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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 25 Jun 1985

Vol. 359 No. 9

Private Members' Business. - Social Welfare (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 1984: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

The point I was making when I was speaking on this debate before Private Members' Business, was one that affected women and has constituted one of the greatest discriminations prevailing within the social welfare code. That was the categorisation of married working women as dependants and the different treatment of them with regard to the benefits to which they had contributed fully throughout their working lives but of which they were not recipients. I had commented on the fact that unnecessary, insulting and discriminatory questions were put to them. There is still within this society an attitude — one we must get rid of and which I hope this Bill will get rid of in some way — that men's work is real and important but that a woman's work outside the home is less important, a matter of choice.

Women who work outside the home from choice for their satisfaction and particularly out of economic necessity are constantly accused of doing so merely for pin money. Until we get rid of that difference in attitude to the work of men and women the provisions of this Bill will constitute a reform of the bare bones only of what we must do to ensure that women at work are treated as people in their own right, as workers in the same way as are men. This is particularly important with regard to the questioning that has developen from ingrained perceptions that women do not really need to work, that if they have children and seek work outside the home, they have no right to do so and are in some way irresponsible.

Additionally there has been discrimination against women in that persistently they are kept at part time work on hours that prohibit them from social welfare entitlements. This has been done deliberately to deny women their social welfare benefits. This carries an even greater inbuilt discrimination because women are also expected to carry all of the domestic responsibilities within the home. Through demands made on them in the home many women have had to partake of part time work, a concept I consider to be dangerous not alone for women but for men also particularly in the future. Within our society we still operate a system within which women are expected to go out and work. Yet there is no network or support system to enable women to do so on a full time basis. This pushes women into part time employment, denying them their rightful social welfare benefits. This has arisen because our society has not yet accepted with any degree of seriousness that women as well as men have a right to work. We have no provision for child care facilities. There is no point in our talking about giving women equal opportunities to work outside the home if such facilities are not provided.

There has been no debate on a subject which hopefully will form the basis of a European directive to be drawn up in the near future, that is, the responsibility and sharing of the work inside the home as well as outside it by men, as fathers, as responsible parents. Probably there will be the same type of resistance to any EC directive on parental and family leave, with this Legislature not taking such responsibility seriously. We may even be taken to the European Court for not having done so. We must perceive ourselves here in the way in which we do or do not enact legislation affecting women in our society and, in this respect, our history has been a sad and sorry one. I would go so far as to say that all of the legislation in support of women and their right to work has been as a direct result of our membership of the EC and not in any way as a result of encouragement or recognition here of the right of women to work.

Even with the incorporation into our laws of legislation with regard to equal pay and opportunity, we remain far behind in social welfare legislation. We have not yet taken seriously or started any kind of national debate in the area of parental and family leave. Additionally we have not given any real recognition to the need to grant social welfare, proportionately, in respect of part time work. Those of us who foresee the structures at work in the nineties and beyond the year 2,000 realise that with technology and shortened hours, there will be a vast reduction in the quantity of traditional jobs.

We have not constructively or positively looked at what women have been doing for a long time and have been discriminated against for doing, that is, that women have perceived that this life is made up of more than work. They know and desperately want the right, the satisfaction and the contribution they can make to work outside the home. Indeed, their work inside the home has never been seen as gainful employment. It is not recognised as such; our GNP does not even take it into consideration. Until we as legislators start perceiving work as women have done for generations — and have been penalised for it — so as to get a real distribution of jobs, we will get nowhere. We will just create an elite who will be employed. If we do not change our structures, that elite will consistently be men, and women will continue to carry the whole burden and also the reward of home making and child rearing.

What legislation must address on behalf of both men and women with regard to future employment is the importance that women have given to areas of life other than work. If we ignore other aspects of life we will be overwhelmed by the problems. We should address the whole area of low paid work and of women being categorised as dependent, right up to 1985, and the problems of trying to introduce legislation to give rights and equality to women. To keep social welfare at its present level the Minister will have to seek ways and means to ensure that an adult will not have to be a dependant in order to get the extra subsidisation necessary to survive. We are still saying to women, unfortunately, that to bring this legislation in we still have to keep a great number of women, who are so badly paid for their work, categorised as dependants. The only way we can address this problem in the full sense is to work out a basic family income for all families so that there will be the security to allow people to build on that basic income and share the jobs that they cannot now afford to share because of the insecurity and the out-dated structures relating to work.

The debate on this legislation should open out not only in the area of what remains to be done to ensure the rights of women, but it should include a positive programme to make sure women get their entitlements and that they are seen to be deserving of them. The outdated social welfare system and work structures that discriminated so heavily against women up to now should be looked at in an open way as affecting men and women. This debate has highlighted the huge discriminations that still exist and are allowed to exist against women and also the incredible number of families on low income who are actually below the poverty line. I hope that the next legislation debated here will be debated in time so that we will not find ourselves reluctantly dragging in legislation such as this which has raised some complaints because of the implications in what it is doing in the areas of which I have just spoken. What has distressed me and many women is that the principle of equality for women has come last in the wake of everything else.

Mr. Cowen

No matter what efforts are being made by the Minister in relation to what is in effect a reallocation of existing resources to bring about equality for women, the provision of a proper social welfare system depends very much on the capacity of a nation to produce wealth and of a Government to obtain enough revenue to provide the sort of social security system befitting any civilised nation in western democracies. The fact that this Government failed dismally since they took office to increase the productive capacity of this country is an indictment of them. It also imposes major constraints on the attempts by this Government to look after the less well off members of society who have not the privilege of having a job and who, due to their economic and social status, have no real prospect of obtaining a job in the near future.

One should look at this legislation in the proper context. This Government, for all their verbiage and so-called commitment to social reform, are ensuring that the economic recovery of this nation is deferred because of their continuing monetarist policies. In the spending Departments, Labour Ministers are attempting to justify their continued existence in Government by putting forward legislation which has been delayed by successive Governments since 1978 when this directive was passed by the Council of Ministers. What is more inexplicable is that Labour Ministers are stating that we have increased resources for social welfare recipients when all that is taking place is a transfer of existing resources in order to keep us in line with our European counterparts to ensure that the equality directive is complied with. The Minister pointed out, in a very lengthy and informative speech, the background to this legislation; but it is quite clear that some social welfare recipients will get less at the end of the week.

At the moment women who are working and who are the only persons earning income are entitled to claim on social welfare benefits the full increases in respect of their children. When this Bill is passed, where a husband is out of work and a wife is working and the wife then goes on social welfare benefit, she will not get the full increase in respect of the children but only 50 per cent of the appropriate increase. That is my understanding of it, having examined the Minister's contribution this afternoon. If we were to examine the various cases where people are in receipt of social welfare benefits we would find that these people are existing under real hardship and with the passing of this legislation their inadequate payments will become more inadequate. That is not so in the majority of cases but in some cases as a result of the passing of this Bill, in the name of equality which is a laudable concept, people will be in receipt of even more meagre social welfare payments at the end of this week.

I welcome the various positive aspects of this Bill. It is to nobody's credit that it has taken something in the region of seven years to implement the spirit of the directive in respect of ensuring equality in the social security system implemented by the State here. Although I have not checked it, I venture to say that we are probably the last country in the EC to do this. Some aspects of the legislation are commendable. First, the elimination of the lower rates for women in respect of disability benefit, unemployment benefit, invalidity pension and occupational injury benefit is welcome. The increase in the maximum duration of entitlement to unemployment benefit to 390 days or 65 weeks, similar to men, is also welcome. There was an obvious discrimination there which had no justification at all. It should be said that it is no more to the credit of this Minister than to any previous Minister that this change is coming about. We are simply complying with a concept which should have been inherent in our social security system from the outset.

I was disappointed that the Minister did not give much greater detail on one point I would like to make, since consistently as Minister for Social Welfare he says to us that if we are to have a level of service we must take cognisance of the income or of the Estimates which he must deal with in his Department in each year. It has been stated consistently on this side of the House, and I do not think it has ever been properly contradicted on the other side, that the Estimate for social welfare and the allocation made in this year's budget to the Department of Social Welfare mean that there is only enough money there for something in the region of 217,000 people unemployed.

Obviously at the moment very many more people than that are on the register and many people who are unemployed are not on the register.

I was disappointed that in explaining this legislation to us on Second Stage the Minister did not go into very much detail on the transfer of existing resources and how the increases in certain circumstances for female social welfare recipients are to be funded. Consistently, and unjustifiably in many cases, he criticises this side of the House and tries to put across the impression that we seek increased service without trying to find out where the income is to come from. He stands guilty in this regard on this Bill in not explaining to the House — and, therefore, by extension, to the people — where he is to get the money to increase disability benefit, unemployment benefit, invalidity pensions and occupational injury benefit to women and how he intends to find the money for the extension he intends to make in unemployment benefit receipts to 65 weeks for women as for men, when it is obvious from the allocation made to him in the budget that he simply has only enough money to deal with 217,000 social welfare recipients. A glaring omission of the Minister's this evening is that he has not calculated properly how many people in each category will get how much money extra and where that money is coming from. If he can allocate it without bringing in a Supplementary Estimate some time in this fiscal year, will he tell us precisely which social welfare recipients are to get less money?

He is probably the most conservative of Labour Party Ministers in Government at the moment, which is a fair achievement. On national television only last week as a result of the local elections he tried to apply to the Fianna Fáil spokesman what would probably be an unparliamentary term which it seems he can get away with on the national broadcasting media. He has spoken consistently in terms of the vast volume of money he is allocating in social welfare and the great achievements he has made within his Department. Yet one sees when one goes to the doors not alone the rejection of his party's policy, his Government's policy, but the hard reality of increased hardship despite his claim that he is providing adequately for those less well off in society. His Labour Party colleagues should remember that.

Whilst we are all aware of the cutbacks he has made in health in his other portfolio, this aspect of the Bill has not been properly explained, to me at any rate. Certain social welfare recipients will lose income and we all agree that their income as it stands is not adequate. If these people are to get less money we would like to know at this stage of the Bill, in order to put down our amendments, what category of people will be losing out and what category will be getting more, how many people are involved and how much money is involved. The Minister is in charge of a Department which deals with over £1,200 million of taxpayers money. If he is so concerned about £1,200 million of taxpayers money, perhaps he will help us to be a responsible Opposition in his eyes, by explaining properly the legislation which he proposes to bring in at any given time.

I respect the Minister's position as we all should. He is a politician, but there is a certain attitude within his speech, a tendency to talk down to his colleagues to the effect that if one is to equalise benefits one should not equalise upwards but downwards. I accept the constraints that are on the Minister but I do not accept his attempts to cover up a transfer of existing resources in his Department whereby certain categories of social welfare recipients will get less benefit under this Bill.

I stated one instance at the outset which I do not think can be contradicted. He has not said how these people are to be properly compensated. We are talking about people living on the breadline, and not alone that, but living on the breadline without dignity. Some people are living on the breadline with some semblance of dignity by reason of the fact that they have somewhere to go to work. Certain categories of social welfare recipients are already discriminated against under the social security system and will continue to be discriminated against as a result of this legislation.

I have very serious reservations about a certain category of social welfare recipients who are continuously discriminated against and who suffer very real hardship. They are widows and widowers. I do not mind what sex they are, whether they are widows or widowers, but I find in my daily dealings with my constituents as a backbench TD that very many widows are not able to make ends meet. It is sad that a woman must try to rear a family without a proper income supplement as a result of losing her partner who probably was the breadwinner of the family, who paid for his stamps, contributed to his union, and worked hard all his life with no prospect of increased perks or "status" as regards management or anything like that. When such persons go to the grave they leave women in many instances with young families and with no social welfare help other than the widow's pension.

I accept that it is not the Minister's fault that that is the case, but these people are not being looked after properly under our social security system. While that point is possibly outside the ambit of this debate, it is a passing reference which should be made at every opportunity when Social Welfare Bills or Estimates are discussed in this House. There are very many people, widows and widowers, who have no proper family income supplement or recognition of the difficulties they have to overcome in trying to rear a family.

This is more suited to an Estimates speech.

Mr. Cowen

I do not care whether it is an Estimates speech or not.

The Chair does.

Mr. Cowen

The Chair is the boss and I respect the Chair's ruling. I will continue to make that point until such time as it is rectified. Unfortunately during the past 12 months there have been various references to the great achievement of this Minister in bringing in social legislation which puts us on a par with our colleagues in Europe and western democracies with their modernistic approach to life. People who are finding it very difficult to rear a family are not being properly looked after. We have more concern for people who do not have the responsibilty of rearing a family than for those who have that responsibility. I will continue to make that point to a Minister for Social Welfare at every opportunity.

Many other aspects of this legislation are slightly misleading. The Minister spoke of the great achievement in allowing women to apply for unemployment assistance. It subsequently became clear that very few women living at home but available for work will have any chance of getting unemployment assistance because the income of their spouse will be taken into consideration. Also, social welfare officers may not feel they are available for work simply because no jobs are available in the area. While a woman will now be able to apply for unemployment assistance, there is no more hope of gaining unemployment assistance then under the existing system.

There is discrimination in respect of our young population who apply for unemployment assistance but are living at home. The sum of £29.25 is deducted simply because they are living at home. If they were living in a caravan on the roadside they would get £43 per week but they are penalised if they live at home and receive only about £13 of £14. While not saying that there is an anti-family bias, it is nevertheless true that a person who has the gall to stay within the family unit will receive a lower social welfare payment because it will be means tested, even though the parents may themselves be dependent on social welfare. It is wrong to apply that sort of means test to a family whose income is patently insufficient. It is unjust to penalise the second generation simply because they are living at home. It is not their fault that no jobs are available. It is partly the Government's fault. It is certainly the Government's fault that there is no climate for investment in industry, agriculture or the building industry.

The Department of Social Welfare simply do not have the necessary money. The delays in processing claims for unemployment assistance are actually criminal.

The Deputy is making an Estimates speech.

Mr. Cowen

We all know of people—

The Deputy will have to come back to the Bill quickly.

Mr. Cowen

I am talking about discrimination in the social welfare system.

The Deputy is talking about processing claims. That does not arise under the Bill.

Mr. Cowen

The Minister provides in the Bill that women can apply for unemployment assistance. I would make the point that they are no better off under this Bill than under the existing system because they will not get unemployment assistance on these terms. If they are foolish enough to apply they will wait at least 14 weeks before being told they will not get it. If we cannot say that in the House, we should not be here at all.

The Deputy is getting somewhat nearer to the Bill now.

Mr. Cowen

These points have to be made. They are facts of life and we are talking about a category of people who have no voice. It is my business as a public representative to state it and I think the Ceann Comhairle respects that.

While I have pointed out the various aspects of this Bill which I welcome, the Minister has not properly explained to me where the extra money is to come from. If there is to be a transfer of resources within the Department of Social Welfare, who loses out? That should be made clear to the Opposition so that they can be constructive and responsible. Surely we are entitled to the information which is available to the Department. We should not have to put down parliamentary questions over the next three weeks to find out how many people are on disability benefit. This sort of information is available to the Minister on Second Stage. It would help the debate if we were given the proper information at the outset.

The family income supplement was the great novel idea of the new Fine Gael Party but it has proved a lamentable failure since so few people have applied or qualified for it. This is another example of an inadequate response to what is becoming a crisis.

The Deputy is now taking up another topic which does not come within the Bill.

Mr. Cowen

What is that?

Family supplements.

Mr. Cowen

The Minister said in his introductory speech that the Bill was designed to bring about equal treatment in the social security system.

As between men and women.

Mr. Cowen

There are many inequities in the social welfare system and many injustices as between men and women and between the old and the young. I am entitled to speak about widows and old age pensioners who are being—

The Deputy should take the ruling of the Chair. You are not entitled to cover the whole field of social welfare.

Mr. Cowen

I accept that. I welcome the changes brought in by this legislation. I should like to know precisely what resources are being transferred from what category of social welfare recipients and the cost of implementing this legislation. We had a Bill here the week before last under the guise of social legislation whereby the Midland Health Board will have to fund changes, but as they are underfunded at present that will never become a reality. I should like to be told how this legislation will be effective and where the money will come from to implement these changes.

I should like to compliment the Minister on his decision to introduce this Bill and to praise him for doing so because it will end discrimination against something in the region of 46,000 married women. This is the third of three important EC amendments. The first was the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1975, and the second was the Employment Equality Act, 1976, both of which I was very glad to use as instruments in my professional career as a trade union official to improve the lot of women.

I welcome this EC directive and the Minister's intention to bring it in now. It could have been brought in by previous Governments but they choose not to do so, as also happened in the case of the Vredeling Directive giving information to workers. It might be salutary to remind some Opposition speakers that they did nothing when they had the chance to introduce it.

As the Minister pointed out, over 46,000 married women will benefit from the provisions of the Bill and, apart from the effect of the other proposals entitling them to increases for dependants, each receive an increase of £4.50 per week at current rates of benefit. Married women on unemployment benefit will have the duration of their benefit entitlement extended by 13 weeks up to the 390 days which married men and single women now enjoy. Furthermore, all married women will be eligible to apply for unemployment assistance subject to their being capable of, available for and genuinely seeking employment in the same way as other applicants and subject to their satisfying the means test. I was intrigued to hear the second last Government speaker hinting that this was a device on the part of the Government to hide the unemployment figures. I see the opposite happening. People who are at present in hidden unemployment, such as housewives, will now make themselves available for work so they will add to the numbers recorded as seeking work and not being able to get it.

The Minister is often wrongly blamed for being uncaring and callous and it suits some Opposition speakers to project that image. Anyone who has come through the trade union movement with the distinguished career which the Minister had does not need any defence from me regarding his compassionate outlook. He has real compassion for people, not the meretricious guff which we hear from people who know very little about the poor in cities.

The Minister intimated in his speech that he has established a commission to review the whole question of social welfare payments. As Deputy Barnes said, the time has long since come for the introduction of a simplified social welfare code, the keystone of which would be minimum family income. It should be easy to understand and to administer and should lay down certain financial entitlements based on a standard family. The Minister is often accused of being anti-family but he manifestly is not. However, if the Government could introduce the kind of code to which I referred and indexed in line with the consumer price index, it could be supplemented by way of food, clothing and fuel which we give at present. It would mean that each family would know their entitlements——

We cannot have a general discussion on this matter.

I merely mentioned it in passing because it is important, given the Minister's intention to end discrimination, that the system should be made as easy as possible for those who benefit from it to understand.

I should also like to refer to the need for an improvement in the present system. The social welfare structure should be decentralised on a regional basis conterminous with the health board areas at present, because it is needlessly cumbersome at the moment. After long weekends, many social welfare recipients do not get their entitlements because of breakdowns in computers and so on and they are suffering as a result. I ask the Minister to see what can be done in that regard.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to removing any element of discrimination in the questioning by deciding officers and other staff. He said:

New guidelines will be prepared bringing to the attention of deciding officers and other staff the requirements of the EC directive that no discrimination either in laws or administrative provisions is permissible and that in applying availability for work criteria, there must be no discriminations on the basis of sex, directly or by reference to marital status, in questions asked or conclusions drawn.

That intrigues me because I have served on many social welfare appeal boards representing the trade union movement and, more directly, the Limerick Council of Trade Unions. In many cases we come across a woman who has recently had a baby and presents herself for unemployment benefit or assistance. She is questioned by the deciding officer as to who is available to mind her baby and, in many cases, she states that her sister or her mother can do so. I know that the deciding officers are humane but they are circumscribed by the existing rules from being more liberal than they would like. However, they are obliged to pursue this line of questioning in regard to married women whereas a married man in the same circumstances would not be asked the same questions although he is the father of the same baby. Perhaps the Minister would look into this because it is interesting to reflect that under the provisions of the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977, you must be in employment for one year before you can pursue a claim to the Employment Appeals Tribunal. There are two exemptions from that provision. The first is where one is dismissed on the grounds of belonging to a trade union and the second is if the dismissal was due to having a baby. Therefore, a woman is protected under one Act for having a baby but is penalised under another because of the traditional attitudes held here. They were not entirely wrong attitudes but the whole structure of society and attitudes have changed. The Minister should look at that.

At present a person made redundant receives a redundancy payment and enjoys 15 months of unemployment benefit. At the end of that period that person should qualify for unemployment assistance. However, social welfare officers are now going through a most penal and rigorous form of questioning, asking people where their money is and what they have done with it. Mr. Con Murphy, the Rights Commissioner, has pointed out that a redundancy for a company is an investment in the future——

The Deputy will have to relate his remarks to the Bill.

I did not think I was straying outside the terms of the Bill. Men and women can be penalised under the present arrangement. If they receive a lump sum redundancy payment they are entitled to use it to pay off leases or debts on houses.

The discrimination the Bill refers to is discrimination arising out of the fact that a woman is married.

I should like to compliment the Minister on introducing the Bill. I must point out to him that many women are at a great disadvantage on the death of their spouse. The Minister should protect such women by introducing an overall pension scheme providing for the payment of a death-in-service benefit. Some men are covered by pension schemes but very often they are not. There should be some overall protection for women and children in such cases. The Minister is aware of my views on that topic. I suggest that he consult the members of the commission about that and do everything possible to protect the least well off in our society.

It is only right and fair that we should welcome the Bill late and all that it is. However, there are elements of hardship in it that could have been avoided. I understand that the directive was issued in 1978 but it has taken us almost eight years to implement its provisions and apply legal equality to women in the social welfare code. I am sure the Minister, and all Members, will agree that a lot remains to be done in other areas of discrimination against women. In many areas it will require a drastic alteration in the attitude of men.

We welcome the principle of ending discrimination. The Workers' Party have campaigned for many years for this but the change should have been made in a way that would avoid penalising those on low incomes. Under the provisions of the bill some families may lose in the region of £20 per week. In fact, some have estimated that the loss could amount to as high as £40 per week. I accept that the Minister has said he intends to mitigate those losses to some extent but he has told us that this mitigation will be introduced by way of regulation. Those regulations, or a draft of them, should be discussed in tandem with the Bill before us.

Since the Bill was published some Government spokesmen indicated that the family income supplement could be used to mitigate the losses to some families. I cannot see how that will be the case. I hope the Minister will explain the position when replying. I know that the family income supplement has been used as an excuse for a number of things. We were told it was introduced to provide an incentive for people on low pay to stay at work but last August we were told it was being used to mitigate the worst effects of the halving of the food subsidies. Again we are being told by some members of the Government that it can be used to mitigate the effects of the legislation before us on some families. As I understand it the family income supplement is available only to a spouse who is working and has children.

I agree that treating people equally does not necessarily mean they are being treated fairly. I assume that is what the Minister meant although the words used could be read in another way. Obviously, if we are all poor we are all equal but it is not all fair, we are not being treated fairly. The crucial point in this debate is that a minimum income has to be set for families if we are to avoid the hardships the Bill may inflict on some families. In some cases it will be disastrous with families losing £20 on an income that is already very low. Such a reduction will be catastrophic for those families.

Under the present system most married women are viewed as being dependent on their husbands and are paid less. In such circumstances a married woman on social welfare gets lower benefits than other people but if her husband is on social welfare he will receive extra in respect of his wife and any children. Equalising the benefits paid to men and women can bring losses as well as gains and it is the losses I am most concerned about.

The inequalities that exist have been mentioned by the Minister and other Members but it is no harm to repeat them. Married women in receipt of unemployment or disability benefit get £4.50 less per week. Women get unemployment benefit for 52 weeks whereas men get it for 65 weeks. Married women cannot normally apply for unemployment assistance. Adult dependant allowances are normally paid to husbands but not wives on social welfare and the child dependant allowances are normally payable to fathers but not mothers on social welfare.

The Government would not dare, I hope, reduce general benefits to the level of married women's benefits. What they are proposing in this legislation is to raise it by £4.50 in most cases and to extend the duration to 65 weeks. One of the problems is that, while they are proposing to do this, it is six months late and there is no proposal in this legislation to apply retrospection. Despite the fact that £17 million was set aside in last year's budget to apply to the equalisation legislation, not one penny has been paid out in that way, although it has probably been used in other directions. The Government are fighting in the courts against paying retrospection. A number of women have already brought cases to the courts and they have been referred to the European Court to gain retrospection of these benefits.

The combined effect of the changes proposed will be disastrous in a number of households. Depending on the number of children, families living mainly on social welfare could lose between £20 and £40 per week. The only people to gain will be households where the man is employed and the woman is on unemployment, disability or some other benefit. Her income will rise by approximately £4.50 per week and his will be unaffected. However, in households where the man and woman are both social welfare recipients, her small increase of £4.50 will be more than offset by the large decrease in his payments because he will lose the adult dependant's allowance which at the moment is £24.15 if she is ill or unemployed, £30.80 if he is on a contributory pension, and £22.30p if he is on urban unemployment assistance. Households where the man is on social welfare and the woman is employed fares worst of all. He simply loses the adult dependant's allowance plus half the child benefit allowances while she gains nothing. This means an unemployed father of four will lose £41.72p and his wife may not be earning very much more.

The Minister has suggested that he will introduce cushions, ceilings and floors. Obviously this is being introduced in the face of considerable opposition from the trade unions and women's groups who have made considerable representations to him on the proposals in this legislation. As I understand it, the proposals he is talking about will be where both partners are drawing social welfare, about 8,000 couples, and a cushion payment of about £10 a week will be made for the duration of any claim or a maximum of a year — I think that is what the Minister stated in his speech but if I am wrong, perhaps he would indicate where. This means that instead of losing £30.80p a week right away a man on a pension will lose £20.80p and he will have a year, at most, to get used to the idea of losing the £30.80p.

Where one partner is working and the other is on social welfare, an earnings ceiling of about £50 per week is proposed, below which the working spouses earnings will be "reviewed as inconsiderable", to use the Bill's terminology. This apparently means that the working spouse continues to be viewed as a dependant and the other spouse can continue to draw the adult dependant allowance. People working less than 18 hours a week will also normally be classed as dependants. It seems that some 3,000 women whose husbands are on social welfare earn less than £50 a week. They will benefit from the earnings ceiling in the sense that their husbands will not lose the adult dependant's allowance, but another 9,000 families where the woman is earning over £50 a week — as I understand it at least half the women in that category earn under £100 a week — will lose out badly. Unless the woman earns in excess of £72 to £80 per week, the household would be better off if she earned less than £50 a week.

It seems that having a single ceiling set at such a very low level will have disastrous effects. It will create anomalies between people earning just below and just above the ceiling. It will create incentives for both employers and employees to keep certain workers' wages just below the ceiling and it will act as a further discentive to women entering and remaining in the labour market. It will also perpetuate the undesirable distinction between part time workers, who are typically low paid, non-union, uninsured and legally unprotected, and the rest of the workforce.

If there is to be an earnings ceiling it should be much higher and it should be graduated. The Minister indicated that a graduated ceiling would cause complications and would make it unnecessarily complicated for the recipient to understand and perhaps for the Department to administer. I doubt if the social welfare code as it exists could be made much more complicated. It is a maze into which few people like to enter. I doubt if there are more than half a dozen people who fully know the implications and complications of the system.

As to the administration of the system, we are led to believe that the Department are computerising and have advanced a considerable distance in that regard. I am also led to believe that there is very little in the area of complicated paper work that computers cannot manage. Therefore the Minister is not making a valid case when he pleads an unwillingness to complicate the system further or pleads administrative complications. I understand the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have indicated that the ceiling should not be less than £100 a week, with marginal relief as in the tax system for those whose incomes are only slightly above that level. As to unemployment assistance, married women should have been getting higher social welfare benefits since December 1984 but they have not been getting them, and, as I mentioned already, there is a legal challenge in relation to benefits. It has been sidestepped, having been heard before the European Court which is a notoriously slow forum out of which to get a decision. As the Bill stands, even the married women who do apply for unemployment assistance in future and manage to convince the social welfare officers that they are genuinely available for work and actively seeking employment will not gain anything financially. The legislation is specifically designed to ensure that there is no financial advantage in being unemployed as against being an adult dependant. If an unemployed woman signs on and gets unemployment assistance in her own right, her husband's social welfare payment will be reduced accordingly. This is simply a ploy to dissuade unemployed married women from signing on. Already there is a great pressure on these not to sign on, because of the considerable difficulties that are placed in their way. I referred in previous debates to the manner in which married women are constantly obliged to appeal and in many cases are not even advised of their right to appeal against refusal. They have to inquire further as to their rights.

The view is given that it would not be fair to treat couples differently just because the women is part of the labour force as opposed to staying at home. The effect of this measure is to replace the present overt sex discrimination by discrimination based on marital status. It means that two people receive lower payments if they are married than if they are single. This contrasts sharply with the tax treatment of married and single people following the Murphy case which required exact parity. There may well be scope for similar constitutional action if this legislation goes through as it stands.

Deputies Prendergast and Barnes have referred to what I consider to be one of the most persistent, insulting and unacceptable forms of discrimination against women in the social welfare system — the practice of asking mothers who claim unemployment assistance about child care and other domestic circumstances and arrangements. Despite what the Minister has said, that the law does not discriminate as between men and women in this regard, the practice with regard to application for unemployment assistance by a man and a woman is very different. Deputy Prendergast gave the example of a woman who had recently given birth to a child being asked what arrangements she had made to have the child minded. I have yet to come across a case of a man whose wife recently gave birth to a child being asked what arrangements he has made to have the child minded. The reality is that there is discrimination against married women in practice, despite the fact that the legislation is neutral on the issue.

I said in the beginning that the elimination of much of the discrimination against women will depend on the changing of attitudes, particularly among men but also among some women, in relation to the status of women and their place in society. The practice of discriminating against married women who apply for social welfare payments derives directly from the attitude of men who primarily run the system, formulate the regulations and implement them.

The outrageous presumptions behind the practice have been repeatedly challenged over the years, but to little avail. Considerable efforts were made by trade unions and others to secure specific mention of the practice in any new legislation, significantly outlawing this as constitutional discrimination. However, despite the promises to consider the matter there is no reference to it in this Bill and that is a serious omission. The Minister has, I understand, suggested instead that social welfare officials might start asking fathers as well as mothers about child care arrangements. That is not the answer. That will not alter the attitudes to which I have referred.

We generally welcome the ending of legal discrimination against women in the social welfare code as proposed in this Bill. There are other areas of discrimination which can only be dealt with by a much wider approach to changing attitudes and ending sexism. I deplore the fact that the legislation as it stands will hit very many low income families. Despite the proposal suggested by the Minister to mitigate the effects on most people affected, there will still be many thousands of families fairly severely hit by this Bill.

The whole social welfare code, as I have mentioned on a number of occasions, needs to be totally reviewed. The commission which the Minister has established are looking into the matter and the Minister says that he hopes to have their blueprint within about a year. The Workers' Party made a substantial submission to that commission, urging that the taxation and the social welfare system should be meshed together to ensure that there is a basic minimum income available to all families in this State.

I hope to introduce some amendments on Committee Stage of this Bill and trust that the Minister will give them favourable consideration.

I rise initially to support and welcome the Bill but, like many speakers, I decry the fact that it has taken so long for the Bill to come before the Houses of the Oireachtas, particularly since its publication at the end of 1984.

Like the last speaker and many others, I feel that there are not enough safeguards to ensure that low income families, in particular, will not suffer undue hardship. As many safeguards as I would think necessary have not been built into the legislation.

Section 5 of the Bill, dealing with maternity allowance increases, could have been used very effectively to cater for a growing number of women who temporarily find themselves leaving the workforce to have a baby, or to care for a sick member of the family. I and my party have already urged the Minister, in this House and outside it, to introduce a system of credits for such women. Such a system would ensure that while a women would receive no benefits during an absence of one or two years, she would be able to re-enter the workforce without any break in her contributions sequence. The Minister will know I raised a question here on a number of occasions relating in particular to a woman who makes a conscious decision to nurse her baby. When her maternity allowance or benefit runs out she is left with the option of going on unemployment or of applying for disability benefit. She cannot be entitled to disability benefit because she is not disabled or sick but, on the other hand, she cannot qualify for unemployment because although she is available for work the facilities necessary for her to take her child to work are not available in every employment. By introducing a system of credits for such women, at least it would get over the difficulties many of them have of re-entering the workforce after a period of absence. Section 5 could have been used to incorporate that type of change in the social welfare code.

Section 13 deals with the calculation of means. I am sure Deputy De Rossa will agree with me that one of our greatest difficulties as public representatives is that means testing is decided by an individual officer or official of the Department of Social Welfare and in different cases it is not uniform in its application. I do not think it would have been too much to ask the Department to consider, as was asked by the Joint Committee on Women's Rights, to train a corps of people within the Department to become expert in means testing so that irrespective of the part of the country concerned we would have a uniform system.

The previous speaker spoke about a matter I dealt with on a number of occasions and one about which I feel very strongly. All public representatives have had representations regarding the main area of discrimination in the social welfare code as far as married women are concerned, namely, the difficulties experienced by them in qualifying for unemployment benefit. In this connection I refer in particular to the discriminatory questions that are put to them. I reject out of hand the suggestion often made by the Department officials, and one that I understand was made earlier by the Minister, that such questions should be asked of the father in the case of a married man. I reject that totally. These questions that usually relate to the care of children in the event of the mother obtaining work have to be rejected. It is time for the Department and for the Minister to face up to reality. The result of such questioning is that the majority of women never get a chance to re-enter the workforce.

In my experience the kind of questions I am referring to are never put to men and they lead many to the assumption that in this country child neglect is brought about by women. In its own way that makes women subconsciously feel that in some way they are inadequate as housewives and mothers and are not able to cope with rearing their children properly. That is wrong. I ask the Minister to establish regulations and to issue guidelines to all examining officers with a view to the total elimination of discriminatory questions. These guidelines should be established immediately to enable the departmental officers at all hearings held under the social welfare code to conduct their questioning both of men and women in an open and fair fashion and without any vestige of discrimination. In the absence of such guidelines, officers of the Department cannot be blamed totally for bringing their set of values to bear on decision-making. I hope the Minister will consider this point between now and Committee Stage and that perhaps he will come forward with an appropriate amendment.

It is worth noting that in the first annual report of the Ombudsman issued last March almost half of the complaints made about Government Departments related to the Department of Social Welfare. I should like to put on record that long delays that add to the hardship of social welfare recipients are totally unacceptable. I am sure the Minister will agree with that. The main sufferers in such a situation are women, many of whom depend on social welfare payments to meet their day-to-day needs.

All of us are conscious of the present difficult financial times, of the recession and so on but one way in which the system could be improved immediately at little or no additional expense would be to extend decision-making powers to local social welfare officers. At present the majority of decisions are referred to Dublin and this leads to long delays. Why do we not accept now the need for decentralising the claims processing work——

I do not wish to interrupt the Deputy but I must point out she is moving away from the Bill. The Chair has ruled already on that point. While the matters may be relevant to the social welfare code they are not relevant to the Bill before the House.

The directive was issued by the EC and now it is being implemented by us six months after it should have been implemented. Because of the long delay many of us thought that in a number of areas where there is enormous discrimination against women and that were not covered by the directive they would have been covered in this legislation. It is a great tragedy that the opportunity has not been availed of by the Department or the Minister to have these areas included. I am trying to make the point to the Minister that on Committee Stage he might bring in a number of amendments to ensure that as far as possible inequalities now existing are eradicated.

Many women who have to claim social welfare payments find it necessary to bring their children with them to the offices and that can add enormously to the frustrations and difficulties of the women. The facilities provided in the majority of such offices and in employment exchanges are appalling and are totally unacceptable — I note that the Minister is nodding his head in agreement. As an urgent requirement we should have some facility, even a small room that could be used as a playroom for young children, in such offices. That would help enormously. The absence of such an amenity is an indication of the neglect on the part of officialdom — I blame all of us for this — of the special needs of mothers.

In recent years more and more people have fallen into what the sociologists call the poverty trap. Women who a few years ago knew nothing about social welfare are now a part of the system and they depend on it totally for their most basic requirements. It is strange that women in general do not regard social welfare payments as something to which they are entitled. They think there is a stigma attached to applying for and receiving benefits. I realise the Department are making every effort to cope with an increasingly huge workload and to administer the code in as sympathetic and efficient a manner as possible.

Many women often find officers insensitive or unhelpful and usually come away from their encounters with them feeling depressed and inadequate. Many people who are dependent on social welfare find they have tremendous difficulty in understanding official forms and communications. There are two Departments concerned with this area, the Department of Social Welfare and the Department of the Public Service. They should pay attention to this area and ensure that communications and correspondence sent to the public are in language which is simple and easy to understand. They should not need a Member of the House or a community officer to explain what their entitlements are to them.

There are a substantial number of low income families who, as a result of this legislation, will be worse off then they were before. The safeguards the Minister stated he was building into the legislation are not sufficient to take account of that large number of families. We are all agreed that between now and Committee Stage the Minister might have another look at this aspect of the legislation which is extremely worrying. I should like to see further safeguards built into the system to ensure that as far as possible these families are not worse off.

In these areas and in a substantial number of others, inequalities have existed. The six month period between the circulation of the legislation and its introduction into the House could have been used by the Minister and his officials to look at some of the most important areas where discrimination and inequality exist against women. If these areas were remedied they could have been incorporated into the Bill and it would have been a more comprehensive and a better Bill. I ask the Minister to look at the points I have mentioned between now and Committee Stage.

This is an important Bill and one that has the overall approval of the majority of Deputies. There has been blatant discrimination against women in regard to social welfare payments. This Bill will remedy that and prevent it from happening.

The Bill is welcome but I ask the Minister to consider if some effort could be made by the Department to ensure that this Bill or any other Bill brought forward by the Minister does not lead to further increases in PRSI. This is causing concern to employers. PRSI is now acting as a deterrent to employment. In some instances it is causing a problem for employers who are anxious to retain their staff but who find it difficult to meet these PRSI payments. I ask the Minister to look at that matter. It may not be under his control——

It does not come within the ambit of the Bill.

I ask the Minister to bear this aspect in mind because it is important. Directive No. 79/7/EEC was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 19 December 1978. All EC directives are very important and well intentioned. They help to eliminate discriminations and inequities. However, we must bear in mind some of the problems these EC directives cause. A number of them should be looking at the ability and capacity of employers in industry to meet these payments.

That is not in the Bill.

I appreciate that, but it is important. The Bill is based on an EC directive. These directives are important and the Minister referred to some of the earlier directives, particularly the one which deals with equal pay for equal work. It is essential that the EC should have a commitment to improve the overall environment for creating work in this and other EC countries.

Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn mentioned problems which are arising regarding social welfare offices. The accommodation for people visiting social welfare offices should be improved. A social welfare officer rents the accommodation.

Rented accommodation is not involved in this legislation. The Deputy should deal with the subject matter of the Bill.

Is it in order to make suggestions? I was under the impression that Standing Orders were such that if a person had suggestions to make which might improve the legislation and which would assist——

They must be relevant to the Bill.

This is relevant. Women will be signing on at labour exchanges. Many of them will have children with them and will be forced to stand in the rain, frost and snow with their babies and children. People calling to these offices should have proper accommodation provided for them. I will not labour the point other than to say that it is important for the Minister to look at this area. The situation is serious and deserves to be closely studied by the Minister and the Department.

This is a fine Bill but legislation of this kind is only a cosmetic exercise because, while it is important, the problem is that there are so many young women and men who for one reason or another, but partly because of the tax structure and the PRSI position, will not be able to find work. Therefore, while we welcome the Bill we would be better employed in this House in trying to devise methods to enable us to create much more mobility in the open market. I appreciate that this is a Government rather than specifically a social welfare matter, but we must endeavour to change the tax structure so as to render it worth while for a woman to retire from work during the important formative years of her children. In this way, too, we would be creating more openings for young men and women.

The Minister is a man of great capacity in terms of work. I urge him to give much more thought to trying to create an environment for work.

I thank Deputies for their interest in this complex measure, a measure that has posed considerable difficulty for the Department. As the files in the Department indicate, this issue has caused much difficulty for successive Ministers for Social Welfare.

There is an impression that I am engaging in a sleight of hand exericse in clawing back money here or there and that at the end of the day we will be simply availing of the existing resources of the Department. That is not the case. The implementation of equal treatment of men and women within the social welfare framework will cost additional moneys, many additional millions of pounds. In a situation in which our resources are very severely stretched, I had to go to the Government last year and say that within the context of the Estimates for the years 1985 to 1987 I needed money to implement the directive to which this legislation relates.

Deputy Cowen said he did not know where the money would come from to pay for the increases in benefit to married women and he asked who would loss out following the implementation of the legislation. As I said during previous debates on this issue, there is a special provision of more than £13 million in this year's Estimate for the Department of Social Welfare in respect of the implementation of equal treatment for men and women. The money required in this respect is not being taken from any other area of my Department's budget. That has been established beyond controversy and without qualification. What is involved is a net increase in the Estimate for this year to provide for the introduction of equal treatment. Therefore, the question of off-setting savings does not arise. The package will cost an additional and substantial number of millions of pounds.

I have not delayed the introduction of the legislation. It required complex drafting and that task has been in process in the Department for the best part of two years. It has necessitated a series of Government decisions. With respect to Deputy Cowen's party, not a great deal of work was done in this respect by his colleagues when in Government. The cost of the implementation of this legislation is not being met by way of a reallocation of resources. Interestingly, enough, Deputy De Rossa asked whether the family income supplement might be used to alleviate the losses involved. Theoretically it is possible that where one spouse is in employment and earning just over the limit for that relief and where the other spouse is on a flat rate, there might be a small family income supplement entitlement but this would arise only in a very small number of cases. However, it is an interesting point and one which I shall go into.

I shall deal in a general way with a number of other points that were raised. Deputies O'Leary, McCarthy, De Rossa and others, too, raised the question of the dependency arrangements. I was glad to hear that the Deputies welcomed the elimination of discrimination in the social welfare area but Deputies gave the impression that perhaps equal treatment could be implemented without there being a reduction in any respect and that is not possible. There must be some realignment of benefits. Perhaps the Deputies could produce some magic formula that has eluded us. It is clear that any such formula eluded Deputy Haughey when he was Minister for Social Welfare. He would lead us to believe that very little eluded him but he did not find the magic formula in terms of adjusting the system. Without a massive injection of financial resources — and most of any such money would not go in the right direction — it would be impossible to introduce equal treatment without some beneficiaries suffering a reduction and a realignment in their treatment.

Only a small number will be involved in any such change. This arises because all married women are now treated automatically as their husbands' dependants, based not on income but on one criterion only, the fact that they happen to be living with their husbands. There can be no other criterion. If I may put it in a capsule, we are getting away from a sex-differentiated basis to an income-differentiated basis. Equal treatment demands, the directive demands — and I must remain within the framework of the directive; otherwise we would be sent off to the European Court for further investigation — that whatever conditions apply to men must apply equally to women. If no married men are to suffer a reduction in their entitlement — and the only reductions are in respect of a small number of married men — then all wives would have to be entitled to increases for their husbands simply because they are living with them. On that basis equal treatment would cost an extra £100 million. There is no way, in the context of the implementation of equal treatment, that resources of that nature are available to the State. In any event if we were to apply it on that basis in the vast majority of cases such husbands — because they are in full time employment, by no reasonable standard could be deemed to be their wives' dependants. Equal treatment must therefore involve a revision of the present dependency conditions.

With regard to the earnings rule and the transitional measures proposed, I am proposing in the Bill an enabling power which will mitigate the effects of the equal treatment provisions to a large extent. We could not enact a Bill which would continue to regard spouses with substantial earnings as dependants of spouses whose social welfare payments were much lower than their actual earnings.

The question of retrospection of the implementation date was raised by Deputies Yates, De Rossa and others. A problem would arise there. To put it in a capsule: do we retrospectively claw back money we have given people? I do not think that would be very popular in this House because what is sauce for the equality goose must be sauce for the equality gander if I may use a rather sexist analogy, if there is one. Far from clawing back money, or docking money on a retrospective basis, it is best that we have a forward date for implementation.

The package as a whole constitutes a reasonably balanced and equitable approach to providing equal treatment, involving the removal of the automatic presumption of dependency of married women and conferring on them, in consequence, full entitlement to social welfare rights. Clearly retrospection cannot arise in the case of the elements of the package which involve reduced entitlement. There is then no case in principle for allowing it in regard to the other elements because there would be very considerable costs and other implications. Even with approval of the Bill I shall have considerable difficulty implementing its provisions because of the tightness of staff resources, the amount of work to be done in ascertaining a lot of information which will have to be married into payments. As the House is aware at present anybody with an RSI number is paid the particular benefit entitlement and then only when one applies for dependency is one allocated that. Of course the question of ensuring full cross reference is a major one.

I must emphasise that there will be a major volume of work involved in my Department in implementing the provisions of the Bill. For example, 46,000 married women's claims will have to be re-rated and the dependency position of some 200,000 cases of social welfare will have to be examined by means of the issue of questionnaires and their processing which will be a complex procedure. For every 1,000 questionnaires one will have 100 people who will be affected much less. Of course there the prospects of political exploitation by those who want to exploit it. But then I have become used to that and somewhat pragmatic about the way the system is exploited, in particular for political purposes.

At present my Department are also in the process of a major re-design of our computer system which must be completed before the equal treatment provisions can be accommodated within that system. I shall be going ahead with all expedition on that computer work and we shall not delay in that regard.

Deputies Yates and Cowen also referred to the position of deserted husbands and widowers and the provisions of the directive. The directive is quite specific in the areas it covers. It extends to schemes of unemployment, of sickness, of invalidity, old age and accidents at work. Survivor benefits and family benefits are specifically excluded from the directive. The Community farming the directive recognised that there would have been great difficulty is most member states in implementing equal treatment under such schemes because there is no great uniformity in that area. In view of the multiplicity of such schemes there would be enormous difficulty encountered in endeavouring to bring a degree of uniformity into that area. That is the framework within which this directive is being introduced.

Deputies Barnes, Yates, McCarthy and Prendergast raised the issue of the questioning of married women who apply for unemployment benefit. I referred to that matter in my opening remarks. I want to say initially that the files in my Department show that a large number of married women, with children, already qualify for unemployment benefit. A great variety of formal and informal child-minding arrangements are accepted by deciding officers in these cases. Deputies — I suffered from this myself over the years — tend to regard the cases they encounter frequently as being the generality of complaints and very many of us are not objective in our analysis of the situation. It is true that in determining claims for unemployment benefit or assistance deciding officers must satisfy themselves that the claimant concerned is available for work. To so satisfy themselves they must try to ascertain all of the facts of the case. If there is any element of doubt in the matter deciding officers are obliged to query the position by asking the claimant any questions they feel may be relevant to the case. Information about the applicants on their efforts to obtain employment and whether he or she is registered with manpower and the type of work the claimant is seeking and whether or not there are factors which would prevent the claimant taking up work if work were offered, must be recorded. There is no doubt that, where a claimant is in charge of minors, this can affect either his or her availability for employment. Some married women with young children can be quite readily seen to be unavailable for employment from the information they give about their circumstances and others will be seen not only as being available for employment but as making every effort to get employment. In other cases there will be some doubt and it is in relation to that category of claimant that questions relating to family circumstances are still pertinent because they may help to show whether or not the claimant is available for work.

I accept that it is a highly subjective area but it is an area where the deciding officer or the appeals officer has statutory powers. Questions relating to child care and maintenance are designed to try to establish these facts and the deciding officer or the appeals officer is concerned only with the claimant's circumstances in so far as he needs to be satisfied that the claimant is free and willing to take up employment. It is not the case that claimants are rejected merely because they have young children. That impression is frequently abroad but it is not the position. I will take all necessary steps to ensure that there is no discrimination in that regard.

In view of the concern expressed by Deputies here, I will be taking the necessary steps to ensure that in future all conditions relating to entitlement to unemployment benefit and all inquiries made in connection with these conditions are applied impartially as to the sex of the applicants, and new guidelines will be prepared bringing to the attention of the deciding officers and other staffs in the Department the requirement of the EC directive that no discrimination either in our laws or in our administrative provisions is permissable and that any applied availability for work criteria must not discriminate on the basis of sex directly or by reference to martial status in questions asked or in conclusions drawn. I cannot be more specific than that. Yesterday afternoon I met a delegation from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. This matter was raised in discussing the Bill and I gave a clear assurance to them on that issue.

A number of Deputies referred to alleviating measures I propose to introduce under the enabling powers of the Bill. There were calls for a higher level of earnings to be disregarded. Deputies Yates and De Rossa suggested that I might consider a graduated earnings rule, but that could not be contemplated. I explained in my speech why a graduated earnings rule is not operationally possible at present. I discussed this matter with the congress delegation as well and with other interested parties. We have no objection in principle to the question of graduated earnings. If there were graduated structures it would reduce the scope for a poverty trap situation developing but its implementation would place enormous strain on the employment exchanges.

I do not want to go at great length into the difficulties which any sort of complicated dependency rules would bring about but the introduction of an earnings floor would undoubtedly complicate the payment delivery system. It would affect the overall level of service which the Department give the public and this is a crucial issue at a time when there are staffing restrictions and a massive increase in claim load which are already combining to put the system under enormous pressure. For this reason the rule must be simple and straightforward so that it will be easy for claimants to understand and will not increase significantly the amount of time needed to process applications and make payments which would disimprove the service to social welfare beneficiaries. There are difficulties in that area.

In relation to a high earnings floor, it is not just an administrative problem but there is a degree of substantial objection in principle to an exceptionally high earnings floor. We must keep in mind a number of aspects in setting a level on the earnings floor. It should not be set at a level effectively breaching the proposed statutory dependency principle which terms a spouse as an adult dependant only if he or she is wholly or mainly maintained by the other spouse so that the higher the earnings floor the more one breaches the dependency rule and then one is coming up to the wire in terms of the directive itself. It should not be set at a level which would create a particular benefit for some families to have one spouse in employment and the other spouse on social welfare benefit rather than having both of them in employment.

I will give an example of two families. Where a family have three children and are living on social welfare payments with no other income they would have £88.35 per week. This would create a serious anomaly and there would be a degree of inequity arising. Therefore I have pitched a level of an earnings floor. I have indicated to the House that I considered £50 to be a basic level and £10 on the outer mitigating transitional arrangements. I have discussed the matter the Irish Congress of Trade Unions who made strenuous representations to me on the matter. I have agreed to consider those representations and have taken careful note of the points made by the Deputies on this measure. I will conclude by thanking Deputies for their contributions to the Second Stage debate and I assure them that the points made will be carefully considered on Committee Stage.

I did not get an opportunity to deal with a number of points raised by Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn. She expressed her concern about facilities for women in employment exchanges, and a large number of women will be going in. I have indicated that 46,000 married women are going into employment exchanges which need to have their whole edifice improved substantially. As she indicated, rightly, many of our employment exchanges, including that in Galway which is deplorably bad, are wholly inadequate where young children come in with their mothers who may be claiming. I assure the Deputy that I will make every effort in that regard throughout the country. Very substantial improvements have taken place in many of the exchanges but the work is progressing painfully slowly. I am bringing considerable pressure to bear on the OPW in that regard and in some instances they have responded while in others they are painfully slow. Nevertheless, I assure Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn that I will endeavour to remedy that situation.

In many other parts of the country, particularly in areas like Ballybough where the employment exchange will be up and coming shortly, Clondalkin and the outer conurbation suburbs of Dublin where we should have employment exchanges sited. I have been working on that also and I am quite determined that the facilities should be of outstanding quality, as good as, for example the new employment exchange at Tara Street and the first floor of Apollo House where staff can meet fellow Irishmen and women in conditions where they are able to do their work and where people are treated with the respect, concern and care which we are all entitled to in our applications within the system. I assure Deputies that I am working in that regard and the work will be ongoing. Accordingly, I thank Deputies for their contributions and look forward to further discussion in due course on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Tuesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 2 July 1985.