Social Welfare Bill, 1987: Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

The proposed amendments to this section have been ruled out of order.

The proposal in this section is to have the increases in disability benefits, pensions and so on payable from 20 and 24 July. While, obviously, that is much better than the proposal by the outgoing Government to delay payment until November, the continued delay in these payments from an original date in April to July is a direct assault on the incomes of those least able to bear losses in income. It is extraordinary that the Government when in Opposition argued very strongly for these payments to be made from April instead of July. Over the past three or four years the payment date for increases has been delayed more and more until they are now in the last week of July. It is grossly unfair on those who cannot meet living expenses.

The sections in the budget which propose to cut the rights of social welfare recipients, those dealing with the restrictions on pay-related benefit, the increase in the number of contributions required for disability benefit and the extension of time in order to qualify for particular benefits, all come into effect next week, but the proposed increases will not come into effect until July. That is why I put down amendments, which have been ruled out of order, seeking to have all these increases brought forward to April.

As I said on Second Stage, I do not accept the argument that the money is not there. The Government are unwilling to collect money from those who have been assessed for tax but who have not paid it. Money should also be collected from people who did not hand over VAT to the Exchequer. There are also people who are not in the tax net and who have not been pursued for money legitimately owed. Thousands of people on substantial incomes have not been assessed for tax and the Government do not seem to be making any attempt to collect money from them. I do not accept the argument that the money is not there. Clearly it is there and I ask the Minister to agree to bringing forward these payments.

Let me refer briefly to section 2. This morning I made reference to deserted wife's allowance and to deserted husbands. I was not here when the relevant question came up at Question Time but I ask the Minister now in accordance with section 2 (2) (c) which refers to deserted wife's benefit to consider including deserted husbands in that now or at a future time, in other words to insert the word he referred to, "deserted spouse".

While the Minister has brought forward these increases from November which was proposed by the outgoing Government of which I was a member, he himself on television promised a 7 per cent increase from 1 July and the commitment of his party subsequently was that the increase should be from 1 July. In the Budget Statement the Minister for Finance just mentioned July. Subsequently it was said that the increases would be from mid-July. Now we find that many of the increases are from the end of July. For instance, in the case of unemployment benefit it is 16 July, disability benefit, maternity allowance, injury benefit, disablement gratuity and disablement pension 20 July, deserted wife's benefit, invalidity pension, and retirement pension 23 July, death benefit under section 50, 51 or 52 of the Principal Act, old age contributory pension, widow's contributory pension and orphan's contributory allowance, 24 July.

I detect here a great deal of dishonesty in the promises made by the Fianna Fáil Government and deliberate lack of clarity in the Budget Statement by the Minister for Finance and subsequent clarification. Many people will have read in the papers that they were going to get the increases from the first week in July and now in some cases they will wait more than three weeks after that for them. That is contemptible.

There are like changes under the social assistance payments listed in sections 3 and 4 of the Bill. I mention in passing, because it is related and we will come to it later that, however, in section 6 when it comes to increasing the reckonable earnings and the subscription it is 6 April, next week. I make that point because I think that there has been dishonesty here.

I am not of that school of thought which maintains that, regardless of the overall economic or financial circumstances, there must be increases, once a year on the anniversary of the previous increases. That is highly desirable where it is possible, but we must have regard not only to the financial circumstances but also to what is happening on the pay front. In recent years we have been having pay agreements of 15 and 18 months, sometimes in more than one phase. It is an indication of rigid, straightline thinking to hold that everything has to be every year. Maybe in the future we might want to have, and it might be to the advantage of social welfare recipients to have, arrangements in relation to social welfare for a longer period than one year and more than one phase may be committed in that. In any event, we cannot ignore the fact that there is an inter-relationship between trends in pay, especially at the bottom end of the market and social welfare payments.

I tabled two amendments to the Bill but they have been ruled out of order. I understand the reasons they were ruled out of order, but I would like to raise here the intent of one of them because the Minister may consider tabling an amendment on Report Stage. I raised the question on Second Stage this morning as to why there was no statutory provision in this Bill as promised by the Department of Social Welfare to the Ombudsman in his report of 1986 from which I can quote if you so wish, Sir.

Is it appropriate to quote it on section 2? The Deputy will appreciate that on Committee Stage everything that is spoken must relate to the specified terms of the section. I am not too sure whether the Deputy is in a position to relate what he is about to say or what he hopes to say to it. If he cannot he will appreciate that we would have to declare this out of order.

I appreciate it. The point I was going to make may more easily be related to a subsequent section. The second amendment that was ruled out of order — again I understand the reasons for that — has a relationship to the section before us, section 2 of the Bill. It relates to the point just raised by Deputy Bell which he raised also on Second Stage. It is the anomalous situation which arises if a husband finds himself a widower or a deserted husband. If he has no job or has to give up his job to look after his children he will find himself at an enormous disadvantage compared to a deserted wife or widow in similar circumstances. This point is highlighted in the Ombudsman's report. The difference can be enormous. I have had several personal experiences of this problem. For instance, on page 17 of his report for 1986, which has recently been published, the Ombudsman highlighted the fact that he received quite a number of complaints from widowers about the inequitable treatment they and their dependants received. There is one such complaint as follows: A man whose wife had died during the year, leaving him with eight children ranging in age from four years to 15 years was claiming unemployment assistance and he was in receipt of £96.30 a week. He pointed out that if he had died his wife would have claimed contributory widow's pension on his insurance record and on that basis she would have received £147.75 per week. That difference is incredible, over £51 per week.

We are dealing in section 2 with increases for some of the categories that relate to these men who are left as widowers or as deserted husbands. I tabled an amendment which was ruled out of order and which provided that the Minister may by regulation make provision for special supplementary payments to deserted husbands or widowers who are dependent on social welfare and/or health board payments for their livelihood to such an extent that deserted husbands or widowers are at no financial disadvantage compared with deserted wives or widows in like circumstances. I did not say "shall"; I said "may" to give the Minister a choice. Even though the debate on the remaining Stages of this Bill has but one hour to go I ask the Minister to consider tabling that amendment for Report Stage. It does not compel him to do anything, it merely enables him, and he is the only one who can table such an amendment. I came across a young man in these circumstances a few years ago. He did everything he could to keep his family of young children together. In the end several of those children were put into care because the poor man could not cope. I am glad to say that eventually I was able to persuade a private donor to subsidise this man for a period of three years. It was a very great act of charity indeed.

The numbers involved here would not be great and the cost would not be enormous, but certainly there is a very great anomaly. I ask the Minister to consider tabling an amendment on Report Stage along the lines of the one that I proposed but which was disallowed.

Taking the last point first, in effect the Deputy is suggesting that similar provisions would apply. That is a very major question which was also raised by Deputy Bell. It is a question that applies to one parent familes generally and was considered by the Commission on Social Welfare. It is a major issue which will have to be addressed in future, but, obviously, Deputies will appreciate that there are major implications involved and that it will require a good deal of consideration.

Deputy De Rossa spoke about the implementation date in July and asked why it could not be brought back to April. I agree that it had slipped back over recent years. For example, during the years from 1976 to 1982, inclusive, the date was April. In 1983 it slipped back to the end of June and in 1984 into July. Since that year it came into operation on different dates in July until 1986. Then, in 1987 in the abridged Estimates it was being put back to November. It is an achievement in this Bill to bring the date forward to July. The total cost of the increase is £30 million and the additional cost in bringing it forward to July is £19 million. To bring the payment forward to April would cost a further £20 million. That is basically what we are talking about in this case.

Deputy Mitchell mentioned the different dates in July. The dates are payment dates. The first is in relation to unemployment benefits and is payable on 16 July; the other dates are the relevant following dates for the other payments mentioned in the section. Deputy Mitchell asked why not bring it forward to the beginning of July.

I asked why the Fianna Fáil Party had promised it then.

The Deputy's party wanted it payable in November.

The Deputy's party wanted it from November.

Why did the Minister's party promise it for 1 July?

The Deputy's party in Government brought the payment to July from April.

We did not promise anything in the election campaign.

The date is now set at 16 July. That is fairly close to the middle of the month, the Deputy will have to agree.

It is not 1 April.

It has been a reasonable achievement to bring the date forward to that time. I appreciate the point raised by Deputy De Rossa. One would like to see it getting back to the original dates again. However, I can give no commitment on that at this stage.

Notwithstanding the Minister's reply to the points already made by Deputy De Rossa and Deputy Mitchell in respect of the dates for implementation as included in the Bill, I ask him to take on board the amendments tabled by The Workers' Party to section 2 and even at this stage return to the position that had existed, as he correctly pointed out, as recently as 1982. That is, that increases in the budget for the recipients of social welfare would operate from the date of, or as close as possible to, the budget. For the purposes of this discussion we all agree that this should be in the month of April.

I think it is accepted that the increases being afforded to the recipients under the Bill, to those on social welfare and close to the poverty line, are a meagre and paltry sum in any event. The cost, we have been advised by the Minister, is all of £20 million. Surely it is a very meagre sum if one considers the overall annual budget involved in the running of the affairs of this State and indeed of the affairs of the Minister's Department alone. We have a duty to these people, in particular, if we are to take up the guidelines on moral perception afforded to us by the very good reports prepared by the Conference of Major Religious Superiors and, indeed, the Catholic Social Service Council. In their submissions these people asked the Government to take a humane attitude towards people on the poverty line and close to it and to see to it, as their documents cry out, that at the end of the day there will be nobody in need in the country. It has to go out clearly from this House that this budget totally fails the poor, the underprivileged and recipients of social welfare.

I would like to remind the Minister that, in the election campaign, on public platforms in his constituency and, indeed, on a platform from which he addressed the Darndale Unemployment Action Group on 9 February, he undertook, along with his colleagues, to ensure that if they were returned to Government any increases for social welfare recipients in the budget would be paid early in July. He has failed in that commitment and, as a colleague constituent of his, it is important that I should remind him that such commitments are taken in good faith by the public in election campaigns and are expected by them to be honoured by those who are successful in attaining the high office of Cabinet Ministers subsequent to the election.

It must be brought home to this House and the Government that their first duty must always be to those in greatest need. The offer of a 3 per cent increase on little or nothing, in any event, is a very paltry gesture. Time and again it has been said that increases have been achieved — I know our current Minister previously held office as Minister for Social Welfare — but the point must be very firmly made that a percentage increase on very little is equally very little, if anything at all. To talk about increases of 3 per cent in the present inflation climate is to pour scorn on the misfortunes of those who must look to the State for an income by way of social welfare payments.

The amendments being sought by the Workers' Party to section 2 are honourable and reasonable proposals. If nothing more, they reflect commitments made by the Government during their election campaign when they took the opportunity to address the unemployed in the cities and in the country, as I have indicated. I urge the Minister to consider taking on board those amendments and bringing forward payment of the increases for what would be a very small charge on the overall budget of the Government, which can easily be made up in some other quarter.

Time and again in the course of the general election the Leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, in inumerable speeches, and his spokespersons said they would pay the social welfare increases from July. I had expected that they would have been paid the second week in July because that precedent had been established in recent years as the effective date of payment. We find now that not just is it to be mid-July, as is stated in the explanatory memorandum, but in effect the operative date for some payments will be 23 July next. I well remember the arguments advanced in this respect because I had to face a situation in which, in one year, we implemented an increase from the first week of July which, due to enormous budgetary pressures, was eventually paid from the second week of July. We managed to adhere to that date over a period of four years and did not yield to pressures within Government, particularly on the part of the Minister for Finance to, as it were, spin it out to the end of July.

There is approximately £1 million involved. It should be borne in mind that a 3 per cent increase, or a miserly £1 a week, is the lowest ever granted in the history of the State. It represents an increase of £1 to those on unemployment assistance and 30p to their dependent children. To have a number of payments deferred until the end of July is particularly unacceptable when a party campaigned with such vigour to effect those payments from July, the assumption being that what was meant was the second week in July. In that respect the Minister stands condemned. As the budgetary provisions begin to unravel that is something which will cause a good deal of dismay in this House.

The Labour Party in Government, as the House will well recall, indicated that the minimum increase we felt should be paid in 1987 was 4 per cent, bearing in mind that inflation this year will run between 3.6 per cent and 3.7 per cent. We must also take into account the effects of hospital charges and out-patient department charges on the consumer price index. They are not reflected in the index because it is not that sensitive to picking up the various increases. I have no doubt that the rate of inflation at year end will exceed 3 per cent, certainly will rise to approximately 3.4 per cent or 3.5 per cent bearing in mind the 4.7 per cent rate in the United Kingdom and the impact on import prices here. To that extent the 3 per cent estimated is exceptionally low.

I am concerned that there has been no differential at all in favour of the long-term unemployed. Where a 3 per cent increase was involved it should have been possible at least to have given 3.5 per cent or 4 per cent to the long-term unemployed because they are the people with the lowest basic rates of income. If the Minister had not much by way of resources to spend at least he could have given a 4 per cent increase to the 100,000 people on long term unemployment——

I might remind the Deputy that we are concerned here with operative dates. The Deputy knows we cannot move into what would be more appropriately a Second Stage contribution.

With profound respect, Sir, section 2 provides for percentage increases, the issue to which I am addressing myself.

Section 2 provides the dates on which these increases will become operative.

Yes, perhaps the House would look at the explanatory memorandum——

——where it is said that:

Section 2 provides for increases of 3 per cent in the weekly personal, adult and child dependant rates...

Yes, and we are not now in a position to have that altered. I am only seeking the guidance of the House. There are sections 2 to 13, inclusive, to be dealt with. If Members feel they are anxious to spend all their time discussing this section, that is all right, but the Chair feels that section 2 refers to dates on which specified increases become operative. We have no amendment before us asking that those be altered. It would seem to me to be rather a futile exercise to be discussing it.

I shall not delay the House because, from what I can judge going back over the Official Report, for the first time in the history of this House a Social Welfare Bill is going through in one day in its entirely, in a manner which will take months to unravel.

I shall conclude by voicing my criticism of the operative dates, 16 July for unemployment benefit, 20 July for disability benefit, maternity allowance, injury benefit, disablement gratuity and pension and 23 July for deserted wife's benefit, invalidity and retirement pensions. This means, I would stress, that pensioners will have to wait until 23 July as compared with the usual date which was around 12 or 13 July. Of course these increases are not applicable at all to child benefit because there is none given to that category this year. Indeed many people have not yet discovered that the child benefit of £15 for the first five children and £21 for the sixth child and for subsequent children carries no operative date; it is not being increased at all this year. The fact that child benefit is being frozen this year is cloaked in the budget. The Bill was circulated only yesterday. Slowly but surely we are beginning to see that the people, far from benefiting from the alleged bringing forward of increases by Fianna Fáil, will receive a great deal less than was assured.

The Deputy——

Did you or did you not make that promise?

I will not forget it, and the Deputy may remind me if I do. To go back to Deputy Desmond, I am surprised that he talks about the small rise of 3 per cent for children, since last year the children of the unemployed and of the widows got no increase. Last year the increase applied only to adults and their adult dependants. This applies to children right across the board. The Deputy can go on and on about the date but in the financial situation this year the date provided for in the budget of the former Government was November, and we are bringing it back to July.

As far as the February Darndale meeting is concerned, to which Deputy Mitchell specifically wants me to reply——

Deputy McCartan as well.

——of course I did not give any specific undertakings but I give a general undertaking to the effect that I would like to see the date which we had in the past re-established. I would not have been in a position at that time to deal with specifics.

Deputy Desmond talked about the general election promise. Fianna Fáil were very specific about promising to bring these increases back to July and we have achieved that now. The Deputy says it should be a 4 per cent rather than 3 per cent, but I would remind him that it applies to children as well as to adults. The provision of the previous Government was in effect a 2 per cent increase because it was not operative until November. One must look at that against the consumer price index which shows a rise of 3 per cent to the middle of 1986. From 1986 to 1987 the rise is expected to be 3 per cent and it is also expected to be approximately 3 per cent between mid-1987 and 1988. We are keeping in line with inflation with this 3 per cent.

I agree that there are categories within social welfare groups who need a more dramatic increase. It will be an objective in the future to remedy the difficulties. Deputies might ask: why not remedy them now? Our first objective was to bring the date back to July and we have done that. We did not have the time or the opportunity to do more in this budget.

It is hard to be patient with the Minister because he insists on trying to give an impression which is totally misleading. Not only did he apparently mislead people in Darndale on 9 February, but he went on television on "Evening Extra" and talked about 7 per cent increases to try to give the impression of largesse from the Fianna Fáil party.

The Minister for Agriculture said that.

Deputy Woods said 7 per cent. Did you or did you not say 7 per cent?

I did not say 7 per cent.

You are denying that you said 7 per cent?

I had nothing to do with it.

It was the Minister for Agriculture who said that.

Did you, or one of your colleagues say 7 per cent?

I advise Deputies that they should avoid as far as possible addressing each other across the Chamber. I have been here now since 1969, and I regard it as a very useless exercise to seek general confessions on statements made or alleged to have been made prior to general elections. I do not see how we can relate them with any great significance to the discussion on section 2. If the Minister has indicated that he did not state on television that there would be a 7 per cent increase, Deputy Mitchell will have to accept that.

I accept that and I apologise for not addressing the Chair. I accept that Deputy Woods gave an impression in Darndale in February that there would be increases from April——

Is that hearsay?

Deputy McCartan said so and you have not denied it. A member of the Fianna Fáil shadow cabinet tried to give an impression that there would be a 7 per cent increase in social welfare. After they got over the 7 per cent hiccup, the Fianna Fáil Party committed themselves to giving the increases from the beginning of July but now they are to be given from the end of July in some cases. In some cases recipients are getting their increase ten or 12 weeks prior to when they would have got them from the outgoing Government, but the people who were to benefit from dental and optical treatment as spouses will not get their benefits until October, postponed from July, nor will the poorest categories, those on unemployment assistance, living alone and over the age of 45, get an increase because it has been completely cancelled. Yet, the Minister tries to give the impression that he is concerned. He is knocking the provision that had already been made.

He has given a figure of 2 per cent as being the increase which would have been provided by the outgoing Government. A 3 per cent increase was provided for, plus an additional increase for those on unemployment assistance. The knock on effects of those provisions in 1988 will be precisely the same as the provision now being made by the Minister. The Minister tried to use a 2 per cent and a 3 per cent figure and he is deliberately giving a misleading impression to which I take exception. During the election campaign the Minister and the Government gave an impression which amounted to a commitment which is not being lived up to. Now they are trying to give the impression that the increase which would have been provided by the outgoing Government would only have been 2 per cent. That is not true. They would have provided the same amount of money in 1988 as what is now being provided, except that the additional payment to those on long term unemployment is not being provided. That will cost extra next year. More would have been spent on social welfare had we remained in office next year than is being provided here. At least we were honest about it.

Of the representatives of the three right wing parties who are sitting in this House at the moment the only one for whom I can feel some slight sneaking regard or respect is Deputy Wyse because, while the policy of the three right wing parties is more or less the same on this issue, he at least has the temerity and respect to remain in his seat on this issue and say nothing. It ill behoves Deputy Mitchell, representing a party who would provide no more than a minuscule increase in social welfare for the worse off in our society, postponed until November, to talk in vagaries and to bandy words back and forth across the Chamber. It is totally unacceptable. If one were to bring into the public gallery representatives of the various categories of social welfare recipients indicated in the section and have them listen to what is being bandied about by Deputy Woods and Deputy Mitchell, it would be fortunate that a glass partition cordons off the public gallery section. The very least that should be provided for social welfare recipients is an advance on the cost of living index.

There have been many criticisms of steps which were or were not taken by the Coalition Government but one thing which must be said in their favour is that they more than maintained increases in social welfare above the cost of living index. The Leader of Fianna Fáil and his Ministers — the Minister for Agriculture, the Minister for Social Welfare and others — have made generalised statements about an increase of 7 per cent and about protecting the less well off sections of the community no doubt in the hope that if they keep repeating these statements often enough, perhaps the public will come to believe them. They repeat these statements so often that I wonder if in some strange way they come to believe them themselves. The facts are otherwise; they are not in any way protecting the less well off sections of the community and this section, as is indicated by the amendment highlights their failure to do so. They are protecting farming interests, wealth interests and capital gains beneficiaries who are paying no reasonable tax. Those are the interests they are advocating.

Deferring this miserable provision until July is outrageous. The cost of living index by the end of the year will be well above that level because it is on the increase now. Even if The Workers' Party amendment is adopted, and I hope it will, social welfare recipients will still be less well off. They are in dire and deep difficulties now. There have been many impassioned debates during Private Members' Time in the last 12 months. There have been many inflamed speeches from, for example, the Member who is now Minister for the Environment, talking about hunger stalking the land. By not accepting this amendment the Minister for Social Welfare is not doing anything to alleviate, as his colleagues said, the hunger that is stalking the and.

Another date of commencement announced by the Minister was not, I regret, included in section 2, namely, the introduction of the socalled — and I deliberately use the phrase "so-called" extension of treatment benefits from next October. The Minister for Social Welfare——

What section is the Deputy referring to?

I am referring to the statement made by the Minister that he was pleased to announce——

Deputy Desmond is conversant enough with procedures in the House to know that on Committee Stage we are confined to discussing matters provided for in the section.

The Minister in his speech said: "I am pleased to announce another measure which will be introduced by regulations from next October". He gives a commencement date and that is germane——

That is not provided for in this section. Therefore, the Deputy knows quite well that it is not in order to discuss it and that I cannot have discussion on it.

I wish to refer to the commencement dates in July and to an additional measure which will commence in October. I submit——

You are not entitled to refer to any matter not provided for in the section.

By the same token I am referring to the current scheme of treatment benefits and I am entirely in order in so doing.

I am not too sure that you are.

I am entirely in order in so doing.

I and not the Deputy decide, what is in order.

I am not so sure.

I decide what is in order. I will allow the Deputy to make a brief statement on it and the matter he is referring to. I would ask him to allow the House then to proceed in an orderly fashion with what is ordered.

I am not in any way disorderly. This Bill has to be run through the House in a historic period of one day, the first time this has happened in the history of the State and, with due respect to you, the courtesy and latitude extended to Members in those circumstances is being sharply attenuated. I wish to refer to the operation of the present scheme on current dates in relation to treatment benefits. The Minister proposes an extension of the current scheme and will announce that in due course. I suggest that what he is proposing is not feasible. He knows that, as a former Minister for Health and Social Welfare, he found himself in the gravest conflict with the Irish Dental Association, both with dentists in public practice——

I am sorry Deputy, you are out of order and I ask you to resume your seat.

We have 25 minutes left.

I am asking the Deputy to resume his seat. He is persisting in being out of order but I will not allow it.

I accept your ruling under great protest. I consider you to be most unfair in that regard.

I am acting strictly in accordance with order which must be maintained. Thank you for resuming your seat.

With respect, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, you are being grossly unfair to Deputies.

I do not think what is being said today is going to change the operative date. The date has been fixed. I would like to get a ruling on that procedure. Can the date be changed in regard to any of the sections?

You voted in favour of the date so why are you worried about changing it?

I am not worried.

You voted in favour of the date.

I heard you yesterday, Deputy Desmond. You should not try to misinterpret us.

The PDs try to have it both ways.

Long before your party were advocating payment——

The Deputy walked into the lobby ten minutes ago with Fianna Fáil in favour of the date.

He voted in favour of Second Stage.

I ask members of the Labour Party to allow Deputy Wyse to proceed without interruption.

Deputy Desmond has developed a tremendous habit in recent days of interrupting and misinterpreting what people are saying. It is not my form to interrupt Deputies. I did not interrupt Deputy Desmond. Long before now the Progressive Democrats advocated the payment of social welfare increases in July. I want to make that very clear. We put it in black and white in our policy. We are all in sympathy with what is being proposed by The Workers' Party but at this stage that cannot be changed. Am I not right, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle?

On a point of order, could it be changed with the Minister's agreement? I think that should be clarified.

What we are discussing is confirming that which has already been provided for in the budget.

I appreciate that but I want to clarify whether, if the Minister was prepared to accept as his amendments amendments we put forward, the Bill could be changed.

If the Minister has power to change what is in the budget, perhaps he would so indicate but I am not aware that he has that power.

On a point of order, is it not a fact that we are dealing with a legislative measure before Dáil Éireann, that there is a section to be voted on and that there is an amendment put down properly and in accordance with Standing Orders?

There is no amendment before the House. There is a section before the House to be adopted and it is open to Dáil Éireann to reject it.

The section arises from the budgetary provisions in respect of social welfare increases from specific dates. This legislation will formalise that.

You might as well put the question because this is only a delaying tactic.

Deputy Taylor is free to reject this measure. Deputy Mitchell spoke about November and to some extent Deputy Taylor said what was in my mind. I am surprised at Deputy Mitchell getting so worked up because we did not bring in this increase sooner.

What about the promises Fianna Fáil made?

His Government spoke of November——

What about Fianna Fáil's political promises?

——the latest date ever for social welfare increases. One would have to go back to the beginning of the State to find such increases being introduced in October or even November. I expected Deputy Mitchell would recognise, or even be relieved, that we were bringing in the increases in July and would have accepted that in good faith. He also questioned my reference to a 2 per cent increase. I was talking about a 2 per cent increase over the remainder of this year and I accept that the increase will work out at 3 per cent next year. The actual amount paid this year will work out at 2 per cent if paid from November——

The Minister is not counting the special increases for those who are living alone. It would be 3 per cent this year and 4 per cent next year.

It is nothing like that. The special increase for those over 45 years of age, a measure the previous Government intended to bring in, was the result of a promise made to Deputy Bermingham. That measure was introduced under pressure.

Deputy Bermingham has left the House.

That would create a serious anomaly.

It would be against the general recommendations of the Commission on Social Welfare because there are many groups who require special treatment. The influence of that measure on the total, in cash terms, would be very minor.

Would the Minister not accept that, if the proposals made by the Government of which I was a member were carried through, more money would be spent on Social Welfare in 1988 than he is proposing because, like him, we would be bringing in a 3 per cent increase plus the special increases for those who are the most needy in our society, people on long term unemployment assistance, living alone and aged over 45 years. He is robbing them of that increase.

If the Deputy is talking about the cost, obviously the 3 per cent is a straightforward increase and if we had included the special increase for those who are over 45 years of age and living alone it would have had a marginal effect.

The people on social welfare would have been better off.

In the previous Government's proposals PRSI contributors would have their benefits cut from 15 months to 12 months. That would have a major impact on PRSI contributors. That is part of the costing for next year. Also the disability benefit was being altered so that it would not apply to the first six days. That too was a major saving for the former Government. Either of those measures would have considerably reduced the total amount spent in that area. Therefore, what the Deputy had to say about the total amount is not true.

I asked a number of questions about payments on Second Stage. Because of the restricted nature of this debate — there are only 15 minutes left to cover a wide range of items — I wish to raise the anomaly of the family on social welfare with a child of 18 years of age going to second level school and deprived of the dependant's allowance. This will probably mean that the child will have to be taken out of school because the family cannot afford this loss of £11 a week — taking together the children's allowance and the dependant's allowance. There appears to be no help available from the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. A number of people have been in touch with me about this and they say they have been refused assistance by the clinics. I ask the Minister to look at this.

I ask the Minister to reconsider our amendments which have been ruled out of order under the Rules of the House because they may make a charge on the revenue of the State. Our proposal was to bring the payment of increases back from July to April. The Report of the Commission on Social Welfare made the point very clearly that there are thousands of families with insufficient income, who lack sufficient food, who cannot buy sufficient fuel, who cannot clothe their children, who cannot buy school books or pay bus fares, who are facing rent arrears, electricity bills, mortgage arrears and are simply unable to live on their inadequate social welfare incomes. If the Minister were to bring the payment date from July to April as proposed in our amendment, he would be demonstrating at least a willingness to help these people. Admittedly this will not go very far in helping them but it would be some assistance. I urge him to reconsider his attitude and to accept our amendment.

This section must be seen in a particular context. On the one hand the commencement date for the increases is tabulated in section 2, on the other, the date for the substantial increases in the PRSI ceiling is 5 April. This is the first time I can recall a change of such magnitude the halving of pay-related benefit, being introduced in a Social Welfare Bill, I cannot recall such a draconian measure coming before the House. Superficially there is an increase in unemployment benefit from 16 July, but it is important to bear in mind that as and from next Monday, 6 April, a man with a wife and two children, earning £10,000, will suffer a reduction on the combination of flat rate and pay-related benefit of about £17.50 a week. A married man with two children on £15,000 a year — we are all only one letter away from our employer in terms of redundancy — will suffer a reduction of around £20 a week. That is the reality the PDs voted for a couple of hours ago. Fine Gael abstained for what reason I cannot fathom. They should at least have supported it because they believe in this reduction.

That decision will hang like a social welfare albatross around the necks of some of the newer Deputies in this House for the rest of their Oireachtas careers. Deputy Colley, Deputy Kennedy and Deputy Harney, an old and experienced Deputy — old in terms of experience——

They will be here again.

——and the rest of the PD Deputies went into the lobby and voted for this measure. The Commencement date applies to changes in relation to maternity allowance. As and from 20 July in order to qualify for maternity allowance a woman must have at least nine months stamps, increased from six months stamps.

An appropriate period.

A rather interesting corollary in terms of pregnancy. Not only must she have nine months stamps in that regard which is unique to that insured person, but if she wants to claim disability benefit subsequently on a fresh claim she must also have nine months stamps. If she receives an injury in her employment as an insured person she must have nine months stamps instead of six months which is an increase of 50 per cent. These are women currently in employment paying PRSI. They will lose their PRB payments and if they have another child they will have to have the full nine months requirement in terms of insurance eligibility.

There are very few women in this House. To an extent — and I would not attribute it exclusively to the women in the PD Party — they purport on occasions to represent the interests of women. It will be hung around their necks by the Labour Party in those constituencies.

The Deputy said that before.

He should get his facts right first. He is on a different section.

It will be hung around the necks of the Fianna Fáil Party.

Deputy Desmond said that long before the general election.

There is a view as epitomised in the statement of 20 January in which it was stated——

You are at sea, Deputy.

——that the combination of unemployment benefit and pay related benefit was a disincentive to people taking up work. That is a firm belief in the PD Party and to quite an extent in the Fine Gael Party. At least, I think Fianna Fáil are honest. They just have not got the money.

Deputy Desmond was complaining earlier about the limitations on time. He is now indulging in verbosity and eloquence which are not relevant to this section. Will he bear in mind the time limitations on us? I indicated to Deputy McCartan that I will call him and I ask Deputy Desmond to bear that in mind.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, if you were losing £20 a week on pay-related benefit you would not regard it as verbosity, with due respect. If as an insured worker you had to wait nine months instead of six months to qualify for basic entitlements——

Excuse me, Deputy, personal consideration of yours or mine do not give me latitude to allow you to continue to be out of order and I am now calling Deputy McCartan.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I am entitled to conclude and I will conclude my observations by saying that there are a number of Deputies and a number of political parties in this House who believe that by cutting social welfare we will make those on low incomes all the more keen to go back to work and by raising the privileges of those who have plenty of money we will make them all the more keen to create jobs. That is now the philosophy which permeates this country. That is basically the philosophy behind a lot of what emanated on this Bill. In some ways, it is a revenue question but in many ways it is a philosophical view about how we should deal with unemployment. Therefore, with my colleague and spokesperson, Deputy Bell, I want to join with the Labour Party in their rejection of this Bill. Our rejection is unambiguous. At least, we have that much to our credit.

Our rejection will be recorded in a vote against this Bill.

It would appear that I am the last speaker to plead once again with the Minister to consider, on behalf of hundreds of thousands of people, doing no more than honouring what he promised his own constituents during the last general election campaign. We have been told that its cost in real terms to the Exchequer in the current year will be something in the order of £20 million. The message that will come back to him very clearly on his next visit to the unemployed of Darndale and of Dublin north east is that he failed to ensure some modicum of an increase of an immediate nature in the incomes of the unemployed and those on social welfare while a Government of previous days were able to spend a similar sum on the refurbishing of a building within the city.

He will be reminded that the increases in real terms across the board represent something less than the return bus fare from Darndale to the city centre to collect the meagre benefits they have been afforded. He will get no thanks for telling them that he achieved a cost increase in line with the rate of inflation. What does it represent? In terms of unemployment assistance it represents a meagre increase of £1.05, one guinea. In real terms it represents less than half of the return bus fare to the city centre to collect it.

I am sorry for the Minister, frankly. He must have had a tough time at the Cabinet table when this budget was being cobbled together. I am sorry he has failed the unemployed so dismally in the meagre increases being offered to them. I am equally sorry about the reception he will get when he next visits Darndale. Let me say a final word of sadness on his behalf. It is regrettable that he has joined the ranks of the honourable President of a country to our west who seems incapable of remembering words spoken and agreements made in times past.

Having said that and to take up the theme of Deputy Taylor to the other parties arguing about this Bill, I do not think it matters whether it is Fine Gael who come into this House shouting and roaring from their benches at every twist and turn of this Bill and previous Bills related to the budget but who cannot be found when it comes to voting on the matter, or whether it is the PDs, or Deputy Wyse who sits quietly and timidly although he was prompted into a response by Deputy Taylor's remarks to tell us that they support the provision. How these parties on the right twist and turn does not matter to the unemployed because when they look at this increase at the end of the week in real terms they will see they are no better off than they were before this Government came into the House with these meagre and paltry sums. If nothing more can be done for them, my last words are to plead with the Minister at least to bring forward the date of the increases. We have to remember that there were Governments between 1982 and 1987 who failed to honour the cause they now plead today, to bring forward to April the increases as promised to these people in their budget.

The Deputy should be aware that social welfare payments were increased above the rate of inflation in the last four years, as Deputy Mervyn Taylor said.

Deputy McCartan will appreciate that I am not in a position to get the Minister's reaction to his vote of sympathy. It may be possible on another occasion. In accordance with the order of the House today I must put the following question: "That the Bill is hereby agreed to in Committee and is Reported to the House; that the Fourth Stage is hereby completed and that the Bill is hereby passed".

The Committee divided: Tá, 90; Níl, 16.

  • Abbott, Henry.
  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Brennan, Matthew.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, John.
  • Burke, Ray.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Calleary, Seán.
  • Colley, Anne.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Conaghan, Hugh.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary T.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermott.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Kennedy, Michael.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • Power, Paddy.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Gibbons, Martin Patrick.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Charles J.
  • Hilliard, Colm Michael.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keating, Michael.
  • Kennedy, Geraldine.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lynch, Michael.
  • Lyons, Denis.
  • McCarthy, Seán.
  • McCoy, John S.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDowell, Michael Alexander.
  • MacSharry, Ray.
  • Mooney Mary.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Noonan, Michael J.
  • (Limerick West).
  • O'Dea, William Gerard.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • Stafford, John.
  • Swift, Brian.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Walsh, Seán.
  • Wilson, John P.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.
  • Wyse, Pearse.

Níl

  • Bell, Michael.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Desmond, Barry.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • McCartan, Pat.
  • Mac Giolla, Tomás.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies V. Brady and Browne; Níl, Deputies Taylor and Howlin.
Question declared carried.