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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 19 May 1983

Vol. 342 No. 9

Estimates, 1983. - Vote No. 47: Social Welfare.

I move:

That a sum not exceeding £1,026,926,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1983, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare, for certain services administered by that Office, for payments to the Social Insurance Fund, and for sundry grants.

At the outset I would like to make what I regard as a few important general comments relating to the Social Welfare Estimate. I will return to these points in more detail later in my speech.

First of all, social welfare expenditure as a whole is now running at around £1,950 million a year. As such it is the largest public expenditure programme we have. Social welfare expenditure must be met from one source or another and in the context of the current concern about the rates of PRSI contributions, I make the point that there has been no increase this year in the rate of social insurance contribution, despite the increases provided in payments from the end of June.

Despite the levels of contributions, an estimated 21.5 per cent of social insurance expenditure in 1983 must be borne by the Exchequer as well as the total expenditure on social assistance payments. The overall question of financing the social welfare services will be one of the matters to be examined by the Commission on Social Welfare to which I will refer in more detail later.

It will be clear from an examination of the Estimate that a number of schemes are of major significance in expenditure terms. The total cost of the unemployment services will be around £473 million this year or around 25 per cent of total estimated expenditure on social welfare services. While this is a very large item of overall expenditure I am particularly concerned at the levels of payments to the long-term unemployed on unemployment assistance who suffer a severe drop in income at present. I will be examining this to see what scope there is for improving the situation of these people.

Another area which is of major importance is of course the provision for children's allowances. Expenditure on children's allowances is estimated at £164.7 million in 1983. Provision is also made, however, for expenditure of £5 million on family income supplements as announced in the budget. I will shortly be bringing forward proposals in this area.

Another area to which I would like to refer at the outset is administration. The overall costs of administration on social insurance and assistance services in 1983 will be approximately £75 million which represents just 4 per cent of total expenditure. The efficient delivery of the social welfare services is of primary importance and in this context computerisation will have an increasingly important role. Provision is made in the Estimate for the resources necessary to continue the computerisation programme in the Department and I see this as a very important aspect of the Department's efforts to make the system more effective and more responsive to individual needs.

After these introductory comments I turn now to consider the Estimate in more detail, elaborating on the points already made. I mentioned that overall expenditure is running at £1,950 million a year. This takes account of the improvements provided in the budget, the full year cost of which is around £170 million. For 1983 itself, allowing for the fact that the increases in payments come into effect at the end of June, the cost is estimated at £86.6 million, giving overall expenditure this year of around £1,870 million.

I referred to the growing significance of social welfare expenditure in economic terms. To illustrate this, it is worth mentioning that social welfare expenditure as a percentage of gross national product has increased from under 7 per cent in 1972-73 to almost 14 per cent this year. Not all of this increase, of course, has occurred as a result of real improvements in social welfare benefits. Much has come from the policy of successive Governments to protect the value of benefits against the effects of inflation. A large part of the increase is due to increases in the numbers of recipients of benefits and in this context the increase in the numbers unemployed has been a major factor in recent years. An increase in expenditure of itself, therefore, does not automatically mean a corresponding increase in welfare in the broad sense. Even if no improvements are made in social welfare schemes, rising numbers of recipients tend to lead to increases in expenditure. This was graphically illustrated at the beginning of this year when the Government had to provide an additional £31 million merely to meet the cost of additional unemployment payments, without any improvement in benefit levels. This Government are committed to protecting the living standards of social welfare recipients notwithstanding the extraordinarily difficult circumstances of this year.

The overall expenditure figure of £1,870 includes total expenditure on social assistance and social insurance schemes this year. Part of the expenditure on social insurance schemes is, as I explained earlier, met by income from social insurance contributions and the amount which the House is asked to grant for social insurance services is a residual figure after account is taken of income from contributions and other sources. The cost of social assistance services is for practical purposes, borne entirely by the Exchequer. The total amount which the House is asked to grant, is £1,026.926 million. I would point out that, unlike the position in previous years when the costs of the increases in rates of payment provided in the budget were not included in the original Estimate but were provided for separately in a Supplementary Estimate, on this occasion the Estimate now before the House takes account of the social welfare measures provided for in the budget. These measures were discussed by the House in March in the debate on the Social Welfare Bill giving effect to them.

The Estimate falls into three parts — subheads A to D refer to administration costs and represent the total administration expenses of the Department of Social Welfare in respect of the social insurance and assistance schemes. Social insurance administration costs are recovered from the Social Insurance Fund as an Appropriation-in-Aid under subhead Q(1). Administration costs in connection with social welfare services are also, of course, incurred by certain other Departments and in so far as these refer to the social assistance services they are, apart from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, borne, without repayment, on the Votes of the Departments concerned.

I referred already to my Department's continuing efforts to improve the administration of the social welfare services and in particular to the increasing use of computers. Computerisation was introduced initially to deal with records and payments in relation to pay-related benefit and has been extended to handle all records arising under the PRSI system and all disability benefit payments. Based on the experience to date, there is clearly considerable potential for the use of computerisation in the paying of other social welfare benefits. In this connection it is planned to introduce computerisation into employment exchanges on a phased basis. Preliminary work has also commenced on the computerisation of the children's allowances and pensions area. The overall computer development programme will make a major contribution to more effective and efficient day-to-day administration, including better retrieval and communication of information in individual cases. Computer terminals have been installed in a number of public offices of the Department, providing instant access for inquiry purposes to information on disability benefit claims and it is proposed to extend this inquiry facility to all the Department's public offices and information centres over the coming years.

To move on to the second major part of the Estimate, subheads E and F refer to the social insurance services. Subhead E represents the Exchequer contribution to the Social Insurance Fund in 1983 and, as I referred to earlier, it is a residual figure which represents the difference between total expenditure out of the fund and the income received into the fund mainly by way of contributions from employers and employees. Details of the expenditure and income of the Social Insurance Fund are given in the appendix to the published Estimate. The estimated income from social insurance contributions in 1983 is £797.5 million. The standard rate of social insurance contribution is 16.8 per cent out of a total PRSI contribution of 20.11 per cent. The remaining elements of the PRSI contribution are — 1 per cent health contribution, 1 per cent youth employment levy, 1 per cent income levy, 0.3 per cent occupational injuries contribution and 0.01 per cent redundancy fund contribution. As mentioned already, the social insurance contribution rate has not been increased this year, the only change by comparison with last year being a raising of the earnings ceiling for contribution purposes from £9,500 to £13,000 from April 1983. The increase shown in contribution income from £655 million in 1982 to an estimated £797.5 million in 1983 is due largely, apart from the raising of the ceiling, to the general increase in earnings levels and to the impact of the 1982 rates of contributions for a full 12 months in 1983 as against three-quarters of 1982.

It is extremely difficult to estimate with complete accuracy what the income from social insurance contributions will be in any given year and it is only towards the end of the year that the out-turn can be predicted with any degree of certainty. The situation is complicated by the fact that contributions are collected on a tax year basis and must be converted to a financial year basis for Estimates purposes. The operation of the fund depends on a regular flow of income from contributions, such income being almost immediately used to fund the ongoing payment of social insurance benefits and pensions. Any disruption to the flow of contribution income would have serious consequences and could ultimately affect the ability to pay the benefits. The question of employers deferring payment of contributions has been the subject of much discussion in recent times and the extent to which this occurs within a year or between one year and the next obviously affects contribution income. Similarly any disruption of PRSI contributions collection by workers themselves would have very serious consequences.

There are many factors which affect contribution income and which cannot be foreseen and provided for. Increasing unemployment is obviously a major such factor affecting contribution income. It is the combination of the eventual income from social insurance contributions and the levels of expenditure on social insurance benefits throughout the year which determines the amount of the Exchequer subvention to the Social Insurance Fund at the end of the year, which ultimately must be borne by the taxpayer in one way or another. It is estimated that this year the Exchequer will bear some 21.5 per cent of total social insurance expenditure. Employers contributions will bear some 53 per cent of the cost and employee contributions some 25.5 per cent.

As I mentioned already the expenditure on social insurance benefits as shown in the Appendix to the Estimate includes the cost of the increases in rates of payment provided in the budget — 12 per cent in long-term payments and 10 per cent in short-term payments which will come into effect at the end of June. These increases, which are necessary to maintain to some degree the standard of living of social insurance recipients have the effect of increasing the expenditure of the fund by some £50 million in 1983. The reductions mainly in pay-related benefits which came into effect in April and which were designed to achieve a more equitable relationship between benefits and earnings have curtailed the overall costs of the services this year. However, I appreciate the burden which the financing of the services imposes on contributors and on taxpayers generally and the whole question of the financing of the social welfare services will, as I have said, be examined by the Commission on Social Welfare which I propose to set up.

The third main part of the Estimate comprises subheads G to P which provide for the cost of the assistance side of the social welfare services totalling some £787 million, which is borne in full by the Exchequer. A major feature of the development of the Department's services over the years has been the expansion of the social insurance system under which payments are made as of right subject to certain contribution conditions by the addition of schemes of contributory pensions and other benefits. As a consequence of this the scope of certain corresponding social assistance means-tested payments such as non-contributory old age and widows' pensions has diminished. These schemes however still account for very large expenditures in absolute terms. The trend towards greater reliance on non-means tested services is in line with developments in other countries. The eventual introduction of a national income-related pension scheme and of a scheme of social insurance for the self-employed who are not as yet covered by the social insurance system, will further reduce the scope of the social assistance pension schemes.

I have already referred to the level of expenditure on children's allowances. While the amount involved, £164.7 million, is a very sizeable sum, it represents only one aspect, though admittedly the most important aspect, of income support for families. Income support is provided also through the medium of child dependant increases under the various social welfare schemes and of child tax allowances under the income tax system.

The Family Income Supplement Scheme to which I have referred and for which a provision for this year of £5 million is made in subhead N of the Estimate will provide a further element of support for families. This scheme will benefit people at work on low incomes who receive little or no benefit from income tax allowances because they are below or just above the tax threshold and who do not qualify for social welfare payments because they are working. Apart from the disincentive aspect of this it is necessary on the grounds of equity to find some mechanism of channelling financial support to low income families and my proposals will be designed to achieve this within the limits of the resources available to me. I will be looking also, however, at the need for a more integrated system of family income support to ensure that the best possible use is made of available resources.

The provision for unemployment assistance in subhead I of the Estimate is over £226 million. As I stated earlier the total cost of the unemployment services as a whole, including unemployment benefit and pay-related benefit under the social insurance system, will be around £473 million this year. It is possible that the expenditure may be even higher than this, depending on the unemployment situation. The need to make provision for an additional £31 million to cater for the increased Live Register when the Government assumed office meant that the scope for improvements in benefits was restricted. Allowing for the restrictions on pay-related benefit from April the levels of payment under the social insurance system to persons becoming unemployed are quite reasonable. As I have said, however, I will be looking at the situation of the long-term unemployed who are dependent on unemployment assistance.

Progress in these areas will depend on the resources available to us to meet our fundamental commitment to maintain the standard of living of social welfare recipients and other commitments such as the full implementation of equality of treatment for men and women in the social welfare system. In relation to this latter commitment the EEC Directive of December 1978 requires that all discrimination as between men and women in the social security field be removed by the end of 1984. Despite the progress made in recent years there are a number of areas where discrimination exists in the social welfare code. Married women qualify for lower rates of certain benefits and unemployment benefit payable to married women is restricted to a maximum of 312 days as against 390 days generally. In general, unemployment assistance is not payable to married women. To give full equality of treatment in these areas only would cost in the region of £15 million in a full year.

The most difficult area in relation to equality of treatment however is that of increases of social welfare payments for dependants. The social welfare schemes generally were framed on the basis that the husband was the head of the household and the person to whom increases of benefits in respect of adult or child dependants should be payable.

This approach was undoubtedly relevant at a time when it was most exceptional for a married woman to take up employment outside the home. This however, is no longer the position and increasingly married women along with men and single women are taking their place in the labour force. They pay the same taxes, the same contributions and have the same obligations as other members of the work force. Apart altogether from the EEC Directive it is time therefore that they had the same rights in the matter of benefit entitlements.

Clearly however, to give dependency increases in all cases on the same basis as at present, so that, for example, a married couple both absent from work due to illness could each get disability benefit with increases for each other and for any child dependants, would be extremely costly and could not be justified. The application of equality of treatment in this area must, therefore, involve a reexamination of the criteria for payment of increases for dependants, taking account of the changing situation regarding the employment of married women. This area has been the subject of detailed examination and a number of approaches can be adopted. There are, however, serious cost implications and regard must be taken of this factor. No final decisions have yet been taken but I will be putting forward proposals to the Government in the near future.

The agreed Programme for Government contains a commitment to draw up and implement an anti-poverty plan within the context of national economic and social planning and for this purpose I intend to revive the Combat Poverty Organisation. There is also a commitment on the part of the Government to seek a new and comprehensive EEC poverty programme based on the findings and achievements of the 1975-1981 programme. For these activities a provision of £1.27 million has been provided in 1983 Estimates.

An anti-poverty programme featured prominently in the activities of the 1973-77 Coalition Government and it was largely due to the efforts of the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Frank Cluskey, that the idea was taken up at EEC level. This programme lapsed in December 1980 but a new programme is now being formulated. On 10 December last the EEC Council considered a report from the Commission on the first programme of pilot schemes to combat poverty and concluded that in addition to policies at national level to deal with economic, social and employment problems more specific action at Community level is needed. This activity in the EEC is at the very early stages and preliminary discussions only at official level have taken place.

I attach the utmost importance to the need to develop effective approaches for dealing with the problems arising from poverty in our midst. There must be a coherent programme which will build upon the achievement of the first anti-poverty programme. A lot of useful experience was gained in the course of that programme and this will be of considerable assistance in what we are now undertaking.

I also attach the greatest importance to developing effective programmes in this field at EEC level. I will, therefore, be taking every initiative at my disposal to ensure that a Community Programme to Combat Poverty is given the priority attention that it needs at Community level. Ireland will hold the EEC Presidency in the six month period from July 1984 and if adequate Community programmes to deal with poverty have not been developed by then I will be doing all in my power to ensure that it is done within the period of the Irish Presidency.

The breakdown of the Estimate shows the great variety of social welfare services which we now have. Over the last 15 years or so, many new schemes have been brought into operation to cater for the needs of persons who prior to that were not covered by any of the existing categorical schemes such as deserted wives, unmarried mothers and prisoners' wives, The home assistance service was replaced by the supplementary welfare allowance scheme in 1977 with significant improvements on the old system, including the introduction of a uniform basic scale of payments. Another feature of the development of the services in recent years has been the growth of additional schemes for particular needs mainly of old people and invalids such as free travel, free electricity, free telephone rental, free bottled gas and the national fuel scheme. The introduction of these schemes in a piecemeal fashion and the developments in existing schemes over the years has meant that the social welfare system as a whole is now extremely complex. The Government programme provides for the setting up of a commission to review the social welfare system as a whole and I will be putting my proposals on this matter to the Government next week. This will be the first time since the Department was set up that a commission will examine and report on the whole system of social welfare and make recommendations to the Government on the effectiveness of the system as it has developed over the years. I would emphasise, as the Government programme points out, that the establishment of the commission will not preclude any immediate improvements and reforms which are considered necessary.

In that regard I would be prepared to have discussions with the Opposition spokesman, Deputy O'Hanlon and his colleagues, outside of the Estimate debate. We may not discuss social welfare again until early 1984, which is a long time, unless there is a Supplementary Estimate. This encompasses a Supplementary Estimate because the budgetary figure for 1983 is included in what we are discussing today. Some 18 per cent of total State expenditure encompasses the social welfare system. There is urgent need for Government and Opposition Deputies to have regular, detailed consultation with one another about the whole system of social welfare. It may well be that under the proposed reform of the House my colleague, Deputy Bruton, as Leader of the House together with the Chief Whip of Fianna Fáil, would be able to devise a system where we could have more intensive consultation in whatever form whether within the structures of the House or outside it at committee level. It is difficult within the context of an Estimate debate to have political discussion on the ramifications of all the issues we are likely to raise today.

In concluding these general remarks on the Estimate, I should like to refer again to the overall expenditure on social welfare services which I mentioned in the introduction. In 1983 we will spend approximately £1,870 million on social insurance and social assistance services. The search for more equitable systems of financing expenditure of this size must be pursued, while at the same time recognising that there is an increasing need to improve the effectiveness of social protection provided by social security schemes and to ensure that social welfare expenditure is directed in the most effective way possible to those who need it. The dilemma posed by the need to contain public expenditure, while at the same time providing an effective modern system of social protection, will present a great challenge to us in the years ahead. I look forward to hearing the comments of Deputies and I will try to deal constructively with any suggestions which are made.

I recommend this Estimate to the House.

First of all, I would like to thank the Minister for his offer to have more dialogue between himself and Deputies in this House. All Deputies in the House must be concerned and committed to ensure that those less well off in our society are properly looked after. While one would accept that in a time of recession this is difficult, one should be able to say — and indeed the Minister in his opening statement said — that this Government are committed to protecting the living standards of social welfare recipients in the difficult circumstances of this year. We in the Opposition would have to disagree with that and any reasonable person outside would disagree with it. One has only to look at the Social Welfare Bill and the level of the increases given to those dependent on social welfare benefits and assistance at a time of rapidly rising costs, again many of those costs brought about by the action of the present Government, to realise that. The 12 per cent for long-term recipients and 10 per cent for short-term recipients are not to be paid out until the last day of June and the first day of July and they are totally inadequate in this year. For the first time since 1974, significantly enough when a Coalition Government were in office, the payments are not being made until three months later than usual. We believe that they should have been paid in April, that that was particularly necessary in this year because of the recession and escalating costs. Even if the Minister — it would have been an honest thing to do — divided the 12 per cent and 10 per cent over the whole year and paid these people 9 per cent or 7.5 per cent — which in effect they are receiving at a time when inflation is expected to rise to 15 per cent or 16 per cent — that would have been better than what he has done.

The greatest socio-economic problem facing this country at present is the creating of employment for all our people. One problem is that the Government do not appear to see this as high on their list of priorities. I will quote from the Taoiseach speaking here on Wednesday, 11 May 1983, as reported at column 841, volume 342, of the Official Report:

The fourth factor affecting our employment situation has been the deterioration in our public finances. Given the scale of unemployment and the fact that much, but not all, of it is determined by external events, Government should in the face of the resulting crisis, seek to alleviate the problem by reducing taxes, stimulating domestic growth and creating employment opportunities where there is necessary infrastructural work to be done, whether it be road building, housing, the construction of schools, the development of telecommunications and so on. No Irish Government, whoever they might be, can at this time take such action on an adequate scale because the public finances are in such disorder that the maintenance of public solvency requires action diametrically opposed to that which the employment situation demands.

In other words, our Government are prepared to let unemployment escalate rampantly and are not prepared to do anything about it. With this concern with financial rectitude they are not going to consider people. I believe that we must, as politicians, always put people first. In the Estimate — and the Minister referred to it again here this morning — £31 million extra was allocated to cater for the needs of those on unemployment assistance. If some study had been given to this it might have been possible to invest that £31 million in a different way, in infrastructural development, to ensure that these people would be at work. It is inherent in human nature that people like to be at work, irrespective of what the cynics might say.

The administration of the unemployment assistance scheme leaves a lot to be desired. People in receipt of this assistance are long-term unemployed in the main; they have been on unemployment benefit and have gone on to unemployment assistance and certainly they are long-term recipients of social welfare payments, but officially they are regarded as receiving a short-term payment and this leaves them very far down the scale when it comes to income. A married man with two children living in a rural area on maximum unemployment assistance would receive £63.75. He could be assessed as having other means and be on less than that, but that is the maximum. If he were to die or desert his wife she would receive £63.45 per week and also many other benefits besides, including fuel under the free fuel scheme. Here is an area — which I was glad to hear the Minister mention this morning — where action should be taken to ensure that these people have a standard of living at which they are able to survive particularly during difficult times such as we are in at present.

There are very good social and political reasons why the whole means testing system and the whole assessment system for entitlement to unemployment assistance should be looked at as a matter or urgency. I am not happy that school leavers who are unfortunate enough not to find employment have to congregate at unemployment exchanges many of which were built in the last century and are totally inadequate as buildings at present to cater for the very large number of people now applying for unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance. While I find the height of courtesy from the staff there, I wonder if the exchanges are not understaffed to deal with the numbers they have to cater for at present.

There are very good political reasons to look at the whole system of assessment schemes because of the frustration of people, particularly the young school leavers, waiting to see whether they will be awarded any assistance at all and, when awarded assistance, whether it will be sufficient to buy even a packet of cigarettes in some cases. Such frustration must have political implications and it is important that we here in the Oireachtas should look at that. Let us take an example of the average person applying for unemployment assistance. He goes to the branch manager. In the town of Clones in my constituency the branch manager and the social welfare officer work in the same building. A person applying in Clones for unemployment assistance goes to the branch manager. He sends the application to the employment exchange in Dundalk, 50 miles away. They assess the situation and send your application back to the social welfare officer in Clones who is in the room next door to the branch manager. The social welfare officer may or may not send that application to his supervisor who, in turn, will send it back to the exchange in Dundalk. They will sent the application to the Department in Townsend Street where a decision will be made on your entitlement.

Having regard to the numbers in receipt of unemployment benefit and assistance, there must be a simpler way of dealing with this. I suggest that the decision should be made at exchange level, that when you apply for unemployment assistance to the branch manager your application should be handed in immediately to the social welfare officer, especially if he is next door, and then sent to the exchange where a decision would be made. For the sake of keeping the standards nationally at the same level, the exchange could then refer the documentation on to Townsend Street and they could monitor the situation to ensure that there are equal standards throughout the country. This would have the effect of short-circuiting much of the red tape and would ensure that claims are processed in a reasonable time. The biggest complaint I received at my clinics is the length of time that people are waiting to have their claims processed, particularly for unemployment assistance. It is totally unacceptable that young people should have to wait three months to have their claims processed.

Very often the modest means of the people living in the house are taken into account and, as a result, the young person gets a very inadequate allowance. I had a case in my own constituency where a girl of twenty received £1.40 per week and she saw that sum as the recognition which society put on her worth. Because her parents had a modest income she was allowed that small amount and the Minister should look at this aspect of the administration of the unemployment assistance schemes. There should be a minimum of at least a £1 per day for anyone who qualifies.

The method of assessment for board and lodging needs also to be examined. I have seen a case recently where a person was assessed at £23.50 leaving him entitled to £2.40. There was also a case brought to my attention in the west where two brothers live together on a small holding of 20 acres of poor land. One brother was dependent on the other and his board and lodging were assessed at £23.50. I am assured he was not working for his brother, merely living with him. We must be concerned about this area and especially about the rise in the number of young unemployed people. In January 1982 25 per cent of unemployed males were under 25 as were 41 per cent of females. Those figures come from the National Economic and Social Council Report of February 1983.

While we have a ratio of youth to adult unemployment that is less than other EEC countries, nevertheless it is important that we should look at how the administration of the unemployment assistance scheme affects them. I am unhappy about the situation, especially in Dublin, where the unemployed have to congregate in large numbers to sign on for assistance. The Minister should look at some other way of processing their entitlements.

I have already mentioned the problems for all the under privileged in society, old age pensioners, disabled and the unemployed who have not received an increase this year sufficient to keep up with the cost of living. The Minister for Finance in his budget speech said that he wanted to minimise the effects of recession on the lower paid. The Minister for Finance is more responsible than the Minister for Social Welfare for the present situation in that the Government are not living up to that commitment. There is £39 million being witheld from social welfare recipients as a result of their not recieving their payments until the end of June.

The Government are in office since 14 December. If one looks at their combined policy documents as distinct from individual policy documents, one item states that the proportion of tax derived from PAYE on wages and salaries will be reduced. This did not happen. The Minister stated this morning that there has been no increase this year in the rate of social insurance contributions despite the increases provided in payments from the end of June. However, one would have to say that to the ordinary worker a 1 per cent levy on his income is an increase as far as he is concerned. I accept that it is not an increase in PRSI but, nevertheless, 1 per cent more is being taken out of the worker's pay packet and he is not interested in the semantics of whether it goes on PRSI or as a levy. We must face up to that because the public will not thank us for saying it is another Minister or another Department who are taking this levy; as far as the worker is concerned it is the Government who are taking it.

The Minister also said that in drawing up new tax proposals, account will be taken of the cost of the care of dependent children. This is the first year in which there has not been an increase in children's allowances. He also said that as a step towards reducing the effect of taxation on the lower paid, the rate of PRSI will be reduced on gross incomes of up to £120 per week. The Social Welfare Bill introduced penal measures for many of the workers and because we discussed it in detail already, I do not intend to go into it now. It is interesting that in the projected Estimate for this year there will be a saving in the social insurance fund. The outturn for 1982 was £252 million, whereas the projected figure for 1983 is £219 million, a much lower figure than in the previous year. That is the excess of expenditure over income in the social welfare fund. It is estimated that pay-related benefit will be down from £77.8 million in 1982 to £61.3 million in this year. The reduction in pay-related benefit is causing problems for many people. The extension of the waiting time to 18 days is penal particularly for workers who find themselves on disability benefit or indeed on unemployment benefit. One thinks of Telectron in Tallaght where people who were in well-paid employment suddenly find themselves out of work and have to wait almost four weeks before they receive any pay-related benefit. A married man with two children who would have take home pay of £115 has to live on £68. The State should recognise the commitments that such people have, the fact that they have so little disposable income at present and should ensure that people have sufficient income to meet their essential commitments.

The local authorities at present have more and more people defaulting on repayments for house mortgages as a result of unemployment. This is something new. In the past there would perhaps be one or two defaulters per year but now the situation has become very serious for the local authorities. It is important that a man with a wife and family who has worked for 10 or 20 years in a job and finds himself in hospital should not be left lying on his hospital bed worrying about where he is to find money to meet his essential commitments. I believe the House was wrong in allowing that legislation to go through. As a result of that legislation there is also the anomaly where a person on a three-day week who receives no pay-related benefit is less well off than the person who works alternate weeks. At present there are many industries continuously on a three-day week. It causes a lot of frustration among the workers to find that a person in another industry who works alternate weeks will receive pay-related benefit while the person on the three-day week will not.

The Minister did not mention whether he intends to introduce a double payment in September and December as in previous years. This will be very necessary if the situation continues as it has been in the last three or four months.

The proposal to limit disability benefit and pay-related benefit to 80 per cent of reckonable weekly earnings has not received much attention but it has very important consequences for those on low incomes. It means that those who do not have sickness schemes at work are worse off than others. The lowest paid workers are those who suffer from this piece of legislation.

I suppose every Deputy in the House was in Donegal at some time during the last three weeks and would have spoken to small farmers who are living on land that would be impossible to develop — much of it bogland and much of it rock. A great tribute is due to these people that they have stayed on the land and have reared very fine families. In 1966 for a very good reason the smallholders' unemployment assistance scheme was set up. The object was to enable smallholders in the 12 western counties to increase their production without affecting their entitlement to unemployment assistance as long as their rateable valuation remained the same. I accept that as a result of a High Court decision the whole question of using the PLV for assessing means is under examination. Nevertheless I believe there should be some scheme whereby a supplementary income would be available to smallholders particularly along the western seaboard, the sort of countryside we saw around Gweedore, Dungloe, Glenties and right down west Donegal. I am sure those members of the Government who were there would have to agree that a great tribute is due to the people who have remained on the land there. It would be very wrong if we, in this House, were to do anything to make it more difficult for them to survive on the land or worse still that they would have to leave the land because socially it is very desirable that we should keep as many of our people on the land as possible and if necessary we should give them some supplementary income based on the size of their holding and some encouragement to work the holding to the best of their ability.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the delay in the administration of various schemes, particularly the unemployment assistance scheme, is the control of abuses. Abuses must be controlled and it would be very wrong to condone in any way an abuse of the social welfare system but the Minister should ensure that the effort to curtail abuses will not impede the delivery of a rapid service to those who need it. That would defeat the whole purpose of the social welfare system. I would ask the Minister to look into that matter. Abuses are serious, but they are a separate issue. We must ensure the rapid delivery of the services to those who need them.

The Minister said he will be bringing legislation before the House to implement the family income supplement. I do not think he mentioned when he intends to do this. A sum of £5 million has been allocated to 20,000 families. If administrative costs were eliminated, if no administrative costs were involved, those 20,000 families would receive £4.89 per week, per family. The administrative costs reduce that sum. Before the Minister brings the scheme into the House I would ask him to have a look at that aspect. These people are on the very lowest scale of income. They are not eligible to pay tax. Perhaps a little more could be done for them, particularly having regard to the fact that there was no allocation this year for an increase in children's allowances.

Does the Minister intend to comply with the EEC directive of December 1978 that all discrimination between men and women in the field of social security should be removed by the end of 1984? I want to say a word about the position of Members of the Oireachtas in relation to the administration of the social welfare system. We have had approximately 300 questions on the Order Paper on the same day dealing with social welfare matters. The vast majority were about delays in payments. I am aware that the Department make 500,000 payments per week and, in some weeks, as many as 1 million payments. The vast majority of them are for the correct amount and arrive in time. During the short time I was Minister of State in the Department, I found nothing but the height of courtesy and dedication from the public servants I met. There is a problem, and the fact that so many questions appear on the Order Paper highlights the frustration of the people at the receiving end who do not receive their benefits. There may be a delay in processing them, or people may not receive the correct amount. Some people are unsure of what they should be receiving and require clarification.

Our aim should be to ensure that we achieve 100 per cent correct payments delivered on time. I accept that in any society, for one reason or another, it is not possible to achieve 100 per cent success. Even with the computer I believe it will not be possible to reach 100 per cent success. We must try to eliminate delays and incorrect payments.

Public representatives are approached by constituents. Representations from constituents add considerably to the workload of the Department. These people are entitled as of right and not out of charity to their assistance or benefit. Some machinery must be found to deal rapidly with these representations. That would cut down the number of questions on the Order Paper. One of the problems is that because of the large number of questions on the Order Paper, Ministers have a limited opportunity to answer questions. For that reason many Deputies put down their questions for written answer and then they have not got an opportunity to ask supplementary questions. This is unfortunate. The Minister said he would welcome more dialogue. The Parliamentary Question session gives us an opportunity to tease out problems and perhaps come up with answers which would give us the type of system we all desire. I would like the Minister to look at that aspect of the matter.

Because of the recession and the hardship people are suffering, there are more and more demands on the supplementary allowance scheme. I am sure the Minister will agree that the financing of that scheme leaves a good deal to be desired. It involves numerous Departments: the Department of Finance, the Department of Social Welfare, the Department of the Environment and also the direct transfer of payments between the local authorities and the health boards. There seems to be a problem in collecting that money. The Government should make a decision to finance that scheme directly through the Department of the Environment. Whatever merit there was in it when the scheme was introduced in 1977 when rates were payable, there is no merit in the way that scheme is financed at present. I am told the figure is approximately £25 million. We must find another way to finance the scheme. There always seem to be problems between the county councils and the health boards in collecting this money.

The elderly are a very special section of our community. Over 10 per cent of the population is over 65 years of age. They have very special needs. It is important that the Minister and the Department should look after those needs. Many of them are relevant not only to the Department of Social Welfare but to the Department of Health and the Department of Environment in relation to housing. The Department of Social Welfare support various schemes. The voluntary organisations who do so much for those who are dependent on help in our community are always worthy of support.

The fuel scheme was introduced in 1942 for 17 cities and towns. Prior to 1979-80, people received vouchers for turf and timber. Since then it has encompassed a comprehensive range of heating fuels. The national fuel scheme was introduced in 1980-81. There appears to be a problem in that beneficiaries of the cheap fuel scheme do not need the same criteria of means-testing applied to them as to those receiving fuel under the national fuel scheme. In areas like Dublin, particularly on the north side where the corporation have extended into the heart of the county council area, some people are entitled to fuel vouchers by virtue of where they live irrespective of their type of income. In other words, this means that people on a lower income living in a county council area will not receive fuel vouchers while those in receipt of a higher income in areas where the cheap fuel scheme operates, such as cities and towns, will receive them. This is something the Minister should examine because the system of means-testing for that scheme leaves a lot to be desired. Very often community welfare officers administering the supplementary allowance scheme, processing claims for medical cards and so on have sufficient work to do but are obliged to process claims for fuel vouchers also.

We experienced a situation the year before last in the blizzard that vouchers had not been sent out in a number of instances and were not until after the blizzard was over in February. This is the scheme that is supposed to operate from October to March. Surely some method of means-testing should be devised whereby a health board would know in the month of July who was and was not entitled to fuel vouchers. The whole question of means-testing warrants review. There should be one single means test applicable and not various means tests conducted by various Departments of State but rather one to which anybody could submit themselves voluntarily, which test would last them for a year and would entitle them to a range of services dependent on their means, marital status, age and so on. The health boards should be in a position to issue those fuel vouchers at the beginning of the winter. People should not have to wait until after Christmas or, in some instances, the end of February before receiving them. That defeats the whole purpose of the scheme which was to ensure that those people entitled to them would receive them in time for the winter.

Earlier we talked about the long-term unemployed on unemployment assistance who are recognised by the Department as short-term unemployed only. This is something that needs to be dealt with urgently because they are excluded from the national fuel scheme. The Government should introduce a uniform scheme to ensure that the elderly in similar circumstances in every area are treated equally. The Minister might well consult the National Council for the Aged with regard to this scheme because I am sure they have had a lot of experience of its operation.

Another area to which the Minister might direct his attention is that of dental services and optical services for dependants of insured workers. It was part of the Government's plan to work toward the provision of dental and optical services for dependants. The other question that arises there is whether these services should be encompassed under social welfare at all. Perhaps the time has come when they should be transferred to the Department of Health because they are both properly health services. I note that the Minister is setting up a Commission on Social Welfare. This is desirable, but it is important to ensure that its work would not just go on and on, with glaring anomalies in the system obtaining in the meantime. I would hope the Minister would put a time limit on their reporting and that they would have maximum consultation with all the interested bodies, statutory and voluntary, who provide social services.

The Minister said he was introducing a combat poverty programme and continued to say:

Ireland will hold the EEC Presidency in the six month period from July 1984 and if adequate Community programmes to deal with poverty have not been developed by then I will be doing all in my power to ensure that it is done within the period of the Irish Presidency.

Does the Minister intend to develop his programme in advance of that because by then this Government will have been almost two years in office? It is unfortunate that he did not have a trial of the National Community Development Agency set up by his predecessor under legislation passed through this House. That would have afforded an opportunity of ascertaining how it would work before disbanding it, particularly bearing in mind that we have had no indication before the House to date to demonstrate that we will have any combat poverty programme in the near future. I would ask the Minister to say whether he intends doing something in advance of the EEC Presidency coming to Ireland in the latter half of next year.

Another comment of the Minister was that over the past 15 years or so many new schemes had been brought into operation to cater for the needs of persons who prior to that were not covered by any of the existing categorical schemes. I think this is the first year there has been no new scheme initiated. Everything done this year constitutes a restriction on existing services — for example, a reduction in the amount of pay-related benefit, an extension of the waiting days, no increase in children's allowances, the abolition of the maternity grant, of the children's allowance for apprentices and so on. Everything this year was by way of curtailing the services rather than any expansion of them.

The most important problem facing the Minister and the Department is that of endeavouring to achieve a rational balance between control and service in the administration of the Department. One accepts that the amount of money is very large and therefore one must ensure that it is spent correctly. It would be most unfortunate were control to be the dominant feature of the social welfare schemes because service to the community is the sole reason for the Department's existence, to ensure that those people who are unable through their own resources, to cater for their needs are properly looked after. It is important, therefore, that the service element always be the dominant feature of the Department. At a time when there is a transfer to computerisation I would hope that the computer would not be programmed to ensure more control and less service.

I am disappointed that there is no more hope for those dependent on social welfare. Indeed, the record of this Government in their first six months has been a major disappointment to those who read their Programme for Government before they came into office.

I welcome the Minister's announcement that he is to establish a Commission on Social Welfare which will review the entire social welfare system. Since I came into this House I have made it my practice to speak during the Estimate debate for the Department of Social Welfare and on all the social welfare Bills coming before the House.

I have constantly made the point that our social welfare system has developed piecemeal, is unco-ordinated, in places contradictory and in some instances provides clear disincentives to aspects of our national life which we seek generally by way of policy to encourage. There is no clearly defined social policy coming from our social welfare legislation. Over the years we have identified specific problems and made provision for them by way of financial payments through a social welfare code without ever dealing with them in an overall comprehensive way and often in tackling one problem we have created another. The social welfare code is full of anomalies and by its workings it causes considerable injustice to a great many people while providing assistance to many others. The time is long overdue for a comprehensive examination of the entire social welfare code and the legislative code in the context of the statutory provisions. That work is rendered easier by the existence of the consolidation Bill passed in 1981. The statutory instruments which govern the social welfare code go back for decades. Social welfare law is now something of a legislative maze through which very few people can find a way and in which many people are caught, not fully comprehending the manner in which it affects their daily lives.

I would urge that this commission should deal first with the area of social policy. It is time we defined the objectives of our social welfare code which have never yet been fully outlined. The need for a coherent social policy has been spoken and written about by a great many bodies. One of the most recent reports of the National Economic and Social Council on social planning in Ireland clearly points the direction for the commission on social welfare and the type of analysis they should undertake. They should not become bogged down in trying to identify one or two areas of the code which are not properly provided for or one or two anomalies which need to be sorted out. They should start by defining the goals of our social welfare code, setting out what type of society our social welfare code is supposed to be framing. That is not something which can be plucked out of thin air; it involves to some extent a political or ideological input. One of the problems of the social welfare code and the way it has developed is that it has tended to be presumed that one can develop a system of social welfare which provides financial payments to people in need without articulating a social policy or a political philosophy. If the commission begin their work believing there is a politically neutral stand from which they can look into their hearts and define the objectives of the social welfare code, they will produce a very poor report. It should be accepted that there are certain ideological premises on which the commission should base their work.

Many of those ideological premises are not ideological in the sense that they divide parties in this House. They are the obvious ones such as the need to ensure equality between men and women and the need to bring about equality for single parent families who find themselves in identical social circumstances but are entitled to different types of financial payments through the social welfare code. There is also the need to ensure that the social welfare code is understandable not merely to those who administer it but to those who look to it for assistance. There is a need to remove the mystique and secrecy which surrounds the decision-making process. People who feel they have suffered some form of injustice should be given the reasons for the decisions made, as well as a right not merely to an appeal but to an open hearing before an appeals tribunal which will give reasons for decisions and will be seen to be fair.

Whatever report is produced by the commission on social welfare, there is a need to consolidate the vast panoply of statutory instruments now in force in the same way as we consolidated social welfare legislation in 1981. Until the statutory instruments are consolidated much that relates to the legislation concerning social welfare will remain within the precincts of the Department of Social Welfare, understood by a few select people but largely misunderstood by the general public. The commission cannot help but come up with the notion that the statutory instruments should be consolidated and simplified and I would hope that work of that nature could commence even while the commission are sitting.

I would agree with Deputy O'Hanlon, although I am cynical of his remark, that the commission should be given a time limit within which to operate. They should be told to deliver a report within a given time scale and there should be no exceptions allowed. All too often in the Department of Health and other Departments commissions are appointed to report on the need for reform, change or modernisation of legislative codes or departmental procedures but nothing is done for three or four years while the report is awaited. It should be made quite clear to the commission when established that they must report within a specific time.

The commission's brief should not be concerned solely with social policy and the nature and benefits of the social assistance we provide. They should also concern themselves with administrative practices within the Department. I have no doubt that a great many administrative reforms could be made in the manner in which the Department operate which would not only be cost effective but would result in a far more efficient service to people making inquiries about the social welfare code. One of the nonsenses of this House is the vast number of questions tabled by Deputies, including myself, about simple entitlements to social welfare. These questions would not be necessary if we had a properly functioning information system within the Department.

It is the right of people who seek assistance to know the reasons if their applications are turned down. They have a right to know why there is a delay in payment of benefit and they also have the right to know that there is the possibility of appealing a decision. They also have the right to know that even though there is a financial limit with regard to the medical card scheme there is a degree of discretion within which the Department can operate in needy cases. A lot of these things are not known and, as a result, Deputies constantly have to table parliamentary questions about such matters. Many of these items should never reach the stage where a constituent has to go to the trouble of contacting his local Deputy. The general public have a right to this information. There is something seriously wrong with a Department whose operations result in parliamentary questions being placed regularly about simple matters, for example, why a person did not get a benefit.

In this respect the Department of Social Welfare share the same administrative problems as are evident in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. It may be unfair to put the Department of Social Welfare in the same boat as the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. In recent times they have become much more efficient, whereas if the Department of Posts and Telegraphs were the Titanic they would have sunk years ago. Nevertheless there is need for greater efficiency. The commission on social welfare should have a role in examining the work practices and the divisions within the Department of Social Welfare as they relate to various areas of responsibility, in particular to allowances and benefits. I hope the Minister will ensure that that type of investigation is carried out by the commission and that recommendations are produced.

I should like to know from the Minister his views on the composition of the commission. How many members does he intend the commission will have? Who will the commission be representative of, whether trade union members, employers or any other parties? I should like to see different types of personnel on the commission. I am sure the Minister intends to appoint some members of his Department but they should not only be people in the higher levels of the civil service administration. I should like to see community welfare officers represented and some deciding and appeals officers who are working on the ground and who know about many of the anomalies and problems. They would have an important role to play on the commission because they would have a deep insight into some of the deficiencies in the legislation and in the Department. Often the deciding and appeals officers are in the firing line quite unfairly when people do not get the benefits to which they consider they are entitled. I urge the Minister to have a broad spectrum of representation on the commission.

A problem that was dealt with at length in a debate in this House last January was that Members of this House seem to play very little part in the legislative process. We had a long debate about Dáil reform. In the two years I have been a Member of this House successive Governments have established various commissions and committees of inquiry and many more such bodies were set up during the years. All of them were given powers to investigate areas of national life or of governmental or departmental policy. Part of the reason we need to establish these bodies is that we do not have departmental committees of the House on which Deputies of all parties could be represented. As a result, Deputies generally do not devleop any real expertise in particular areas or in the workings of Government Departments. When there is a need for reform or examination of policy, this House is seen to be irrelevant. We have to appoint experts from outside to make recommendations to Members of the House as to what they should do. Because of the way this House operates at the moment these commissions are obviously necessary but, by their nature, they undermine the functions of the House. If this House functioned properly the type of work the Minister envisages this commission will do could be undertaken by a committee of the House with responsibility in the area of social welfare. It could be composed of Members of the House with powers to hear representations from the various interested groups who would have an input to make in the type of report the commission might produce. They would have powers to hear representations from people at the receiving end of the services provided by the Department of Social Welfare.

While I welcome the commission I think it is the second best alternative. Until we establish departmental committees of this House with the function of monitoring the performance of Government Departments, to which Ministers would be responsible, the Dáil will become increasingly irrelevant. In the context of the work of this commission there is no logical reason why we should not establish a committee of the House with responsibility for social policy matters, concerned with monitoring the work not only of the Department of Social Welfare but also of other Departments, such as the Department of the Environment.

We have talked at great length about Dáil reform but we are still awaiting the establishment of various committees. I suppose there is no possibility of what I am proposing being implemented. The alternative would be to utilise Deputies and at least ensure that there is some representation on the commission either from the Dáil or the Seanad. Presumably the creation of policy will vest in the commission for the next 12 months in the context of social welfare. I assume the commission will lay down the parameters for reform in that area and the social objectives we are seeking to attain. I do not understand why we are regularly creating all those commissions outside this House, in relation to which the Members of this House have no function other than to receive a report. I welcome the establishment of the commission and I accept the Minister's bona fides in the matter. I hope that some of the comments I have made in this House in the past have pushed him into recognising the need to establish such a commission. Nevertheless, I believe it is the second best course. We should be establishing committees of this House that would develop expertise in these areas and would be capable of producing the necessary reports.

I wish to make some points with regard to unemployment allowances and benefits and general social welfare expenditure. Despite some of the reforms introduced in the recent Social Welfare Act the schemes still operate as a disincentive to employment. There is need for a new approach in this area. We have now in excess of 190,000 people unemployed. We have moved away from the idea that overnight someone will provide all the jobs required for the people unfortunate enough to be unemployed.

It will take many years to come to terms with this problem. We must move away from the illusion, which politicians in the past to some extent have contributed to, that when people complete their third level education and leave school or when people become unemployed, due to redundancies or firms closing down, somewhere out in the vast world there is somebody who will create jobs for them in the public service or in the private sector. Our educational system has always been based on the notion that you go looking for employment, that somebody somewhere is creating a job for you. Our unemployment allowance and benefit system has developed on the premise that you continue to receive unemployment benefit or allowance until somebody somewhere provides a job for you and that as soon as that job is provided for you your entitlement to allowance ceases.

It is not as simple as that. In the midst of a serious economic recession there are not people out in the world creating the number of jobs required. Enough jobs will not be created for many years in order to cut back in a dramatic way on the number unemployed. We need to encourage our young people and those in the mid-thirties and forties who find themselves unemployed due to redundancies or firms going out of business, to become self-employed, to create jobs for themselves. Even in the midst of the recession there are great opportunities for people who are willing to try their hands at self-employment in different areas. There are great opportunities for those who are willing initially to create jobs for themselves and, ultimately, start businesses in which they might provide employment for others.

The problem at the moment is that, if somebody who has been rendered unemployed or somebody who has finished his or her education and cannot find employment becomes self employed, uses his or her initiative to establish a small business, practice a particular trade or provide a particular service, that person is immediately cut off from unemployment allowance or benefit. There is no interim period during which that person can ascertain if the business embarked upon is successful. People in the mid-thirties or forties, who are married and have young families to cater for, are placed in an impossible situation where there might not be any employment available for them. They might use their initiative to create employment for themselves. If they are to comply with the law, they must immediately inform the Department of Social Welfare. They are immediately cut off from receiving payments of any type whatsoever even if the business they are creating or the service they are providing does not generate income for them for a number of weeks or months. Those people are faced with the alternative course of action in which they start working and do not tell the Department and thus render themselves liable to prosecution and civil proceedings in which repayment of money made to them is sought.

There is need, particularly in the light of the great problems we are facing, to introduce an interim period for those people who start a small business of their own. If those people are in receipt of unemployment benefit or allowance they could notify the Department that they are trying to start their own businesses or services or are generating jobs and during a period of three months or six months from the time they notify the Department they should be entitled to continue receiving social welfare payments to enable them to continue supporting themselves and their families. At the end of the period there should then be the legal obligation on them to notify the Department that their business is successful and that they no longer need to receive the benefit or allowance or that the business is unsuccessful and they are not continuing with it.

At the moment there are a number of people showing initiative but who feel they have a responsibility to their families and do not want them to starve. These people are starting their own businesses and are continuing to receive social welfare allowance or benefit because the Department have not been notified. We have the black economy in the income tax area, but it is adding to it when people are in receipt of social welfare allowances in understandable circumstances but are breaking the law. No person in the country should be given the choice of remaining unemployed or starting his or her own business and possibly starving for three or four months while that person is establishing this business. I believe that if the interim period I am talking about was provided there would be an end to the abuse of the system, because there is no doubt that some people who have commenced a business, find out that they operate very well but continue to receive unemployment benefit or allowance for months and even years after they have commenced this business and try to ensure that the Department of Social Welfare do not know about it. In the context of the way the social welfare legislation operates it is a disincentive to self-employment. We must remove that.

The Minister referred to the importance of the moneys the social insurance schemes bring into the State and to the levels of different contributions made. It is worth reiterating what the Minister said about the contributions to the insurance fund.

He stated:

It is estimated that this year the Exchequer will bear some 21.5 per cent of total social insurance expenditure. Employers contributions will bear some 53 per cent of the cost and employee contributions some 25.5 per cent.

We should consider those figures. In recent weeks we have had the spectacle of protests and work stoppages, seeking changes in the tax code and the PRSI code, in firms and businesses which are viable and doing well. Those work stoppages have been for political purposes. They sought to bring about a change through legislation in the situation, but the employer who finds himself faced with strike action or legal demands from employees has no control over this. I find, in the context of the level of unemployment we have and the number of businesses and industries which are at risk, many of which are just surviving, that it is inexplicable that the people who have jobs are willing to put their jobs and those of colleagues at risk by seeking to make political points through industrial protests, jeopardising businesses and firms who cannot in any way be held responsible for the level of contributions employees make. We all recognise that the income tax and social welfare contributions which an employee must make in the present economic climate are very hard to bear for the people concerned and their families. The reason those payments are so large is because of the economic recession we find ourselves in and because of the vast number who are now dependent on the social welfare code for support. I hope far more responsibility in this area will be shown in future.

I believe that employees affected in this way have the right to articulate their views, the right to seek reform and change and that their views will be articulated by Members of this House. But I do not believe they should force employers into either behaving unlawfully by asking them not to deduct the required insurance contributions and not to pass them on to the Department of Social Welfare, or seek to put them under the threat of strike or have one day protests for no good reason and so jeopardise employment. Street protest on this issue is not necessary. Every Member of the House understands the burden which has been placed on the average employee by increased taxes. The difficulty we have is that there are so many people dependent on the social welfare code. The State has so much expenditure at present that it is not in a position to reduce that commitment. I wonder what would happen if the situation was reversed? The Minister gave us some interesting figures. He said 25 per cent of the State expenditure in this area is contributed by employees. Some 53 per cent is contributed by employers. What would the attitude of those who have gone out on strike or demonstrated through day or half day work stoppages be if, for example, employers decided to close down their businesses so that they would not have to pay that 53 per cent? What would the attitude of the workers in the Waterford Glass Company be? I am not saying this should happen because that would be equally irresponsible.

I referred to anomalies in the social welfare code. The Minister referred to an EEC directive which will require us by 1984 to remove many of the discriminations which exist in our social welfare code based on sex. There are a number of anomalies in this area which clearly indicate our failure to adopt policies regarding social welfare. They can easily be seen in the context of the social welfare benefits and allowances which are available for single parent families.

At present we have a scheme for deserted wife's allowance and deserted wife's benefit which provides social welfare assistance for a deserted and unsupported wife. It applies to both a wife without children who is over the age of 40 and depending on her husband's income and to a wife under the age of 40 with children. There is no similar benefit or allowance for deserted husbands with young dependent children. A deserted wife left to support three or four children has exactly the same everyday household expenditure as a deserted husband with the same number of children. However, our system takes no account of deserted husbands. If a deserted husband is unemployed or has no income of his own he can seek supplementary welfare allowance payments but the amount of funds he will receive is considerably less than he would receive under deserted wife's benefit or allowance. This is an example of an idiosyncratic development within the social welfare code.

It developed in this way because in the early seventies it was realised that many wives were deserted by husbands and left with dependent children. They were not properly supported or provided for. Little attention was given to the plight of the deserted husband. There is need for legislation to remove the anomaly which exists in this area and have equality for husbands and wives if they are deserted. There is no excuse for not tackling this area. Until recently it was an anomaly the Department did not fully understand. When I sought by way of parliamentary question statistics about the number of deserted husbands claiming supplementary allowance payments the information was not available. The Department had not examined the problem to ascertain how great it was or how many people were affected by it.

The present scheme of deserted wife's allowance should be replaced by a totally different one. If we want to remove sexual inequalities we could have a deserted spouse's allowance. The anomalies in the present scheme which are placing a number of husbands in severe financial difficulty should be removed. I do not believe that the introduction of this kind of reform would put the State to any enormous expense. No one knows how many husbands would be in this category and entitled to such an allowance. In the context of deserted spouses left with dependent children the vast majority are wives but there are a number of husbands in that position who are not afforded the same protection as a wife would be in identical circumstances.

There is another anomaly which indicates how clearly we distinguish between single parents in identical financial circumstances. As regards deserted wives we have an allowance and a benefit scheme. If a woman's husband has paid a sufficient number of stamps, even if she has her own income, a deserted wife's benefit is paid to her, as it is recognised that she will have additional expenses as a single parent. Such a person with one child faces the same financial difficulties and problems as an unmarried mother left to care for her child. Whereas we have deserted wife's allowance and deserted wife's benefit, we have only unmarried mother's allowance. We have not extended the benefit system to unmarried mothers. There is little logic in that. This indicates there is no clear philosophy behind the manner in which the social welfare code has developed. At present it treats single parent families with identical problems in different ways.

As regards what the Minister said about introducing legislation to equalise the position of men and women we have at present a system of maternity allowance. We do not have paternity allowance or paternity leave. To introduce it would put the State to initial expense but it is my understanding that the EEC directive will require us to introduce a system of paternity leave and allowances similar to the maternity allowance. I have received in recent months representations from a number of constituents who find it quite anomalous that, following a child being born into a family, if the wife is ill after childbirth and needs some assistance for two or three weeks after returning from the maternity hospital and if the husband wishes to take time off he must do so out of his holiday time and is not entitled to anything such as a paternity allowance.

Debate adjourned.