Social Welfare Bill, 1990: Second Stage (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Woods, on Wednesday, 21 March 1990:
That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill because:—
(a) it fails to fundamentally reform the social welfare system,
(b) it leaves the bulk of the low-paid in the PRSI net,
(c) it retains substantial anomalies and multiple means-testing based on gross rather than net incomes,
(d) it makes only a token gesture towards anti-poverty measures, and
(e) it totally fails to develop adequate educational opportunities and voluntary work options for the quarter of a million unemployed and their dependants.
—(Deputy Flaherty.)

Before we adjourned I was dealing with the importance of the carer's allowance but had grave doubts in relation to its effectiveness because of the limitation of £45 income related benefit and the means test. I would strongly urge the Minister, having regard to the tremendous contribution this basis of care for the incapacitated and the aged would bring about, to have a further look at that angle of it; otherwise it will achieve very little. I would like the Minister to clarify whether incapacitated and aged people in receipt of a disabled person's maintenance allowance from the health board are included for the purpose of the carer's allowance.

I should like to have some anomalies put right. I refer to the electricity and free television allowance allocated to an old aged pensioner and his spouse. When the old aged pensioner dies the spouse, if under the age of 66, loses the benefit of free electricity, free television and in some cases free telephone rental. Because of the death of the pensioner and the loss of the various benefits, the household income is reduced almost by 50 per cent. Because of that reduction the remaining spouse is exposed to the recurring cost of electricity, television and in some cases telephone rental. This is a matter which I think the Minister would have great sympathy for and I am sure once it is drawn to his attention he will consider ways and means of extending or continuing a benefit that had been available to a household while both parties were alive and when the income was double. In this Bill the Minister has gone some distance in that direction. He has provided that where a person in receipt of invalidity benefit changes over at the age of 65 to a retirement pension, a category which is not covered for free electricity, television etc. and where they enjoyed those benefits, they will be continued. That is welcome because I am sure it was a deterrent to a number of people in receipt of invalidity benefit to transfer to retirement until they reached the pension age of 66.

The fact that young people of 17, 18 and 19 years of age who apply for unemployment assistance are obliged to give their family income is outdated. Where society has failed to provide employment opportunities for those young people, the State should not rely on the income of the parents as a subsistence allowance. I strongly urge the Minister to remove that provision. If records and statistics were available it could be seen that a high number of those who were refused unemployment assistance in such cases have a very readily taken to the emigrant ship. They do not want to have to keep asking their parents week after week for a subsistence allowance.

In some cases, an applicant for unemployment assistance may request an oral hearing. Such an oral hearing was readily forthcoming up to the recent past but deciding officers now seem to have taken it entirely upon themselves to determine whether an oral hearing should be acceded to. Even though this may not ultimately change the outcome of an applicant's appeal, an element of satisfaction can be gained by an applicant in presenting a case to a deciding officer which he does not get when a decision is taken by a deciding officer when he is not present.

There are a number of anomalies in the fuel scheme. Like every other public representative in rural Ireland I know pensioners who, when their means were investigated, were disallowed payment under the scheme on the basis that their relatives had the capacity to provide them with fuel. If an old age pensioner is living alone and is unable, for health and other reasons, to provide the fuel necessary, the State should be more Christian in its outlook and deem him to be qualified for the scheme rather than leave it to his relatives to provide the fuel.

The free travel scheme is much appreciated by social welfare recipients. People in urban areas avail of the service to a great extent but people in many parts of rural Ireland, in particular, the west, live in areas which are very far removed from public transport so that the free travel voucher is very seldom used by them. The cost to them of travelling to a point where public transport is available would probably nullify any advantages of the scheme. The Minister should consider giving the people involved, with their consent, some monetary allowance instead of the free travel voucher.

Under the family income supplement scheme, a child born during the year of operation of the existing application is not taken into account until the following year. Because of the very severe financial constraints on such families, all the children in the family should be included under the scheme from the date of birth.

I hope the Minister will consider the points I have made. I look forward to the introduction of amendments on Committee Stage.

I now call Deputy Martin O'Toole. I ask the Deputy to bear in mind that the Minister has to be called at 4.30 p.m. and it is hoped Deputy Garland, Deputy Sherlock and Deputy Monica Barnes could have five or six minutes each. I am giving that responsibility to Deputy O'Toole.

In what order will we be called?

If Deputy O'Toole decides to speak for half an hour he is entitled to do so but I am sure the Deputy will bear in mind the other Deputies who want to speak. When the Deputy has concluded his contribution we will look at the position in respect of the remaining Deputies.

May I ask why the debate goes back to the Government side when The Workers' Party have had only one speaker on the Bill?

The short answer is that the last speaker was an Opposition speaker.

I was here.

As the last speaker was an Opposition speaker it now goes back to the Government.

We are losing time.

I am calling Deputy O'Toole.

I compliment the Minister on the introduction of this major Bill and for the research and time he has to put into it. At one stage, we were not used to a major Bill of this type. I know the Minister has travelled the length and breadth of the country to employment exchanges trying to elicit from the administration side the problems they are experiencing. In addition to receiving that information the Minister also hears the views of Members of both this House and the Seanad. Some amendment to the Bill may be necessary on Committee Stage.

I will accede to the request made by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to limit my speech in order to give the other Deputies present a chance to speak. My contribution will be as brief as possible and I will confine my remarks to two important sections of the Bill.

The Minister has taken a major step in attempting to redress some of the imbalances which existed in the system. I want to refer to the smallholders who live mainly in the west and north-west and the islands off the west coast. Many of these farmers own fragmented holdings and they need to be at base for most of the year, in particular during the winter and summer months. As a result, these smallholders are not in a position to accept employment even though it is offered on a full-time basis. They have to look after their small farms, cows, calves and sheep and ensure they have a supply of turf and fodder for their stock for the winter.

A young married couple may try to increase their income by improving their land, increasing their stock numbers, carrying out some welding for a neighbouring farmer, engaging in salmon or lobster fishing for a few weeks — the financial returns from these two types of fishing are very dicey at present — helping a neighbour to build a house or helping in the harvesting of crops. Because of this work, which is of short duration, the person may not sign on because it is not worth while. In most of these cases the person in question may lose his or her dole, an injustice in my view, even though only a small remuneration may be forthcoming from that type of work. I would ask the Minister to look at this section of the unemployed who cannot take a permanent job but who are existing on a small holding for sentimental reasons, trying to hold on to the family farm, to the homestead they were born in to continue tradition. This is not covered in this Bill.

I would welcome a new appeals office if it will improve the system we have at the moment, but I would like to see a fair system in operation. The old system did not work fairly because most decisions favoured the Department of Social Welfare investigator. Centralising militates against the rest of the country. Any team playing away is at a disadvantage. If the Minister brings the appeals office to the city, people from the west will have to travel to Dublin to an oral hearing. Will there be some officers down the country? I see the Minister nodding so he should be able to answer this.

Oral hearings are good if they are impartial but they very seldom are when the judge is from the Department of Social Welfare. It is time this system of examination by a medical referee on a visual assessment in poor clinical conditions was done away with. The greatest professional man, with documentation from all the X-ray units in the country, would not change the decision of the previous referee on an appeal. I know of several cases where two or three appeals took place and the decision was always the same; they do not want to go against the decision of the first referee, regardless of the medical evidence produced. Also it is not easy to make an assessment in a local courthouse where there are no facilities to assess an applicant who appeals against the decision of the social welfare referee. I would welcome an improvement in this area.

When I was listening to the debate I heard long list of who would benefit from this Bill. I do not want to go into all that but I want to compliment the Minister. He is dedicated and has put a lot of work into this. Things may not always come out as he wishes, but he means well. He has put in the work and has visited rural Ireland to find out the facts for himself. He has listened to many complaints from Deputies and Senators and has a wide knowledge of what the position is. If this Bill does not work it will not be his fault. He has tried to bring in a Bill that will give a better standard of living to the underprivileged and better compensation for those in receipt of unemployment benefit. Many people will benefit considerably as a result of this Bill. There are anomalies in all Bills that come to this House and there will be in this one too, but I know the Minister has the energy and the dedication to take corrective measures against any imbalances in a short time.

I will be as brief as I can. I would like to speak in support of the Fine Gael amendment to the Social Welfare Bill, 1990. In their amendment they set down five reasons they feel the Bill should not be given a Second Reading. I do not propose to deal with each but will be generally supportive of all. I would, however, like to highlight the first reason, which is that the Bill fails to fundamentally reform the social welfare system. This is undoubtedly true and is something that we in the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, are in complete agreement with. In fact, we were the first political party in the country to say so in 1982.

The social welfare system is incapable of reformation; it has to be totally replaced by a basic income for all. This basic income would be paid to everyone as of right without a means test. It would be paid to females and males irrespective of the person's marital status. It would be paid without inquiry to people who are separated, divorced or co-habiting. In this connection I see nothing in the Bill which deals with the scandalous interference in people's private lives by prying social welfare officials looking under the bed, or in some cases in the bed, for signs of co-habitation. This is grotesque, to say the very least. This basic income would be paid to people whether they are unemployed, self-employed, employed, at third level education or retired. A proportionate amount would be paid for children by way of the child benefit scheme.

This policy of basic income has now been adopted, if belatedly, by The Workers' Party and Fine Gael. I appeal to the other political parties to take this concept on board. It is non-ideological and so patently logical, practical and equitable that I can see no good reason it cannot be accepted, in principle at least, by everyone in this House. The only reason I can see for the failure of people in this House to accept this concept is that politicians generally like to keep things complicated to ensure the dependency of the voters.

It is generally recognised that the vast bulk of time spent by TDs at clinics is dealing with social welfare matters. The introduction of a basic income scheme would render much of our work redundant and would leave us with more time to do what we are paid to do. The amount of time spent by Deputies on these matters is a scandal of major proportions. As a result of personal representations made by Deputies, vast sums of taxpayers' money is expended answering Dáil Questions to the Department of Social Welfare.

Some may recall an article inThe Sunday Tribune two or three years ago when Deputy Briscoe was asked how much of his time as a TD had been given to legislative matters in the House. In a rare moment of candour he replied to the effect that his electors would not wish him to waste his time dealing with such matters. Deputy Willie O'Dea stated recently that he spent nearly 90 per cent of his time dealing with such constituency matters. There has to be something seriously wrong when people elected to legislate use their time in this way.

I would ask each Deputy to examine his conscience in this regard. I am sure very many would have an attitude not dissimilar to that of Deputy Briscoe and Deputy O'Dea. I would like to ask both Deputies if they feel their time as Deputies is wasted in dealing with the business of the House. It so, perhaps they would indicate who they think should deal with such mundane matters as legislation.

We would have to work seven days per week to get it done.

There are many reasons why a basic income scheme is superior to social welfare. I will mention a couple of them. The first is the total elimination of the proverty trap. As is well known, this is a very serious problem for many couples with an above average sized family. The social welfare increases proposed in this Bill are very welcome in that they do provide higher cash income for those at the bottom of the pile. Unfortunately, higher social welfare payments tend to inhibit employment by making it financially unattractive for people to take low paid or part-time work or perhaps to start a small business. With a basic income scheme the poverty trap simply vanishes, but with higher social welfare payments the more the poverty trap comes into operation.

Incidentally, lest anyone should feel that my reference to low pay implies the desirability of having a low wage economy, I should like to put this statement in context. A basic income scheme would enable a large increase in the number of people employed, particularly in such labour-intensive areas as local authority schemes and in recycling. This would make these jobs viable because those employed would receive a basic income in addition to their wage.

Another great advantage of basic income is the freedom it gives to married women in that all women would as of right have a basic income equal to and totally separate from that of their husbands.

I do not propose at this stage to deal in detail with the Bill because the whole concept is basically flawed. However, there are several good sections in this Bill such as those dealing with the increase in the carer's and lone parent's allowances. Basically it is like adding good bricks into an already crumbling wall, just putting off the evil day of total restructuring.

In making my contribution to the debate I am taking into consideration a series of submissions by the poverty lobby. It goes without saying that we in the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, are very concerned about poverty in Ireland. There is a very great deal of it. I will leave it to the statisticians to work out what percentage of people are poor but it must be apparent to everyone in this House that a substantial number of families and individuals are living in poverty. It must almost be recognised that most poverty is due to unemployment.

The reaction of the poverty lobby is to look at those who are poor and say "These people are unemployed and they are poor, so let's pay them higher social welfare". I suppose that is fair enough. These organisations are non-ideological, by and large, and much of their thinking is of necessity short term. I would, however, put it to the House that in our anxiety to please these organisations and in our anxiety to eliminate poverty we fail to think the problem through. Bishop Helder Camara has been quoted as saying, "When I fed the poor I was called a saint; when I asked why they were poor I was called a Communist."

I think the speaker is going on a bit longer than time allows.

I am nearly finished. I am trying to read quickly. I am the only speaker for our party. The Green Party-Comhaontas Glas asks why. The simple answer is that the resources and health of this country are to a great extent concentrated in the hand of large national and multinational concerns and this trend is getting worse. All Governments since the foundation of the State have worked basically for the benefit of those who already have wealth. While the trade union movement has achieved many worthwhile advances for the working class, they have not been able and never will be able to solve the unemployment problem.

There is, of course, a much simpler answer to the unemployment problem than having 82 per cent of the working population working a 40-hour week and paying high taxes to support the other 18 per cent for whom no jobs are available, that is, a reduction in working hours, job sharing and early retirement, together with career breaks and so forth. This in the short term must be the way forward, together with the payment of a basic income to eradicate involuntary unemployment and emigration.

I want to confine myself to some very serious omissions from this legislation. It may be regarded by the Minister as a very long piece of legislation with a great number of sections, but there are certainly very serious omissions.

In regard to the carer's allowance, I welcome the increase in the amount being paid. At the end of the day the effect will be very limited because it will be means tested. There is no reference to those providing care for the mentally handicapped. Does the reference to carers who are not relatives mean that some helps, who at present are paid 75p per hour, will be brought into the scheme?

The most neglected group depending on social welfare are widows, whether in receipt of contributory or non-contributory pensions. The increases for them are from £52.50 to £56 and from £49 to £53. No provision is made for widows on fixed income to get electricity and telephone allowances and so on.

The supplementary welfare allowance code, which came in under the 1975 Act and was brought into effect in 1977, needs to be changed. I would also refer to the archaic and outdated system by which benefit and privilege — in other words, board and lodgings — are assessed against young people seeking unemployment assistance. The assessment of board and lodgings often reduced the amount payable to such a derisory sum it is hardly worth collecting. The family are poorer as a result.

Mortgage allowances under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme need to be addressed by the Minister. Under the supplementary welfare code a person may be granted a mortgage subsidy. A husband, wife and three children may receive £98.90 in long term unemployment assistance or £105.80 in unemployment benefit. One is subtracted from the other. A figure of £3.10 or £3.20 is added and if they are paying £20 they get £10 relief on the mortgage interest, not on the principal. A person in receipt of unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit could be paying £15 or £20 rent to a local authority. There is no provision for a family to get relief. This needs to be addressed.

I was hoping the Minister would have had sufficient representations regarding the free telephone rental scheme to broaden its scope to include couples where a spouse may be incapacitated, perhaps not to the extent of needing a wheelchair but to such an extent that he or she would not be able to go for help if one or the other should require it. There are many such instances in rural areas.

Since 1970 every insured person's PRSI contribution contains an element for the death grant. That grant amounts to only £100, despite the fact that burial costs amount to about £1,000. There is an urgent need for an increase. A person who does not qualify for the death grant will be relying on the health board for a grant and basically the same criteria apply. I would ask that the matter be rectified.

We have a plethora of what I have many times described as Mickey Mouse schemes. Instead of a job creation programme we have such schemes that are short term. Long term schemes are needed. Submissions have been made to the Minister's office by the council of which I am a member showing that for a little effort schemes could be introduced to provide long term employment in public works. Many such works can be provided to give a satisfactory week's wages to a breadwinner or a single person as the case may be, but no effort has been made to do that. Instead, we have a plethora of Mickey Mouse schemes. They mean nothing and will never mean anything.

That is my contribution. I am well within my time.

I thank Deputy Sherlcok for staying within his time and filling his speech full of points with which. I agree. I want to say a personal word of thanks to Deputy O'Toole for his initial generosity in allowing all of us to come in. I will take one of my precious minutes to say what I think is very important. I think this is Deputy O'Toole's maiden speech in the Chamber. That is a very special time and it is all the more generous of him to split his time so generously with the rest of us. May he be here for many more speeches.

I do not want to impinge on the Minister's time because he has a great deal to respond to. I want to focus on a few points, some of them like an anthem, coming round again.

Deputy Garland introduced the basic income concept as if the Green Party had suddenly discovered it. If he were here I would remind him that from the day I entered this Chamber I have taken every possible opportunity I got to hammer out that concept. However, I agree with the Deputy. The Minister might be able to tell us he is working towards that basic concept. I know the anomalies and difficulties, but a great number of the discriminations and difficulties that still exist can be removed. The Minister and his officials will acknowledge that. Let me acknowledge their work. Every time I stand up here I have to acknowledge the amount of work and reform undertaken by the Minister and his staff. They will agree that much of the discrimination and many of the difficulties they are still coping with would be removed if we could move to the concept of building on a basic income and crediting and debiting from that. That would take away first the stigma of receiving State payments while other people are seen as more gainfully employed. Secondly, it would give people a sense of independence in their own right and remove what is probably the most eroding and corroding effect of social welfare, that of dependency, taking away people's financial and psychological independence. The sooner we can do that the sooner will its effects be evident.

I know the difficulty the Minister is in when he has to impose certain infringements on payments. One of the conditions applying to the single parent's payment is that the recipient is not cohabiting, that is, living with another man or woman as husband or wife. It denies people the formation of loving relationships regardless of the fact the person is not cohabiting with a spouse who cannot support him or her financially. The threat of their payments being withdrawn very often inhibits such people from forming a loving relationship which they did not get in their former partnership when the spouse could not support them. We are talking mainly about women here. The sooner we get away from the idea of one spouse having to be supported by another the better. The idea that a man moving into the house is automatically responsible for supporting the woman and can do so is wrong. It denies women who have come through trauma and the men who would like to share their lives that opportunity that the rest of us have the privilege of choice of having. I know people feel enraged if they think there is fraud of the system, but we must write that provision out of the legislation.

In regard to the carer's allowance, I will not repeat what other Deputies have said here, but I ask the Minister to reflect strongly on it and to realise the cost effectiveness of this to the State in the building up of community care. The Minister is endeavouring to acknowledge that the work of the carer in the community is part of the community health service for which all of us, particularly the Department of Health, have responsibility. If he has not sufficient funds in his own budget for this let him go into negotiations with the Minister for Health to underwrite that so that we do not means test our carers to the extent for which the Bill, as I read it, provides. We expect much from the carers, so let us not sell them out again.

I understand that in the national lottery £500,000 or £1 million is being given as an extra bonus to the purchasers of lottery tickets. I suggest that that money go towards helping to pay our carers and thus reduce the stringency of the means test. Those extra bonuses should go not to lottery winners but carers who humanise and deliver people from institutionalisation. If we are talking about health care in its fullest sense, the extended family and care within the community, we must put that investment into it. I ask the Minister to put pressure everywhere else where money is available but do not sell out the carers.

The Minister for Labour is bringing in legislation with regard to part-time workers. The Minister here will be aware that the free legal aid centres have held a Press conference, which was highly covered in the media, showing that as a result of a court case taken by a Dutch part-time woman worker the way could be open here for part-time workers in this country to apply and be accepted for full eligibility. This is crucial when you consider that 78 per cent of part-time workers are women. They are vital with regard to keeping families above the poverty line, as poverty research shows. It is the least they deserve. Remember that these part-time workers are not alone badly paid; but exemption from the contribution system the rest of us feel privileged to be part of is a further discrimination against them. Employers are deliberately keeping them below the level at which they can have full access to the benefits of contributions and social welfare cover. I ask the Minister to give his full attention to that.

The Minister said that from the beginning of the next tax year workers currently liable for Class A contributions whose gross earnings are £60 or less in a week will be exempt from their share of the PRSI contribution for the weeks in which they earn less than £60. Regrettably, most part-time workers come into that category. I ask the Minister to consider whether those part-time workers could be included under the heading of low income workers.

I welcome the constructive remarks on both sides of the House in regard to this vital area to which we are all committed. I should like to thank everybody for allowing me my few minutes. I am looking forward to a positive response from the Minister and I commend him and his staff on their continued reform of the system.

I wish to thank Deputies for their contributions. Needless to say, I do not agree with them all as one or two were fairly nasty in the early stages of the debate and I do not thank the Deputies who made them. However, generally speaking, speeches were thorough and relevant to the Bill and the whole area of social welfare. I particularly want to thank Deputy O'Toole for his concise contribution which enabled other Deputies to speak in the latter stages. I note what he said about smallholders, the islands and the problems of people on short-time work. There are various measures to cope with this but we will look at it again.

Deputy O'Toole was a little concerned about the centralisation of the appeals office. It is not centralisation, it is making it independent and seen to be independent. We will have a very fine office in Dublin when it is completed. The appeals offices will operate in the same way but we will try to improve facilities around the country. The local officers will now be reporting to a director and chief appeals officer who will be an independent person.

Deputy Garland wanted a basic income for all but I am sure he frightened many people when he spoke in multi-billions, not millions. It is easy to say that everybody should have an income but one must quantify it and say who will pay for it. Maybe he will prepare a green paper on the subject which might be helpful to us.

Deputies referred to many matters and I do not want to go into them all in detail as I do not have time. We will have a long Committee Stage next week when these matters may be raised again. Deputy Ferris referred to the changes in conditions in 1985, 1986 and 1987. We did not implement some of the changes proposed by the Fine Gael-Labour Government. One was to reduce the duration of entitlement to unemployment benefit from 15 months to 12 months. They also wanted to eliminate claims for disability benefit for the duration of less than one week but we refused to implement it. All these measures were published and all the work was done before I came to office. However, we have maintained the essence of the whole system which compares favourably to international standards.

Deputy Ferris raised a particular case. There was a question of an appeal, the appeal form was sent out but not returned. The Deputy subsequently took an interest in the case and the Department have taken that as an appeal which is being pursued. The person's daughter has made affidavits stating that the herd number is now registered in her name and the matter will be reviewed. However, there are other factors and we must be clear that the person is not in beneficial ownership in any way. That element is still there but the matter is being reviewed following the Deputy's intervention.

A number of points were made about widowers and deserted husbands. In regard to widowers, to date 420 have availed of the scheme and 152 cases are under consideration. As far as deserted husbands are concerned, they will not be able to avail of the scheme as quickly because there is a period of three months in which the desertion must be established. However, 134 deserted husbands have been awarded an allowance and 293 cases are still under consideration.

Various people raised the question of means tests. Social welfare officers have strict and formal instructions to give priority to means-testing, which is, of its nature, always regarded as urgent. In recent years I made a series of arrangements to reduce the time spent investigating means generally and to put a greater onus on the applicants to tell us all the facts in a self-assessment style of operation. I will be developing that further. It takes a while for the public to react positively to a greater level of trust and staff must also be trained in the new techniques. I want to deny charges made about a lack of urgency in this matter because the facts speak for themselves. In general these cases are treated urgently although there will always be individual cases which are an exception to this. Indeed, when you look into many of these cases you find that there are all sorts of protracted difficulties.

In Wexford 20 per cent of applications for unemployment assistance are dealt with by the social welfare officers on the date of receipt. In total 65 per cent of cases are back with the employment exchange within three weeks. In Dublin and the Carlow-Kilkenny area, where things are a little more advanced, over 30 per cent are cleared within one or two days of receipt so the position is better there. The House will appreciate that detailed investigations are still necessary in cases where the applicants clearly have means and where the precise amount cannot be established without a home visit and other investigations as appropriate.

Recently I directed that the following changes would be made: the practice of desk interviewing is being extended to all locations and to more categories. Of course there is more risk in it so Deputies need not be complaining to the Committee of Public Accounts that the officers of the Department are letting people off and trying to get the money back later. If we demand a faster system we must accept a higher degree of risk; where another family member had a recent means assessment it will be applied in appropriate cases. That is another way of shortening the list. Simplified and streamlined arrangements are being applied in small farm cases and I am sure that Deputy O'Toole will be pleased to hear that.

The extent of poverty was referred to during the course of the debate and several Deputies perpetuated the myth that one third of the population are living in poverty. This figure is the result of a gross distortion of the work which the ESRI have carried out at our request in examining the extent of poverty in Ireland. The ESRI approach is to establish relative poverty lines and to estimate the number of individuals falling below them. The amount of poverty depends on which poverty line you choose. For example, the ESRI estimated that only 13 per cent of individuals fell below a poverty line equivalent to 40 per cent of mean household equivalent income. Moreover, even these figures are incomplete in a number of respects. Their real worth is their comparative value in that they show the people who are most at risk. It showed very clearly that the long term unemployed, especially those with large families, were at risk. This also applied to small farmers and lone parents.

Generally the elderly are not considered to be at risk. Of course we could all point to situations where elderly people are very much at risk but one must be careful when using figures because they can be quite misleading. In relation to the figures, the ESRI took account of cash income only and did not take into account the substantial benefits in kind afforded to those who are less well off. There is a whole range of these and Deputies are quite well aware of them. The survey was undertaken at a time when farm incomes were temporarily depressed and naturally they overestimated the level of poverty in rural households. That has been seen since from further studies. Thirdly, the survey was carried out in 1986 and the beginning of 1987 since when, thanks to the efforts of this Government, the economy has experienced a rapid rate of growth and the level of unemployment has declined. A key finding of the ESRI report is that families where the head of the household was unemployed were at the greatest risk of poverty. The substantial progress in reducing unemployment and increasing employment has undoubtedly increased the living standards of the poorest sections of the community over the last two years. Finally, and probably most importantly, since the survey was carried out, I have made substantial increases in the level of support to those relying on social welfare. It is fundamental that the figures were based on 1986-87. It is time all the people who lobby against poverty and everybody in this House began to recognise that a lot has happened since 1986. That is a reality and can be seen quite clearly but yet people in the media quote those figures again and againad nauseam.

The Minister carried out a more up-to-date review last autumn based on comparisons——

The Deputy had an opportunity to speak and it is my turn to reply now.

The Minister carried out a more up-to-date review——

I will not tolerate any interruption while the Minister is concluding and I will not repeat that.

For example, between 1986 and the present time the personal rate of long term unemployment assistance has been increased by over 40 per cent. Increases of 30 per cent are being given to married persons with three children on long term unemployment assistance. This represents an increase of almost £27 per week. Old age pensioners and widows have obtained increases of between 15 and 18 per cent. Deputies should be aware that the interpretation put on the ESRI report by pressure groups is totally misleading, was never true and is becoming increasingly irrelevant due to the substantial economic and social progress this Government have made.

Despite the very large increases in social welfare rates which I am putting in place this year, some pressure groups have alleged that social welfare has not been given the priority in the budget that it deserves. They base this assertion once again on a very misleading use of statistics. The level of expenditure on social welfare in total or the proportion financed by the Government is not a useful indicator of the priority put on this area by Government. Because of the reduction in unemployment, which this Government's economic policies have achieved, expenditure on unemployment payments has declined, allowing me to devote the resources saved to increasing the level of payments to those who continue to need support. I have also, through improved control measures and administrative efficiencies, realised savings — these were referred to by some of the Deputies — which could be used to benefit social welfare recipients without imposing additional burdens on the hard-pressed taxpayer. Deputies come into the House and say the taxpayer has to pay too much but here we have managed, through these savings and through an improved position all round, to get more money and to plough it back into the system. People are misrepresenting the reality.

Over the last three years I have put in place improved social welfare rates, with full year costs in excess of £400 million. A major reason I have been able to achieve this without putting a corresponding burden on the Exchequer is through a broadening of the social insurance base in line with the recommendations of the Commission on Social Welfare. I extended social insurance to the self-employed in April 1988 and income from this measure will be £62 million this year, or 30 per cent ahead of target.

Another criticism which has been mistakenly levied is that this Government have no commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Social Welfare. I would advise everybody to go back and look at what has been done since then and to stop talking nonsense because the recommendations are being implemented. The four basic recommendations were: improvement in basic payments; improved child income support; a broadening of the social insurance base and improvement in the delivery of service. Without exception, substantial progress has been made on each of these issues. The level of expenditure devoted to improvements in the past three years and the rates of increases granted represents substantial progress towards the commission's recommendations regarding basic payments and the people who know the position have acknowledged that publicly.

Child dependant rates have been reduced from £36 to £6 and a minimum child payment of £11 has been introduced. The social insurance base has been extended to include the self-employed. Major and ongoing improvements continue to be made in the quality and delivery of the social welfare services as witnessed by the programme of expenditure on improvement of employment exchanges and by increased computerisation of services. In addition, in this budget I have introduced two measures which are specifically in line with the commission's recommendations. First, as recommended, the prescribed relative allowance is to be abolished and replaced by a social assistance payment for carers. Secondly, the new appeals office will go a long way towards implementing the commission's recommendations in this regard through the establishment of a separate office with its own staff, self-contained accommodation and the transfer to the chief appeals officer of certain functions which currently reside with the Minister.

A number of Deputies have raised the question of the insurability of part-time employment. Over the past two decades there has been a substantial increase in OECD countries in the proportion of the workforce which is part-time employed and Ireland is no exception in this regard, although part-time employment is still less prevalent here than in most other countries. However, it may be anticipated that with the growth in service industries in particular, part-time working will become more widespread. This development creates problems for the social insurance system which was designed largely with the full-time worker in mind. I have been concerned for some time with the exclusion of some part-time workers from social insurance and with the anomalies which can arise in regard to their treatment. I have requested my Department to undertake a thorough review of the question of extending social insurance to part-time workers, especially with a view to eliminating the anomalous situations which have arisen. I expect to have the results of this review, which has been ongoing for some time, by mid-summer. I have also requested the National Pensions Board to examine the question of the pension entitlements of part-time workers and I intend to draw on both reports for policy changes in this area.

The question of extending insurability to part-time workers is a very complex one. There is a need to ensure that workers make at least a minimal contribution towards benefits. That entitlement to benefits does not create a disincentive to work and the system of social insurance contributions is an equitable and administratively simple one. For these reasons I have arranged that the most thorough analysis be undertaken prior to final decisions in this matter. It is also likely that any changes in insurability of part-time workers will have implications for employers as well as employees and I intend that the social partners will be fully consulted.

Deputies Dennehy, Wyse and Wallace raised the question of the £50 limit on the amount of earnings which spouses may have and still be regarded as dependants for the purposes of social welfare payments to their wife or husband. As Deputies will know, this limit was introduced in 1986 as part of the equal treatment arrangements. The basic provision in the equal treatment legislation was that a person could not be regarded as a dependant if they were themselves either in receipt of a social welfare payment or were at work. The total exclusion of persons at work was subsequently relaxed by allowing persons with earnings up to £50 a week to qualify as adult dependants.

I recognise that wherever the limit is set there will be difficulties for spouses of social welfare recipients whose spouses have earnings just below the threshold because an increase in earnings which brings them over the threshold will result in the loss of the adult dependent allowance. This is one of the matters which is being addressed by the working group which I established last year to look at the treatment of households under the social welfare system, with particular reference to the equal treatment arrangements. Following the report of the working group there will be an opportunity to examine again the equal treatment arrangements and see whether a different approach would be more appropriate and possible. In the meantime however I am happy to say that the Government have approved an increase from £50 to £55 in the limit and this will come into effect in July when the increase in social welfare payments comes into effect. I know that this increase will be welcomed by persons in this situation and by the trade union movement which has made representations to me in this regard.

I would also like to refer to the transitional alleviating payments of £20 and £10 which were introduced in 1986 to cushion people who lost the adult dependant increase as a result of the equal treatment arrangements. As Deputies will know these payments, when introduced, were to last for a maximum of one year. We, however, have kept these payments with small reductions each year ensuring that when account is taken of social welfare increases, nobody suffered a reduction in their payments. This year the same arrangements will apply. The alleviating payments which currently stand at £16 and £8 will again be reduced by £2 and £1 with effect from July. Where account is taken of the increases in payments generally and particularly of the higher increases for persons on the lowest payments the people concerned will still enjoy substantial increases in the payments being made to them.

A number of issues were raised in relation to the new carer's allowance. Generally speaking Deputies expressed a welcome for this new scheme. This welcome has been echoed by the response which I have had from all round the country to the scheme. From my own experience working in my own community I have always been very conscious of the work of carers and I am very proud as Minister for Social Welfare to be in a position to introduce this new scheme which is practical recognition of the work they do.

A number of Deputies expressed concern about the numbers who will qualify for the new allowance. Let me say that I am very conscious of the good work done by all carers, no matter what their income situation is. My purpose in this new scheme, however, is to direct the available resources at this stage to those who need them most and I believe that the new scheme achieves this. Obviously it would be nice to have a scheme without a means test, but would it be the best use of resources and how much would it cost? The scheme I am proposing in this Bill will target the available resources in an effective way. I am widening the scope of the present arrangements very considerably. For the first time married people living with a spouse will be able to qualify. For the first time persons other than relatives will qualify. Those are major achievements.

Deputies have expressed concern that the new carer's allowance was not being applied, under the terms of the Bill, to carers looking after people receiving disabled persons' maintenance allowances from the health boards. The existing prescribed relative's allowance, which the new carer's allowance will effectively replace, does not apply to this category of disabled person. I am, however, conscious of the needs of this category of beneficiary and it was my intention to respond to these needs in the context of the transfer of responsibility for the DPMA scheme to my Department. An interdepartmental committee has been set up to look at that transfer.

I am happy to say, however, that the Government have accepted my proposal to broaden the scope of the carer's provision to cater for persons caring for recipients of DPMA in certain circumstances. I will be putting down an amendment on Committee Stage to give me the necessary power to do this by regulation in due course. In other words, instead of waiting until Committee Stage to do the work, we will have the enabling legislation to take action as soon as we are ready. I want to emphasise that my proposal deals with incapacitated people who need full-time care and attention. I do not want people saying — and that is the very thing we have to be careful about — that it applies to all DPMA cases. I am examining the provisions with a view to specifying people with specific handicaps in an area that is not under my control at this time. I appreciate the concerns about that area.

The Fine Gael Party have tabled an amendment that the Bill should not be read a Second Time. I am sorry that the proceedings are not televised at this stage because I would love to have the television to show the people standing up in this House and voting against a provision of £216 million for the people who depend on social welfare.

We would be very happy to have the television cameras.

That is literally what that party are doing. If Fine Gael win the vote this evening, that £216 million will go down the drain. I know they are playing games, using tactics, but I thnk they have lost all sense and reason.

Let us look at their amendment. They mention that the Bill fails the 250,000 unemployed people and their dependants, whereas the unemployed number 232,000. They did not even get that much right. Last year, the average number of unemployed was 231,500 and the average for this year will be fewer than 222,000. At least, Fine Gael could have got the figures right in the first instance. Their whole approach to this amendment is not credible or defensible. If people outside this House, for instance, old age pensioners, heard that Fine Gael had tabled an amendment that the Bill should not be read a Second Time, in other words, that the Bill should be thrown out, what would they say?

We would do the job a lot better.

I know that Deputy Flaherty is a very caring person and that she would be very anxious to see these benefits going through, I understand that fully, but these tactics are being played upstairs. I think they have lost their way.

I stand over that.

I believe their approach is not credible or defensible. It is even technically wrong because the Fine Gael Deputies welcome everything in the Bill but they want more. However, we will deal with that on Committee Stage when they can say what other things they want. Surely the Fine Gael Party are not going to vote against all these improvements the Government are providing?

There are 16 different categories who will get more than the 5 per cent increase. What about them? For the first time, we have broadened the scope beyond the long-term unemployed so that old age pensioners and widows will receive more than the 5 per cent because they have been targeted. This Bill is doing that. It is not happening in the budget but if this Bill does not go through that will not happen also. That is the reality we are facing. I am sure this will be very embarrassing for some Fine Gael Deputies——

——because most of them support the Bill but they want more. That is basically what they have been saying in the House.

I am speaking for them.

It is what they are saying outside. I believe that the position being taken by the Fine Gael Party is just not realistic and is certainly not practical. We are delivering real increases to real people and we are delivering them today. This is the day we are delivering the Bill and we can discuss the details next week on Committee Stage. We are delivering real increases to real people who are waiting and watching and who are depending on what we do here today.

The Deputy's party are playing tricks and games hoping they will not win, because if they did they would be in an extremely embarrassing position. I think they are going too far with this game playing in the House.

We could have an election and have a chance to implement our own policies.

As I said, this is the largest Social Welfare Bill to be brought before the House for 40 years. There is no gainsaying that. That is clear cut. If you look back on the Bills which were introduced when Fine Gael were in Government, you will see that in the 1984 Bill there were 30 sections, in the 1985 Bill there were 15 sections, in the 1986 Bill there were a whole lot of cutbacks to sections which numbered 24, but in this Bill we have 51 sections all bringing improvements and developments. Are they going to vote against that? What are they voting against? Are they voting against the PRSI exemption for low paid workers, the lone parent's allowance——

I welcome that.

Please, desist, Deputy.

——one of the most progressive moves ever taken on social welfare in this House? I know that Deputy Barnes and other Deputies will recognise that.

If Deputy Flaherty interrupts again I will ask her to leave. I will not say that again.

The Minister was asking Deputy Flaherty a question.

The same applies to you, Deputy.

The Minister was asking the Deputy a question and she was answering it.

The Deputy has only come in and he should not be advertising his presence immediately he comes in. If the Deputy does not listen I will ask him to leave.

The Fine Gael Party are now going to vote against the carer's allowance. They have said how much greater it should be and how the scope could be widened, but they are going to vote against the allowance. If they succeed there will be no carer's allowance. They are going to vote against the social welfare appeals office and all the extra benefits. In fact, there were so many that we had to get out facts sheets on them. However, if Deputies look at the back of the press release they will find the scale and size of these improvements which I have mentioned very clearly in my speech.

I think the Fine Gael Party have lost their way. They have about one minute in which to get themselves back on course and to say they accept that this is a good Bill, that it is probably the best Bill in many years, and that they will support it in principle on Second Stage, but, of course, they will table amendments on Committee Stage. I can understand that they would want to table amendments on Committee Stage, but it is very difficult to understand how they can vote against giving £216 million to the poor people, the very people they are always bleating about in theory. Here is the practice. I call on them to withdraw their amendment, to do the honourable thing and to vote in favour of giving £216 million to those who depend on social welfare.

The question is——

(Interruptions.)

Deputy McCormack, would you please not downgrade the standard which obtained in this House before you came in.

I do not intend to do that.

The question is: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the main question."

The Dáil divided: Tá, 69; Níl, 64.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brennan, Mattie.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Browne, John (Wexford).
  • Burke, Raphael P.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cullimore, Séamus.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Haughey, Charles J.
  • Hillery, Brian.
  • Hilliard, Colm.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kelly, Laurence.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lyons, Denis.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McDaid, Jim.
  • McEllistrim, Tom.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • O'Connell, John.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Kennedy, Michael.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • O'Toole, Martin Joe.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Stafford, John.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wyse, Pearse.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Therese.
  • Barnes, Monica.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Belton, Louis J.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Enright, Thomas W.
  • Fennell, Nuala.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • FitzGerald, Garret.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Garland, Roger.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Lee, Pat.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McCartan, Pat.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
  • Cotter, Bill.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Doyle, Joe.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Mac Giolla, Tomás.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • (Limerick East).
  • O'Brien, Fergus.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Gerry.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Owen, Nora.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Reynolds, Gerry.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine
  • Yates, Ivan.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Gallagher and Clohessy; Níl, Deputies J. Higgins and Boylan.
Question declared carried.

I therefore declare the Bill to be read a Second Time. The question arises as to when Committee Stage of the Bill will be taken.

Next Tuesday, by agreement between the Whips.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 27 March 1990.