Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

5.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will extend the free telephone rental allowance and electricity allowance to facilitate those in receipt of British invalidity benefit; and the cost of providing such a facility.

The overall cost of extending the scheme in the manner suggested by the Deputy would be about £800,000 and I have no proposal for such an extension at present.

Would the Minister accept that those in receipt of British invalidity benefit would be eligible for this benefit if they were in receipt of an Irish invalidity pension? Would the Minister consider extending this facility to these people? The Minister gave a figure of £800,000 but that is presuming that everyone in receipt of a British invalidity pension and living in the Republic would apply for the free rental telephone allowance. From the review I have carried out, only about 7 per cent of those people would apply for this service, and consequently only about £56,000 would be needed. Would the Minister have another look at this matter in view of the figures I have given?

Certainly I will have a look at it, but as the Deputy is aware there is a difference between the invalidity benefits granted in the United Kingdom and those granted here. A person automatically gets an invalidity benefit in the United Kingdom after 28 weeks but here he must be in receipt of disability benefit for one year and then he must go before a medical referee to ensure that he is incapable of work for the future. That procedure is not necessary in Britain. If we were to grant this facility to everyone in receipt of the British invalidity benefit, it would mean that Irish people in similar circumstances would not be getting that benefit.

Would the Minister accept that most of the people in receipt of British invalidity pensions live in the border counties, particularly County Donegal? Would he give serious consideration to this question in view of the fact that it takes a long time to be granted an invalidity pension in Britain?

The point I am making is that in Britain a person will automatically qualify for an invalidity pension after 28 weeks, unlike Ireland where a person has to be on disability benefit for one year, and then must go before a medical referee. But given the cost involved, I must tell the Deputy that I do not envisage any change in the immediate future.

Would the Minister consider providing this service to those in receipt of long-term British invalidity pensions?

We can have a look at it, but given the present circumstances I do not hold out much hope because we are trying to contain situations rather than extending them.

That is all I ask.

6.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare if the first free fuel vouchers under the national fuel scheme have been issued in each health board area; and, if not, when it is proposed to do so.

The national fuel scheme is administered by the area health board and each board make their own arrangements for issuing the allowance either by voucher or by cheque. The general practice among the boards is for the allowance to be paid in two or three instalments during the heating season, and I understand that a first issue of allowances for the 1983-84 season has now been made in all health board areas.

Is the Minister aware that a change has taken place in the scheme which is operating this year?

A change in the actual issuing of vouchers and money?

In the method of qualification, because people on long-term unemployment assistance no longer qualify since September 1983.

That question will be answered more fully later.

It has to do with——

This matter is covered in questions further down the Order Paper.

I would like to know if the community welfare officer in each health board has discretion in relation to applicants who are on long-term unemployment assistance.

The question only asks if the free fuel vouchers have been issued, and if not, when it is proposed to do so.

The question raised by the Deputy is answered in a later question.

As this is a national scheme, would the Minister ensure that each health board will apply the same standards, because as I understand it——

I invite Deputies to read the questions.

The standards applied by the Eastern Health Board are different to those applied by the Southern Health Board.

Some answers may prompt Deputies to put down other questions, but supplementaries must be related to the questions. Question No. 7.

(Interruptions.)

I have called Question No. 7 and I ask the Minister to reply.

7.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the number of (a) small-holders who have had factual assessments of means since May 1983; (b) farmers who subsequently appealed to his Department and (c) who were successful in their appeals.

The number of small-holders whose applications for unemployment assistance have been reviewed on the basis of factual means assessment since May 1983 is 3,445. Of these 915 appealed against the deciding officer's decision and to date the appeals have resulted in a reduction in means assessed in 195 cases.

How many farmers voluntarily applied for reassessment of their situation, and how many of them lost their unemployment assistance?

Nine hundred and fifteen appealed against the deciding officer's decision and to date 195 cases have had their means reduced.

How many lost their unemployment assistance?

One thousand, one hundred and forty-one.

Lost it totally?

Yes, that is right: 915 appealed and, on appeal, 195 had reductions in their means assessments.

Does the Minister of State accept that the form of assessment for these people is totally inadequate? Is there any truth in the rumour that the Department are drafting a new assessment form which will be more equitable?

This is a statistical question. That does not arise.

The answers to statistical questions are normally circulated. Is that correct?

No, it is not correct.

Has the Minister available the total amount which was saved by the reductions made in this area? He must be aware that the unemployment assistance scheme has been undermined and wrecked by this Administration. Some people who have come back in under the assessment have come in at very reduced rates. Severe hardship has been created in some cases by this decision. What is the total saving?

As the Deputy is aware, it has nothing to do with this Administration or any other Administration. There was a court decision.

Come off it.

That is a fact.

The court case has been appealed. There is no need to take any action until the appeal has been decided. The Minister should not give us that line.

We are advised that we should take the action we are taking and that we have no choice.

A Cheann Comhairle, you allowed that question which was not of a statistical nature. My question is very important to my constituents. Is the Minister drafting a new form?

There may be some misunderstanding about that. I sent out a booklet to all Deputies, which I hope they got, indicating the reform of assessments. I am in the process of designing a new assessment form.

Which will knock off a few remaining ones.

We want to ensure that all expenses are taken into account and listed on the form so that there will be no ambiguity or doubt in anybody's mind. That should help.

I intend to exercise my discretion and ensure that only supplementary questions which are related to this question will be asked. Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn.

My question is relevant.

I will decide that when you ask it.

Would it be correct to assume that the administrative costs of the new arrangements are greater than the amount of money which was saved by the Department?

I have not got the answer to that.

It is a separate question.

The Chair is answering for the Minister.

I am saying it does not arise.

It does not arise on the question. If the Deputy who put down the question wanted that information he would have asked for it.

The Minister wants to answer it.

I do not mind whether he does or not.

I have discretion as to what questions may be asked. I am moving on to question No. 8. Uimhir 8.

I asked a supplementary question.

To qualify for unemployment benefit——

You are protecting the Minister.

——a person must satisfy the condition——

The Deputy should withdraw that remark. I am trying to maintain order and I have many disorderly people opposite me.

You have no one opposite you.

On a point of order we cannot hear the reply.

To qualify for unemployment benefit a person must satisfy the condition——

We cannot hear the Minister.

If I do not get order for Question Time I will adjourn the House. Question Time is being turned into a Bedlam.

We have to get the reply.

Will the Minister answer Question No. 8 please?

I have made three attempts.

8.

andDr. O'Hanlon asked the Minister for Social Welfare his Department's policy in relation to claims for unemployment benefit by mothers of newly born babies who consciously decide to breast-feed their babies for a period exceeding the six weeks allowed for maternity benefit purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

To qualify for unemployment benefit a person must satisfy the condition of being capable of and available for work. In determining whether this condition is satisfied a deciding officer would have regard to all the circumstances in each particular case including the claimant's occupation, employment history and domestic arrangements. There are no specific conditions in the case of mothers who breast feed their babies and the Department do not operate any special policy related solely to such cases.

Would the Minister accept that the relevant qualification of being available for employment applies in these cases? Mothers are available for work but because creche facilities are not available they cannot go back to their jobs.

That is another question.

Once a mother indicates that she is available for work and we are satisfied that she is capable of working there is no problem.

There is, I have had three problems.

A question, Deputy, please.

I am explaining to the Minister that I wrote to him about three separate cases in my own constituency within the past three weeks. In each case on appeal the mother was refused on the basis that she was not available for employment. If a mother consciously decides to nurse her baby, after the six weeks' period of maternity benefit runs out, she is technically available for and capable of employment. Because creche facilities are not provided by her employer, through no fault of her own she cannot go back to her job until she has finished nursing her baby. In those circumstances, would the Minister not consider that an exception should be made and unemployment benefit should be paid when the maternity benefit period finishes?

I do not think I could concede exceptions. I agree with the development of creches and I hope there will be development along those lines. If it is indicated that a person is not available for work she does not qualify for benefit. Once you start making exceptions you are in trouble.

I understand from officials in the Department——

A question Deputy, please.

Is the Minister aware that I have been told by officials in his Department that were nursing mothers to attend their local GP and get a certificate saying they were ill or disabled, they would qualify for unemployment benefit? The qualification of availability for work does not apply in this instance.

They would not be eligible for unemployment benefit because, if they sent in a certificate from a doctor indicating illness——

What about disability benefit?

I am talking about unemployment benefit. They would not be eligible.

They would be eligible for disability benefit although they are not disabled.

That would be a matter for the doctors.

Will the Minister look at this again in the light of the case we made here today?

We can certainly look at it. I do not want to give the impression that I will go off and make special arrangements. That would be wrong of me. I will look at it and, if anything can be done, it will be done.

9.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason people receiving unemployment assistance are being asked if they are available for employment; the number of people so asked to date in 1983; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

It is a condition for the receipt of unemployment assistance that the applicant is available for and genuinely seeking work. Persons receiving unemployment assistance are interviewed periodically about their availability for employment for the purpose of confirming that they continue to satisfy this condition.

This has always been the practice and this year up to the end of October some 3,800 unemployment assistance recipients were interviewed. Of these about 160 had their entitlement to payment disallowed on the grounds that they were not available for employment or were not making genuine efforts to obtain work and a further 210 approximately ceased to claim unemployment assistance.

How many people on unemployment assistance were offered permanent jobs by the National Manpower Service in 1983?

That is a very different question.

It seems a bit silly that people who qualify for unemployment assistance and——

It is to a different Department as well.

The same agency has a major say.