Deputy Wyse was in possession and has approximately four minutes left.
Private Members' Business. - Social Welfare Bill, 1992: Second Stage (Resumed).
Again I compliment the Minister on bringing in such an extensive Social Welfare Bill this afternoon. When I mentioned abuse it was not my intention to embarrass the Minister or his officials. What I was trying to establish was the importance of having more people on the field to counteract the abuse which is taking place. Every party in this House would agree that there is quite an amount of abuse and that it is depriving the genuine recipient of an adequate income.
In relation to means testing, I would applaud the Minister if tomorrow morning he were to come into the House, on Committee Stage, and provide for one means test. If the person could carry a certificate of clearance to show he had already been interviewed by the Social Welfare officer when he applied for a medical card, a third level education grant, a housing grant or whatever it might be, it would eliminate the need to go through a degrading exercise of being means tested by different officials on different occasions. I plead with the Minister — I know he is big enough and strong enough — to ensure that his officials start working on this matter forthwith to ensure that this harassment of people ceases once and for all. There should be one assessment and then entitlement for all other benefits.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Cuireann sé ionadh orm go bhfuil an Bille seo atá chomh tábhachtach sin ag rith tríd an Teach anois toisc go bhfuil cosc ar an méid ama atá fágtha dúinn chun é a phlé. Os rud é go bhfuil gach Comhalta sa Teach, déarfainn, ag plé gach lá le daoine go bhfuil trioblóid acu len ár gcóras leasa shóisialaigh ba chóir go mbeadh seans againn go léir na lochtanna atá air a thabhairt le fios. Is é seo an t-aon seans amháin atá againn labhairt ar an ábhar seo gan bheith as ordú de réir na rialacha.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, you reminded me, by nodding to my companion, that I am sharing time with Deputy Boylan, if that is in order.
Does the House agree? Agreed.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): I wish to begin on a positive note by saying I welcome very much the Minister's intention to bring in a consolidation Bill on Social Welfare. I once said to his predecessor the best thing that could happen in this country would be that all social welfare offices would go on fire the same night and that every rule book in the place was burned, so that he could start afresh with a simple set of rules. Having said that I want to almost contradict myself by reading out an example of what I think is gobbledegook in the Social Welfare Bill, 1992. Section 27 (9) states:
The amount payable by way of unemployment assistance for any day of unemployment shall be one-sixth of the appropriate weekly rate, subject to the total amount being paid at any time by virtue of this subsection being rounded up to the nearest 10p where it is a multiple of 5p but not also a multiple of 10p and being rounded to the nearest 10p where it is not a multiple of 5p or 10p.
What civil servant — although I should not mention civil servants here — got a brainstorm and would not round it up or down to the nearest 10p and leave it so? Consolidation should mean that that would be pressed out of existence even though it is the new instruction. It is very important that Social Welfare Acts, rules and so on are consolidated. It is difficult to understand why one person receives £1 more than another. It is very difficult to understand the reason for the differential of £1 or £1.50 between what a lone parent receives and what somebody else receives.
Having commenced on a positive note I am now about to go into a negative line for the next 20 minutes. My pet aversion is the manner in which medical referees go down the country with their little magic travel bag and sit down in a bare room opposite a patient who is under medical care in one of the major hospitals in Dublin under the chief medical expert and with the magic of their eyes and by flicking through a few pages they can decide a person is fit for work. I do not want to appear as if I am making a personal attack on medical referees per se but the system is incredible and has to be completely wrong.
Everybody here tonight will know of cases where patients who went to specialists in Dublin were on special medication, were sent home and had to come back the following day for further tests. Low and behold, they are called before a medical referee who decides they are fit for work. On one occasion I received a letter from a professor in one of the Dublin hospitals who stated clearly that the medical referee did not understand the medication the person was taking. I would ask the Minister to take a special look at the manner in which people who are ill are being treated by the system whereby medical referees can decide, without any examination whatsoever, that a person is fit for work. Having expressed this point previously, I hope my words will not fall on deaf ears on this occasion.
On previous occasions I raised here in the Dáil, the difficulty being encountered by a person who was looking after two DPMA holders. Because she was treated as having an income — half her husband's earnings — of £52, £54 or £55, her application for the carer's allowance was disallowed. I admit to having received a half promise from the Minister's predecessor that he would favourably consider doubling the income limit for that person. It is indefensible that if a women is looking after two handicapped people or two elderly people who have qualified for the carer's allowance, they should be confined to an income that relates to one person. I am not asking that she receive a double payment each week. I am merely asking that if £52 is the qualifying income limit, if she is caring for two qualified people, she be allowed an income of £104. It came as a surprise to me to learn there are hidden regulations in this Bill. I heard people discuss certain matters on the radio, and even though I had examined the Bill, I could not find any reference to them but it appears certain matters will be introduced by means of regulations. The Minister should bring in a regulation to double the qualifying allowance.
Another serious aspect of social welfare for those of us who are dealing with it on the ground relates to the self-employed person who is being assessed on last year's payments. This must be unconstitutional. A typical example would be a carpenter who had worked for a certain part of last year and is signing on this year. He will discover that he has a mythical income. In a case which I am dealing with at the moment the person — with four children — has a mythical income of £105 per week based on what he earned last year. He happens to be one of the people who was rarely on the unemployment list because he was always working but this year he cannot find work. What he earned last year was divided by 52 and he was told he has an income of £105 per week. It is incredible that in 1992 we can pretend people can survive on money they have not got, but which they are told they have based on what they earned last year. The Minister, the civil servants who advise him or I could not survive on the money we earned last year because most of us have already spent it, and indeed more. If the strike at the banks does not come to an end soon we could find ourselves in greater difficulty. How could anyone justify telling a man with a wife and four children that he has an income of £105, even though he cannot find work?
I do not want to give too many examples as the Minister has come across them himself, but I know of a painter who was honest enough to inform the officials that he was asked to paint two houses one summer, but the following year they took into account the sum he had received for painting these two houses and decided he had a certain income per week, even though he painted no houses in the months of January, February or March. He then had to beg for the supplementary welfare allowance. As Deputy Wyse said, this was very humiliating. I would love to know who came up with this idea of deciding that a person has a certain income based on what they earned the previous year. I hope the Minister will examine this matter because I believe if someone took him to the High Court they could win their case.
The general increase of 4 per cent about which we have heard so much will not make anyone rich. Indeed, at one stage I thought the Minister was losing the run of himself when he started one sentence by saying that "the 4 per cent general increase will ensure"— for one second I thought he was going to say that people would live in luxury for the rest of the year — but he completed it by stating "that for the fifth successive year since 1987 increases in social welfare payments will keep ahead of inflation." Given that the rate of inflation is running at 3.7 per cent, they are not being given a great chance.
I share the view that it is a myth that people on social welfare are living the life of Reilly, that they are being given everything free and so on. Having regard to the fact that they have to endure great hardship to get these payments — and they do not amount to much when they do get them — they are of little benefit to them. What can one do with £65 a week? The people who look on the unemployed and those on social welfare as using up all our resources are lucky they do not have to survive on a pittance, because that is what most social welfare recipients get. While we always hear about the person who is abusing the system — he is in receipt of twice as much as the person next door who is working — it is often very difficult to find out who exactly is guilty of such abuse. There will always be some who will abuse the system; Solomon himself would not be able to sort them all out. In general, it is farcical to suggest that people on social welfare are living in luxury.
It was decided in 1988 that the self-employed should be given pensions if they pay a certain sum. As previous Ministers did nothing about this matter, there is not much point in putting too much pressure on the Minister, but I proposed that the self-employed should be given a pro rata pension after they have paid contributions for seven years. Given that a person is given a full pension after ten years, there is no reason a person who has paid contributions for six or seven years should not be given either six-tenths or seven-tenths of this pension. While it has been explained to me that, in theory no one should be given a pension after ten years — one would need to contribute for 25 years to cover the expense — if it is accepted that a person should be given a full pension after ten years, the logic behind giving seven-tenths of a full pension to someone should also stand up to scrutiny. Perhaps the Minister might consider this suggestion when he is less busy.
The payment to widows is far too small. They have to carry a double burden — they have been left on their own and have to do the work of two in rearing a family. They receive the same allowance as those who do have the same responsibilities, although I accept they do not have enough. If we ever get to the stage where we have money to spend, widows should receive a double increase because, as I said, apart from the question of finance, they have many other problems. While I am fully aware of the position in relation to the State's finances, I would like the Minister to bear this in mind.
As regards means testing, the process takes far too long. When a person rings the office in Sligo he finds the file has been forwarded to the social welfare officer; and when he rings six weeks later he finds the file has not been returned. There must be something wrong with the system given these delays. I do not know who is at fault but it is unbelieveable that it takes so much time to make a decision once an application is made to the office in Sligo. This matter needs to be examined because in fairness those who apply for help should have their applications processed quickly. If they need money, there is not much point giving them a lump sum a year after they have suffered mental torture; there is a need to deal with their problems quickly.
While I accept the Minister will have to defend his civil servants, there must be something wrong with the system given that it takes so long to make a decision. Either there are not enough social welfare officers to carry out investigations or there is too much book work. As I said, it is incredible that it takes so long to make a decision.
In conclusion, it is foolish to interfere with PRSI because this amounts to an insurance payment and one is entitled to receive it. If we start to tamper with it, we will be tampering with democracy. As I said, it is foolish to suggest that redundancy payments should be taken into account and that people should be clobbered on that basis.
I thank Deputy Browne for sharing his time with me and for being so generous because I am aware he has a keen interest in this matter and would have liked to have spoken much longer. As this is my first opportunity to do so, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and wish him every success in this important Ministry. He is seen as a man with some flair but I can assure him that this Ministry is choked with red tape. I am sure also that he is aware from experience as a Deputy of the great annoyance this Department caused.
On the face of it, social welfare payments would seem to be generous but it is a bit like offering somebody the birds of the forest — catch them yourself. The regulations are mindboggling and one would need a lawyer to tease them out. Even then, it seems that a different answer is given every time.
Perhaps the Minister is the man to sort this out and I hope he is successful. I do not want to be negative each time I come into the House, but I suppose that is the duty of the Opposition. However, I expect the Minister to do something about this problem.
The attitude of social welfare inspectors seems to be that everyone is an abuser, a criminal and not to be trusted. Applicants are questioned at every opportunity. This is wrong because they are honest and decent people who are dependent on social welfare through no fault of their own. It is not right that those in authority should treat them in such a manner. A social welfare applicant is taken into a room, which is poorly furnished at the best of times, abused and interrogated. This is happening not only in my home town but in social welfare offices throughout the country. While I accept that their means must be assessed, these people are questioned on the basis that there is hidden income. Would the Minister inform the social welfare officers that there is no hidden income?
It is nonsense to think that people have money in the mattress and under the bed. That is pure rubbish. Some old bachelors or old maids living alone save a pittance in order to have a decent funeral. They do this because they have experienced hard times and they are afraid what might happen when they die. If they have saved £1,000, why should there be a question about it? Should they not be given credit for looking after themselves? In the meantime, it is our duty to make life comfortable for them without being abusive about it. That is very important.
The carry on with regard to social welfare and small farmers is outrageous. I accept that there has been an improvement in the last six months but that has only come about because the country generally recognises that these people do not have large incomes. However, many social welfare officers are still not aware of that fact. What training in agriculture have social welfare officers to enable them to discern farm income? A small farmer with three or four cows might have two or three calves, but the social welfare officers seem to believe that every cow has two calves. If some of these officers were given land they would become millionaires, considering the outrageous figures they suggest for smallholders. They do not take into account the cost of running a farm. It is time that nonsense was finished. The social welfare officer will tend to say that a farmer should not have his farm if it is a liability but tending cattle and looking after the holding is a form of therapy for many small farmers and, if it was taken away, many of them would end up in institutions. They should not be treated in that way.
The carer's allowance was applauded when it was introduced but, again, like the birds in the forest, when one went to look for it one simply could not get it. Every obstacle was erected. That is wrong. We have an aging population with a few young people left to look after them, but where people are prepared to look after them, they should be compensated. If an aged person is not looked after at home the alternative is an institution, and that will cost the State hundreds of pounds a week as against the meagre £35 or £40 carer's allowance.
Many a girl and boy has given up the prospects of married life to look after aged parents. That sacrifice was readily made. Craw thumpers and do-gooders who do nothing for anybody might ask why they should not look after their old people because we all did it. That attitude is wrong. The Minister should adopt a more lenient approach to the carer's allowance. He should not question their incomes. A widow's son was refused the carer's allowance because on investigation it was found that he had six cows and was not fully engaged in looking after his aged parent. That man never left the house at night to go out socially in case something might happen to his mother but they cut off this income. That is very wrong, as well as being annoying and frustrating.
I support what Deputy Browne said about the widow and the widow's pension which does not take into consideration the stages at which her children are at school. I know of a case where a widow's allowance for one week was used to pay fees for her son to do his leaving certificate and a daughter to do her intermediate certificate. There are many people like that widow. We all know the cost of sending children to second and third level education. Why should not the children of a widow or a single parent have the same opportunity as children with both parents? Should those children be deprived of education through no fault of their own? We should take a broader view of this issue.
There is a problem with regard to prisoners, although it is not a big issue in my county. However, I am aware of young lads leaving the prison in Cavan and travelling to whence they came, without an allowance. Weeks might lapse before their unemployment allowances come into play. The circumstances for many of these young lads are not great. They are penniless when they return to Dublin or some other town, and they have no alternative but to return to crime. There should be a social welfare officer in the prisons to look after young people due to be released who should ensure that social welfare payments will be available for them or find employment for them. They should not be sent out penniless because then their only alternative is to return to crime. I am aware of two such cases and I am sure there are many others.
With regard to health matters, the decisions made by some social welfare officers are outrageous and many family doctors are upset at these decisions. Doctors are issuing certificates and social welfare officers are questioning them, saying the people are able to work. By doing that they are saying the doctor is acting in a fraudulent manner and he is committing a crime by issuing the certificate. That is a slight on the doctor's integrity. I have absolute confidence in the medical profession. When a person is not able to work a doctor will issue a certificate to that effect, and as soon as the person is able to work the certificate will be discontinued.
Some people will abuse any system, but we should not slight the medical profession by questioning certificates and saying that people are fit for work when the doctor has certified them as being unfit for work. I am surprised that the medical profession have not made more of a fuss about this. The social welfare applicant is then caught between two stools. His doctor says he is unfit for work and the Department put pressure on him saying he is.
I would ask the Minister to take particular note of my points in relation to farmers income. I would also like him to take note of the changed circumstances of people in small businesses. Because of supermarkets, people are looking for better value for money. In the Border region particularly, many small businesses are finding it hard to survive. People keep up a good front and keep the shop looking well, but in many cases there is no food on the table. When these people apply for social welfare benefit — and many of them are now applying for it — it is assumed that they are quite well off because they may have a car. However, they are not because they do not have sufficient income and are fighting to exist. Thankfully, the competition from Northern Ireland is fading. It is not all one way traffic, but there are many people travelling North looking for value for money. They cannot be blamed for doing that. As I said a social welfare officer visiting a person in a small business might think there is plenty of money there, but there may not be bread on the table. That is the bottom line.
People in country houses have great pride and keep their homes well. They must get credit for that, but can they put food on the table? Many of them are on the breadline.
This is my first opportunity, in the House, to congratulate the new Minister for Social Welfare. It is an appointment long overdue. I hope he brings to his new portfolio the innovation and open attitude which he has brought to politics in the past decade. If he does so, there should be significant changes and consequences.
I wish to make a number of general points relating to the social welfare system. The first concerns the system of means testing for young people which is far too restrictive and very disillusioning for those who leave the educational system. Many are debarred from receiving unemployment assistance or have their assistance reduced to negligible proportions because they are living at home or may have a brother or sister who is working. Account is not taken of the fact that the brother or sister may be preparing for married life and may not necessarily make any funds available to a sibling. The income of their parents debars many young people from unemployment assistance, although that income may not be very high. Young people signing on the register may receive as little as £10, £7 or £5. This is fundamentally wrong. Young people who reach the age of 18 are entitled to vote and are expected to behave as adults. They should be treated accordingly in the social welfare system.
The restrictions on the payment of unemployment assistance do not yield any great savings to the State. Many young people leave the family home and move to rented accommodation which is often of a poor standard. They may end up receiving supplementary welfare payments towards their rental outlay. Alternatively, they may join the public authority housing lists. The Minister might consider this matter over the next year or two with a view to making the system more responsive to the needs of young people. It is disillusioning for them to find that they are not treated as adults, as independent citizens of the State.
A number of Deputies have referred to the severity of the medical referee system. There can be differences of opinion between a medical referee and a general practitioner but when evidence is received from specialists, particularly in relation to back and other injuries, confirming that a person is not capable of work, that evidence should be accepted by the appeals officer. If that practice were adopted, it would probably improve matters somewhat.
The Minister outlined today the resources we are spending on social welfare. The incredible figure of £3.36 billion was mentioned. We should have a radical reappraisal of the system and ask if that money can be spent in a more positive way in terms of putting people to work, particularly those leaving the school system. There is a need for the Department of Education, the Department of Social Welfare and the Department of Labour to come together on this issue to see if money can be channelled towards training for work or actual employment. This might give better value for money. This morning on radio a suggestion was put forward that a subsidy of £20 or £30 to employers might achieve greater employment and a consequent reduction in social welfare payments. We must seriously consider such options. The indications are that employment figures will rise still further. We will be depending on a shrinking productive base to support an ever-increasing dependent class. It cannot go on. The three Departments I have mentioned have a crucial role to play in employment creation. We cannot look at the Culliton report in isolation. It deals specifically with industrial policy. We must link it to the resources provided for social welfare and the question of education and training, with a view to getting better value for money.
I have been struck by what I consider to be the very low level of payments to widows. They are the poor relations of the social welfare system. There have been tremendous improvements in many categories but consideration should be given to the case of widows, particularly those with children attending school or third level colleges. Very often they do not even get tax breaks. If widows are forced into the workplace to support their families they find the system working against them in the form of severe taxation and so on.
The Minister spoke about the complexity and multiplicity of services available in the social welfare system. I welcome the announcement today that a new Social Welfare (Consolidation) Bill will be published within the year which will help to simplify the system. It is difficult at times to comprehend its wide range. Previous Ministers for Social Welfare have done much work in consolidating, streamlining and simplifying the system. This Minister has rightly put the matter on his agenda.
I question the view that the social welfare system constitutes a disincentive to work. By and large the vast majority of people are unemployed because of prevailing economic circumstances and the fact that work is simply not available. That should be acknowledged. A trend has been emerging whereby people depending on the social welfare system are labelled as layabouts who do not want to work. My experience of dealing with people looking for work is quite the opposite. We have economic difficulties, in common with other countries, which have given rise to unemployment. The unfortunate consequence is that people have to draw social welfare. It is a cornerstone of our party's policy and philosophy that we should be a caring and compassionate society and that we should look after people who, through no fault of their own, have to draw social welfare. It is extremely important that we continue to implement that philosophy, that we look after the less well off in society and that, as the Minister said, we target the scarce resources that are available to the particularly needy groups. The Minister is endeavouring to achieve that objective in this Bill.
For the fifth year in succession the Social Welfare Bill gives general increases in social welfare payments above the level of inflation. This contrasts very favourably with increases given by previous Governments. It is an illustration of our party's genuine commitment to those on social welfare and to the less well off. I am particularly pleased with section 6 of the Bill which allows for increases in the weekly income limit of those eligible for family income supplement. The family income supplement scheme is a particularly good scheme. The increases are generous, particularly for larger families. This is an illustration of the Minister's attempt to target those with special needs and I am particularly happy with that section. Sections 10 and 11 which make modifications in the contribution conditions for old age pension and retirement pension are also welcome.
The question of the carer's allowance has exercised the minds of many people since its introduction. The concept was an excellent one and the allowance has considerable potential in alleviating much of the burden of the State. However, the implementation of the scheme leaves a lot to be desired. I understand that resources are restricted but the allowance has led to considerable anguish in some families. The system should be simplified so that the full carer's allowance is given to the carer. For example, if a person being cared for is entitled to £20 the carer should be given £20. I have witnessed a number of cases where the carer has found it extremely difficult to explain to the ill person why their payment has been reduced by £20 or £30. The fact that the carer's allowance was increased by that sum did not seem to be taken into account and this created a degree of anguish in families. The bureaucracy should be simplified to ensure that whatever the person is entitled to is paid directly to the carer, thereby helping to alleviate the problems and leading to greater regard for the carer's allowance. Even though the allowance has led to an increase in income for some households, many people have been very disheartened with the system and this does not reflect well on the Department or on the Minister.
Section 28 is an important addition to legislation introduced in the area of part-time workers. The fact that any employee earning over £25 a week will be covered by social insurance from January 1993 and will be entitled to short term benefits on foot of their contributions after April 1991 is very welcome and is a clear illustration of our party's stance in relation to issues such as this. The former Minister for Labour introduced legislation dealing with part-time workers and we have improved the social insurance dimension of social welfare legislation so that people who work part-time will be entitled to the fullest possible range of benefits.
I have some reservations about sections 29 and 31 which provide that redundancy payments be taken into account when determining entitlement to unemployment assistance. To be made redundant can be a very traumatic experience. Redundancy payments are meant to tide the person over in the longer term. People who are made redundant need money on a long term basis to look after their families and it is unfair to use their redundancy payment as a determining factor in whether or not the person should receive unemployment benefit. That measure is too severe and should be reconsidered. As we are witnessing at the moment, people who are made redundant suffer great trauma and tend to feel alienated from society. Any measure in the social welfare system that might add to that alienation should be proceeded with very cautiously.
I am concerned about the section dealing with people who leave employment voluntarily. Up to now, these people were subject to disqualification from unemployment assistance for a period of up to six weeks. This Bill proposes that the times be extended to nine weeks. Frequent disputes take place between social welfare officers and recipients as to the definition of leaving work voluntarily. Quite a number of such cases have been brought to my attention at advice centres and in many cases I was of the opinion that social welfare officers were quite wrong in their decisions. A person who is arbitrarily dismissed by an employer may not have redress under the Unfair Dismissals Act because the required time may not have elapsed and very often social welfare officers may take the view that such a person left work voluntarily. A dispute then arises because the person is deemed not to be entitled to unemployment assistance for up to six weeks — if this measure is passed it will be nine weeks. This matter should be reconsidered on Committee Stage with a view to retaining the six weeks clause.
Social welfare officers over the years have become quite severe in the application of this section, not only as it applies to people who leave work voluntarily but also in assessing whether people are genuinely looking for work. For example, it is a bit much to suggest that the 270,000 unemployed people are not looking for work. It is quite clear that there is not work available for all these people. Very often people ask employers whom they know to write a letter stating that they have applied for a job in order to satisfy the social welfare official that they are entitled to unemployment assistance. Publicans and others who have no work available write the standard letter stating that the unemployed person applied for work. This is an area that needs to be seriously considered.
Section 41 is an important section which offers scope for considerable development of the system. The Minister mentioned An Post. Not long ago we had an argumentative debate in this House on the whole future of An Post. I was aware at the time that the Department of Social Welfare had approached An Post in relation to the computerisation of the system, a joint venture approach to certain services and so on. The Minister's announcement in this regard is very welcome. Developments in technology and so on will open up considerable possibilities in this area.
Unfortunately, An Post have not developed as a semi-State body to the degree that they should have developed. There is a myriad of services that the organisation could provide. A good marriage could take place between An Post and the Department of Social Welfare in terms of the distribution of services and so on. In fairness, many steps have already been taken, for example, in the issue of pensions, but there is room for progress and an improvement in the services provided to the public at large. That section of the Bill, which is welcome, does not relate specifically to An Post but to other organisations as well. The Bill creates a framework by which certain administrative functions of the Department can be delegated to other organisations. That is a very important development which will lead to greater efficiency and better service.
The basic aim of the Bill is to target resources to those most in need. Within the very fine constraints that the Minister operates, he had made a very good attempt in that regard. The Bill is a welcome progression in the whole social welfare system and I compliment the Minister on it.
To go back to a major point that I made earlier, I honestly feel that as economic indicators show that unemployment will increase in the short term we must very seriously consider whether a proportion of social welfare expenditure could be spent more fruitfully in other areas, thereby creating opportunities, particularly for the young people entering the labour market. Ireland has a population structural problem in that so many of our young people are due to enter the labour force in the next ten years. Our proportion of young people entering the labour market does not compare with the proportion in other European countries. The social welfare system should endeavour to respond to that problem in the next ten to 15 years. We should be imaginative enough to try to devise schemes whereby we try to improve the lot of young people rather than have them go straight on to the dole. The provision of schemes to further vocational training, for example, would be much preferable than having school leavers immediately signing on in an employment exchange. Such a practice is fundamentally wrong and unhealthy. A principal aim of our policy should be that no young person leaving school should have to sign on a register. That is a bad experience and one that is not very healthy in terms of self-development or otherwise. I know of other economies that have succeeded in doing that. There are models, particularly within Europe, that we should examine to find out how people have been integrated from the education system into training and work sectors. I compliment the Minister on the Bill and I wish him every success in his portfolio.
Although I have already wished the Minister for Social Welfare well in his functions. I should like to suggest to him — now that he has begun to see the grittier part of his job — that he should make a resolution, which would be very much in character with his own temperament, to decide that he will not allow himself to get caught up too much in the system but will occasionally be adventurous and move out of the system. I am not criticising any of those working in the system, but there is a need for creative thinking there. Deputy Martin indicated one area that displays a need for such thinking.
Social welfare is very much an area in which Ministers have to lead and I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to do so. I do have to point out — and I shall mention this again later on — that the Minister's immediate predecessor took a certain number of leads while in that portfolio. Of course, for his pains, the former Minister for Social Welfare was criticised by some of the gurus who sit in the gallery some of the time as being a technocrat. I have said before and I repeat — in front of a Minister who would never be described as a technocrat — that there is no harm whatsoever in being a technocrat if the result is that those who need the support of the State get that support delivered to them more efficiently than it has been. I hope the Minister will add a little touch of the technocrat to the otherwise very exotic blend that already makes up his character.
There are many anomalies in our social welfare system that are oppressive and unjust but these could be remedied very easily if the Minister could gain an understanding of what the system is doing to people, decide on his reaction and take the kind of approach I have suggested.
One of the cruellest and meanest anomalies in our social welfare system is the treatment given to dependent widowers or widowers of old age pensioners who are themselves under pension age at the time of their bereavement. Our old age pension system rightly provides for a series of extra benefits in addition to the pension. Those benefits include the free telephone rental allowance, free travel, a free electricity allowance, a free black and white television licence, a fuel allowance and so on. All of those benefits are very useful additions to the old age pension. However, for a dependent spouse of an old age pensioner, when the spouse has not reached the pension age, most of those benefits cease on the death of the pensioner. The widow or widower, in addition to having to cope with the bereavement — a very traumatic event — then finds that she or he also has to cope with an immediate reduction in real income and an immediate reduction in real living standards. It is no exaggeration to say that that system is cruel. I have met several people in that position — and I am sure the Minister has also — and their distress is patent. Those people are faced with an extra burden that the system should not and does not impose. I do not know just how many people would be affected in that regard in any given year, but I do not believe the number would be very large.
To be cold and calculating about the matter, in the event that an old age pensioner died and left a dependent spouse who was under pension age, the State would make a saving because the dependant would be paid less than the pensioner and dependent spouse were being paid before. And, as I have said, all of these benefits come to an end. I suggest that the State might decide to save a little less in each of those cases. I am sure that the Minister could give information in this regard, but cost involved in some of those cases is very small in that the actual use made by pensioners of the additional benefits, particularly the free travel, is limited. The State would not incur as big a cost in continuing the benefits as might appear to be the position on the surface. I realise that we cannot ignore the fact that new people come into the pension net each year, and the Minister would have to take account of that in his calculations. Although the extra cost to the State of what I am suggesting would not be very large, there is no doubt whatever, as the Minister would agree, that the addition to the ordinary welfare of those concerned would be great. That is a step that the Minister of State could take which would show a degree of understanding and compassion. It is a measure that would be very much welcomed and would mean only a small extra cost to the State.
I ask the Minister to consider my proposal seriously with a view to bringing forward an amendment either on Committee Stage or on Report Stage. Given the impossible calendar that the Government have put before the House, the Minister does not have much time to bring forward the amendment by Committee Stage, but he should consider the proposal and then come back to the House and make a start by taking this very useful step.
Ever since my former colleague, Deputy Gemma Hussey, assumed office as Minister for Social Welfare in 1986 there has been a very vigorous, proper concern to eliminate fraud and abuse from our social welfare system. I am very glad that that has been pursued; it is quite right that it should be pursued in the interests of the people who would otherwise have to wait because the system cannot cope with them. But I have two faults to find with the action taken over the intervening years. The first is that, while a great deal of attention has been paid very rightly to the problem of fraud and abuse on the claimants' side, nothing like sufficient attention has been paid to the simplification of the system as constituting another means of combating abuse and abuse of claims. I am quite ready and happy to concede that the former Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Woods, took quite a lot of action in this regard — indeed I commend what he did in terms of simplification of the system, all of which has been extremely useful — but more action is needed. A simpler, more transparent, social welfare system is doubly desirable in that a simpler, more transparent system makes it easier for people in need to know what their entitlements are and how to claim them. Therefore, simplification and extra transparency of the system would be worthwhile on those grounds alone.
There is a further advantage, that is the simpler, the more transparent the system the more difficult it will be to abuse it; the more difficult it will be to get around it and beat it. In that way a simpler, more transparent system would liberate a greater part of the insufficient, although very considerable resources, we devote to our social welfare system to meet the needs of those people whose need is greatest. I am sure the Minister will agree with me that there is not ever a time — and I do not foresee it happening as far as I can look into the future anyway — that somewhat more leeway in the funding of our social welfare system could not be put to very good use to eliminate some of the anomalies to which I have drawn attention, or to deal with cases where we know, with the best will in the world, that whatever we might have to pretend from our positions in Government or wherever else we may be, there is need for some extra resources.
The second fault I find with what has been done in recent years is that there seems to me to be an inordinate concentration on people, already in the system, on the part of people out there looking for fraud and abuse. We see the same thing within the revenue system: it is much easier to look at or examine people who have been in the system for some years. I have no doubt — it is sticking out a mile — there are abuses in that area but it seems to me, as a matter of observation, it is probably more likely that new applicants entering the system will include a number of people trying to beat it than any given population of people who have been within the system for some time.
Like many other Members of this House I have to say I have come across a number of cases which can only be described as ones of blinkered, obsessive, time-consuming, money-wasting oppressive persecution of people who deserve a lot better from the system. It seems to me at any rate that that applies particularly to people in receipt of disability benefit, a notoriously difficult area. But some such cases seem to me to be very eloquent of the kind of obsession there is within the system. I will give a case in point, that of a constituent of mine. I suspect the Minister knows of the case also, apart from the fact that the Minister gets around a good deal, almost as much as I do myself, there are people who like to ensure they have all the angles of the case covered.
This is an individual who first went on disability benefit in July 1978, over 13.5 years ago. I have not been a Member of this House 11 years yet but I have lost count of the number of occasions that that individual has been cut off disability benefit, sent for medical examination, pronounced fit for work by the medical referee; sent off to sign on for unemployment assitance without the slightest reference to any of the general practitioners or specialists who have examined him over the years, all of whom have been paid for the provision of their services to him at the expense of taxpayers, courtesy the GMS. There have been umpteen occasions when he has been cut off disability benefit, gone to medical referees, signed on, finally got unemployment assistance; found after a while there was no point in even trying to look for a job, gone back to a general practitioner, been referred to a specialist, put back on disability benefit, the Department having accepted him and, bingo, some genius comes along and decides: we will have to take a look at this man's case again, when the merry-go-round recommences, and it has been going round and round like that for 13.5 years. I am appalled to think of the amount of Department of Social Welfare time, general practitioners' time, specialists' and consultants' time wasted on that man. It is all time that would otherwise have been devoted to people who have been made to wait because the general practitioners, specialists and officials of the Department of Social Welfare, along with some in the Department of Health, are spending their time looking after this man's latest trip around the merry-go-round. Even in that case direct appeals to Fianna Fáil Ministers — who have the totally unjustified reputation of being good at understanding the grassroots — have failed. The Minister's two predecessors have not sorted out that particular case for me.
I would have to say — I am sure the gentleman in question would not hold it against me — it is no insult to him to say that, at this stage, he is not only incapable of work but he is now unemployable. Part of the reason he is now unemployable is that, apart from anything else, his spirit and self-esteem have been broken by years of bureaucratic arrogance and ignorance in his case. The system has made an enemy of that man who should long ago have been put on invalidity pension and allowed live out his days in peace with very modest needs and aspirations. In fact that man is really a victim of oppression within our system.
I have another case, a much more recent one, not in my constituency but, as the Minister will know, if one is around for long enough, one will have people approaching one from other constituencies also for all kinds of different reasons. This man retired some time ago on health grounds from a local authority. He is the type of person we public representatives are all used to meeting, of whom, fortunately, there are a great many nationwide. He is a man who loves his work, who loves being at work. He never pretended to have a job of any huge public importance; it was not a very high profile job, but that man loved being at work; he hated being out of work for any reason. He hated having to take time off work because of illness. But, for health reasons, he was advised by his doctor, backed up by a specialist, to retire on health grounds. He retired on health grounds. He is still a youngish man in his fifties. He went along, claimed and was granted disability benefit. His health has not improved since then nor is there any likelihood that it will improve. But, sure enough, he has been told he must present himself before a medical referee for examination because, apparently, somebody in the Department of Social Welfare suspects he is not telling the whole truth. What is that man to do? His disability benefit has been stopped. He has been advised to apply for unemployment assistance. He feels it would be wrong to apply for unemployment assistance because that would amount to a statement on his part that he believes he is available for work whereas he knows he is not because he knows he cannot work. Clearly he would love to be available for work, but he feels — and this is commendable on his part — a reluctance to go along and claim unemployment assistance because in so doing he would be proclaiming he was available for work. What does he have to do? In his mind he must go and make a liar of himself simply in order to get sufficient money on which to live. Of course, there is the other complication: his disability benefit was stopped from last Saturday week. He was told to go and sign on for unemployment assistance last Wednesday. I do not know when that case will be finally processed but there is a fair bet it will not be processed by tomorrow, by Wednesday of next week or even the following Wednesday. What will that man do? He will go along to his local community welfare officer and apply for a supplementary welfare allowance. In addition to the people who are sending him to a medical referree and the people who are processing his claim for unemployment assistance, another group of people are processing his claim for supplementary welfare allowance. When the issue is sorted out they will have to go back over the file and claim back the supplementary welfare allowance from the unemployment assistance pocket and resolve the matter internally for the book-keeping of the Department. What will happen? If there is any justice in the system, the medical referee will come to the conclusion that this man is unfit for work and he will be put back on disability benefit. The State will have had all that bother with no benefit to it and yet another citizen will be soured by the fact that he has had this kind of contact with officialdom and a system which is supposed to be there to support him.
This man may very well have neighbours who are drawing unemployment assistance and doing nixers. I would bet my bottom dollar that that man will feel a very decided grievance that he, who is unable to work and had to retire from a job he liked doing for health reasons, is being treated this way while his neighbours are drawing unemployment assistance, doing nixers and nobody is cracking the whip or coming down on them.
I wish to cite a case which, unfortunately, goes back many years. It concerns an unmarried couple who are living together. They are separated from their spouses, with the agreement of their spouses. The couple would like to get married to each other but they cannot do so because the Constitution and law do not allow them remarry. I wish to diverge from what I am saying for a moment. I have to say I was not one bit impressed by the parading of a new tender conscience by the Minister for Justice at the recent Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis. It was funny to see him making his public confession, torturing his conscience in public and assuring us all that the progress of legislation would not be held up because of his personal ideas. I am not sure I believe this anyway. It was a well calculated piece of theatre for the cameras and delegates at the Ard-Fheis.
The Deputy should give him a chance.
If it is true, it makes his conduct, and that of his colleague, the Minister for the Marine, Deputy Woods, in 1986 even more reprehensible. There is joy in Heaven over a sinner who repents but Heaven does not expect sinners to take forever before they repent.
I wish to return to the couple about whom I was talking. The woman in question is employed but as far as the Revenue Commissioners are concerned she is treated as a single person. Her companion has a child from his marriage and he has custody of that child. The woman is not the child's mother and she is not being treated as a single parent. She is not treated as a parent at all even though she is very much in loco parentis to that child. The man in question is unemployed and is drawing unemployment assistance. This man's child dependant is recognised but because he is living with another person who has an income he is being treated by the Department of Social Welfare as being married. The woman is treated as unmarried and that is to her disadvantage. The man is treated by a different Department as being married and that is to his disadvantage. Between the two Departments and the two separate sets of rules this couple are losing out both ways. I wonder where the justice is in that.
Some people believe the State by its laws has some duty to protect the institution of marriage. This is a case where they are preventing the institution of marriage from breaking out again. They are also preventing these two people from looking after a child in the way they would if they were free to marry. I see no sense or justice in that. There seems to be a disjunction, a lack of continuity and a lack of consistency in the way that case is being treated by the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Welfare. This is the kind of problem which should be sorted out.
Lest anyone thinks I am searching into the depths of experience for very recherché cases, as the Minister knows perfectly well, I am not. The kind of case I have described is not at all uncommon in any town, village or rural area. We were told the other day by this newly born liberal wing in Fianna Fáil, wherever they came from — I hope they are real and there is another wing to go with them so that the whole thing can take off and we will not simply see kite flying from the Taoiseach — in a leak in regard to the White Paper on marital breakdown that Fianna Fáil have suddenly discovered that 36,000 people are separated from their spouses and are living with the kind of difficulty which we tried to resolve in 1986 but which the mountainy men now on the Government side of the House prevented us from doing. The Minister knows as well as I do that they are guilty of this. It is a shame that these people are in Government and now parading their newly dressed consciences in front of the rest of us as recent arriviste liberals. I hope there will be another day for that debate in this House before too long. In the case to which I referred, direct and fairly comprehensive approaches made to Ministers for Finance and Ministers for Social Welfare have not yet resolved the problem. The couple are two more people who regard the State as an enemy.
I cannot find any provision in the Bill which will deal with the kind of injustices created by rigid cut-off points in qualification levels for benefits where entitlements are related to means. The problems are well known. There is rich and abundant literature on the kinds of poverty traps created in our system by these discrete approaches and entitlement to benefits. There is wide and abundant literature on the origins and nature of these poverty traps in our system but so far there has been very little response. I correct myself. There is one provision in the Bill which makes a move in that direction and I am glad to see it.
That provision relates to the family income supplement. It is about the only part of our social welfare system where there is a recognition that these straight cut-off points create problems which do not need to be there. We need to adopt a more gradual approach to the way we relate means to benefits and stop adopting this nonsensical system of having a cut-off point — if a person is £1 below a certain level he is entitled to everything but if he is £1 over the level he is not entitled to anything. This type of system creates more problems than it solves.
I would like to see that kind of injustice being dealt with because this, more than anything else, is the source of cynicism and disillusion with our administrative and political system. Many people tell us how young people and others are being alienated from politics. They ascribe this cynicism and alienation to all kinds of reasons. However, the biggest reason is that people find their contact with the system, the administration, leaves them feeling bruised and disadvantaged. It is not that they do not like politicians or because they think we are a venal corrupt group; it is because they have some kind of contact with the system, administration, which turns out to give a patently unfair result in the way these discreet means tests do.
I do not pretend that it will be an easy matter to resolve these difficulties. The answers are simple but they are not easy: they are simple in the sense that there is no mystery about how to deal with them but they are not easy in the sense that the answers require decisions to be made about where priorities will be put in our system. They involve choices to be made about whether to take money away from one part of the social welfare system and move it to another or take money away from some other part of our expenditure programme and put it into our social welfare system.
Underlying the debate on this Bill is the very black reality of rising unemployment. In recent weeks there has been a great deal of sophisticated argument and clever political dancing about the issue of a jobs forum. I take a very simple view of these matters. The Government are wrong to pretend that the normal system of this House is sufficient to make Ministers accountable; we know that is not true. There are votes in the House on Bills and the Government's 83 votes are whipped in. Sometimes the Progressive Democrats mutter mutiny and reservations under their breath but they go through the lobbies and the Government's majority is assured. Sometimes there are Private Members' motions or Bills and again the 83 votes on the Government side are whipped in. The Taoiseach is insulated by those 83 votes against the kind of the top of the head reaction which we saw from his predecessor in May 1989, the biggest misgamble in the history of the last few years in politics. The Taoiseach is insulated from that temptation because he has 83 votes. If it is not a Bill or a Private Members' motion there are statements in this House which lead to no conclusion. It is regrettable — but it has been part of the traditional approach to debate in this House — that those procedures do not constitute any kind of real dialogue. It does not have to be like that but it is the way it has been here up to now and the Taoiseach's vapid statements about consensus, dialogue, opening doors and letting in light have not been, so far, anything of substance. I have not seen any indication in here that he means any of it.
It is not as if other ways of resolving the problems have not been tried. A little over a year ago the Government and the social partners tried to deal with this problem of unemployment. They produced the Programme for Economic and Social Progress which was a failure from the word go. Last November it was pronounced a failure by the Minister for Finance, the man who was the hero of the shining hour when the agreement was signed. The programme will not do anything to increase employment, it was devised with the complicity of the Government, it was another assertion of the rights of the employed against the rights of the unemployed. The social partners and the Government did not do the job; if anybody is to do it, it will have to be the politicians who were elected to do it. It is about time that the Members and the people who write the columns in the Sunday newspapers got rid of the syndrome which led one of them last Sunday to say that the New Ireland Forum was set up to screw Fianna Fáil. We know that that is not the case, it was set up to make politicians do what they are elected to do, to make decisions. That is the way this House should be approaching the jobs forum and, to do that, there must be real dialogue between Ministers and this House, not the kind of stuff we see here in debates on Bills, Private Members' motions or statements. Until we take our job seriously we are failing the people this Bill proposes to serve.
I congratulate the Minister as it is my first time in the House since he took office. I wish him every success in his new role as Minister for Social Welfare. As he comes from County Kildare he will not have any biased opinions in regard to what is happening across the country and will make a fair assessment of his role in the complicated system of social welfare.
I welcome the Bill and indeed this side of the House can claim credit for looking after the poorer people, the lower income groups and those who depend on the Social welfare system. We always looked after those groups and we will continue to do so consistently during our term in Government. There is a guide to the social welfare services consisting of 166 pages outlining the benefits under that system. I wonder if the people entitled to social welfare benefits and assistance know their entitlements in full. Most of the people in my area — who are not slow in examining legislation relating to the social welfare system — would not know their full entitlements unless they minutely scrutinise this document. There are hundreds of various entitlements of which people are not aware. Perhaps a leaflet could be published setting out the benefits in simple terms, which would be very welcome.
Sections 1 to 9 provide for a 4 per cent increase under various headings and a 6 per cent increase in short term benefits. Having regard to our financial situation, this is a massive increase and something we were not expecting this year. We also did not expect the increase of 6 per cent covering disability and unemployment benefits, short term unemployment assistance and the carer's allowance. It also applies to a number of other allowances, including invalidity, persons over 80 years and so on. I will not go through the list as I am sure other Members have read it, too.
I would like to mention the exemption of the proceeds of the sale of the principal residence from means assessment for pension for a person aged 66 years and over. That is welcome because all a family's earnings are put into the household. It may be small but they have built it up and, when it has to be sold for a variety of reasons, the income from the sale is taken into consideration for means assessment. I welcome the fact that the proceeds from the sale of the family's principal residence will not be assessed as income for social welfare purposes. Most people will welcome this provision.
I am not very clear on the amendments to the rules for the calculation of means for pension purposes. I would like to see this spelled out in greater detail but I presume this will happen on Committee Stage. The explanatory memorandum talks about measures to streamline the system. That is a very vague term.
It is dangerous.
I would not use the word "dangerous" but it could cause uneasiness, to say the least, to some people.
The Bill gives effect to the increases in the budget and the other additional helpful measures already mentioned. This would be grand if the measures were implemented properly, but I believe some criticism is warranted in this area. Some people are harassed when they are being assessed for social welfare payments. The social welfare investigating officer may believe that the system is being abused but I believe that the people applying for sick benefit, disability benefit, invalidity or blind pensions are sometimes abused. I could give examples of hundreds of cases that I have come across from time to time of the person who comes from Dublin to adjudicate in the case, the medical referee, but he is known by different terms in the west, such as quack, a broken down medical man——
A saw doctor.
He arrives to assess the social welfare applicant. We do not know the gentleman's medical qualifications — although I am sure the Department will have an answer for that — but regardless of who has given a medical certification to the applicant, whether he is in hospital, about to be discharged from hospital or awaiting a call for an operation, this so-called medical referee will deem the applicant to be capable of carrying out his normal duties and therefore ineligible for disability, or sick benefit or any other appropriate benefit. Even if the applicant has a certificate of illness from a physician, a surgeon or radiologist, or any specialist you care to mention — people who have clinically examined the applicant in their surgeries or in hospital — it is not worth the paper it is written on when the medical referee arrives from the city to examine the applicant. Where does he carry out the examination of the patient? Usually in a courthouse where there are no clinical facilities, and sometimes not even a toilet. That is the way the system operates and it is a one hundred to one chance that the applicant will be deemed ineligible for benefit. This is where I see the abuse in the system. I want to see this abuse eliminated because it is disgraceful that sick people are treated in such a way. People on social welfare get sick just the same as everybody else and they are entitled to a proper examination. I would abolish the present system of medical referees and if a person in receipt of disability or sickness benefit is required to undergo a medical examination, he should be examined in a hospital or clinic where the facilities are available and the professionals can carry out the examination. That is the only way we can determine whether the applicant is entitled to benefit. I know the Minister could not stay to listen to the whole debate but I ask the Minister of State to tell him to abolish the old system and have medical examinations carried out by specialists in our hospitals. Because it is only he who can give an accurate account of the person's state of health at that point. I ask the Minister to take this on board.
The means testing of small farmers give rise to abuses. A small farmer is only entitled to unemployment assistance if he is available for work. If he goes to cut his turf, save his hay or cut silage he is deemed to be unavailable for work and therefore not entitled to unemployment assistance. Most of these small farmers have an acreage ranging from four to 15 acres and many farmers in my constituency do not qualify for a herd number because they do not have seven acres and a cattle crush. Most do not even have seven acres. The average holding in County Mayo is approximately 15 acres. How can you rear a family on 15 acres of land in the west? Its capacity to hold cattle is limited but it is their only means of earning a living. Why does the man remain on the small holding? Usually he has to look after his father and mother who are old and disabled and are not in a position to look after themselves. He does not qualify for a carer's allowance but if he increases his stock numbers or is seen to be improving his holding, the social welfare officers will be out investigating his means. They make sophisticated arrangements, they travel by hackney car and for the most part they arrive during the summer months with their field glasses. They love to arrive in Achill Island where the scenery is beautiful or in Louisburgh, or Bellmullet, areas which are so beautiful, too, especially between May and August. Indeed I am sure they go to Connemara and Leenane as well. They come out in summer. I have asked that they be removed, and they have been in some areas. They sit out on fine sunny days and, watch through their field glasses, the farmer footing the turf or cutting the silage to determine whether he is available for work. If his wife takes up seasonal employment as a waitress in a small tourist area the husband has to look after the family and because he is doing that he is deemed to be unavailable for work. Those people are being harassed by the social welfare system. I would ask the Minister — I am delighted he is back — to ensure that that type of harassment does not continue in the future. The people who are living there have to occupy their holdings and have to remain there. It is often a liability to live on those holdings but they have to do so in order to look after the older people in the house. That is something the Minister must examine and if it means a trip to the west I will show him many examples.
He might wait for the Galway races.
One needs a car, or some form of transport, in rural areas to go to church, to shop——
One needs two cars.
——and to take people to the nearest town, dispensary, clinic, hospital and so on. Possessing a car is considered as income and being well off. As we know, most of those cars in the west are "bangers" which can breakdown at any time. They do not cost very much but they are deemed to be motor vehicles so far as the social welfare system is concerned. That type of transport is a liability but it must be retained to take elderly people to church and to enable a small farmer to carry out his normal daily chores. I am giving the Minister the facts but I will give them to him in a practical way if he should visit the west. I will show him those people who are trying to eke out a living on small holdings and many of whom are being criticised for doing so.
I come now to small fishermen. I know many small fishermen who remain at home, instead of returning to England, in order to do some salmon fishing. They, too, are watched going out to do their fishing and are investigated by the social welfare officers. Those people pay £150 for their licence and they have to purchase expensive gear. They must have a member of the family to help man the currach. As soon as they come ashore a social welfare officer, who has been sitting on a high perch with field glasses, is waiting for them. Because lobster tanks are a quarter of a mile from the shore these officers cannot ascertain the number of lobsters the fishermen caught because they are put into the tank. They have to await the sale of the lobsters, which could mean waiting from one to two months. The social welfare officers will then arrive to see what amount of money he got for the lobsters for a period of two months fishing, depending on the size of his tank. Those fishermen with small incomes remain at home during the fishing season and then return to England to earn a small income for the upkeep of the family at home. Those people are away in England for eight or nine months of the year and do not qualify for social welfare. While they are at home they are harassed by social welfare officers. That will have to stop.
Young people in the west who are subjected to this type of investigation are fed up staying at home. The first opportunity they get they are on the boat to the bigger cities to obtain employment where they will not be abused or harassed by this type of investigation.
Ownership of the land is not being transferred from father to son or daughter. Immediately after transfer of ownership of the family farm, which ranges from four to 50 acres, there will be an investigation into the son's or daughter's means. The father's or mother's means have already been investigated for old age pension purposes. The son's means are investigated and in 99 cases out of 100 his unemployment assistance is reduced because he inherits the holding, which he did not have when he first qualified. Following the transfer of ownership the son or daughter is immediately penalised. They do not want to make any adjustment that will result in their social welfare benefits being reduced. These investigations militate against the transfer of ownership of land.
The installation grant is a good grant which was well intended but very few people in County Mayo will qualify. I know of many people in County Mayo who qualified but are limited because they do not have sufficient land to meet the requirements of the installation grant. In other places installation grants are worth £5,500 on which very little tax has to be paid on the transfer. That does not apply in the smaller units and they do not bother to apply for it. If there is any abuse of the system it is in the cities. It may be happening in the midlands too, where the farmer drives in with the land rover and brings the stable boy to collect the dole. When he goes home his wife goes in in the Mercedes to bring in some of the domestic staff to collect the dole. It is very hard to identify social welfare recipients in the cities. In rural areas everybody is known and there is no way anybody can claim benefits to which they are not entitled. I am aware that there are some cowboys in the system — they are everywhere — but they are very limited in the west. They are not limited in the cities because they cannot be controlled. Not too long ago we had a case where people who were working on a social welfare building came down off the ladders and went in and qualified for benefit, and then went back up the ladders again. Although corrective measures have been taken in that respect——
——the system is being abused in the city because no attempt is made to identify personnel. For this reason, something will have to be done in relation to investigations.
The carer's allowance was introduced in good faith. I am afraid, however, that the number of people who qualify for this allowance is limited. While it was introduced with the best of intentions the conditions attached to it are too harsh and as a result many people do not qualify. I would like to see them amended because we need someone to look after the elderly. It will cost far more to care for them in hospital. They should be cared for at home, if at all possible, and a substantial carer's allowance should be made available.
I wish to pay tribute to the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Woods, who did a great job. He established both the regional boards and the appeals board. While I welcome the establishment of the appeals board, they are slow to announce decisions. Perhaps the reason is they have to carry out investigations but I would like to see them operate independent of the social welfare system. As their title suggests, they should be an independent appeals board. Deputy Woods did much good work and introduced many schemes. Indeed, there is a list 166 pages long which outlines people's entitlements which they may not be fully aware of.
The small farmer has always been paid what is known as the supplementary allowance. This is not deemed to be either unemployment assistance or farmer's dole. This allowance should be based on the number of acres a farmer has without the need for a means test. That would eliminate the need to carry out investigations.
Will the Minister say how much money the Department of Social Welfare have saved under the investigation system? If we put expenses against savings, we will see there have been no savings. How much money has been saved for the taxpayer and the Department, taking into account the travelling expenses paid to social welfare officers in carrying out investigations? I do not think I have much more to say——
The Deputy has no time in which to say it.
That is a pity.
Tá an t-am istigh.
I wish the Minister luck in implementing this Bill.
The Deputy was getting into full swing.
The Deputy will appreciate that he has been on land and sea and in the sky in half an hour; he should be happy.
He was also under water.
I wish the Minister luck.
I call Deputy Ferris. I would appreciate if the Labour Party would agree to yield up five minutes of their time. That would mean that the Deputy would have 25 minutes. The Government side are happy to yield up five or ten minutes. This means that we will be able to accommodate the Independents with five to ten minutes per Deputy. With that agreement, we will be able to accommodate everyone.
As always, we will try to facilitate everyone in the House and agree to do as you say. I wish to share my time with my colleague, Deputy Pattison.
Deputy Ferris will have 15 minutes and Deputy Pattison ten minutes.
I congratulated the new Minister for Social Welfare on his appointment when he answered questions on social welfare. A man with flair he has a reputation for thinking out loud and not being afraid to state his views. It is a pity then that such a flamboyant Minister should introduce a Bill which will have a detrimental effect on the recipients of social welfare. For the first time in the history of the State, the Government have bowed to pressure and introduced the concept of taxing disability and occupational injuries benefits. This is also the first time it has been proposed that certain benefits, normally paid for by way of contributions, be means-tested.
I hope the Minister listened to his backbenchers who identified many of the problems encountered under existing legislation. Indeed, people will now find it more difficult to claim benefits under this legislation. Deputies, who represent urban and rural constituencies, have identified anomalies in this system. Indeed, we could spend the night outlining the problems in the medical referee system and means-testing which is a source of concern to Members on all sides of the House.
It is possible that the Bill is unconstitutional. One of its little known provisions will remove an established benefit from those who have paid for it. Under section 32 people who become ill or are hospitalised while in receipt of unemployment benefit will no longer be entitled to claim disability benefit, even though this is a right they always enjoyed. The same will apply in the case of those who become sick in the first year of work after a period of unemployment.
This measure will be trumpeted by the Government as a way of combating abuse but the Government have mechanisms at their disposal, principally the medical referee system which has been identified by Deputy Dukes, and others, as a merry-go-round. This measure is simply a crude attack on a well established benefit and the principal purpose in making this attack is to transfer the cost from the Government to the person who is sick.
This Bill contains measures which were not announced in the budget. For example, those in receipt of unemployment assistance who manage to get an occasional day's work will lose one pound in unemployment assistance for every pound they earn. The introduction of means-testing for the long term unemployed will mean a tightening of the poverty net around those on the lowest income levels in the State. Up until now income from insurable employment, that is, where PRSI contributions were paid, was not counted as means for unemployment assistance claimants. As a result, claimants could take up an occasional day's employment, sign off for the day and benefit from the day's wages.
A single person now signing off for one day would lose £9.10 in unemployment assistance and any earnings above that were, to all intents and purposes, the incentive for him to get work for that day. Under the provisions of this Bill not only would he be unable to claim for that day but he would lose £1 for every £1 earned. This provision will reinforce the barrier between those at work and those excluded from work, and there are almost 3,000 people here excluded from work. The person in work can supplement his income by taking on Saturday employment and part-time jobs but the unemployed person under this Bill would have to turn down a Saturday job, because every penny earned on the Saturday job would be taken from the dole.
A third provision in the Bill which represents the introduction of means testing in respect of unemployment benefit relates to redundancy payments. Unemployment benefit, because it is directly related to insurance contributions, has never been regarded as appropriate for means testing, but now workers who accept redundancy payments above a limit which is still to be set, will not receive unemployment benefit for the first nine weeks during which they are out of work. Also this nine weeks will not be added on at the end of the claim. It will be deducted from the 15 months that would normally apply in a claim.
We do not support the shedding of viable jobs and the use of the social welfare system to subsidise this, but this problem may be better dealt with through taxation or by the Department of Labour. The proposed approach is a crude measure which will hit those whose jobs were taken away from them as well as those who accepted voluntary redundancy. These measures will add to the means testing about which we already know. Means testing will apply even to deserted wife's benefit. In the past a deserted wife would benefit from her husband's contributions. We have now been told that deserted wife's benefit will be taken away from any woman who earns more than £12,000 a year. There will be a provision in this Bill to set an earnings ceiling which could be a great deal lower than the £12,000 now being talked about.
In general terms, this Bill poses a threat to the concept of the insurance-based social welfare system. The introduction of means testing through the back door, coupled with the other cuts in benefits and the reduced access to benefits, constitutes the most fundamental attack on social welfare that could be contemplated, even by the most right-wing Government in this State. That is why the Labour Party will oppose this Bill at every stage. We will oppose it on Second Stage and we will oppose as many amendments as this Government will allow us to contest. We are sorry that the Minister with his flair has been saddled with this legislation. We know the Minister is not responsible for most of it but that he now has to carry the can, and it is a can of worms.
I will be as brief as possible but unfortunately I will not be able to deal with all the points I would like to deal with.
Deputy Ferris agreeably only took ten minutes, so Deputy Pattison will have 15 minutes.
Thank you. The Bill and the Minister's statement introducing it are depressing. The provisions of the Bill are depressing for anyone depending on or likely to become dependent on social welfare in the foreseeable future. This Bill and the Minister's statement reflect the Government's inability to come to grips with unemployment. The Minister in his statement said "come hell or high water". For the unemployed that time has already arrived — the water is getting higher and hell is getting hotter for them as time goes on. The Minister's recipe for dealing with the matter attacks the entitlement of unemployed people who have already suffered the severe indignity of losing their jobs with little prospect, if any, of getting other jobs. There have been references now to misuse and abuse of the system and people who have paid tax throughout their lives for 20, 30 or 40 years have been put under a shadow. They are referred to as recipients and other people are referred to as taxpayers. I will remind the Minister and the Government that social welfare recipients are taxpayers and to attempt to divide our citizens into two categories, as the Minister did in his speech, is deplorable. Most of the people on unemployment payments paid tax throughout their lives. These people have suffered job losses and now they will lose the entitlements for which they more than handsomely contributed.
The Minister referred to the complexity of the social welfare system and said that he wished to simplify it. Then he went on to make it doubly complex. As a result of this Bill we will have three different codes under the welfare system. One category of claimants will be dealt with under one set of rules, another category will have their payments dealt with under a set of rules established in the past three or four years, and now there will be a new set of rules for claimants entering the system from April on or whatever date is fixed in this Bill. When I was Minister of State at the Department of Social Welfare there was one set of rules for everybody and now there are three.
The measures in this Bill do not encourage enterprise nor do they enable people to improve their circumstances. I had some people to see me recently, whose employer was cutting back on employment. The employer wanted to keep everyone employed part-time and the workers agreed to it. The provisions in this Bill knocked that on the head. The employer will now have to close down altogether. Similarly, a person is compelled to be unemployed for over 12 months in order to be considered for the part-time scheme of assistance. One is compelled to become unemployed in order to avail oneself of some of the provisions.
The shock of losing employment is certainly severe but the shock of a husband's death is far worse. Until some years ago it was the practice of the Department to allow the free scheme to run for a number of months if the widow was under the age of 66. This has been tightened up in recent years. I had a case recently where a woman returned from burying her husband to find that the postman had delivered a letter indicating that the free electricity allowance and free telephone rental were to be discontinued. The Minister may not be able to bring in a scheme to provide that widows of recipients of these benefits should continue to benefit until the age of 66, but I would appeal to him to allow widows to continue to receive these benefits for a year or so after the death of their husbands. The benefits have been budgeted for and the Minister would be doing a great act of mercy if he could allow this cushioning period. Widows lose the main part of the pension which their husbands received and qualify for a lesser amount. To lose in addition the benefit of these schemes is a very severe blow. There are two kinds of widows. There are those who are dependent on their husbands' contributory pensions because they would not qualify in their own right for non-contributory pensions due to other means. Where the widow is worse off and qualifies for a non-contributory pension, she does not get payment for six weeks following the death of her husband. It is very difficult to explain why people in poorer circumstances are not facilitated in this way. Very small amounts of money are involved in rectifying these matters. I would appeal to the Minister not to cut off the benefits of the free schemes in the brutal fashion which is being practised currently.
I condemn the use of the term "voluntary redundancy." It is a misnomer and a contradiction in itself. When a firm decide to let 20 people go, they will look for volunteers; if they do not get them, people will be made compulsorily redundant. We see on television the anguish of those in the west who are losing their jobs in the meat industry. To target further such people is beyond my understanding. People nowadays have heavy mortgages and heavy repayments on cars which are essential if they are to remain in the labour market. Just because they get a redundancy payment of £10,000 or £20,000 — one year's salary — with perhaps 20 years unemployment ahead of them, the Minister and the Government believe they should be deprived of unemployment benefit. I cannot understand the thinking behind that kind of savage attack on people who are on their knees. To kick people when they are down is the worst form of attack. That is what some of these measures amount to and I appeal to the Minister to reconsider.
The Minister has also decided to cut back on occupational injury benefit. I was a Member of this House in the early sixties when a high powered commission were asked to investigate an alternative to the Workman's Compensation Act. The commission, consisting of members of the Congress of Trade Unions and employers, decided in their wisdom after much deliberation that there should be a higher payment of compensation for people out of work due to accidents at work. I question the Minister's wisdom in deciding that the payments should be the same, against the decision of many years ago that they should be different. I wonder if the Minister has consulted the community welfare officers whose workload will increase twofold or more due to the fact that the long term unemplyed will not qualify for disability benefit. They will have an enormous workload and I expect they will have something to say about it in due course.
With the permission of the House, I will share my time, as agreed, with Deputy Callely.
I wish the Minister well in his very onerous portfolio. Based on the facts that the Minister presented, it is particularly challenging. He highlighted that we in this small country will spend this year £3.36 billion on social welfare and £940 million on unemployment payments. I do not intend to go into the intricacies of the various schemes under the Department of Social Welfare. I welcome the Minister's statement that he proposes to bring forward before the end of the year a consolidation Bill, which is long overdue. There is certainly duplication of various schemes and there is need for consolidation and rationalisation. I have no doubt that the Minister will tackle this problem, thereby reducing overheads and administrative costs.
Shortly after taking office the Minister visited the community of Rowlagh, north Clondalkin, in my constituency. I did not have the opportunity of being there on that day but I compliment him on that visit as a result of which he has first hand knowledge of the area. A group of women in north Clondalkin called the Rowlagh Women's Development Group, under a tutor from St. Patrick's College in Maynooth, prepared a document on aspects of poverty in the area. In that report, which is available to the Department of Social Welfare, they refer to the link between poverty and unemployment. In their introduction they stated: "We chose to do this project because we live in what is described as a "Disadvantaged Area", an area highly populated and with 70 per cent to 80 per cent long term unemployed." This community is what Dublin County Council would term a `codan' area, an area where limited community investment is directed towards the areas that most need it. The report goes on to state:
In many households Unemployment Assistance is the only income. Some children may suffer from a deprived environment. They get little or no encouragement and have little to motivate them, therefore, to some of these the world of employment is somewhere they may never reach.
The Task Force on Urban Affairs was set up as a result of difficulties experienced in this community in north Clondalkin. I would emphasise the need for monitoring the workings of that task force on which the Department of Social Welfare are represented and whose report on north Clondalkin is due in the near future.
It is essential that this task force consider the various schemes on unemployment. The Department of Social Welfare, FÁS, local authorities, the SES, Youthreach and other bodies carry out great work within communities, but there is need for co-ordination in this area. The Department are spending up to £1 billion on unemployment and, considering the investment by FÁS, the IDA and other Departments, the amount spent on unemployment amounts to up to £5 billion. Much of the activity in the job creation area could be initiated by the Department of Social Welfare. No other Department have at their fingertips the detailed information necessary to put forward suggestions and recommendations as to how this horrendous problem can be tackled. I welcome the Minister's approach to this task. He can play a key role at the Cabinet table in solving the unemployment problem.
There is a great need for co-ordination of the various schemes introduced by Government Departments. The Department of Social Welfare have a decisive role in regard to unemployment. I strongly urge that they monitor the work of the Task Force on Urban Affairs and ensure that some of the recommendations in the report on the north Clondalkin area are implemented. A redirection of resources is needed to overcome the effects of unemployment and to prevent a further deterioration of communities. Greater co-ordination is needed between the Department of Education, the Department of Health, the Department of the Environment and the local authorities in tackling the unemployment problem.
I suggest that the Minister ask his Department to meet with senior management of the local authorities to ascertain whether a substantial number of unemployed people could be given productive employment. Much work is carried out by people on FÁS schemes, work experience schemes, environmental improvement schemes and so on, but these schemes should be streamlined with a view to providing permanent employment. I would urge that the Department monitor the Task Force on Urban Affairs and ensure that the money spent in this area is put to better use.
I thank Deputy Lawlor for his reasonableness in the matter of time. Deputy Callely has approximately six minutes.
First I would like to congratulate Deputy McCreevy on his recent appointment as Minister for Social Welfare. Most people recognise that he will make a very good Minister. This is the first Social Welfare Bill introduced by this Minister and I am happy to support it. As has been highlighted, increases are given across the board to social welfare recipients. Total expenditure for 1992 is in excess of £3.36 billion. In the difficult financial circumstances this shows Fianna Fáil's continued commitment and caring approach to the less well off in society. However, one would have to express concern at the amount of money spent on unemployment payments in 1992 — in excess of £940 million. The Government are tackling this problem by proposing the setting up of a jobs forum. All parties in the House need to address sincerely the greatest problem faced by this country, unemployment. I have a particular interest in the large number of young people who are unemployed and are becoming disillusioned with our system, and in those who, unfortunately, have to look abroad to try to find some kind of employment.
I welcome the Minister's comments that he intends to examine further ways of creating incentives for the unemployed to take up unemployment or to become self-employed while in receipt of unemployment assistance. I look forward to the Minister making further announcements and giving details of developments in that regard during the year.
Several Deputies have raised the issue of the invalidity pension and the disability benefit. The time of many public representatives, let alone the time of the Department of Social Welfare and that of medical referees, is taken up by the appeals system for disability benefit. The fault of the system seems to be that there is no higher authority that can settle a case once and for all. Instead, we have a system of ongoing appeals. Many of my constituents who have been knocked off disability benefit have appealed that decision, have gone before a medical referee and have been completely unsatisfied with the examination carried out by the medical referee. I have come across cases of individuals who have merely sat before a medical referee and answered several questions before being knocked off disability benefit. They have come to me and shown written medical evidence indicating the severity of an illness and giving reasons for inability to work. However, a medical referee who has not examined the individual at all declares them fit for work. The whole question of disability benefit, the appeals system and the manner in which appeals are carried out have to be considered more caringly.
The carer's allowance was introduced with very good intentions. I understand that the present Minister, Deputy McCreevy, will be considering this allowance in greater detail. This benefit has great potential but since its introduction that potential has not been achieved. When considering different aspects relating to the supplementary and subvention payments made to individuals who require long term nursing care by health boards and the payments made to carers, one realises that there is a huge potential for development of the carer's allowance. In certain instances health boards pay up to £200 and purchase beds from private nursing homes to care for those who require long term nursing care, yet at the same time there is insufficient assistance for relatives or family members who are prepared to provide that care. The criteria for benefit from the carer's allowance and the payment of that allowance are matters that must be examined more closely.
I am greatly encouraged by section 41, which concerns the relationship between the Department of Social Welfare and An Post. I welcome the Minister's intention to develop and consider further possibilities for development. There is great scope in that area.
As regards the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, I also welcome the Minister's intention to achieve greater standardisation between the health boards. There is great concern about this issue in the area of Dublin that I represent. Some of my constituents have told me that there can be a great difference in one's payments depending on the supplementary welfare officer involved. Having said that, I also highly commend and support all supplementary welfare officers, who do an extremely good job in very difficult circumstances.
The previous speaker said that he would like to witness greater efficiency in expenditure in various sectors involved in the delivery of services. I do have some concerns. Following the decentralisation programme that has been carried out, when elderly people inquire about old age pension entitlements, etc., they are told to phone the Sligo office; when they make inquiries about a free travel allowance they are advised to phone a different office, and so on. Social welfare services are widely spread. The SW4 booklet issued by the Department of Social Welfare is very detailed and informative. However, the public find the position complex because here are many informative documents issued by the Department, ranging from weekly rates to facts sheets. I congratulate organisations such as the National Social Services Board, who issue excellent brochures about entitlements for pensioners and over-sixties. I also congratulate other community-orientated groups on issuing publications such as the Donnycarney Parish Directory in Coolock. Such informative booklets on social welfare entitlements are to be welcomed.
I ask that the Minister consider the appointment of a co-ordinator for social welfare voluntary services on a parochial or a Dáil constituency basis. A co-ordinator could give people information on their entitlements as required.
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann noting
(1) that the Bill represents a serious assault on the principle of an insurance-based social welfare system,
(2) that the Bill will reduce the range and the value of many of the entitlements available to those who need the support of the social welfare system as a result of illness or unemployment,
(3) that the Bill breaches the commitment given in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress that social welfare recipients would be protected and their living standards maintained and, where possible, improved,
(4) that the dates specified for the small increases in the rates of social welfare payments are the latest ever and represent a six month gap between the budget announcement and the implementation of the increases,
(5) that the Bill has already met with strong criticism from trade unions, employer organisations and groups concerned with the interests of those on social welfare,
declines to give a Second Reading to the Social Welfare Bill, 1992.".
I thank the House for co-operating with the allocation of time. I intend to share my time with Deputies Garland and McCormack.
The Social Welfare Bill is one of the most significant measures to be published in recent years, but unfortunately, it is significant for all of the wrong reasons. The Bill represents a fundamental change in the direction of public policy on social welfare. In fact, it is an outright assault on the principle of an assurance-based social welfare system and a complete rejection of the approach urged by the famous Commission on Social Welfare.
The Bill is the first real measure of the intentions of the new Government and the new Minister for Social Welfare. Quite frankly, the indications are alarming. Perhaps we should have been warned by the Taoiseach's speech to the recent Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis, in which the poor were ignored and social welfare was mentioned only in the context of a so-called disincentive to work.
This Bill must rank as the most disturbing Social Welfare Bill in recent years. The public statements made by the recently appointed Minister, Deputy McCreevy, to the effect that the proposed changes in the Bill result from an abuse of various schemes by welfare recipients is dishonest and, by being divisive is a cheap way of trying to engender support for the huge and varying degrees of cutbacks proposed in the Bill.
This Bill throws into sharp focus the worthlessness and betrayal of the social partners of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress which referred to the Government being committed to an ongoing programme for reform of the social welfare system broadly within the framework outline by the Commission on Social Welfare. I contend its provisions will do absolutely nothing in that direction. Rather they will introduce loathsome means testing into the social insurance arena; they will introduce the same degrading, unfair means testing into the system as applies to social assistance schemes and medical cards. It introduces this terrible means testing into social insurance schemes where it had no place until the recently appointed Minister took office.
This Bill represents the first sledgehammer blow of the new Minister at the concept of a pay-related social insurance system which will be sufficiently damaging to undermine it in the eyes of both employers and employees. I predict it will weaken the system to the extent that there will be a backlash by way of lack of confidence in social insurance which could ultimately kill it off.
Let nobody mistake the Minister's aims. He is attacking PAYE workers and attempting to kill social insurance, on the one hand, by increasing by £1,000 the ceiling beyond which PRSI contributions are compulsory on the part of PAYE workers, bringing the figure to £19,000, while, on the other hand, robbing them of their benefits and entitlements. Why should any PAYE worker feel happy to have 7.75 per cent of his income deducted up to a ceiling of £19,000 in respect of social insurance, health and the employment-training levy? Why should he feel happy when he is asked to pay more social insurance while at the same time his entitlements are being reduced under the provisions of this Bill?
Why should thousands of wives of insured workers, earning in excess of £25,000 annually, be deprived of their optical and dental benefits, a change which in itself constitutes an outrageous attack on women's rights? If the Minister is allowed to get away with his plans the next logical attack will be to deprive women, those whose husbands earn in excess of £25,000 annually, of child benefit. Indeed, if the Minister is allowed to continue on that path the next logical step would be for him to means-test recipients of contributory old age pensions which would mean in turn, that many an old aged pensioner would end up receiving no pension at all, even after a lifetime of paying his or her PRSI contributions. That is the path the Minister is taking. He is undermining social insurance by introducing this terrible means-testing system. For example, widows in receipt of contributory widow's pension will no longer be assured of their pensions under this new direction of the Minister.
It begs the question: why has the Minister begun this outrageous, demeaning, loathsome means testing by targeting so many women? Why has he specifically targeted unfortunate women who have been deserted by their husbands, by means testing them on incomes in excess of £12,000 annually? Is the Minister aware that those few deserted wives earning, say £12,000 annually, who are in receipt of the deserted wife's benefit, more than likely will repay 50 per cent of that benefit to the Exchequer in tax?
Let us revert to the Government bible — the Programme for Economic and Social Progress— and remind ourselves what is said in it about social welfare. It speaks of greater flexibility being necessary within social welfare schemes to encourage and facilitate more people to regain a foothold in the labour market. Honourable words and sentiments. Having agreed to recognise the need for flexibility and to facilitate people in regaining a foothold in the labour market, let us examine how the Minister will achieve that goal. For example, the explanatory memorandum, under the heading Unemployment Payment schemes states:
Section 27 replaces the Unemployment Assistance chapter of the Social Welfare Acts and contains a number of amendments relating to the Unemployment Assistance scheme. The purpose of the amendment is to— . . . .
—provide that where a person has earnings from insurable employment but claims unemployment assistance, his earnings will be assessed as means in determining his entitlement to Unemployment Assistance;
I say to the Minister that that is some way of giving a fellow a leg-up and-or returning him to the labour market. The Minister could not have devised a more rigid, inflexible approach to encouraging and facilitating more people to regain a foothold in the labour market than he has under the provisions of section 27. I predict its provisions will act as a total deterrent to people actively endeavouring to re-enter the labour market or, indeed, those endeavouring to enter the labour market for the first time. It will be a slap in the face to an unemployed, qualified teacher who may be offered a day's work in the local technical college or school. Why should such people want to sign off unemployment assistance for the day and ultimately not just losing their £9.10 daily rate — or whatever it is — but having themselves means tested for eligibility for such assistance if they accept the offer of a second day or night's work in the week. Does the Minister not appreciate what will be the effect of the provisions of section 146 (f) on such people, when not alone will their unemployment assistance be put in jeopardy but also their rights to a medical card or to a rent supplement, if they are in receipt of these.
It would be a worthwhile exercise for the Minister to read the submission of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, contained in their excellent submission entitled "A Question of Choices", where they say the Government should eliminate the barriers that currently block unemployed people from working when jobs do not exist. The Minister is doing the exact opposite, he is erecting barriers. It is interesting to note that the INOU, who should know all about barriers and unemployment, have highlighted four areas of the Minister's Bill which they find very disturbing. They say that despite constant Government references to removing poverty traps the provisions of this Bill will render it much more difficult for unemployed people to take up work, reinforcing the barriers obtaining between those with work and those without work; that while a wide range of obnoxious and mean provisions are encompassed in this Bill the following four will have an immediate, negative impact on the unemployed. The first is the means testing of work undertaken by people on unemployment assistance, to which I referred. That most serious attack was not even announced in the budget and never referred to by the Minister prior to the publication of this Bill. This new provision will mean that people on unemployment assistance who manage to obtain an occasional day's work in the white economy will lose £1 for every £1 they earn, whereas, to date income from insurable employment was not counted in the case of claimants for unemployment assistance. That meant such claimants could avail of an occasional day's employment in the official economy, sign off for the day and benefit from those earnings.
I interrupt merely to remind the Deputy of his desire to facilitate Deputy Garland.
One would need an hour at least to comment on the provisions of this Bill. I will make one final reference to some sentiments expressed by the Minister in the course of his introductory remarks today when he said that social welfare was complex and he was concerned about it. I say to him he has rendered it doubly complex in that the proposed new means testing, involving community welfare officers, will necessitate an army of bureaucrats to administer the changes, in turn leading to more delays for the poor and more appeals being lodged within the appeals system.
With this, his first Social Welfare Bill, the Minister has managed to turn social welfare legislation from having been complex but workable into a minefield whose victims will be those who, ironically, the British social insurance system — on which ours has been based — was designed to protect. In addition to printing the "Guide to Social Welfare Services" the Minister should print a similar "Guide to Social Welfare Regulations" since one without the other will not be of much benefit.
On behalf of the Green Party, Comhaonas Glas, I have no option but to oppose this Bill. I will refer briefly to section 27, the provisions of which deal with the manner in which part-time workers are dealt with for the purpose of unemployment assistance. Henceforth the proposal under which earnings from part time employment will be deducted from unemployment assistance must constitute the most retrograde step ever taken in this House in this respect. It constitutes a total regression whereas, in the course of his introductory remarks, the Minister pleaded for a consistent approach to the treatement of part-time earnings for the self employed and part time employees. He is entirely correct in that regard. The Minister should give the same treatment to the self-employed as is presently given to part time employees.
I am very much in favour of providing incentives and encouragement to people to improve their situation and reduce their dependency on the state welfare system.
This statement is unbelievable and is totally at variance with what the Minister is proposing. This proposal will add further to the number of dole recipients. It will also make the lot of these unfortunate people much worse and will discourage people from seeking a day's work here and there. It is well known that a number of the long term unemployed have managed to re-enter the full-time workforce through such temporary part-time work. Is the Minister trying to put a stop to this small incentive which is of benefit to some of the poorest of our citizens? Is this the act of a caring Government?
The Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, would like to see the introduction of a basic income scheme to replace social welfare. This basic income would be paid unconditionally to all citizens - male, female, the unemployed, the self-employed, pensioners, divorcees, separated people, etc. The only way forward is through such a scheme and not the hodgepodge social welfare system which is being tinkered around with in this Bill.
While I appreciate the co-operation of Deputies in regard to the sharing of time this debate is unsatisfactory in that a number of Deputies who wish to contribute cannot do so. I am sure the Minister and his officials would have benefited if this debate had been twice as long. Deputies can give the Minister and his officials the benefit of their first hand experience of the difficulties which arise in the social welfare system.
The recurring point made by Deputies on all sides of the House throughout the debate is the apparent unsatisfactory approach adopted by social welfare officers when examining social welfare applicants. Deputy Wyse proposed the introduction of a once-off assessment. This would be a logical proposal for the Minister to follow up. Deputy O'Toole outlined the position in regard to claims by applicants from rural areas. He has first-hand experience of this. When he was referring to the social welfare officers who watch through field glasses as women make hay I thought he was going to give us a verse of "Galway Bay". He also referred to the social welfare officers who watch the people who empty lobster cages at the end of the week.
My attention has been drawn to some cases in Connemara in particular. People in Connemara grow their vegetables in their front gardens because of the scarcity of soil in their back gardens. Many social welfare officers remark on these gardens. It is unfair to think that an applicant can be penalised for growing vegetables in a front garden which would be approximately the same size as the carpet on the floor in front of me. People in Connemara and other areas should be encouraged to grow vegetables in their gardens. I know of applicants who have been penalised for having carrots growing in their front gardens. In one case the applicant was quizzed so much by the social welfare officer that she offered to lift a hatching hen off her eggs so that the social welfare officer could count the eggs. Deputies are aware of the absolute fear applicants have of being questioned by social welfare officers. This is completely unnecessary. The Minister has been advised by Members on all sides of the House to have a word with his officials to ensure that applicants are not terrified of being visited by social welfare officers.
The same system is used in assessing eligibility for a medical card. Farmers are assessed on the basis of their stock. The number of stock is multiplied by a magical figure which is supposed to give a farmer's income. If the figure is above the eligibility level he cannot qualify for a medical card. Most social welfare officers do not realise that 30 ewes and five cattle do not give farmers an adequate income. Farmers who say they are not making the amount of money they are estimated to be making are asked why, then, they are in the business. Farming is a way of life for these people. Social Welfare officers find it very hard to understand why these people continue to farm if they do not make an adequate income from it. The point has been made repeatedly throughout the debate that the Minister for Social Welfare should introduce a more humane system for assessing eligibility for social welfare benefits.
I wish to refer to the case of a person who applied for an old age pension. This person had accumulated stamps while working for a relative. However, because they were deemed to be "in contract for service" rather than having "a contract of service" they were disqualified from receiving a contributory old age pension. I should like the Minister to clarify what is meant by that kind of jargon.
Many speakers have referred to the carer's allowance. This is a potentially valuable scheme which has not been allowed to blossom. In other words, people who are entitled to a carer's allowance are not getting it because of the provisions laid down in the regulations. People are disqualified from receiving a carer's allowance on the basis of income. For example, a husband and wife whose income is more than £90 are disqualified from receiving this allowance. This is ridiculous. Many people are disqualified on the basis that they are not full-time carers. I know a person in south Galway who was caring at home for his two aunts who were bedridden. He applied for a carer's allowance after the then Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Woods, announced the scheme to a great fanfare in 1990. However, this man who has ten cows and 25 ewes was disqualified from receiving this allowance on the basis that he was not a full-time carer. Yet, this person never left his home, never went out at night and never socialised as he had to care for his two aunts on a 24 hours a day basis. Not alone was he disqualified but the social welfare officer took £3 off the old age pension of one of his aunts.
I wrote to the previous Minister for Social Welfare in regard to a case in Annaghdown. I raised the matter during the debate on the 1990 budget and he requested me to send him the details. However, this case has still not been solved. I wrote to the new Minister for Social Welfare about the case on 20 February. I know he has not had time to respond to me yet. The reference number is 23/5696621N. The person in this case is caring for a doubly incontinent 57 year old relative at home. This person was awarded the princely sum of £2 by way of a carer's allowance through caring for their relative 24 hours a day without any respite whatsoever. Those are just some examples of such cases.
The Minister should have examined the case which the carers' association made in regard to the removal of the means test clause from the carer and the person being cared for. If the carer is married and in receipt of social welfare benefits he — or she — will receive the full £45 but will lose an adult dependant allowance of £31. A couple whose joint income is more than £90 will not qualify. Elderly people should also retain their entitlements to ESB allowance and a free television licence in the event of them moving to live with the carer.
I must call the Minister for Social Welfare.
I regret the shortage of time to debate this very important Bill.
I should like to thank the Deputies who participated so well in this debate. We ran the gamut of speeches, from witty to heartrending, about some aspects of the social welfare system. Whatever about the proposals of the Government and the Opposition in relation to a jobs forum perhaps the next time there is a Commission on Social Welfare, the investigating officers should take the Members' views on board. I was a backbencher for a long time and the majority of cases about which I received inquiries were in relation to social welfare. Since coming to the Department I have learned more, I am still learning and I was interested in what the Deputies said tonight.
The Minister has not learned how to simplify the social welfare system.
Deputy Dukes advised me not to become too immersed in the system and I intend to take his advice. The danger is that one could get so involved in all the schemes, regulations and qualifying conditions that one could not see the overall picture. Coming from an accountancy background, I could become very involved in detailed information and become quite expert over a period, although it would probably take a lifetime.
I understand that there is now a centre in Trinity College, Dublin, giving information in relation to social welfare. As I said recently, I can visualise contestants on "Mastermind" in years to come being asked questions about our social welfare system and not getting them right.
The social welfare system reminds me of the taxation system. I am sure that if we were now putting a tax system in place we would not have many of the reliefs which are in place at present. Over the years people made a case regarding mortgage interest reliefs and so on and, if they are changed, they create other anomalies. The Department of Social Welfare legislation reminds me of the Frank Kelly tape which I play on the car radio. He tells the story of a man walking near Kilcock who stopped to ask the way to Mullingar. He was directed through Kilcock, Rathangan and the Curragh and, after about three weeks, the traveller arrived back in Kilcock. He asked the person who had given him directions why he had sent him on such a roundabout journey as it was not the direct route to Mullingar. The man replied that if he had been going to Mullingar he would not have started from Kilcock in the first place. It is the same with the social welfare system, if we were starting from scratch now we would probably not have all the schemes which are in place at present. The problem is, as other Deputies have pointed out, that when one tries to get rid of an anomaly in one area, anomalies are created in other areas.
Perhaps politicians want to be liked but it seems that every Minister for Social Welfare wanted a scheme called after him before he left office. We now have books containing schemes and qualifying conditions, there are numerous investigating officers, compliance officers, deciding officers and referees of all shapes and sizes. It is an industry. The schemes are like those introduced in other areas, they were introduced for a specific purpose and they were a good idea at the time. However, they seemed to take on an organic growth of their own over a period and that also happened in relation to the Department of Social Welfare. If one was too closely involved with all the schemes, not alone would one not see the wood for the trees, one would not even see the sea or the sky, one would be buried in certain areas of the Department.
I will not be able to deal with all the points raised by Deputies. I hope that a consolidation Bill will simplify some of the rules and regulations and bring them up to date. I hope to introduce that Bill towards the end of the year. If the system was simpler it would be easier to comply with, easier to administer and it would tackle abuse because there would not be an incentive to abuse the system.
It is not possible in a short period of Government to solve all the problems at one fell swoop but during my period in office — no matter how long or short it may be; that is a matter for the electorate and other factors — I will endeavour to do my best. During my short period as Minister I have made many speeches about disincentives. One scheme which epitomises how crazy the welfare system has become is the family income supplement scheme. It is a good scheme and works effectively but it means that we must give money to people who are working to bring them up to a level which they would reach if they were not working. The scheme encapsulates where we have gone wrong over the years. It means that people who are working will not be worse off if they are not working.
Most of the proposed changes would cost money but, if possible, I will look at the problems of widows who are not entitled to benefits when their husbands die. A number of Deputies made the point that they are cut off immediately and that it would not apply if the husband had been a contributory pensioner. I do not want to be remembered as the Minister who introduced many new schemes but I should like to be remembered as someone who treated widows fairly in relation to social welfare. My concern probably stems from the fact that my mother was widowed very young. I was the eldest of the family and, luckily, due to my father's employment with a State organisation, my mother qualified for a widow's contributory pension. Small as it was, it was a regular income and it made a difference. I never expected to be in Government or in the Department of Social Welfare but I always said that if I was I would try to do something in that regard. I hope, in future, to do something about this matter.
Some Members suggested that there have been exaggerated comments in relation to some of the Bill's provisions and said I was attacking the whole principle of pay-related social insurance. There is no point in fooling ourselves about these things because the theory of the earnings related scheme is an excellent one. The theory behind the earnings-related automatic entitlement to income scheme is excellent when things are going well in the country but there is very little relationship between what is paid into the scheme and what is taken out of it. Some people pay a great deal into the system and get nothing out of it at all but others pay very little and get a great deal. The State makes a very large subvention to the social insurance fund. There is no point in saying that the scheme is self-financing, because it is not. With the rising number of unemployed people and the annual increases in benefits, the cost of the social welfare system to the State is such that funding the present rate of payments is becoming very difficult. In addition, the demographic trend is towards a worsening of the present high dependency ratio in the years to come. That is a fact. Unless we begin to target resources to areas of need, a future Government Minister for Social Welfare will have grave difficulty in funding the system. I am not trying to do away with the theory of a pay-related social insurance system but it is only honest to point out as some Deputies have already done, that some provisions in the Bill remove automatic entitlement. We have also set income limits. I am not trying to fool anybody, but it is unfair to exaggerate what I have done and to say I am trying to dismantle the pay-related system. I am not. I am trying only to grapple with a system which is costing the State a great deal of money. I do not like a means test no more than anybody else but with the increasing numbers, if we are to target benefit to those who really need it we have to make changes. The changes proposed in the Bill are quite modest.
A number of Deputies referred to the simplification of the social welfare system. Deputy Wyse among others stressed the need for a unified means test not only for all social welfare payments but all State benefits so that the same test will be applied by the health boards, and by local authorities in assessing eligibility for education grants, etc. As has been pointed out, there are different means tests for different categories of recipients. It is hard to justify different means tests, and I accept that. I have initiated steps — and a study into this area has been ongoing for some time — to bring uniformity to the system but we should remember that if we are going to have a uniform means test, it will depend on the basis from which we start. We have to make a decision whether to raise the threshold for means test to the highest existing level or lower it to the lowest existing level or to bring some categories up and others down. There will be winners and losers, because any additional costs in one area will have to be met out of the total social welfare budget.
Sell the field glasses.
As Deputies have rightly pointed out, the number of unemployed persons is increasing. There is no point in saying that I will be able to do something that will cost money when I will not be able to raise that money. While I will try to establish a uniform means test in the Department, I must point out that there will be both winners and losers because I will not be able to raise the threshold in all cases.
There is a great need to simplify the system. A good idea is that a person will have a unique identification number for all their dealings with the State. As Members know, the Department of Social Welfare have taken over responsibility for the allocation of RSI numbers. If this were applied universally we could make the system more comprehensive. Some people objected to being asked if they were in receipt of child benefit when we asked for their RSI number. The theory of a universal number is that it would apply to all areas in the Department of Social Welfare. As some Deputies rightly pointed out, the supplementary welfare allowance from the community welfare officer is administered by the health board but paid for by the Department of Social Welfare and there is not a tie-up between the two areas.
A great many Members commented on the restriction of unemployment benefit to people in receipt of a certain level of redundancy payment. This has caused some controversy. Deputy Bell among others was very kind to me and I thank him for that. Perhaps it was because this was the first Bill I introduced in the House that he was nicer than he would normally be; I do not think people are nice to me because of the way I comb my hair. I have a tough skin so I do not expect people to be nice to me all the time and I take no offence if they are not nice.
Let the Minister wait until tomorrow.
Deputy Bell's arguments made a lot of sense to me but he made the point that this measure would mean that we would return to the last in first out — LIFO — system of redundancy. I thought about this point but I do not honestly believe that will be the situation. The Bill provides that this will not apply to people over the age of 55 years. There were various options on the table. I have not prescribed the amount of the redundancy payment because I want to negotiate with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and with the Federation of Irish Employers before I decide on a level. That is why the provision has been couched in those terms.
The Minister did not tell us that.
That will give me the opportunity to meet those people before I set a figure. No figure is mentioned in the Bill and I state that the amount is to be prescribed in regulation, and before we decide on the amount in the regulations I will have negotiations with the relevant bodies. That should get us over that particular problem.
We have extended the disqualification period to nine weeks in the case of redundancy. We do not talk about voluntary or involuntary redundancy because, as Deputy Séamus Pattison said, voluntary redundancy is a misnomer because it is a total contradiction in terms. We refer to a payment to be prescribed in regulations and after discussing the matter with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Federation of Irish Employers we could come up with the figure. It has emerged beyond doubt that both employers and trade unions connive in the situation. They use the Department of Social Welfare as a prop-up mechanism and advertise how employees will benefit under the provisions of the Department of Social Welfare. That was never the intention of what a social insurance system should be. In my view social insurance is a contingency measure so that if people are unemployed or sick, or whatever the case may be, the State welfare system will look after them.
It was introduced at a time when you could go from one job to another.
There is something in what the Deputy says, but I will return to that point later because I accept there has been a change in work patterns. It is a broader issue than the Department of Social Welfare in that I do not believe that is what the social insurance system is meant to be. The proposal I made is reasonable and I hope the regulations being prescribed with a fixed amount will cater for it.
Deputy Connaughton recently raised the matter of child benefit by means of a Dáil question. There is no increase under this Bill for child benefit, or children's allowance as it used to be called. The general increase of 4 per cent applicable to recipients on weekly rates of social welfare does apply to the child dependant allowance payable as an increase in those weekly payments. This is not the first year in which there has been no direct increase in child benefit. I have thought about the matter of disincentives in the few weeks I have been in the Department. I cannot pre-empt what will be in the next budget but there are studies to prove that there are disincentive effects for people in receipt of social welfare who have a number of children. With increases in the adult dependant allowance and the child dependant allowance the poverty trap, or the disincentive trap, is applicable to many of those people. It would be better to target child benefit directly through the child benefit scheme and make it payable to the mother. I am not going to give any hostage to fortune here this evening——
Is the Minister going to tax it?
I am glad Deputy Fennell came in on that point. If that is the case, one could target more money to the mothers who would spend it more effectively but it has implications which other Deputies have raised. We cannot have it both ways. If we are going to increase the weekly rates for social welfare payments and increase child dependant allowance we are prevented from increasing child benefit. People should be conscious of that issue. There was much comment concerning farmers being means tested, particularly from Deputies Boylan, O'Toole and McCormack. I missed some of Deputy O'Toole's contribution because I had to have a break but he entertained us and he also invited me to the west.
It would not be safe to go now.
Actually, the town to which the controversy relates is better known to me than any other town in Ireland because I spent most of my younger life there and I know it better, perhaps, than the town of Naas.
They need the Minister very badly at this time,
Is there any possibility that the Minister might give it a kick-start?
The idea of the means test is to try to establish on a factual basis the real income gross income less expenses — from the farm. I would hope to reduce the amount of time spent on means testing and to free up the staff to tackle some other areas. Perhaps we are making a case for more self-assessment in this regard. Since we have gone down the road of self-assessment in regard to income tax I see nothing wrong, in principle at least, in gains down that road in this area also. If farmers can be self-assessed for social welfare purposes it would also mean that penalties would be increased for people who abuse the system. We may go down that road.
Some of the ideas put forward by Deputy O'Toole and others were enlightening. In the sixties the late John Healy used write the "Backbencher" column. I used be fascinated by the fact that hens were hidden from the social welfare officer. Over the years he made the point that farmers' dole should never have been called by that name; he preferred to see it as an incentive to live on the land and perhaps he was right. I learned over the years that he was more right than anybody else who was talking about it.
I come now to the carer's allowance. Whatever about giving any hostages to fortune in the future I do not want to go back over things which happened in the past. The principle of a carer's allowance is an excellent one if one looks at it in a broader context. When a carer's allowance was announced, both inside and outside the House, I thought that the State would be saved a great deal of money if people were given some money to look after old people at home rather than have them in homes and hospitals. That is what a carer's allowance should do. Perhaps it was a good idea to get the principle in the door but I accept that its application is a long way removed from the high principles I have outlined. When it was introduced it replaced the allowance for a prescribed relative.
I think my Department should either abandon the carer's allowance, transfer it to the Department of Health — where it should have been in the first place — or else the State should take a certain amount from each Department and set up a proper carer's allowance. That would be more up front. Any economist would say it is better to give the person at home £50 a week rather than have them in a home and being paid for by the State, at a cost of approximately a couple of hundred pounds per week or, if the person has sufficient means, to have them in private homes. This is one of the growth industries in Irish life. Because of the high dependency ratio and people living longer, this is one area in which there will be greater demands in the years to come. In that regard and having established that principle before I ever came to the Department, I have initiated some informal contacts with my colleague, the Minister for Health, on those broad principles. The idea is to make the carer's allowance more accessible. Either we transfer the carer's allowance to the Department of Health and have a proper carer's allowance or abandon it completely. Every Deputy, whether he is from Kildare, Galway or Leitrim, has had more trouble explaining the carer's allowance than any other allowance. When the carer's allowance was announced initially in 1990 I could not explain it to anybody.
That was very hard to do because it was not there.
It all goes back to means testing.
I will speak with my colleague, the Minister for Health, in this regard and see what we will come up with.
The Minister will take him out for a chat.
The reason we have put an income limit on treatment benefit is that I and my Department calculate it will affect a very small number of people. We estimate that less than 4 per cent — 18,000 people — of the total number applying for the treatment benefit of £150,000 will be affected. It is against the principle of automatic entitlement of which I spoke earlier. On the other hand, an employee does not pay PRSI above a certain level. We will try to ensure in the regulations that the effect will not be too bad but I am prepared to defend this principle. We are on the point of resolving the long running dental dispute which has affected many people. I think the Irish Dental Association will agree to the new contract which has been put forward. they are balloting their members and I am hopeful they will accept it. That would be a positive step. The income limit proposed is reasonable and I am prepared to defend it.
As my time is up, I will deal with the other points raised tomorrow on Committee Stage. It will be a long day. I know by the time the debate ends on the Social Welfare Bill my education on this topic will be partially complete.
The Minister should not believe it for one minute.
The question is: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time" to which an amendment has been tabled by Deputy Byrne and other Deputies. I am putting the amendment and the question therefore is: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
- Ahern, Bertie.
- Ahern, Dermot.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Aylward, Liam.
- Barrett, Michael.
- Brady, Vincent.
- Brennan, Mattie.
- Brennan, Séamus.
- Briscoe, Ben.
- 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.
- de Valera, Síle.
- Ellis, John.
- Fahey, Frank.
- Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
- Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
- Flood, Chris.
- Flynn, Pádraig.
- Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
- Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
- Harney, Mary.
- 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.
- Martin, Micheál.
- McCreevy, Charlie.
- McEllistrim, Tom.
- Molloy, Robert.
- Morley, P.J.
- Nolan, M.J.
- Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
- O'Connell, John.
- O'Dea, Willie.
- O'Donoghue, John.
- O'Hanlon, Rory.
- O'Keeffe, Ned.
- O'Kennedy, Michael.
- O'Leary, John.
- O'Malley, Desmond J.
- O'Toole, Martin Joe.
- Power, Seán.
- Quill, Máirín.
- Roche, Dick.
- Smith, Michael.
- Stafford, John.
- Tunney, Jim.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Wallace, Mary.
- Walsh, Joe.
- Woods, Michael.
- Wyse, Pearse.
- Barrett, Seán.
- Barry, Peter.
- Bell, Michael.
- Belton, Louis J.
- Boylan, Andrew.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
- Bruton, Richard.
- Byrne, Eric.
- Connaughton, Paul.
- Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
- Cotter, Bill.
- Creed, Michael.
- Crowley, Frank.
- Currie, Austin.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Deasy, Austin.
- Deenihan, Jimmy.
- Kavanagh, Liam.
- Kenny, Enda.
- McCartan, Pat.
- McCormack, Pádraic.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- Mac Giolla, Tomás.
- McGrath, Paul.
- Mitchell, Jim.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Nealon, Ted.
- Noonan, Michael.
- (Limerick East).
- O'Keeffe, Jim.
- De Rossa, Proinsias.
- Doyle, Joe.
- Dukes, Alan.
- Durkan, Bernard.
- Farrelly, John V.
- Fennell, Nuala.
- Ferris, Michael.
- Finucane, Michael.
- FitzGerald, Garret.
- Flaherty, Mary.
- Flanagan, Charles.
- Garland, Roger.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- Gregory, Tony.
- Harte, Paddy.
- Higgins, Jim.
- Higgins, Michael D.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- O'Shea, Brian.
- O'Sullivan, Gerry.
- Owen, Nora.
- Pattison, Séamus.
- Quinn, Ruairí.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Ryan, Seán.
- Shatter, Alan.
- Sherlock, Joe.
- Spring, Dick.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Taylor, Mervyn.
- Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
- Yates, Ivan.
I declare the Bill to be read a Second Time in accordance with Standing Order 93 (2). When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?