I move amendment No. 21:
In page 8, before subsection (2), to insert the following subsection:
"(2) The Minister shall arrange, in association with the Revenue Commissioners, for the issue of an information notice in relation to the family income supplement scheme and which shall be enclosed with each P60 form issued by the Revenue Commissioners.".
I do not want to delay the House but I would like to comment on a few important matters in relation to the family income supplement and to ask the Minister a number of questions. I should say that I have advocated the concept of family income supplement from the very first day it was introduced for a specific purpose. It is my understanding that only 7,000 people are in receipt of this supplement. I do not have the exact figure, but I think it is around 7,000.
Apart from carer's allowance, this scheme has attracted more publicity than any other scheme that I know of. I recall that this time last year a publicity campaign was undertaken to ensure workers were aware of their entitlements as there was a belief that many people were not aware of the family income supplement or, if they were, they felt for whatever reason that they were better off without it.
We need to look at this scheme. Since I entered this House ten or 11 years ago we have all been trying to eliminate poverty traps. If one wants to speak for an hour to an hour and a half in the House there is no better topic that one could pick. There are reams of newsprint dealing with it. Indeed, I have in my possession a number of studies which clearly show that there are poverty traps.
As the Minister is well aware, it will finally dawn on a person in a low paid job when they arrive home on a Friday evening, having worked a long, hard week, that one of their neighbours is in receipt of more money on the dole. One can put whatever veneer they like on it, but that is what it amounts to. In relation to the work ethos and dedication to duty, the problems start from there.
I fully accept, for historical reasons that I will not go into now, that many people are in receipt of social welfare in the area that I come from; but, as I said earlier, I genuinely believe that families in receipt of social welfare and nothing else are not having a good time. It appears that the job that people on low incomes have is not regarded as being important; it is considered to be a dead end job. In addition it is felt that they are being manipulated.
The Conference of Major Religious Superiors and others make the point, in relation to the concept of work, that there is work available but not enough money to pay for it. I always thought that the family income supplement was designed to supplement a person's income, where a job required to be done but the employer was not able for a variety of reasons to pay a living wage and because it is desirable to keep people in employment. However, something has gone terribly wrong with the system. I would like to know why. All but some 5 or 10 per cent of the population know about their entitlements, so I do not believe that the reason the family income supplement is not taken up is because people do not know about it. However, I agree with the Minister doing anything he can to make the scheme more public. I have an amendment which suggests that when the P60s are sent out every year there should be a note on them from the Revenue Commissioners to tell workers about the family income supplement.
However, the question is more fundamental. The family income supplement together with the income from the low paid job must be less than the social welfare rate. People on the dole have the rent allowance, the medical card and other things. It has often been said that people earning perhaps £160 or £170 per week in a reasonably good job and who might have to drive from Ballinasloe to Galway, for instance, to get work, would be better off on the dole. I am not sure if that is so but it is the perception. What are the Minister's thoughts on this? Obviously, this hits at the centre of much of our unemployment problems. We should disregard a person's gross earnings for the previous year and take only net earnings into account and we might find out why more people are not availing of the family income supplement. It should be highlighted then.
For a few years, I believe people genuinely did not know about the family income supplement because of the complexities involved and that all we needed was a huge publicity campaign to get over the problem. Enough campaigning has been done, but the message is not getting across. If we are to eliminate the poverty trap created in this area, now is the time to use our imagination. I am sure there are thousands of answers to this problem in the Department of Labour and in the Department of Social Welfare. A reliance on publicity only will not sell the family income supplement. The changes proposed here will make people a little better off but not as well off as indicated in the examples which the Minister has given. We have an ideal opoprtunity to try something different. Most people genuinely want to work. It is worth a lot to the country to encourage the work ethic and to keep men and women working.
In the past three or four years it is being said more frequently that it would pay people better to stay at home than to work. It would be out of order for me to go into the area of taxation, but it is one area that could be worked on as a way of maintaining jobs. When replying will the Minister give some indication as to why the family income supplement scheme has failed? Perhaps the Minister will take the line that it has been a success. If it is, and it only affects 7,000 people or even 19,000 people, it is not having the effect we thought it would have, over five years ago.
I do not know how this scheme could be policed, but it is important to extend the family income supplement to other people, for instance, the self-employed and small farmers. The reason initially — it was not to apply to those groups was because there was no clear method of calculation of their income but we got over that with the introduction of the PRSI system in 1988. We know that many small farmers do not have a taxable income, but provided small farmers and self-employed people have a Revenue Certificate of their income, there should be no trouble in bringing them into the family income supplement scheme. It is very important to have a system to keep small business people and small farmers and their families on the land. The jobs they are doing are important for the health of the national economy. There is a whole range of thoughts on the family income supplement. I wonder if the Department or anyone else have made an indepth study of the family income supplement. We must question whether we should continue the scheme if it is not producing the sort of results that were envisaged at the beginning. I will not speak about the increases because unless and until the net pay rather than the gross pay is taken into account we will not know whether the scheme is as successful as it might be.