unfortunates will be the first to suffer, the old and women and children. I would ask the Minister at this stage to have another look at this or at least listen to those within his own party who have a humane attitude and who realise that some of the provisions here will have dire repercussions and impose dreadful burdens on people. Above all, I would ask the Government to have a look at the provisions and give the PAYE worker a fair deal for once.

First of all, I would like to congratulate the Minister and the Minister of State on their appointments. I am not sure whether to offer condolences or congratulations. They have an extremely difficult task ahead. This Department has a total budget of £1,780 million. It is the largest Estimate in the Book of Estimates. They are faced with an extremely difficult job in trying to protect the living standards of the needy and the deprived.

There are some anomalies that need to be corrected. When discussing the desirability of expenditure on social welfare the basic problem is the demographic structure of the country. There is a predominance of people over 66 and children under 16. The burden of taxation must obviously be immense because our dependency ratio is the highest in Europe. Over the coming years the Government will have an enormous problem in trying to protect living standards. I would urge that there should be some way at EEC level to enable a review of expenditure through the European Social Fund in such a way as to take account of those governments who have an inability in regard to problems in social welfare budgets. At the moment there is no structure other than training and youth employment and other regional aids and European funds do not move into this area at all. That situation should be reviewed and changed forthwith. We must at all times in relation to such a large amount of money look for value for money. In terms of unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance, which total £473 million—our minimum estimate this year—ways must be found of getting better value for money. Whatever the increase, whether 12 per cent after a pause as in this case or the usual 1 April increase, there must be some formal link between pay increases negotiated in either a national pay agreement or a national understanding so that those at work can see direct parity between the percentage increases for industrial earnings and the percentage increases for social welfare, especially for those who are out of work, who in some cases are available for work but unable to find it and in other cases are sick and incapable of work. Last year there was a 25 per cent social welfare increase and a 12 per cent increase in pay. This whole area must be looked at. All the social partners are at present having talks with the Government, the unions who have a special interest in this area, and the employers, and some formalised relationship should be brought about between increases in pay and increases in social welfare.

I would like to turn to the estimated 193,000 people who will draw either unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit. An extra £31 million has been provided in this respect for this year. It is difficult to predict accurately the outturn but unfortunately one could not say under all predictions at present that this estimate is anything other than conservative. This vast amount of money, £473 million, a quarter of the total budget for social welfare, raises some very fundamental questions about expenditure of this nature. When I was Fine Gael spokesman for employment creation I felt that there was a very important need to review this total expenditure.

That can be done in various ways through direct job creation by the State. First we could say to those on unemployment assistance that for six months' work we could pay them at the rate of benefit, and in that way we would get some return for our money and those participating would get some job satisfaction. Another way would be for someone on unemployment assistance with only a wife and no children drawing £50.50 or someone with five or six children drawing £74 per week would do a certain number of hours' work per week on two or three days, thus overcoming his frustration and getting some fulfilment rather than existing as at present where there is no return from the State and the result is vandalism, frustration and depression among people who have no hope of a job.

I would envisage the Department of Social Welfare having discussions with local authorities and other agencies to bring about in some way flexibility of funds between different State departments. I know of one local authority who within the last 18 months let off 30 men and the cost to the State was more by virtue of the entitlements when they were unemployed than it was to keep them in their jobs. That is not value for money and in some ways it is economic lunacy. The Government must make a determined effort to review the fundamental change that I am speaking about.

I envisage it being done at, say, Enniscorthy employment exchange or any exchange where unemployment would go over, say, 15 per cent of the work force there. You would invoke an emergency scheme there whereby you would set up a local committee made up of employers, unions and district engineers of the local authority who would combine. The people would be available for work if offered jobs after two months in the scheme. It could be a successful recruiting ground. It would mean tangible environmental improvements in each locality.

In regard to individual cases, some people in my constituency wished to set up a bicycle repair shop. Because they were means-tested they found it very difficult to draw their social assistance and still get the type of money they needed to set up this business. The Department of Social Welfare and all other Departments must be anxious at all times to attain a flexibility that will ensure that those who want to work and employ themselves on self-help will be encouraged fully. Conversely if people on full-time social welfare unemployment benefit assistance put a proposal to the Department that they work three days a week and spend the other two days setting up whatever small enterprises they want, they should not be inhibited in any way from collecting their payments and going ahead and getting some opportunity of sustaining their own livelihood.

I wish to turn now to short-time working. In my constituency in my home town of Enniscorthy three factories are on three-day short-time working and they will be affected severely by the cutbacks in this budget. Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Bill are relevant to this. I would like to give an example of the effects of the present cuts and the anomalies and the disincentive to work at present. A married man with no children working a five-day or forty-hour week in a bacon factory I have in mind, which is at present on a three-day week, would take home £117.71 per week pay. He would pay PAYE £13.50 and his employee contribution only on PRSI would be £10.64. His gross pay would be £141.85 a week and his take-home pay £117.71 a week. At present what is the situation on short-time working? He works 26 hours, that is three days a week, and his gross pay from the company is £92 a week. His tax out of this is £1.25 a week and his PRSI deduction, employee's only again, is £6.95 per week. This comes to total deductions of over £8 per week. His total social welfare at present for three day's signing is £41.08. Including pay-related this comes to a total of £124.93 a week. I ask anyone in this House how he can justify someone with no children working a five-day week, taking all tax allowances into account, taking home £117 while under the present situation he gets £7 more for working two days fewer.

All sides of the House prior to this election recognised this problem. How can we be less than hypocritical when we make speeches about absenteeism, man-days lost, work ethic and incentive to work if at the same time a man married with no children is £7 a week better off for not going to work? Therefore, I welcome the change whereby workers can draw three days' or 26 hours' earnings in the bacon factory and two days only on social welfare. This would have the net effect of reducing the cut only in terms of the days lost. It would reduce the social welfare payment to £17.38 a week. In other words, they would get £27.38 per week which is a loss of £13.69, an acceptable level whereby he would have an incentive to go back to a five-day week. The pay-related cuts, especially after 147 days, will have the effect of reducing his take-home pay to £101.23. That is now a cut of £23 or, if he is working a full five-day week, £16 a week.

I urge all concerned to ensure that there is a full and proper incentive to work. It is only logical and reasonable that those on a five-day week should be better off than those on three days. If they are making PRSI contributions it is only right that some, at least, of the pay-related benefit should be retained. Perhaps the matter could be reviewed. When the effects are felt, it will be obvious that an improvement in the situation of the five-day week worker will prove an incentive to work. The extent of the abuse has been pointed out. Last year, industrial earnings increased by approximately 12 per cent and social welfare payments by 25 per cent. People were paying PRSI and when out of work they were collecting pay-related benefits. Instead of paying PAYE, they were getting a tax-free allowance to top up their payments. No Member could justify that situation. It is recognised in the Opposition party documentThe Way Forward that that piecemeal approach created such inequity that it had to be stopped. The approach on the five-day week should be rigid, but flexible on pay-related benefit.

I welcome specifically the budget allocation direct to the Department of £½ million for voluntary bodies. Health boards have a total budgetary constraint imposed on them for the year and partnership projects between voluntary and statutory bodies tend first to feel the cold breeze. We must examine the Government attitude in every area to the role of voluntary bodies. The relationship between the Department, the Minister and various voluntary bodies should be formalised to the extent that on a project there would be a rigid pound for pound arrangement — every pound collected through local voluntary contribution would be matched by a pound from the Department, or some other ratio to give an incentive to so many communities with so much goodwill and expertise in raising money.

In Wexford, we have a family centre run by the ISPCC which is caught in the classical squeeze but, through the intervention of the Minister it is now possible that the needed £36,000 will be forthcoming. The health board, with its own social work structure for deprived families and young children, is not the best source. There should be a formal relationship between the Department and the ISPCC and full assistance given. I agree with the Minister that to initiate and aid projects rather than groups is preferable. Too much money in every spending Department is consumed by administration. The more we can channel into projects rather than administration, the better.

Various anomalies exist under the present social welfare code. This is the first social welfare Bill on which I have spoken and my first opportunity to speak in the House on these matters other than by parliamentary questions. I will deal with these matters concisely and in detail. In regard to deserted wife's benefits and allowances I know of genuine cases of married women with three, four or five children being beaten up by their husbands, beaten out of the house and openly degraded by the husbands bringing other women into the house, ensuring that the wife can do nothing else but leave the house. If they return to the family home it will not be long before they have to leave it again. These women have to find refuge, with their children, with in-laws who will not accept them for very long, or live in mobile homes. They apply for whatever assistance is available. They are, in real terms, deserted wives because their husbands have given them no other option. What do we find? They are refused the deserted wife's benefit or allowance, regardless of their contributions, simply because they left their husbands of their own volition. This is inequitable. There is need for a new scheme of a separated woman's allowance or a single parent's allowance for these people. When the deciding and appeals officers come to the family home for evidence the husband's deliberately do all they possible can to stop their wives and children from having a reasonable livelihood. These women are not favourably considered for housing and are in desperate circumstances. They are as deprived as anyone under the social welfare code. Their only recourse is to supplementary welfare assistance. They are degraded and condemned by society and we need urgent review in this area.

Another anomaly relates to widowers. There are many well organised pressure groups in our society, no doubt doing great work to ease the plight of widows and I will come to that aspect later. Young widowers with two or three small children, whether at work or unemployed, receive no allowance for them. The State gives no recognition to the fact that nine times out of ten the widower must employ a housekeeper or babysitter to look after his children. Some discretionary payment must be made through unemployment assistance when these widowers are unemployed. They should not have to sign for work because they are not really available to work, not being able to afford to pay somebody to mind the children. They are engaged full-time in minding the children. Widows get 10 or 12 per cent more, but because these people are male they are discriminated against. That is inequitable and anomalous.

Another small anomaly which would not cost much to cure relates to the free telephone rental allowance. A clause in the legislation says that in order to obtain the free rental allowance you have to be living with another person who is so permanently incapacitated that he or she needs constant care and attention. There is an example in my constituency of a totally iniquitous case in relation to this clause. A man with muscular dystrophy is in a wheelchair. He is married, with three children and they have a phone which is needed. They applied for a free telephone rental allowance and were refused. I made further representations on their behalf, but they were refused again. This was because the woman of the house did not require constant care and attention. If they were both incapacitated, they could not look after each other. Quite clearly, from the results of representations to the Department, the only way they would receive this allowance would be for both to be incapacitated. That is both anomalous and illogical. A change in that clause should be considered.

In relation to the free travel pass, anyone on the disabled person's maintenance allowance who is totally mentally and physically handicapped and 15 or 16 years of age is entitled to a free travel pass, and rightly so. The difficulty, however, is that families dependent on social welfare allowance who have such a child cannot put this child on the train for Dublin or Cork simply because he or she could not look after himself or herself. It seems only reasonable that if there is a free travel card issued to such a person it would be ensured simultaneously that somebody would accompany them because their card is rendered totally meaningless unless they have somebody to accompany them. Therefore I might suggest that the present blue card be replaced by a red one for people who are physically or mentally handicapped and which would allow one person to accompany them. It would entail a very small cost and it would be only reasonable and logical to do so.

One other area which might cost money but is worthy of consideration — and in respect of which there have been repeated representations by their association — is that of all social welfare widows pensions. They should be entitled to a free travel pass. I do not think the cost would be exorbitant. Quite often such people are lonely and they like to visit their families who have obtained employment far away from their original residences. Regardless of the fact that they could be under 66, these people should be given a free travel pass.

There is one final area in respect of which I should like some clarification. When someone makes a claim for disability benefit their contributions record governs that claim. Very often I come across the case of someone who had been working for, say, two years in a factory, became unemployed, signed on, used up their 12 to 18 months stamps and then went on unemployment assistance for one, two or three years. Let us suppose such a person is 62 or 63 years of age. Very often claimants for disability benefit —people who are genuine because they cannot work and are genuinely sick— because they do not have any contributions but only credits, are sent around in a circle trying to obtain that benefit. I can never ascertain from the Department whether or not they are entitled to disability benefit. Perhaps someone some time could clarify that for me.

With a budget of £180 million we can readily see the reason there were no increases granted in children's allowances this year. The present payment at a rate of £11.25 represents a substantial increase on the rate of two or three years ago. I cannot understand why people who have an income in excess of that to qualify for a medical card — an easy way of establishing a cut-off point — should get children's allowance payments. In these hard times we could effect a straightforward saving there. I do not think we can retain a situation in which every child in the State is entitled to children's allowance payments.

In regard to the prescribed relative allowance, one must remember that the average weekly cost of geriatric care in State institutions, especially in my constituency, is £196. I will never understand why we cannot encourage family geriatric care rather than State geriatric care. I would suggest that a number of changes be made in the present system of prescribed relative allowances. First, there should be a clause inserted which would mean that an application is refused if any person other than the prescribed relative is over 18 years of age and resides in the House. I came across an instance recently of a young girl who was working in a paper shop, whose aunt was seriously ill and staying with them at home. That girl was earning £45 a week. She gave up her job because her brother, who is 19 years of age and working, does not give a damn about the aunt in question. There was nobody to care for her other than the girl in question, so she gave up her job, went home to mind the aunt, and was refused the prescribed relative allowance on the basis that her brother who was 19 years of age was living with them. The brother was contributing nothing to the household income. Eventually the aunt went into geriatric care at a cost of £196 per week.

That situation defies logic and does not represent prudent value for money. I would suggest that in a genuine case especially where someone has given up a job to look after a relative, where there is any young person over 18 years of age in the house not contributing to the household income, that situation should be reviewed. I know the South Eastern Health Board, whatever about the others, have stopped payments of home help; it has been abolished for all practical purposes. The prescribed relative allowance must be reviewed. It must be ensured that any money that would have been available for home help could be combined with the prescribed relative allowance, thereby effecting a saving and keeping people out of State geriatric care.

I should like to make some points in relation to the administration of the Department of Social Welfare. Every Member of this House is a full-time social welfare officer and will have a certain amount of experience of the administration of the Department. Of its very nature this Department must deal with applications as a matter of urgency. They deal with bread and butter issues, the question of whether or not somebody has money for the week. These are not like other problems that can be tackled in due course — there is a degree of urgency. Therefore we must seek maximum efficiency in all areas.

The problems encountered at present are many. The whole procedure of deciding officers, appeals officers and so on, especially in cases of unemployment assistance, is extremely protracted. In the last 12 months I have noticed that in cases where a deciding officer decides, in his or her wisdom, that Mr. and Mrs. X have an income from fishing, or farming, or an income from some self-employed activity, or are working with some relation and are assessed to have an income on their qualification certificate of which they know nothing and which they cannot understand, under present procedures the reversal of that departmental decision takes three to four months. There is no saving effected in such cases on the part of the Department because naturally the applicant must live in the interim and cannot live on £5 or £7 a week or even £15 a week unemployment assistance for themselves and family. They go to their community welfare officer and get paid, so there is no saving to the State. This only initiates a whole cycle of paper-pushing between the local social welfare officer, the appeals officer, the deciding officer, the Department and the supplementary welfare officer. When that appeal is decided finally, any rebate due to the social welfare people is paid. I should like to see that matter investigated.

I am glad to report that the problems in relation to the telephones in Store Street and in other central Departments have been greatly alleviated. The position there has improved enormously. However I cannot understand — and this does not apply to the Department of Social Welfare alone — why when individual members of the public write to a Department, if they do not do so by registered post, half of their letters are not replied to within one to two months. I do not have any firm statistics in this regard, but many people tell me they write to Departments and hear nothing. I would not be in this House very long had I the same attitude to my correspondents, nor indeed would any other Deputy. That whole area needs to be sharpened up so that we Deputies will not continue to be social welfare officers.

We must be constructive in this respect. I might make a number of suggestions by way of alleviating these problems. Firstly, there is need, especially in the country, to have one social welfare officer per county. This would take a couple of years to implement but could be done. Certainly in my constituency there are massive waiting lists in every Department, waiting lists for transfers from Dublin to Wexford, to Gorey, to Enniscorthy, to Arklow, Wicklow, wherever. There would be no extra cost in terms of employment to decentralise these offices so that in one centre of a county or large area a person could submit a disability certificate or could apply for an invalidity pension application form — that is a long procedure because application forms are not available at present. In all such instances one could have only humane compassion. There could be old age couples of whom one spouse dies and the book has to be returned. They have the fear that they will not get paid for a particular week. The Department have a sensitive attitude towards it, but still such couples have fear. Decentralisation would alleviate all that because, like a local tax office, their problems could be solved there and then.

In regard to the whole supplementary assistance system, I have the utmost regard for the community welfare officers because they are the most compassionate and humane people in the entire Department. They use their discretion fairly and properly. They would have my entire support, but if someone is waiting for payment of disability benefit, having submitted the required certificates, I cannot understand why he should have to go to an official employed by the health board. Surely there is a need to integrate the community welfare officers into the Department of Social Welfare so that any deductions that have to be made out of later payments, delayed payments that will come to the applicants because they are entitled to them, could be expedited. The disabled person's maintenance allowance should also be paid by the Department of Social Welfare. They adjudicate in other payments in which a medical interpretation is involved. This could only do good because it would harmonise the entire work of the Department.

If there is need at all for an ombudsman it exists in the Department of Social Welfare. It might not be necessary to employ a State ombudsman but there could be one or two people who could adjudicate at ministerial level on long term grievances in relation to difficulties with that Department. It could be, possibly, that the Department would not be wrong in all instances, but there would be this final recourse to justice that would be over and above the heads of TDs and Ministers. It could be established at a small cost. It would give greater public confidence in terms of accountability.

I should also like to see integration of employment exchanges, which are, as we know, unemployment exchanges, with the National Manpower Service. I suggest there is agreement across the House on this. It would reduce the number of nixers and would make employment exchanges literally that.

In relation to PLV means testing, following the High Court decision and the abolition of the national system, although it does not affect my county or constitutency, I suggest that the same problem that the Department of Social Welfare will have will be experienced by the Revenue Commissioners. They will have to assess somebody who formerly had £14.30 PLV, or a person with £2.50. All are now liable to tax although most of them are entitled to farmers' dole or unemployment assistance. Whatever two-page simplified document comes out after discussions with the Revenue Commissioners could be used to assess unemployment assistance claims. Automatically and simultaneously that would integrate the two, it would halve the bureaucracy and eliminate the duplication, and the work could be done simply and effectively.

There has been much discussion of late about the witholding of PRSI and PAYE. Deputy Power said that people who withhold such payments should be prosecuted. I would take a stand here that would be different from that of even the Minister and the majority of the House. I know in my home town of three companies and if they had to pay on the dot all outstanding contributions of VAT, PAYE and PRSI over the last financial year, I have no doubt that at least 186 jobs would be gone overnight, and the State is only a preferential creditor.

The Government should tread very catiously here. I do not condone abuse. I welcome sections 17 to 25 of the Bill, which will provide for penalties. But I have always believed that penalties should fit the crime. I have no time for companies that are deliberately making money out of the Government by withholding payments, but in the financial year up to December last how much of the £25 million PRSI outstanding from 11,000 employers would directly cause liquidations? The Minister says that asking to tread warily in this matter is a facile argument. So is the reverse. Recent IDA reports compared the position, as between foreign and indigenous industries. The average cost of a job is somewhere between £7,700 and £14,500. We can see the real cost and we must look at it as positive protection towards employment. There should be an official happy medium in the Department whereby they would assess the liquidity position, the cash flow situation and thereafter determine, but it should not be left to a personality clash between a Revenue Commissioner and an employer as to whether a number of jobs should be lost. In ultimate cost terms of unemployment benefit, pay-related benefit and all the additional costs in terms of unemployment compensation and the status of the State as preferential creditor, there is a percentage advantage in withholding and arranging payment in such a way that would relieve the cash flow of a company.

I feel very strongly about the free fuel system. In trying to make commonsense of all these schemes, I cannot understand the difference between the urban and the rural schemes. On top of Shannon Hill in Enniscorthy people were entitled to free fuel because they were in the urban area, but people ten yards across the road were not entitled to it because they were on the wrong side of the boundary. I cannot understand why that should be. There is an urgent need to equate the free fuel system to ensure that urban and rural people will be treated alike. In that scheme there is a list of categories, including contributory pensioners, non-contributory pensioners, widow pensioners and invalidity pensioners who are entitled to free fuel.

I should like to give the House an example of how I see it as being totally unfair. Let us take a single man in receipt of unemployment assistance and a single man with a non-contributory old age pension. The non-contributory old age pensioner gets £34.45 at the maximum rate. A single man on unemployment assistance living alone gets £25.45 a week. He is worse off by £9 a week. Yet he is alleged to be less entitled to free fuel than the man who is £9 better off. I cannot understand that. A married man with no children gets unemployment assistance of £50.50 a week and a pensioner in the same circumstances gets £68.90 a week, a difference of £18. The person who is better off by £18 is deemed to be more entitled to free fuel. People on unemployment assistance who have no other livelihood should be entitled to free fuel. Perhaps it would be better if everyone who had a medical card was entitled to free fuel. If that is too expensive I would encourage the introduction of a means test or some discretionary payment by the local community welfare officer. I am not blaming the Government for this problem. It is a technocratic inequity which should be dealt with.

In the area of the family income supplement £5 million is promised. In overall terms I support the family income supplement. I fully accept the sincerity behind this move; I accept that there is a poverty trap; but this sounds to me like bureaucracy gone mad. In everything they take in revenue and spend, the Government control about 60p in every £1 circulating in this economy. We are now moving into the area where the Government decide that a particular income is too low and should be supplemented and subsidised. That is very valid in itself and I totally agree with that sentiment. It could be interpreted by a neutral observer as the Government underwriting the inability of certain market sectors to pay a reasonable wage.

If we look at this carefully, there are immense implications in it. Under a national pay agreement employers of agricultural labourers or low paid groups like hotel workers could say to the Government: "We are having hard times this year. With your family income supplement you should give them the increase. We cannot give it to them because there would be redundancies." The precedents involved here are very important. We would want to tread very carefully in relation to actually increasing lower paid workers' incomes. That is moving into an area where the Government are discouraging economic activity.

I do not want to be misinterpreted. I fully accept the sincerity behind the move and I fully realise the poverty trap these people are in. I suggest that with different Departments charging for services, there should be some way of giving these people a tangible benefit. Perhaps a certificate could be issued to them and they could be given a rebate against these charges, or perhaps more medical cards could be issued. I would not be in favour of giving them an extra pay packet because that is getting into a very difficult area in which we would have to consider who would get it and how it would affect national pay bargaining. In economic terms it does not make sense that the State should decide what is a desirable wage. I am not speaking about national wage agreements. I mean national minimum wage rates.

I should like to put on record a constituency matter to which I know the Minister of State is sympathetic. I refer to the employment exchange in Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Including the environs and district of Enniscorthy, 17,000 people approximately are signing on there. The office is antiquated. It has been in use for many years. There are queues hundreds of yards long. There is no shelter. Different types of assistance have to be collected in a two-hour session and there is no way queueing can be avoided. The office is in a very public place and this is degrading for those who pass and those who collect. An adjacent shop owner has taken out an injunction. He cannot carry on his business because of the crowds queueing outside. This is a real problem. The administrators in that office are doing their utmost, as I am, to try to find an alternative site. I do not criticise anyone. If it is possible to find an alternative site in the locality, I hope the Department will consent to go a little over the statutory payment per office per year and meet a deputation to try to finalise the arrangements. This is one of the most serious social welfare problems in my home town.

If this allocation of £1,780 million were for education or for the environment or any area other than social welfare, every commentator in the country would be saying it was a public scandal. We must realise this is the biggest spending Department. We must also realise there are limits to our resources. I have mentioned reservations about small aspects of the social welfare code to which I should like favourable consideration to be given. The difficulty we face economically — and this is the tragedy of our whole economic situation — is that no one owes us any guaranteed increase. We can produce it only through external trade. On that realistic note I support and welcome the Bill.

Ba mhaith liom labhairt i gcoinne an Bhille seo. I listened with interest to the previous speaker. Obviously he has a comprehensive knowledge of the social welfare code. I have no doubt my colleagues, Deputy Browne and Deputy Byrne, will support the plea he made about his constituency problem in Enniscorthy. He also spoke about deserted wives and whether or not claims are genuine. I support his plea for a far more human approach towards a problem the solution of which is often thwarted by devious people and devious means. I commend him for raising the problem.

On the Bill I cannot be so complimentary. The wheel has turned full circle since I came into this House. I never thought I would see a Labour Minister introducing such a repressive Bill. My party can claim to have taken a caring human approach to the problems of the under-privileged in good economic times and bad. It is true that as a Government we had contemplated taking such measures. The Minister laid great emphasis on them although he ignored, possibly deliberately, areas in which we made improvement.

We cannot discuss this Bill without turning to the budget proposals and strategy. Many of us complained at the time that the strategy would lead to further inflation. On the Minister's own admission here at that time he admitted that the direct taxation increases imposed by him would be equivalent to an increase of 3½ per cent on the CPI. I accept that any Minister for Finance is inclined to be conservative in such matters and will not include the knock-on effect but when we consider that, we are talking of a figure of about 5 per cent. When one takes that into account and considers the long delay in implementing the benefits being accorded to the various categories under the social welfare code one sees that the first time for many years the increases being granted are meagre.

It is interesting to note that the Minister laid much emphasis on the increases, paltry and meagre though they may be, but he spent little time on the more reactionary impositions in the measures proposed. I lay much of the blame on the strategy of the budget which was anti-employment and was geared towards unemployment. Given the tone of the defeatism of the Minister so far as unemployment is concerned and the average of 193,000 unemployed, that must mean that during the current year the figure will be in excess of 200,000 unemployed. The last figure available was 188,000 people unemployed and the Minister has referred to a figure of 193,000. He must have resigned himself to the fact that the Government are not prepared to do anything to protect people against job losses.

In addition to the deliberate strategy of the budget, the severe cutbacks in public capital expenditure are affecting employment. For the first time the Construction Industry Federation have taken advertising space in the national dailies to point to the hidden penalties of the budget and to show how they are affecting employment. Because the figures have increased the cost is greater and the figures have increased and will continue to do so because of the strategy of the Government. This is something the Minister and the Minister of State must face. To their eternal shame they are carrying the responsibility imposed on them by the people around the Cabinet table who took the decisions.

Fine Gael and Labour Party backbenchers are being told that this is the strategy, that things will improve as time goes on and the election gets nearer. This is how the parties hope to keep their backbenchers happy. They are being told that money will be released when election time is near, that they will try to reduce unemployment. However, in the meantime they will penalise every section. This started some weeks ago with regard to school transport——

The Deputy seems to think this is a budget debate.

Only last week there was the imposition of a £10 charge on people applying for jobs in the civil service.

A general budget discussion is not in order on this Bill although the Deputy may make passing references to it.

I appreciate that. I am relating it to budget strategy on unemployment and developments since then, particularly the charge of £10, the penalty being imposed on the job seekers. That strategy is responsible for the 193,000 unemployed, which figure will increase to 200,000 during the year. The cutbacks in the public capital programme will make a further impact on employment. My party have always been caring and concerned. We have had a human approach to the underprivileged, even when times were not good. The parties opposite must realise they are the Government. The responsibility is theirs and they should not try to lay it elsewhere. At the time of the general election we put our policies before the people and we explained what we would do. At that time the advertisements issued by Fine Gael and the Labour Party were very clear. They told the people that Fianna Fáil would put an end to many schemes. The people did not give us an overall majority but a situation was created where a deal of some sort was hammered out between the two parties. Certain proposals were put to a meeting held in Limerick.

What has this to do with the Bill before the House?

The Deputy will have his opportunity to contribute later.

Deputy Skelly can leave this matter to the Chair. The Deputy in possession must relate his speech to the Bill before the House.

Of course. I have plenty of time to come to the Bill.

The Deputy has not dealt with the Bill in the past ten minutes.

The Deputy should deal with the Bill now.

I can understand why Deputy Skelly and the Minister of State are embarrassed.

I am not embarrassed.

Féach ar na binsí sin. Níl duine ar bith iontu. The policies on social welfare laid down by our party were clear and concise and we presented them to the people. The parties opposite said they would do the job much better and this Bill shows us what are their methods in the area of social welfare.

I will refer briefly to the small farmers' dole because the matter has been covered very well by my colleague, Deputy O'Leary, this afternoon. While it is not an issue that is causing any problems in my constituency, I am aware of the contribution it has made in the development of west Cork, the west coast generally and the south west. The explanatory memorandum states that the decision was made because of the High Court judgment of 30 June 1982 which rendered unconstitutional sections of the Valuation Act. We should be honest about the matter. Everyone knows the case has been appealed. This is an excuse advanced by the Minister who is embarrassed and ashamed to think that a Labour Party Minister is virtually spelling out the end of the dole for small farmers. If it were in any other country it would be regarded as an incentive scheme to help disadvantaged farmers. The Ceann Comhairle knows the benefits and advantages gained by many small farmers in his constituency over a long period. We all remember the situation 30 years ago and the improvements which have taken place since then. It may sound attractive to say these things on the east coast but the people of rural Ireland will realise full well that, like many other things in this Bill, they are being used as a smokescreen to keep the emphasis off what is happening.

Over the week-end the Minister for Social Welfare used abortion as a smokescreen to take the heat off this Bill. On another occasion there was a banner headline in a newspaper —"crack down on dole spongers, says Desmond". We all agree with this sentiment but it was used as a smokescreen. There is nothing in this Bill which will cut out abuses. I do not condone abuses. My colleague Deputy Woods made considerably more progress in that area than any other holder of that office. This Bill has been introduced for a different reason. The blame has been laid on our shoulders. The Government said that certain proposals were suggested by us. That is irrelevant now. Even if some improvements were necessary these go beyond what we contemplated. It is incomprehensible that a Labour Minister should introduce this Bill in the House and try to justify it.

A fund has been created from PRSI contributions. We are cutting back from 40 per cent to 25 per cent. We did not contemplate going back that far. We were contemplating 30 per cent, not 25 per cent. The Coalition are not finished at that. The Minister decided that 12 days was too short a time and he has extended it to 18 days. In other words, one must now be idle for almost four weeks before one qualifies for pay-related benefit. In his reply the Minister should take the case of a father of five children who is genuinely out of work through illness and say how he justifies cutting back the 40 per cent to 25 per cent, increasing the waiting time to 18 days and raising the £32 limit to £36. A person has to be out of work for three and a half weeks now before he gets anything. This is a vicious attack on the PRSI contributor who, for whatever reason, qualifies for entitlement to pay-related benefit. It will create poverty to an extent never known before.

Those of us who hold clinics are familiar with the people's problems. This is why I criticise the Minister for having the big headline about cracking down on dole spongers. We must eliminate those abusing the system, but this Bill does not do that. The person I referred to is not a sponger nor is he abusing the system. The amount of his benefit is cut substantially but the person abusing the system can still do so. Perhaps he will not qualify for as much as he did before but he will do well by comparison with the genuine person. I suggest that 90 per cent or more of those on benefit are genuine. There is no doubt that poverty was used to a disgraceful extent by the two parties opposite to solicit support. I saw the crocodile tears shed in this House about poverty committees and organisations and the pittances being thrown out to keep them going.

Members who run clinics know well about that—the young married person with a few children and a mortgage on his house genuinely wants a job and cannot get one. They come to us and say they cannot pay the mortgage. These people will be further penalised under this Bill. As Minister for Labour I was responsible for establishing the manpower consultative committee which did good work. The Department of Social Welfare were represented on that and played an important role in the survey which was carried out. Very often that Department is criticised but as a public representative I received only courtesy, co-operation and help from all members of the staff. I thank them and admire them for that because it cannot be easy in these difficult times. People are often criticised and vilified unfairly. They deserve to be thanked when the service is as good as I found it.

The committee carried out a survey on the unemployed and found a strong weighting in favour of the recent unemployed as compared with those who are longer down the road. There is a serious anomaly between the two categories which should be looked at. The committee did not offer any solution. Did the Minister look at the survey and say that they would do it in such a way that everyone would be badly off from the beginning? That must be Labour Party philosophy. If it is they should spell it out to those who look on them as being supporters of the workers. Admittedly an unemployed person qualifies for a tax rebate or redundancy payments in the early stages and then qualifies for pay-related but when they have been on the live register for two years they come to us desperately looking for work and are distraught because they cannot get it. The vast majority of those on the live register want work and would prefer to be working rather than to be in receipt of contributions from the State.

Poverty was used and crocodile tears were shed by the Taoiseach when in Opposition. They were also shed by members of his party and of the Labour Party. When oppressive legislation was introduced in this House a number of years ago a colleague of mine spoke against it and said that the Labour Party were mopping up the crocodile tears. There is nobody to mop up the tears now. This measure goes very far in imposing new poverty and hardship on many people.

Section 16, dealing with occupational injuries benefit and its extension to youth schemes, is the only section I welcome. It extends the scope of occupational injuries benefit to trainees in schemes approved by the Youth Employment Agency. It says that this provision is intended to give such trainees the same cover as trainees under AnCO schemes. Everything else in the Bill will cause hardship and it is repressive.

I agree with the need for the control of abuse of the three-day week. However, what is the position of a docker, for example, who works one day per week and draws unemployment benefit for five days? Will that now be reduced to four days? I would have sympathy with someone in that position; he is drawing the dole because of scarcity of work. I would like the Minister to spell out the impact and the effect that this one-day week will have. People will suffer because of this and it will have far-reaching effects. I want to expose the reason the Minister went to such pains to try to align the previous Government with the measures he is now bringing in. He said that the previous Government had similar proposals to restrict the benefits available to short time workers and that we intended to bring them in from January 1983. I want to refute the word "similar" because details had not been worked out by us and I suggest that we would have been wise and experienced enough to think of the man who could get only one day's work in a week. I support the necessity for eliminating the abuses which existed but these are not measures to eliminate them. They are measures to make less money available to people in need. We have often heard about the Minister who cut back on the old age pension in the thirties. Deputy Desmond will go down in history as the Minister who cut back so savagely on pay-related benefits.

The Government are constantly trying to lay the blame for these measures elsewhere, especially in relation to pay-related benefits. The Minister said in his speech that changes in the pay-related benefit scheme are provided in sections 8, 9 and 10 of the Bill and that this benefit was payable as a supplement to the flat rate unemployment and sickness benefit. One detects a patronising approach here. He said the overall levels of benefit available during sickness have been the subject of a degree of concern for some time but that much of the criticism had been exaggerated. I agree with that. But there are those, including the Minister, who are saying that this measure is designed to control the spongers and the abusers. That is not the case.

I listened briefly to the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Fennell, rather weakly defending the withdrawal of the maternity grant. I did not think she was defending it with as much enthusiasm as some other Minister would have liked her to do. She said the grant of £8 was no longer of any real significance in the context of the maternity allowance scheme which was substantially improved two years ago for employed women on maternity leave. She did not say what Government introduced that measure.

Deputy Desmond presented his case very weakly. Obviously, he is a man who has no commitment to what his colleagues in Government have insisted he should do. I have sympathy for him, because I know that he had a caring, human and social concern for the workers.

He never had any concern for the west.

That may be so, but he had concern for the workers. That concern has now been replaced by a tough, unyielding approach which will make him go down in history as a harsh, cruel Minister for Social Welfare who savagely withdrew benefits from people who needed them.

What were Fianna Fáil going to do about our problems?

The Minister is not long in the House. Perhaps he heard me say that the measures now being contemplated by a Labour Minister go far beyond what was contemplated by us. I am sure Deputy Dukes is fully aware of the penal impositions which I presume he has forced Deputy Desmond to introduce. They have increased the waiting days to almost four weeks, so the man who is out of work for three and a half weeks gets no pay-related benefits. They have increased the £32 disregarded reckonable earnings to £36, so we have had a three-pronged attack on the recipients.

Children's allowances have not been increased. One of the backbenchers loyally said that they were deliberately a bit harsh this year because things would be better next year. The Minister for Finance will probably give them more coming closer to election time.

Debate adjourned.