Social Welfare Bill, 1992: Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 8, to delete lines 3 to 28.

I am delighted that we have been able to give this Bill a fair amount of public airing in the past week or so. Amendment No. 1, in the names of myself and my colleague, Deputy Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny), covers an important issue to which I wish to refer. It aims to delete section 6, which alters the rates of the family income supplement. The objective in tabling the amendment is to bring to the Floor of the House the importance of the elimination of the poverty trap. As I said on a previous occasion, it is very important to have a basis on which to have that elimination and in my view the family income supplement provides that basis.

When the scheme was introduced in the mid-1980s it was intended for people in a low-paid job who could not aspire to earn a living from the rewards of that job. It was felt that if assistance was necessary to keep a job alive then there was an onus on the State to keep the worker off social welfare.

I must confess that I am somewhat disappointed at the results of the family income supplement to date. Fewer than 7,000 people have made successful application for funds and some of those who have been successful have received so little from the scheme that they would be almost as well off if they were not eligible. In the past couple of weeks I have made the case very strongly — and I reiterate it today — that it is important to change the present system to have calculations made on a worker's net pay rather on than his or her gross pay. It makes very little difference to a wage earner, particularly if that person is married and has a family, to be eligible for family income supplement of, perhaps, £20 or £30 a week, if before that supplement can be claimed the Revenue Commissioners take £20 or £30 a week off his or her pay in tax. The worker is running to a standstill. It is very important that this issue be addressed now.

The Minister did respond to my suggestions when the topic was discussed last week but I am somewhat disappointed that he does not envisage a greater role for the family income supplement. I should like that scheme to have a dual role.

I have examined legislation governing many aspects of the famous poverty trap syndrome that we have in Ireland. There are many matters I cannot go into today because I assume that would be out of order in so far as tax is concerned. So far as social welfare is concerned, it certainly appears to me that there is no better basis upon which to build than the family income supplement.

I think it was Deputy Bell who raised the other side of the coin during previous discussions. I accept that if we are not careful the family income supplement could become an instrument to be used by employers who want cheap labour. In our efforts to strike a balance we have to consider that point.

Under present conditions in Ireland, in which we have 280,000 people out of work a figure that is rising by the month, it should be possible for this scheme to apply to more than 7,000 people. That is my basic principle. For instance, if 12,000 to 15,000 people could be brought into the scheme those people would be saved from going on the dole. Many people decide to sign on for the dole when they realise that they would be better off on the dole than working. This issue hits at the very ethos of our society and that is why I have talked so much about it throughout the debate. I am sure the Minister would agree that it is very important that we get the answer.

I fully accept that all unemployment problems will not be answered through the family income supplement. However, in relation to the objective of the scheme, many previous Ministers for Social Welfare in different Governments have stated that the only reason the scheme did not work was that people did not know about it. I do not accept that argument. Many people go without a medical card simply because they do not know whether they are eligible for one, but that is not the real reason that the family income supplement has not been very successful. On Second Stage we spoke about the importance of providing information to applicants for social welfare and I hope that the Minister will take on board many of the points that were made then. However, there is something deeper behind this issue and I should like to try to tease that out here in the Dáil.

I wish to put before the Minister the importance of getting this issue right this time. No Government have got it right yet. I shall only believe that we have got it right when many more families become eligible for the family income supplement. I do not care how many leaflets the Government send out, there will not be too much of an uptake of the scheme under the present circumstances. From inquiries I have made of the Department, I understand that the figures for 1992 are expected to be no better — perhaps the result will show a difference of a few hundred one way or the other.

If we believe that the scheme is an important weapon in the battle to beat the poverty trap and eliminate it as much as possible — as I believe and as Fine Gael believe — then we will have to stop talking about the issue and do something about it. So far as this overall area is concerned, in our discussions here over the past week, it had been hoped that in the next year or two at least an additional 6,000 to 10,000 families would see it was better for their breadwinner to be working than be on the dole. I imagine there are very few people who would not agree with that contention.

I do not know whether it is that people are afraid of applying for this family income supplement. No doubt the Minister's national network of social welfare officers must have built up a great bank of knowledge as to why this scheme is not working. I would have to say I believe it is not working. I have been in touch with the Department on behalf of many constituents. These would be people not in good financial circumstances but, because of the manner in which the guidelines for our provisions of the scheme are worded, they would need to be very badly off before they would benefit substantially. That indicates to me that it is the framework of the scheme that is wrong or at fault.

Deputy Browne and I have been proposing the idea over the past week or so, indeed for much longer, that if the Department would only revert to the system of assessment based on net rather than gross income that might resolve the problem. I know that all schemes administered by the Department of Social Welfare are paid on the basis of gross income and that to revert to net income would be a substantial change. Nonetheless we here must determine once and for all whether jobs are sufficiently important. That is why I said a week ago I believe that, in many respects, the provisions of this Bill are anti-work, anti-employment, which has been manifested by the threat to redundancy payments and the curtailment of the pay-related social insurance schemes. The family income supplement was a positive scheme designed for a particular purpose within the workforce. To the extent that it has achieved that purpose it has to be welcomed but is totally under-utilised. Nothing I have heard the Minister say by way of reply over the past week would indicate to me that there are any ideas within his Department to change the overall position. If it is that the combined wisdom within the Minister's Department is to allow sleeping dogs lie, then we must assume that whatever benefits the family income supplement may have had have been delivered and the scheme will be of little advantage in the future.

I had always understood that it would be very important that the provisions of the family income supplement be extended to small farmers and others. The Minister replied, in part quite positively, to the effect that he was examining whether, in certain circumstances in the future, its provision might apply to small farmers. At the time I think that proposal carried a price tag of £10 million. Since then I have had discussions with some of the farming organisations, and from my knowledge of this sector I find it extremely difficult to understand how it would cost £10 million. I will tell the House why. If it is that 7,000 people can be eligible under the normal criteria obtaining, which costs something in the region of £9 million, of course there would be many farmers whose incomes, would be such that the benefits of this scheme would be a "top-up". Therefore, as is the case now, many would receive only a small amount of money. Obviously the Minister must be thinking of including about 20,000 farmers.

When one bears in mind that there are approximately 13,000 farmers in receipt of unemployment assistance, that raises two issues, one of which I have been repeating for years, which is that the circumstances in which many farmers find themselves are indeed distressing. However, this is neither the time nor place to speak of farmers' problems. But, as regards the family income supplement I always believed its provisions had a part to play in respect of such farmers. For whatever reason many agencies have engaged in analyses of and research into the eligibility guidelines for unemployment assistance as they relate to farmers, have found that many thousands of farmers do not have anythng like a taxable income and are not entitled to unemployment assistance. It is about such people I am speaking. As the Minister himself will be aware, farmers' dole creates circumstances in which many people become less productive on their farms than they might have been otherwise because it is assessed on an income/expenditure basis. Obviously this means the more one has, or the more income one generates for oneself and one's family the less is the likelihood one will receive the dole.

I spent some time examining this aspect in the eighties and discovered there was no easy answer. That is why I was of the impression that the family income supplement should fill that vacuum perfectly. Obviously this would necessitate the preparation of accounts with the involvement of the Revenue Commissioners. I am not for a moment suggesting that anything other than strict guidelines should apply. This would mean that Members of this House and the Minister could stand over a scheme that would channel Exchequer resources to such people. The Minister's predecessor must have had something like this in mind when, in the 1991 budget, £1 million was earmarked to help farmers at a particular income level. An unusual position arose in that that amount actually went back to the Exchequer because nobody could devise a scheme that would allow that amount be paid. Our amendment No. 1 relates to that, in that the self-employed — and I am not now speaking only of small farmers but of small shopkeepers and many others with a very reasonable level of income — would have had their jobs secured had this money been paid them.

There has been too much glib talk over the past five years in particular about the importance of eliminating the poverty trap without there having been anything done about it. I suggest that this Bill presents an ideal opportunity. We acknowledge that the bed has been made for this year, but we would like the Minister to give us some indication of the direction of the entire scheme and what he envisages the provisions of this scheme might be able to achieve by way of, (a) protecting existing jobs, and (b) reducing the numbers in receipt of the dole, I would very much appreciate the Minister outlining his views, or what he thinks about it, for the benefit of the House. It is a most important concept, something we should examine closely before turning our backs on it and trying out something else.

On first sight I thought this amendment was a typographical error in that it seeks the deletion of an entire section which, unless I read it incorrectly, would mean that the family income supplement would disappear from the Bill and no longer obtain. I was somewhat confused when Deputy Connaughton spoke because I thought he was making a case for its extension to small farmers, whereas his amendment seeks its abolition. Then I thought there might have been a proposal to insert something in its place but I do not see any. Perhaps I am misinterpreting the provisions of the amendment or am hearing incorrectly, but before we vote on the amendment this point needs to be clarified: is what appears on the amendment sheet accurate and does it actually mean that the family income supplement should be abolished completely without any replacement? As I read it, that is what is proposed. Obviously the Labour Party could not support such a proposal.

The Labour Party have consistently called for improvements to the family income supplement scheme and I spoke about this issue at length on Committee Stage. I suggested that an application form for the scheme should be included with the certificates now being issued by the Revenue Commissioners. This would explain the system to those in the PAYE sector, make more people aware of the scheme and explain how they should apply for the benefit. The Minister said he would look seriously at my suggestion. I assume his officials have had consultations with the Revenue Commissioners with a view to making that alteration and I would be interested in hearing this response.

The Labour Party strongly believe that responsibility for the family income supplement scheme should be transferred from the Department of Social Welfare to the Department of Labour. There was some disagreement about this proposal on Committee Stage. Since then I have discussed it with trade union representatives, with people interested in labour legislation, those interested in the activities of FÁS and those who did not avail of the family income supplement scheme because they thought the benefit was given to the unemployed or those in part-time jobs. Those people thought they would have to queue to receive this benefit and did not realise it could be sent by post.

The Department of Labour can best promote this scheme. I hope the Minister can give a positive response to my proposal. If the scheme was administered by the Department of Labour people would not regard it as a social welfare benefit. It would not be any different to the payments by FÁS to people who are on courses or receiving training. By transferring responsibility to the Department of Labour the scheme would be regarded as a benefit given to people at work rather than a handout by the State to the unemployed. I am more in favour now of transferring responsibility for this scheme to the Department of Labour than I was on Committee Stage.

I do not know the implications of my proposal. Obviously, it would be necessary to have consultations with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the trade unions representing officials in the Departments of Social Welfare and Labour. The scheme would operate better if it was organised and controlled by the Department of Labour and payments made through FÁS offices which are located in virtually every urban area. In addition, it would tidy up the scheme.

The bulk of workers in low paid jobs are represented by organisations and committees which are under the auspices of the Department of Labour. I am referring to organisations such as the joint labour committees for the clothing, textiles and footwear industries, farm labourers and hotel and catering workers. A large proportion of people employed in those industries would be entitled to benefit from the scheme. Will the Minister indicate if he has initiated discussions, or will initiate discussions, between the two Departments and interested parties?

The Labour Party could not support this amendment as it would eliminate the payment of up to £40 per week to 7,000 families. If this happened the scheme would be withdrawn. This point needs to be highlighted. Deputy Connaughton referred to the payment of the family income supplement to farmers. The Labour Party support the principle of paying this benefit to farmers who cannot make a living from their small farms in the same way as it is paid to workers in the industrial and services sectors.

I should like to say to Deputy Connaughton, who moved this amendment, that a large percentage of small farmers are entitled to receive what is called the farmers' dole or a reduced rate of unemployment assistance. I assume the Deputy is not proposing that farmers who receive unemployment assistance should also be entitled to receive a family income supplement. People in the commercial sector are not entitled to receive both benefits and, obviously, the Labour Party could not support the concept that one section of the community would be entitled to draw unemployment assistance and a family income supplement. I assume Deputy Connaughton is not suggesting that. The payment of two benefits would not only be financially impossible but would be irresponsible.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): We tabled this amendment to indicate our dissatisfaction with the family income supplement scheme as it is operated. I am sure Deputy Bell appreciates that if we had brought in another amendment it would not have been in order and we would not be discussing the matter now.

Like my colleague, Deputy Connaughton, I believe workers should be given every encouragement to stay at work. Entitlement to benefit should be based on net rather than gross pay. There is something ironic in having tax paid to the Government recorded as income. This is what gives rise to the poverty traps. In some cases people would be better off unemployed with a medical card and so on than working. Assessing a person's eligibility for a family income supplement on the basis of gross pay is causing havoc for workers. I accept that if income tax is deducted and a family income supplement is paid it may appear that money is going around in circles. However, the people involved might be better off if this was done rather than allowing tax concessions.

There is something wrong about expecting people to accept deductions of income tax as part of their salaries when their eligibility for a family income supplement is being assessed. People get very annoyed when they are told that the scheme is based on their gross pay. It would be more realistic if people on low pay who pay a small amount of tax could be assessed on their net rather than gross pay. If this were done obviously the Government would have to adjust many other allowances to balance the system. If the system was fair it would encourage people to stay at work. We must do everything possible to keep people at work and make them believe they are better off at work.

I wish to give two examples. I know one person who is receiving £39 under the family income supplement scheme while another lost £4 in income by taking up employment. There is something very wrong in our system when that can happen. Anybody at work should not be worse off than someone who is unemployed. Perhaps the family income supplement could help in such cases. Will the Minister comment on the net income factor and how he sees the self-employed benefiting from the family income supplement?

I will not repeat what I said on Committee Stage. However, I should like to know whether the Minister took on board the suggestion that the family income supplement should relate to the net income, not the gross income? That point was raised in the report of the Commission on Social Welfare in referring to the low take-up of this scheme. They said that as fewer than 7,000 families benefit we should do something to encourage those who need it to apply for it. A sum of £9 million has already been channelled to families on low incomes who are receiving benefits. Various reports highlighted the fact that a substantial number of families are eligible but, for some unknown reason, they have not applied for the family income supplement. I hope the Minister and his officials now know how to target those eligible for benefit because it is outrageous that so many people who are eligible do not claim this supplement. Will the Minister tell the House how he proposes to encourage families who are eligible for this funding to apply for it?

Sadly, many young people are earning less than £140 per week for full-time work. That indicates the startling number of people who are badly paid in the community. As people are so badly exploited by unscrupulous employers, perhaps the Minister would consider introducing a basic, minimum hourly rate of pay so that people will not fall into the poverty trap.

If such a rate was established the family income supplement would not be necessary.

We had a very interesting debate on this matter the last day we discussed the Bill and I know that the family income supplement is very dear to Deputy Connaughton's heart. At the time of its introduction he saw it as the vehicle for eliminating the poverty trap. However, it has not worked as well as he had hoped. His amendment proposes eliminating the family income supplement but I know that is not his intention, it is merely to give him an opportunity to reiterate what he said previously.

Two reports were prepared in relation to the family income supplement, one from the ESRI and another from an independent consultant. According to the independent consultant, approximately 12,000 recipients should be benefitting under the scheme. However, in 1991, approximately 7,200 people had taken it up. Deputy Bell suggested that the Revenue Commissioners should send out an explanatory leaflet with the tax free allowance certificate. We will take that on board for future occasions. Deputy Bell also said that payment of the family income supplement is more appropriate to the Department of Labour than to the Department of Social Welfare. I said I would consider that matter because it relates to people in employment. Perhaps the reason that people entitled to the scheme have not claimed it is that they regard it as an assistance scheme for unemployed people. I will examine the feasibility of bringing it under the aegis of the Department of Labour. There certainly is merit in Deputy Bell's suggestion and perhaps it could be dealt with more effectively in the Department of Labour and in the FÁS offices.

Deputies Connaughton, Browne and Byrne said that the figures should be based on net pay and not on the gross income. In principle, I have nothing against examining that aspect but perhaps Deputies have not considered the down side. If there is an adjustment of net pay, a number of things must follow. We would have to change the income limits and the ceilings, otherwise it would cost the State a great deal of extra money. I know what the Deputies are getting at and I thought the same for a while until a few years ago when I realised the difficulties involved in setting net and gross pay levels. If the family income supplement and other schemes are based on net pay then various thresholds will have to be changed and some people would probably have to pay more tax. Since we are taking money in tax and PRSI from people, as Deputy Browne pointed out, and giving some of it back in family income supplement the easy answer would be to increase the tax exemption limits. However, that is a matter for the Minister for Finance and over the past couple of years tax exemption limits have increased. The reason they have not been increased further—I am not the Minister for Finance but I can guess what he will say — is that it would be a very heavy cost to the State.

A number of Deputies spoke about disincentives and poverty traps and I also referred to the matter. I am sure that is the case in some instances but one of the big problems is that gross take home pay is high but a large amount is given to the State. We must find a system of channelling some of that money to the family income supplement. I have nothing against looking at the net concept but it must be remembered that I will be adjusting the income limits. A lot could be done if our financial situation improves.

As Deputy Bell said we must guard against the danger of the family income supplement being a subsidy for employers who will then have low paid employees. That is the balance which must be struck the whole time. If we increase the upper limits, increasing numbers of employers may believe they can get away with paying lower wages because the family income supplement will bring the family income up to the normal level. We do not want this to happen. In that context Deputy Byrne asks why we do not set a basic minimum wage. As the Deputy may know, I am noted for having done peculiar things in the past but I cannot take it upon myself to announce minimum wage levels as this is a decision for Government and is totally outside my responsibility. I have no particular view on this matter but we have to guard against employers taking advantage of the increase in the family income supplement.

Deputy Connaughton made a very good point today, as he did on Committee Stage, as to why the number availing of the family income supplement has not increased. The Department have done everything they can to publicise the scheme and the Deputy accepts that, however, we have not reached the expected take-up level. Deputy Connaughton made the case for bringing small farmers into this scheme. He did not have the opportunity to reply to Deputy Bell who said that Deputy Connaughton would not be expecting small farmers to get the dole.

I did not say that.

As I said the last day, I have no objection to extending the scheme to small farmers and the self-employed. I pointed out that in 1991 a certain amount of money was set aside for this but the negotiations between the IFA, the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Department of Social Welfare stalled when they could not agree on a basis for implementing the scheme. That is the situation at present. If I were to extend the scheme to the small farmers it would cost in the order of £10 million. Deputy Connaughton could not understand why it would cost so much money but the reason is that not only would farmers who qualify for dole come into the scheme but other farmers would also be eligible for the family income supplement. The costing is based on this fact.

As I said on Committee Stage, one of my predecessors had gone down the road of extending the scheme to small farmers but after many meetings with the Department of Agriculture and Food and with the IFA they could not agree on how the scheme should operate. We are experiencing similar problems but I am not ruling this out totally and perhaps we could succeed where greater men than I have failed.

As Deputy Connaughton may know, I will have to oppose his amendment, otherwise I would be abolishing the family income supplement scheme in total.

May I clarify a point that I made? I am fearful that I may have been taken up incorrectly. I did not say that Deputy Connaughton was implying that farmers should get both benefits. My point was that if the family income supplement was introduced to replace unemployment assistance, small farmers' payment would be reduced.

I cannot be too generous, Deputy, so I now call Deputy Connaughton.

May I reply to Deputy Bell? When I referred to small farmers being entitled to the family income supplement, naturally they would not be entitled to unemployment assistance. They are another layer entirely. I pointed out very clearly that I wanted to see the scheme tightly controlled. I understand this is one of the reasons the Department of Social Welfare, the Department of Agriculture and Food and the IFA got bogged down in negotiation. I sincerely hope they will reach agreement on it soon so that the Minister may be able to introduce such a scheme in the not too distant future.

Naturally I do not want to see the family income supplement being wiped out but this was the only mechanism at my disposal to have this matter aired again. I think this is a very important matter but for obvious reasons I will not be pressing the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On amendment No. 2, which has been ruled out of order——

Acting Chairman

I cannot allow the Deputy to discuss the matter because it has been ruled out of order. We have to follow the proper procedures.

On a point of information, Sir, does the Chair appreciate that almost everything has been ruled out of order so that effectively we can pack our bags and go home? The Minister is being let off the hook. Surely I should be allowed to make a contribution so that I may draw out from the Minister what exactly he intends and pursue the matter in a clear and precise manner.

Acting Chairman

Will the Deputy please resume his seat?

Will we be allowed to speak on the section?

Acting Chairman

The Deputy knows that anything that involves a potential charge on the Exchequer must be ruled out of order. That is the proper procedure. It has been applied down through the years and we all agree with it.

Amendments Nos. 3 to 6, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 15, to delete lines 42 to 48, in page 16, to delete lines 1 to 54, in page 17, to delete lines 1 to 53, in page 18, to delete lines 1 to 47 and in page 19, to delete lines 1 to 35.

I am glad to see that something is in order because it would be standing democracy on its head if we could not debate this Bill. We have been gagged once by the guillotine and now we are being gagged by regulations.

Acting Chairman

The Deputy should confine his remarks to the amendment rather than questioning the Chair's rulings and what is out of order. We will then be able to proceed more quickly.

I will agree to stick as closely as I can to my amendment which proposes to delete various lines from the section dealing with maternity allowances. With the use of the guillotine on Committee Stage and the ruling of amendments out of order on Report Stage one would have to assume that there may be a conspiracy between the Government and the media because of their lack of coverage of these key important issues, including the maternity allowance. The Government's use of the guillotine on this Thatcherite Bill has to be deemed as an attempt to retain the pure liberal feminist——

Acting Chairman

I am trying to be fair to everybody by expediting the business of the House——

The Deputy is getting carried away.

Acting Chairman

I ask the Deputy to confine his remarks specifically to his amendment and I do not want any further discussion on amendments that were ruled out of order.

I appreciate that, Sir. I will stick to the point of the maternity allowance because it cracks the mirror image of the Minister's concern for women and the fact that he is some sort of feminist.

The Deputy may be aware that I was always accused of being fond of women.

This Bill is a fundamental attack on women, of all people.

That cannot be levied against this Minister.

The Minister proposes to amalgamate two maternity schemes. By the clever sleight of hand he intends to use his power to debar a very important group of women from benefit. That is the reason we want this issue debated. I have no problem with the section when it deals with the benefits to women who are in full time employment and are entitled to maternity benefit but I am trying to protect those women who, to date, have been in receipt of a maternity allowance. Those women are in receipt of maternity allowance, as per his own booklet which states that this maternity allowance scheme is for women who are not in employment or who do not intend to return to work. It specifies how they would qualify and how they would be eligible for benefit if they have 39 PRSI paid contributions, of which, at least, 13 weeks must be paid contributions in the governing tax year. We teased out this matter on Committee Stage but I am worried that a substantial number of women, who are not in full time employment and who do not intend to return to work, will be excluded form benefit. Not only that, there is another group of women who will be equally effected. The effect of the rationalisation of the two existing maternity schemes will be to remove entitlements from certain women and make it more difficult for others to qualify in the future.

At present most women in regular employment can qualify for maternity benefit so long as they follow the prescribed procedures and have a job to return to following their maternity leave. However, the women to whom I am referring are those who have left, or have lost, their jobs a short time before the pregnancy but still satisfy their PRSI contributions, that is, that they have worked and paid PRSI for the requisite number of weeks in the previous tax year. Up to now they have been eligible for £50 per week under the general scheme and extra benefit was to be paid for each child dependant. I do not want to see a single woman lose the benefit of that scheme. I am concerned that a substantial number of women will lose out in the scheme but also there are women in receipt of certain other payments, for example, deserted wives, lone parents, widows and prisoners' wives who are entitled to maternity allowances at half the normal rate. I understand these categories will no longer qualify unless they are in employment, and clearly the vast majority are not.

We are opposing four pages of suggested deletions because we do not want to see the principal Act amended in a way which would debar those who are eligible at present for maternity allowance because of their PRSI cover. I would ask the Minister to take those points on board.

I am extremely concerned that the Minister is abolishing credits for PRSI. A large number of women are in credit but the Minister proposes to abolish those credits. It will have a shattering effect on women in particular but on men, too, that they will not be able to accumulate sufficient credits. It is important to make that point. If a person is ill or on maternity leave for 14 weeks and is on disability benefit or whatever, the credit that would normally accrue to them would leave them in benefit at a later stage. I am concerned that under the Minister's proposals that would no longer be the case.

I should like to comment briefly on the last point raised by Deputy Byrne. The question of credits is causing havoc for women in particular. I would ask the Minister to confirm whether this proposal is to be implemented or whether he is withdrawing it, having seen another flash of light. It is not fair that credits would be eliminated. It would do much harm to people who would normally qualify.

I would like to deal with the last point regarding credits. I do not see any change in the Bill but perhaps the Minister would clarify the point made by Deputy Browne. As I understand it, credits do not qualify for any payment. The only credit that qualifies for payment is effectively a credit where a person is in receipt of disability benefit. Therefore, that would qualify for credit for payment of unemployment benefit if the person subsequently went on unemployment benefit or needed 39 contributions or credits within the contribution year. It is important that the Minister clarifies that point.

There are two kinds of credits: one effectively gives benefit and the other is where a person is out of benefit and signs on credit, and qualifies only for optical or dental requirements. If the dental benefit is agreed then the person concerned could claim benefit on the spouse's contribution but that does not apply in respect of optical benefit. That point needs to be clarified. My understanding of credits is substantially different from that of the Minister in relation to both the present Act and the regulations. I would be concerned if what Deputy Browne said proved to be correct.

In regard to maternity benefit I would share Deputy Byrne's concern. I understood from the debate on Committee Stage — where I raised the matter — that if a woman is in receipt of maternity benefit for 14 weeks and decides, before she draws it in full or at the time when her benefit is exhausted, that she will not return to work, she is entitled to claim unemployment assistance subject to a means test if she is not in benefit. If she is ill following the birth of the baby she is entitled to go on to disability benefit, if she is in benefit. I do not follow the issue from the point of view that I do not think that is what the regulations specify at present. Again, that matter should be clarified by the Minister and his officials. Will it mean that at the exhaustion of the maternity benefit allowance — which is to be benefit now because the two will be amalgamated — a woman would be entitled to claim unemployment or disability benefit or, if she was not entitled to benefit under those two headings, to apply for employment assistance or the disabled persons maintenance allowance.

I do not know whether Deputy Byrne has noticed this but the only amendments which have not been ruled out of order are amendments Nos. 1, 7, 19, 20 and 21. As I see it, if we were to vote for the amendment, which would effectively delete sections contained in approximately four and half pages of the Bill, given that amendment No. 8 has been ruled out of order, the maternity allowance scheme would disappear. The position therefore needs to be clarified. Obviously, this could not be seen before the amendments were ruled out of order. As amendment No. 8 cannot be moved, if amendment No. 7 were passed, the maternity allowance scheme would disappear and we would be left with no allowance. I am sure that was not the intention of Deputy Byrne. If that is the effect it would have, we should not discuss the matter any further and certainly not vote for it. As I see it, that is the effect it would have.

While I realise my amendment has been ruled out of order, I wish to seek clarification from the Minister. When I raised this matter on Committee Stage the Minister agreed to examine and clarify it with regard to the maternity allowance scheme. I take if we are talking about the section?

I am sorry, Deputy, but we are not talking about the section but rather an amendment in the name of Deputy Byrne, amendment No. 7.

I am sorry, but I was at a meeting. Perhaps this matter has been discussed already but in relation to this allowance can the Minister say once the Bill is passed, if it will continue to be payable to women who are not in employment and who do not intend to return to work? If they had paid PRSI for 39 weeks or had paid PRSI and received credits for 39 weeks of which 13 at least has been paid for, in the governing tax year, this allowance was payable, and was availed of by women who had left work and decided not to return after having their baby. They had signed on for credits and paid the necessary contributions in the relevant tax year. No reference is made to this matter in the Bill? The provision requires that the contributions must have been paid in the previous year. This alters the position completely.

As I mentioned to the Minister last week, two women, who are to lose the maternity allowance, have contacted me.

I have spoken to some trade unionists who have indicated to me that they informed officials in the Department that they wished to be told if changes were to be made in the maternity allowance scheme. However they were not informed of this change at the initial consultation and it was only when they probed further that they were told that the allowance was going to be axed and that women who were signing on and receiving a reduced rate of benefit would not be allowed to avail themselves of it. Perhaps I am wrong and this will prove not to be the case but I would like to complete what I have to say because I can speak only once. I hope this change is not being made by stealth because no reference was made to it in the budget speech. It would be regrettable if this was the case.

While many women and trade unionists are very concerned, I should say that I welcome the section. Indeed, one is almost made feel guilty for criticising the section what the Minister is doing is worthwhile — is including part-time female workers in the maternity allowance scheme. While this is important and good, I would like to know what is going to happen to the other group. It would be most unfortunate if this group of people were to be placed outside the scheme once the Bill is passed.

Provision was made for this change in last year's Bill but it will not take effect until part-time workers are included in the scheme. The two schemes will be merged.

The last day I said I would clarify the position in relation to some of the matters raised. In relation to the matters raised by Deputy Bell, he was mostly correct with regard to the maternity allowance scheme but I have learned a little about credits in the meantime. Deputy Byrne accused me of being a Thatcherite but to paraphrase the words of the great lady herself, "credits are credits are credits". Those in receipt of unemployment benefit and disability benefit are given credits. Even though they sign the register they do not get a payment but rather are given credits which may prove to be useful when they become entitled to a payment again.

As I have pointed out previously — indeed, Deputy Fennell pointed this out today — there are some good things in this section, the purpose of which is to merge the two maternity allowance schemes. The last day we decided to leave the matter over until today so that I could clarify the matter in relation to a number of the points raised. When Deputy Byrne accused me of being a Thatcherite as well as being a feminist he forgot to say——

I did not accuse the Minister of being a feminist. It has been alleged that the Minister was a feminist but I said that he was not. I accused the Minister of being anti-woman, given that more women than men will be affected by the legislation.

I think I have a reputation for being fond of women and I am not anti-woman in Irish life.

Tell that to the women who will be affected by the Bill.

Let us not misinterpret what Report Stage is about; it is reporting on the amendments, not on other aspects of replies.

I will deal with the question of the number of people who will be affected by the legislation later. Apart from the thousands of people who are to be included in the scheme, it is estimated that fewer than 100 people will be affected by the change-over. In our opinion, this represents less than 2 per cent of claimants under the maternity allowance scheme.

Why exclude them?

I will deal with that matter later. I have no difficulty in defending this change. As Deputy Fennell is aware, there are many people — I have seen this for myself in the towns of Kildare — who have not been part of the workforce for a long time and who are still signing on for credits in the expectation that at some date in the future they may have another child and qualify for maternity benefit even though they have no intention in the wide earthly world of returning to work.

The Minister cannot say that.

But I have said so, Deputy.

We suggest a figure of three years.

Deputy Connaughton and Deputy Browne who comes from Carlow, are certainly aware of this.

The Minister said that only 100 people will be affected; how can he expect everybody to know who these will be, given that there are only 3.5 million to four million people in the country?

We estimate that that number of people will be affected. These are signing on for a particular reason. As Deputy Byrne knows, every woman does not decide to get pregnant every year either. That is a matter for themselves but many people sign on for this purpose. As I said, we think that only 100 people will be affected in any one year.

There are two maternity allowance schemes in operation at present — the maternity allowance scheme for women in employment, which is known as the new scheme, and the general maternity allowance scheme, which is known as the old scheme.

The new scheme was introduced in 1981 and applied to women who were covered by the Maternity (Protection of Employees) Act, 1981. That Act provided for maternity leave and the right to return to work for women in the workforce who became pregnant. Broadly speaking, the Act covered women working more than 18 hours a week. The new maternity allowance scheme provides a 14-week maternity allowance for women who are covered by the Maternity (Protection of Employees) Act who satisfy the PRSI contribution conditions. The Maternity (Protection of Employees) Act was extended in 1991 to cover part-time workers. It now broadly covers all women who work for more than eight hours a week. The scope of the new maternity allowance scheme was automatically extended to cover these workers.

The general maternity allowance scheme was in existence prior to the introduction of the new scheme. It provided an allowance for 12 weeks at a lower rate and subject to similar contribution conditions as the new scheme, except that a minimum of 13 paid contributions were required in the governing contribution year. This assumed that the women concerned had a recent attachment to the workforce.

Consequent on the introduction of the new scheme the only women covered by the old scheme were those at work but not covered by the Maternity (Protection of Employees) Act, that is, women working fewer than 18 hours per week, and women who were not at work but who could fulfil the contribution conditions. The extension of the Maternity (Protection of Employees) Act in 1991 to women working eight hours a week or more extended the coverage of the new maternity allowance scheme and reduced the old scheme to a more residual role.

The 1991 Social Welfare Act provided for the discontinuance of the old maternity allowance scheme consequent on the extension of the scope of the new scheme. The relevant provision of the 1991 Act has not, however, been invoked pending a review of the arrangements for the social insurance cover for part-time workers in the context of the extension of the new scheme. The social insurance system now covers workers earning £25 a week or more, regardless of the hours worked. They will be covered for maternity allowance. Section 19 provides for the discontinuance of the old scheme and the extension of the new scheme to cater for working women earning £25 or more who would not otherwise be catered for by this new scheme. The arrangements now being introduced will result in a single, streamlined maternity benefit scheme covering all women at work or who intend to return to work and meet the required contribution conditions.

The position in relation to the discontinuance of the general maternity scheme is as follows. The scheme caters at present for three categories of claimant. It caters for women who are in employment and paying social insurance contributions but who fail to qualify under the scheme for women in employment because they are not covered by the Maternity (Protection of Employees) Act. These are part-time workers working fewer than eight hours per week and contract workers. This category constitutes 10 per cent of claimants under the general scheme. All women in this category will now qualify under the scheme for women in employment.

The second group covered under the general scheme are women who are claiming unemployment benefit or disability benefit immediately before claiming maternity allowance. From now on, women in this category, who account for about 88 per cent of all claimants, will remain on whatever social welfare payment they are receiving. Their rate of payment will be the same as if they were on the general maternity allowance scheme, or higher, depending on individual circumstances, for example for women entitled to pay-related benefit with unemployment benefit and women entitled to an increase for a dependant spouse.

The third group covered under the general maternity allowance scheme are women who are not in employment and are not in receipt of unemployment benefit or disability benefit. Women in this category account for 2 per cent of claimants under the general scheme. These women can qualify under the general scheme at present on the basis of PRSI contributions paid during an earlier employment. This happens because of the practice of determining entitlement to benefit on the basis of contributions paid during the governing contribution year, which can be up to 21 months prior to a claim being made. For example, the governing contribution year for a claim payable at any time during 1992 is the year ended April 1991. Even though the contribution conditions under the new arrangements for the scheme for women in employment are more lenient than those applying under the general scheme, a prerequisite for qualifying under the scheme for women in employment is that the claimant must be in current employment or returning to a specific employment. Consequently, a very small number of women who are not in employment will not now qualify for maternity benefit. The numbers involved are estimated at fewer than 100 in a year. The underlying rationale of maternity leave and maternity benefit is that the schemes exist in order to allow the woman in employment to take leave from work without undue loss of income.

The only other change provided for under the new arrangements is that the minimum payment available under the scheme, currently set at £76 per week, will be reduced to £60 per week in view of the extension of the scheme to part-time workers.

Has the Minister got the total savings on that?

There are no savings.

I have teased out with the Minister the important principal fact, that there are women who would otherwise be eligible for maternity allowance who will be cut off from benefit.

This will bring part-time workers into it as well.

I do not have any problems with amalgamating the two schemes in favour of the part-time workers but it would not have been beyond the powers of the Minister to formulate wording in order to make sure that anybody who would be eligible for maternity allowance would not be discriminated against at this point. The Minister suggested that this would affect only about 100 people.

In any year.

It is not my political duty here to turn my back on the 100 eligible women each year. I am letting my amendment stand.

I am now putting the question: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand." I think the question is carried.

Vótáil.

Will the Members who are claiming a division please rise?

Deputies De Rossa, Gilmore, Rabbitte. Byrne, McCartan, Sherlock and Mac Giolla rose.

As fewer than ten Deputies have risen, I declare the question carried. The names of the Deputies who have arisen will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.

Amendment declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 8 to 18 not moved.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 52, to delete lines 3 to 44 and in page 53, to delete lines 1 to 10.

In moving this amendment I am fully aware of the "catch 22" situation in which I find myself. I move the amendment deliberately because on Committee Stage we were unable to reach section 36 which deals with the carer's allowance. One of the reasons for my putting down this amendment with my colleague, Deputy Browne, (Carlow-Kilkenny) is our frustration at the way the carer's allowance scheme is being operated. I do not want the amendment to be construed as an attempt to take away benefit from the relatively few participants in the scheme. This is the only mechanism I can think of to highlight in this House the scandal of the carer's allowance.

This allowance was introduced as a follow-on to the prescribed relative's allowance. That is the origin of the carer's allowance. I distinctly remember that a few years ago when the then Minister for Social Welfare announced his intention of bringing in a carer's allowance there was a sigh of relief from thousands of people who were charged with responsibility for looking after the elderly and disabled.

Are we discussing amendment No. 19?

Yes, it was originally section 36. At that time it appeared that it was the Government's intention to give recognition to the carers of the sick and the elderly. I know that the funds are limited and that obviously there would have to be checks and balances on whatever scheme is introduced, but in the two years of the operation of this scheme only 9,000 people applied, over 50 per cent of whom were deemed ineligible. Of the remaining number, only 50 per cent actually received the allowance. In other words, only slightly over 2,000 people were deemed eligible for the carer's allowance.

Various figures have been given as to the number of people who care for the elderly. If, as some people say, the figure is as high as 80,000 to 90,000, it is ridiculous that only 2,000 people receive the allowance. I have no intention of delaying the House on this matter because I spoke at great length on it on Second Stage. However, I would like to make three or four brief points. When concluding Second Stage last week the Minister spoke about the desirability of transferring responsibility for this allowance to the Department of Health. Maybe it is a health issue, but nevertheless a different perspective will have to be taken of it. Otherwise, people will find that they are ineligible for the carer's allowance for the silliest of reasons.

This matter needs to be considered in a very balanced way. I asked the question on Second Stage what would happen the people being cared for if the carers were not looking after them, taking into account that only about 2,000 people receive up to £50 per week while others receive very little. Obviously, there would be great social disorder because our geriatric homes, which are already filled to capacity, would not be able to cater for these people. Perhaps we would introduce a scheme to subsidise private nursing homes — à Bill to this effect was introduced in the House some months ago. However, I am not sure that the money required would be available for that purpose. At the end of the day we would have to build many more public geriatric homes, which would be a very costly exercise.

Somebody should carry out an evaluation of the costs involved in extending the scheme and the Minister is the most appropriate person to do so. From my experience as a Deputy and from deputations I meet in relation to this matter, there are thousands of women looking after their elderly or disabled relatives who feel that they have been ignored by the State. These people give a 24 hour service but at the end of the day their work is not recognised by the State. It is true that the carer's allowance is not always related to the income of a particular family. That is why it is quite difficult to find a solution that is reasonably equitable and is not overly costly. I get the distinct impression from many women that if they were to receive even a very small payment they would be happy——

——but I do not know whether we could afford to pay all the people involved. Various rules have been laid down in regulations which have the effect of excluding applicants from the scheme. I would like to refer to a letter which I received from the Department of Social Welfare today dealing with this matter. It states: "In accordance with Social Welfare legislation, a person may not receive the Carer's Allowance if they are currently employed". That is reasonable because if a person is employed they could not care for their relatives. The letter goes on to state: "According to the Social Welfare Officer's report, he informed us that the applicant concerned is employed on his farm. Therefore, he is not entitled to the Carer's Allowance in respect of his brother". The person concerned has only 30 acres of land and has practically nothing to do. He would not be there at all were it not for the fact that he is caring for his brother. I understand that it would cost £300 a week to keep that person in the local geriatric home in Loughrea, Galway, which will have no vacancies for the next six months. There are many instances of people who, because they are in receipt of social welfare, are ineligible for the carer's allowance.

I have always believed that it is not the State's function to pay every person to look after his or her relatives. As a community and a Christian society families owe it to their parents to do the best they can for them. That is something I was taught and have always believed. However, there are many thousands of families who find it extremely difficult to care for people who have been bedridden for years, who are disabled and who get very cranky, as one can understand from people who are in great pain. As a caring society we will have to do more for these people. I fully realise that it is not possible to put this matter to a vote. If I did, some people might say that I would be taking the few pounds from the people who receive it. Of all the amendments that I have tried to table this is the one on which I wanted a vote, and I would have called a vote on Committee Stage if we had reached the amendment then. There are many other aspects to the issue to which my fellow colleagues here will testify because the carer's allowance is a big issue for any TD, whether from a city, town or rural constituency.

Unless a change is made in the implementation of the carer's allowance fairly soon the number of people applying for it will fall off because it is now regarded as a laugh. People have no confidence in the carer's allowance. I am not sure of the official figures but I do predict that unless there is a major change in the system there will be no significant increase in the number of applications, not because people are satisfied but because people are absolutely fed up with the system and want nothing to do with it.

I should like the Ministers to elaborate on a comment he made on Committee Stage about the interaction between social welfare and health in this area. One way or the other, the carer's allowance is a recognition of work done. I think that the people who receive it — in general they are women, as women make up 98 per cent of the carers in Ireland — would be happy with a very small payment. Our carers deserve greater recognition than they get.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Everything about the carer's allowance seems very impressive. A quick examination of the scheme is rather like having a look at a house that is painted on the outside but is wrecked on the inside.

The Bill as amended on Committee Stage takes one and a quarter pages to define a relevant pensioner. Those who qualify as relevant pensioners make a very long list. There are those in receipt of old age pension, invalidity pension, blind pension and maintenance allowance under section 69 of the Health Act; those who receive pensions from Europe; those who receive death benefits by way of widow's or widower's pension; or by way of parent's pension; those who receive retirement pension; those in receipt of lone parent's allowance; and many, many more. After making one's way through such a long list one realises that the person who is actually caring for someone does not qualify. That is the real oxymoron. The list of people who would be covered is as long as my arm but the carer herself — because, as my colleague said, about 98 per cent of our carers are women — has to undergo a miserly means test. The miserly means test provides that anyone with an income greater than £2 has the allowance cut. That concept hangs over any Minister who has to deal with this Bill. I know it was already hanging over the portfolio when the present Minister took office, but nothing infuriates me more than the realisation that the allowance is cut for anyone with an income greater than £2. These days one could not give £2 to a first communicant who called at one's door without that child talking about one afterwards. That is a crazy way of dealing with those who apply for the allowance, people serious in making application. There is a long list of people who could be minded, but a wife who is at home looking after someone will find that her husband's income is divided by two and that she is assessed as having an income of half the total. Nine times out of ten, the carer is assessed as ineligible.

So often we have discussed in the House the cost that would be incurred by the State if all of the people cared for within the family were in hospital. They are kept in a home environment out of people's kindness. I reiterate the point made by Deputy Connaughton that it is very important that we do not forget that families who can help one another should do so. However, there comes a time when people cannot be looked after at home because of the terrible inconvenience that results.

We should remember the projection that in the next 20 years there will be 55,000 more people over the age of 65 years than there are at present. That constitutes an upcoming demand for beds. At the rate the State is not providing beds at the moment, from there will we get 55,000 extra beds?

It should also be borne in mind that anyone who keeps an old person or an invalid at home is saving the State a fortune. I know that the point to which I have just referred does not perhaps come precisely within the Minister's responsibility and is a matter for the Minister for Health, but if we do not start to provide extra beds for the elderly in advance of a crisis then we will be in fierce trouble. To give a carer an allowance is a very cheap form of hospitalisation.

It is accepted that there will have to be standards. It should be insisted that a grandmother who is up at 7 o'clock every morning to get the breakfast ready for her family, then has the dinner ready and is able to run out to Mass at 6 o'clock in the evening is looking after a household rather than being cared for. However, I want to emphasise that sometimes a carer is looking after people who are in bed permanently and who have to be carefully looked after, the carer having to take steps to prevent or treat bedsores and so on. Often those carers do the work of two nurses. Sometimes the daughters and daughters-in-law who look after our elderly get nothing from the State, even though it is beyond question that those people are bedridden and were it not for the kindness and care of those women those they care for would have to be in hospital. Our carers are saving the State £250 a week by keeping those people at home, yet the State can deny them £50 a week. That aspect should be considered seriously. We should give consideration to having no means test apply when someone is caring for a person who is confined fulltime to bed. The women who look after such patients are a bonus to the State and are worth a lot — literally, they are worth £250 a week.

The Minister did not bring in an amendment in relation to the disabled person's maintenance allowance. I realise that a change may come about under regulations, and because of promises made, I am keeping my fingers crossed. I gave an example of a woman who looks after two DPMA holders. Those two people are genuine cases and have been medically certified as being sufficiently ill to be in receipt of the DPMA. The carer is a fulltime housewife, but when the husband's income was divided by two she was ruled as ineligible for the allowance. I previously sought by way of Adjournment Debate that anyone minding two people in receipt of DPMA be given double the qualifying allowance, £104. I know that the Minister can make that provision by way of regulation. I saw a man on the other side, whose name I cannot mention, moving his head — I hope that that means the provision is about to come in under regulation. No? In the name of fairness, such a measure will have to be implemented if justice is to be done. Why should a carer be given the allowance for looking after only one person if she is looking after two people? We should remember that those being cared for are not fictitious. Those I referred to in the case I previously drew to the attention of the House were mentally handicapped adults who are being looked after by their sister. Why should that woman not be allowed to earn £104 a week? I am asking for only one payment to that woman, but I am asking for double the qualifying allowance. I do not understand why, in justice, that cannot be done. I hope that the Minister will be able to make that change under regulation. If he does not then I shall ask him to step aside in favour of a previous Minister who was very kind when I raised the issue before.

Everyone would share most of Deputy Connaughton's views on the subject. Of course, I am glad that he has explained that he will not move the amendment, because otherwise we could face the possibility of having no carer's allowance at all.

I would certainly be speaking for all of my colleagues, and virtually everyone else, if I were to express total concern in relation to the carer's allowance. The wrong impression was created when the scheme was announced. Everyone thought that people who took care of an elderly person would automatically get the carer's allowance. Whether that impression was given by the Minister of the time or by the Department or was wrongly interpreted by the news media, the public at large took it that the carer's allowance applied to everybody who took care of an elderly person. We soon discovered that that was not the case. Indeed the longer it continues the greater is the confusion, Virtually every week Members receive queries from constituents as to why they cannot receive that allowance while others do. One gets weary trying to explain, I would go so far as to say, to undo the wrong impression created in the public mind whether deliberately or otherwise, there should be a clear definition of who is and who is not entitled to this allowance and in what precise circumstances. Certainly there is no such clear definition in the public mind while there may be in the case of the Department.

I have given thought to the points raised about transferring the administration of his allowance to the Department of Health, thence to the health boards. I have to say I am always somewhat worried about transferring the administration of anything to health boards because they leave much to be desired vis-à-vis administrative efficiency. Undoubtedly they play an important role in many aspects of hospitalisation, but I do not think they would have the requisite manpower or resources to administer another benefit. I do not want what I say to be interpreted as a criticism of the people who work for health boards; they do the best they can in very difficult circumstances. Indeed the people drawing on them are becoming increasingly numerous, community welfare offices in many areas being totally overworked, understaffed, endeavouring to cope with the numbers of people and/or subjects they must now endeavour to deal with.

I would not disagree with the general sentiments expressed in relation to the carer's allowance if I could be assured that the respective health boards would be given the necessary resources with which to undertake that task or administer that allowance, because it relates to health. Equally it relates to social welfare in that people in receipt of unemployment assistance or, for that matter, unemployment benefit, but particularly those in receipt of unemployment assistance, very often find themselves taking care of an elderly relative. I remember this issue being debated a few years ago with one of the Minister's predecessors, Deputy Dr. Woods, when I contended forcibly that effectively people in receipt of unemployment assistance were being rendered ineligible for it because local deciding officers deemed they were not available for work. At that time I received an assurance in the House that that direction to deciding officers would be reviewed or changed so that people in receipt of unemployment assistance, men or women, taking care of a relative living with them, or not living in the same house, would not lose their unemployment assistance on the basis of their not being available for work. I am not satisfied that that direction has been given to deciding officers particularly at regional or local level. Perhaps the Minister would check on this because it would eliminate a substantial problem. People actually in receipt of unemployment assistance would have to be transferred to the carer's allowance when the same old rigmarole would begin, necessitating their being meanstested and so on. There would be a very great proportion of people taking care of elderly relatives who would already be in receipt of one social welfare benefit or another. They should not be deprived of that benefit if they are able to provide such care. I contend they should remain on that benefit rather than disqualify them, forcing them to apply for the carer's allowance.

Another group of people in respect of whom there should be a hand's off approach are married people. For example, take the case of a woman whose husband is earning; his total income is taken into account in the means testing of the carer. That should not be the case. I contend that what a husband or wife earns should not be taken into account. The assessed income should not be based on family income but rather on the income of the person who provides the care.

Of course, I would not advocate that somebody should be eligible for receipt of two social welfare benefits or that somebody who is working should be granted the carer's allowance; if a person is working obviously they will not be able to take care of a relative or have time to do so. But in the case of somebody who is not working and whose husband or wife earns in excess of the means test limit, that spouse's income should not be taken into account at all. By so doing we would encourage many more people to look after their relatives at home, to the benefit of the elderly person and of the State.

The Minister will be well aware that demand for geriatric beds has reached chronic proportions in most areas. That is not a criticism of this or any other Government; it is fact of life. People are living longer. For example, on average women live 15 years longer than men in geriatric homes. I do not know the reason, but that is the position.

An easier life.

The fact is that now men and women can be accommodated in geriatric homes for 20 to 30 years. It would be preferable to see such elderly people being taken care of by their families. Very often they do not have visitors; they are forgotten about and are simply put away in geriatric homes.

The Minister should take a detailed look at this carer's allowance, ascertaining whether he can bring all of the strands together to encourage people to take care of their relatives and to rationalise that allowance. It may well be that it could best be administered by the Department of Health through the health boards. If the Minister so decides, it would then have to be administered by the health boards on the basis that community welfare officers would be provided with the necessary facilities and manpower to do so efficiently.

I suspect that if other Members of the House were aware we were discussing this — some may not have their monitors turned on — the benches here would be filled because no other area of social welfare is perceived by politicians generally to operate so inadequately. They receive constant requests to ascertain whether anything can be done about it. I would hazard a guess that the gender of carers would be 95 per cent female. Would I be correct?

I thought so. This raises the female dimension, that group of people who are put down all the time. I think Ministers are afraid that they would run away with themselves, lose a sense of themselves if they received too much funding or were recognised too fully.

Like some other speakers, I am one of those old-fashioned people who believe we should care for our relatives. I should like to think that the tradition in my father's family in County Galway — the county Deputy Connaughton spoke about — would strongly prevail, all of us recognising that our parents fulfilled a very useful, honourable role and were deserving of all the care we could give them in their old age. That is the ideal to which we would all subscribe and which many of us are in a position to provide, but not everybody can do so. That is the purpose of having a social welfare payment that takes account of need or of dire need.

Like other Members, I welcomed this allowance with open arms. In fact I wrote a glowing article in a magazine on one of the Minister's predecessors, Deputy Dr. Woods, saying what an enlightened person he was and how wonderful it was that somebody had an insight into these problems. I genuinely saluted him for this very fruitful change. I wrote that article at a time when there was general euphoria about the scheme; people thought it was one of the best benefits ever to have been introduced. However, shortly afterwards we realised that restrictions would be put on the means-testing and women would be deemed to receive half their husband's income. This meant that thousands of women who were entitled to receive the allowance and should have received it did not qualify.

We all know of such cases. I am talking about people who have to look after bedridden grandfathers and grandmothers and aged aunts and uncles who never married and who are unable to look after themselves. These people require full-time care. If these people do not have someone to look after them at home they have to go into geriatric homes. The nurses and people running nursing homes for old people are attempting to do a good job but it is virtually impossible for them to do this. The degree of luxury and comfort old people receive depends on the payments made. The degree of comfort my family would like to give to one of my relatives would cost in the region of £300 per week. This is an extraordinary amount of money, particularly when it is compared to the amount of money given by way of the carer's allowance.

There are many defects in the carer's allowance scheme. In view of the very reasonable submissions and comments which have been made I thought the Department would go back to the blueprint stage of this allowance, realise it was not working or meeting the need for which it was intended and that it needed to be re-examined. I constantly come across cases where carers are living down the road from or next door to the person who requires care. The carers look after these old people all day and settle them down for the night. They are carers in every sense of the word but because they do not live in the house they do not qualify for this allowance. I think the Minister indicated that responsibility for the scheme may be given to the health boards. If the scheme is kept in the Department I hope, in view of the way it has been operated, its flaws and the problems which have arisen that the Minister will put his imprint on it and ensure that it is improved and made more relevant to the people who need it.

I wish to refer to people who do not receive a carer's allowance. It should be remembered that 95 per cent of carers are women who work at home. These people have to provide constant care for their relatives who, in most cases, do not go on holidays and cannot go out for the day; they require care every day of the week. These carers do not get any respite from this work. Perhaps the Minister would consider providing some respite to enable these people to take a holiday with their husbands for a week or two. I am sure all of us have seen how elderly relatives are lovingly looked after. However, the people who look after them need a break. I should like to think that some of the submissions, comments and recommendations we have made will be taken on board by the Minister and that he will re-examine the carer's allowance.

I should point out that the prescribed relatives allowance was not a great scheme either. In order to qualify for that allowance a sick person had to nominate a person to receive it. Because many people were glad to see the end of that scheme I believe they welcomed the carer's allowance without fully examining how it was going to be applied. I support the comments made by my colleagues in this regard. I do not think the Minister will hear anything different in any of the contributions about this allowance.

I congratulate the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy McCreevy, on his appointment and I wish him every success. I have no doubt he will do a good job.

I should like to congratulate the former Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Woods, for introducing the carer's allowance, which has been a major development. Like other Members, I would love the carer's allowance to be provided without any means test. However, anyone who has served in Government will appreciate that that is not possible because of the various competing priorities for the limited resources available. The carer's allowance was a major improvement on the prescribed relatives allowance. This allowance gave relatives £28 per week compared to the carer's allowance which gives carers £50 per week, which will be increased to £53 a week from July. It is equally important to point out that the range of people who can qualify for a carer's allowance is much wider than the range of people who could qualify for a prescribed relatives allowance. The prescribed relatives allowance was very restricted. I want to give an example of this. I remember meeting an 88 year old woman in my practice who was being looked after by her son whom she had adopted when he was three years of age. He had to look after her all the time. He was not able to look for work or apply for unemployment assistance. When he applied for a prescribed relative allowance he did not qualify because he was an adopted son and not a natural son. That is one of the restrictions which existed in that scheme. I believe the carer's allowance is a very worthwhile scheme. I have no doubt that the Minister will expand the scheme as time goes on. Indeed, it is expanded each year both in terms of the rate of payment and the range of people who can qualify.

A number of speakers have referred to the administration of the carer's allowance through the health boards. I would not be in favour of such a proposal. What we need more than anything else in the delivery of the social welfare system and the support allowances which are in place is integration. One of the big problems experienced by the people administering the scheme and by the recipients is that when the Department of Social Welfare run out of benefits they are obliged to go to the health board for a new allowance. Of course, the classic example is the disability benefit and the disabled person's maintenance allowance. People who no longer qualify for disability benefit have to apply to the health board for a disabled person's maintenance allowance. They may be left for many weeks without support.

All these benefits should continue to be administered by the Department of Social Welfare. Indeed, the disabled person's maintenance allowance should be taken over by the Department of Social Welfare. I believe legislation introduced in recent years would allow for this. Such a move would make sense as the Department already administer an unemployment benefit system, an unemployment allowance for people who do not qualify on their contributions and a disability benefit. However, there is no disabled person's maintenance allowance. It would be much better from the point of view of the recipient if there was an integrated service and system of supports rather than having two Departments administering different supports. This is a good scheme although we would like it to be improved. The Minister should strongly consider integrating the various support mechanisms in his Department instead of dividing them between the health boards and the Department of Social Welfare.

No matter how good our nursing and geriatric homes are, the quality of life which aged parents receive in their homes is far superior to anything elsewhere. A characteristic of our society is that, irrespective of the size of the family, when a parent has to be cared for the responsibility is always left to one member of that family. Other members come on a Sunday but they never take on full responsibility for the care of a parent. The carer can often be a single daughter who gives up her job to look after an aged parent. That is the finest kind of carer there is, someone who is prepared to make the sacrifice of giving up her job to look after an aged parent. They often forfeit their right to marriage because they have to look after a parent and they do not have the same freedom as other members of the family to engage in pursuits which they enjoy. If people make sacrifices to look after an aged parent the Minister should respond by ensuring that the social welfare system is less rigid in monitoring the amount of money payable to the carer.

This is my first opportunity to congratulate my friend and colleague, the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy McCreevy, on finally reaching the winners' enclosure.

Birds of a feather.

While it took him a long time, he came with a perfectly delivered run in the last furlong. I wish him all the best.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Is Deputy McGahon calling for a dope test?

We do not need stewards, he is a winner. The Minister has shown openness, frankness and initiative, he is the person most likely to introduce a radical dimension to any ministerial post he may fill. There is none better to start with than the Department of Social Welfare.

When the carer's allowance was introduced it was welcomed by every Deputy. Unfortunately, it has turned out to be a three card trick. The numbers availing of it are derisory and show it to be a sham. I recently suffered a bereavement before which I saw at first hand the amount of work necessary in looking after an aged parent. He had to be turned every four hours on a 24-hour basis until he died and it showed the stark reality of the difficulties of caring for aged people. Geriatric hospitals are totally inadequate to care for people and the carer's allowance is crying out to be redressed. It should not be means-tested for average earners; the cost of care, perhaps on a 24-hour basis, is above the means of the average family. The prices asked by private nursing homes are also, in most cases, totally prohibitive. Help should be given to almost every family caring for an aged parent or relative because very often professional help is needed to look after them, sometimes during the night. In most families this poses strain, financially as well as physically and many families have to club together to pay the care.

We are told from time to time of the extraordinary cost of occupying a hospital bed. Figures range from £300 to £700 per week, it is unbelievable and I do not understand that system of accountancy. I know at least 20 people in their eighties whose families are seeking to place them in geriatric hospitals. They have cared for them lovingly for many years, through their sixties, seventies and into their eighties but there comes a stage when professional help is needed. Very often, they must wait until someone dies before there is a chance of a bed. The waiting list in geriatric cases runs into thousands and yet we hand out huge amounts of money from the national lottery to affluent golf, rugby, soccer and GAA clubs instead of providing money for the health services and the carer's allowance which would enable people to look after their relatives at home. The high earner can be subjected to means-testing but a concession should be made in relation to the average earner, particularly when there is a need for nursing at night for which private nurses must be paid.

The concept of the carer's allowance is a very good one and commendable but its implementation is wrong. It's too rigid. There is a need for a degree of flexibility in this worthwhile scheme. If, as Deputy Connaughton suggested, a small payment was made it would perhaps encourage more people to look after their aged relatives at home. I ask the Minister to look at this scheme, make it more flexible and include more people in this payment. The scheme should be maintained and enhanced.

A short time ago we were talking about the family income supplement, targeted at low paid families, which was not being availed of. The Minister and his team continue to wonder why it has not been taken up to the extent it should. There is a pool of people eligible for this scheme who have not applied.

The complete opposite is the case in relation to the carer's allowance. When the carer's allowance was first introduced people applied in their droves. I remember when the former Minister introduced it he almost did a whistle stop tour of the country to announce to all and sundry at press conferences, on radio and television and to all elements of the media that he was a great Minister who was now introducing progressive legislation, unlike the legislation brought in by this Minister which is regressive to an extreme degree. The then Minister envisaged a take-up rate in excess of 8,000. Following the publicity, 8,400 people applied in October 1991 for the carer's allowance. It appeared that the Minister was very near the mark because he had estimated that 8,000 people would benefit under the scheme. Whereas 8,400 people applied for the allowance, fewer than half were eligible — so much for the number who we believed would benefit under the scheme. The criteria for eligibility and the means test were so rigidly applied that only 1,613 people were awarded the allowance in full.

Both the family income supplement and the carer's allowance schemes are failures because the take-up rate is so low. The present Minister said last week that it would be better to transfer the scheme to the Department of Health because it was not operating successfully under his Department. I do not agree that the scheme should be administered by the Department of Health but the Minister should make his name by ensuring that the scheme works so that more people benefit from it.

We must remember that Ireland is a the crossroads. We know how expensive it is to care for the elderly. Thousands of people make daily sacrifices on behalf of elderly family members. It should be recognised that if they did not care for their elderly relatives, the State would have to ensure they were cared for. Private nursing home care is very expensive and it is very difficult to get a place in a health board geriatric home. I believe we are at a crisis point. We read reports of elderly people being dumped on the streets in Japan and recently in the United Kingdom because their relatives were so distraught at trying to care for them and they could not find a place in either a hospital or home, private or public, where they would be taken care of. Some elderly people were literally taken out in their wheelchairs and abandoned on the high streets of London. The same thing is happening in Tokyo. I would not like to see the situation reaching this point here but we should be conscious of the international developments and do all we can to prevent something similar happening.

It is absolutely scandalous that only 1,613 are in receipt of the carer's allowance in full and 1,972 are in receipt of a reduced allowance. Some carers are being paid the paltry sum of £3 per week for caring for somebody under this scheme. It must be remembered that in order to be eligible for the allowance one must be caring for the person on a full-time basis. It is therefore, quite insulting to pay somebody £3 a week. The Minister should provide a minimum payment to all those eligible under the scheme. The minimum payable to those eligible for unemployment allowance is £5 and we proposed raising that to £10 but the Minister failed to take that suggestion on board.

This gives the Minister the opportunity to make a name for himself. There should be a minimum payment of £30 per week to anybody eligible for a carer's allowance. The Minister should agree to change the working of the scheme. It is primarily directed at those caring for pensioners who are 66 years or over. I know that those caring for DPMA recipients are now eligible but I doubt if the scheme ever got off the ground. When one considers that this scheme replaced the prescribed relative's allowance and yet only 1,613 are being paid the allowance in full, this scheme is a total and absolute sham. Let me make three suggestions. The Minister should broaden the range of people deemed to be eligible. The person being cared for has to be so incapacitated as to require full-time care and attention but the scheme is limited to carers looking after old age pensioners, persons aged 65 in receipt of a retirement pension or persons in receipt of the disabled person's maintenance allowance. This age limit is too high because the Carer's Association of Ireland estimate that there are nearly 65,000 women engaged in caring for the handicapped, the elderly and others. They claim that 25,000 carers are providing care on a full-time basis. If 25,000 people are providing care on a full-time basis and yet fewer than 2,000 are in receipt of the full allowance, this is frightening. It highlights the need for reform of the scheme.

The means test is excluding many carers. It is absolutely outrageous that income in excess of £2 per week is assessed as means. While this is essentially a good scheme the conditions that have to be met are brutal and as a result fewer than 2,000 carers are benefiting in full from the scheme. The residential qualifications also disqualify people from benefiting under the scheme. If memory serves me right, the person being cared for has to live with the carer and this is a further restriction on the scheme. To summarise the means test, the residential requirement and the age profile serve to disqualify people from the scheme. If we could broaden either one or all of these conditions, a greater number could benefit under the scheme.

Whereas the Minister has asserted that he is in favour of protecting the rights of carers, the irony is that in another section he is effectively discriminating against home help who play such an important role in caring for elderly incapacitated or ill people on a daily basis. If a home help who does one or two days work is in receipt of unemployment assistance, the wages the person receives for the one or two days insurable employment would be assessed as means when deciding on the level of unemployment assistance. This will squeeze out the part-time home helps from the system. I ask the Minister to re-examine this. Again I suggest that he broaden the age profile, the residential qualifications and the means test that apply to the carer's allowance as this would considerably improve the scheme.

In winding up on Second Stage and on Committee Stage I spoke about the carer's allowance. Before I became Minister for Social Welfare I had much to say about the carer's allowance. People who have listened to the debate over the last week or so will be aware of what I have said. At the recent party conference I also spoke about the carer's allowance. I share the same view as Deputy Connaughton. Many people from Deputy Connaughton's constituency came in the thirties, forties and fifties to the part of Kildare in which I live. There is a great tradition, particularly among those from the west that people are cared for well into their eighties and nineties. I know of many houses in my locality where people who have celebrated their 92nd and 93rd birthdays are still there. It is a particularly west of Ireland farming tradition to look after the old.

It is a Dublin tradition too.

It is a Kildare tradition too, but it is particularly strong in the country. As I have said on previous occasions, the principle of a carer's allowance is an excellent one. It would be as well not to have started it if we are not going to do it well. I remember well the day the carer's allowance was announced because it was announced in the budget speech. It is possible that the present Taoiseach announced it but it was the idea of the Minister for Social Welfare. The principle of establishing it and getting a foot in the door was a very good one. I, too, welcomed it and we were inundated for weeks afterwards with questions from health boards and so on as to when the conditions would be announced and how it would operate. When it was made known how it would operate it caused much more political trouble than any kudos we got from the announcement in the first place. On the principle that one can do worse politically by giving the people an expectation of something and not providing it, one would be better off not to tell them in the first place.

As I said on Second Stage and on Committee Stage, my view of the carer's allowance is that if we were to call it by that name, it should mean that. In effect, it replaced the prescribed relative's allowance. When people are given an impression and an expectation of something which cannot be delivered it is a sure recipe for political disaster. My idea of a carer's allowance is the same as that of many other Deputies who have contributed here this evening. I would go further than Deputy McGahon and say why have a means test. The biggest growth industry in my constituency is private nursing homes to look after the old. I do not know what the position is in Deputy Connaughton's constituency or in the north-east. I can inform the House — and my colleague Deputy Stagg will support me — that in County Kildare, where there were one or two homes ten years ago, there are approximately 25 now. Statistics will prove that people are living longer. We will have a dependent population. I am afraid and whether Deputy Connaughton and I like it or not — I do not like it — the tradition of the family looking after their old is disappearing. As another Deputy pointed out, some people never get an opportunity of living their lives until the old person passes on. I know of many hundreds of cases where single women and married women with children do not have that opportunity until the old person dies. If that is going to be the case in years to come then, as I advocated, on Second Stage and on Committee Stage, if we are to have a carer's allowance it must be a carer's allowance. In my opinion it is a matter of taking the resources of the State from a number of different Departments and putting them together to give a proper carer's allowance to those people.

As Deputy John Browne said, the cost to the State of keeping people in homes funded by the State is inordinate; it is costing hundreds of millions of pounds. As I said on previous occasions it would be better to give a small amount of money to a lot of people and then we would save the State vast sums of money over a number of years. I committed myself earlier to saying I would look again at the carer's allowance. I also queried why it comes within the ambit of the Department of Social Welfare. Is it not a health matter and should it not properly be regarded as a health matter? It is a great idea but if we are to operate it properly it should be done by the Department of Health. There would be no point in the Department of Health operating it either if sufficient resources were not available. If we are not going to put the resources into it we could give it to the Department of Industry and Commerce and it still would not work effectively. I will initiate discussions with my colleague, the Minister for Health, in the coming year to see whether we can pool resources and say this is how it will be done in the future. It does not make any difference which Department is responsible for it; I have no hang-ups about having it in the Department of Social Welfare. I could not disagree with many views expressed here tonight.

I will examine the matter referred to by Deputy Browne of one carer looking after two carees. He said my predecessor, Deputy Woods, gave a commitment in that regard, that he might be able to do something. I do not know why it has not been done in the meantime but it is probably for cost reasons. I do not imagine the cost would be enormous. Since becoming Minister for Social Welfare I have read a fair amount of material about the carer's allowance. The carer's allowance was announced with a great deal of ballyhoo and ruaille buaille. We created this great idea, but it was not great in the long term when people found they could not get it. At that time nobody in the Department knew the statistics and who could claim. The allowance was restricted so much that one would almost have had to be starving before one could qualify. I am not going to defend the indefensible now that I am in the Department. Perhaps my predecessor was correct; he got his foot in the door to establish the principle and that is the basis on which we will try to work forward.

With my colleague, the Minister for Health, I will try to evaluate the actual costs that would be saved by the State. I think — and I have said this previously at Question Time — that there would be a massive saving to the State. A lot of people throughout the country would take care of their old people rather than put them into homes funded by the State. It is getting to the stage, as various Deputies said, when we will have to recognise that in years to come there will be an enormous health problem in this regard and we will not have the carers unless we have a vast programme. If we have to go down that road it will cost the State hundreds of millions of pounds whereas the total cost of the carer's allowance this year is only about £10.4 million. The cost to the State in years to come could be of the order of £1 billion; I am not sure what it would be in 1992 terms. As I have said, that is what I intend to do this year in relation to the carer's allowance. I have initiated discussions with my colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy O'Connell, in this regard.

Deputy O'Hanlon mentioned the need for a more integrated system. As the House is aware, one of my main aims in the Department is to have such a system covering all welfare payments. While Deputy Byrne did not agree with some of the things I said during the past few weeks he agrees with us in that regard. He suggested that the DPMA scheme would be the equivalent of a disability allowance scheme in my Department. While we have a disability benefit scheme in the Department there is no disability allowance scheme. He suggested that the matter should more properly be dealt with by the Department of Social Welfare.

However we would not be anxious to consider this suggestion — let us say I am glad that the health boards and the Department of Health administer the DPMA scheme rather than the Department of Social Welfare. We would not be anxious to administer a scheme which would give us a headache. Having said that, however, it would be hard to stand against the principle on the grounds that it would be the equivalent of a disability allowance scheme. Indeed, I said last week that I did not want to be seen as a Minister who introduced new schemes in my Department. Nevertheless, I am prepared to look at it and possibly my Department will end up operating the DPMA scheme with the Department of Health operating the carer's allowance scheme. However we would have to give the matter some thought.

On both Second Stage and Committee Stage Deputy Fennell mentioned the need to provide a respite care scheme. The idea interests me in relation to those who care for old people for 50 weeks of the year. Surely they are entitled to a break for two weeks? I might mention that people who care for handicapped persons at home in my constituency are given the opportunity by homes in County Kildare to take a holiday. I think that is what the Deputy has in mind. As against this, pressure is increasing to provide beds for old people and the matter may become serious.

Deputy McGahon mentioned the means test and I agree with him. If we recognise the caring principle and a person devotes all his or her time to looking after an old person, who is an invalid, and has not placed that person in a home I would be inclined to go further in that regard.

I have no doubt that Deputy Connaughton will not press his amendment to a vote because it would delete section 36 of the Bill, which, as the House is aware, will extend the carer's allowance to cover the recipients of invalidity pension transferred to retirement pension on reaching the age of 65 because of the higher rate of payment available. I am aware that it is not his intention to do away with the concession being granted here and that his only purpose was to initiate a debate.

In relation to each of the matters mentioned by Deputy Byrne there would be additional costs and until I examine the carer's allowance scheme and discuss the matter with my colleague, the Minister for Health, to see if it can be viewed in a different way, I will not commit myself. As the Deputy is aware, I have no more money to spend.

The Deputy mentioned the number of full time carers and the benefit of the scheme to the State in the years to come as people receive more money for looking after old people rather than placing them in the care of the State. The Deputy estimated that there are 25,000 full time carers and between 60,000 to 65,000 carers in all. At 31 January 1992 a total of 4,232 persons were awarded the carer's allowance of which 2,224 were granted the allowance at the full rate and 2,008 at a reduced rate. If the Deputy's figure of 65,000 carers in the country is correct, given that only 2,224 have been granted the allowance at the full rate and 2,008 at a reduced rate, the vast majority of carers are not getting anything from the State. This also means that if an allowance was payable there would be substantial additional costs. What I hope to do is to consider the matter in the context of the overall cost to the State.

For the reasons I gave earlier when I moved the amendment, I will not press it to a vote, but it was the only mechanism available to me to initiate a discussion. I think everyone would agree that this was one of the better discussions we have had. While I cannot disagree with the Minister in relation to the views he has expressed, there is a responsibility on him and on the House to ensure that this becomes a reality. Action will have to be taken from now on because, as I said, many people are frustrated and anxious and they would like to see changes made. We will all be looking to the Minister during the next few months and year to see what changes are made.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 54, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:

"(3) Where it is proposed to make regulations under this section, a draft of the regulations shall be laid before each of the Houses of the Oireachtas and shall not come into effect until a motion approving of each draft has been passed by each such House.'.".

The Minister in his Second Stage speech said it was announced on the publication of the 1992 Estimates in December last that the Government had decided that responsibility for short term sickness payments should be transferred to employers through a scheme of statutory sick pay. He went on to say that in order for employers to participate in this type of arrangement the rates of benefit required to be simplified and streamlined and that the continuation of pay-related benefit would not be possible in the context of a statutory sick pay scheme.

The explanatory memorandum states that section 41 empowers the Minister to make regulations delegating certain administrative functions of the Department of Social Welfare to other organisations to be prescribed. The Minister will surely tell me, if I am jumping the gun and reading too much into section 41 and the statement he made in his speech, that once regulations are made employers will pay disability benefit to their employees; but if that is the case the Minister is going down the wrong road. Our amendment reads:

Where it is proposed to make regulations under this section, a draft of the regulations shall be laid before each of the Houses of the Oireachtas and shall not come into effect until a motion approving of each draft has been passed by each such House.

One of the features of this Bill is that regulations will have to be made to implement what the Minister has in mind and what cannot be discussed on the floor of the House. The number of regulations required under this Bill could result in a document as big as this Bill, substantial as it is, being produced. We are only half debating this Bill. We cannot get to the nitty gritty, the finer points which are in the Minister's head. I am very disturbed about what the Minister intends putting into regulations. The House should be able to debate the ideas which will be transferred into regulations.

It would be a disaster to allow employers pay short term sickness payments to workers. Is not the Minister familiar with what happened in Great Britain? Four separate evaluations of a similar scheme in the United Kingdom led to the conclusion that far from saving money for the State the scheme involved additional cost, through increased staffing to administer it and the subsidisation of employers sick pay costs, for example payment to employers who already operate sick pay schemes. Given the British experience, we should ensure that any regulations the Minister intends making and any powers he intends to devolve on employers can be thoroughly analysed and debated here. Allowing employers in Great Britain to pay sickness benefits led to increased fraudulent activity on their part. Non-unionised workers, young workers, women and part-time workers had great difficulty in getting benefit from unscrupulous employers. It is not a step in the right direction to entrust to employers the task of guaranteeing weekly sick payments to vulnerable workers. In small enterprises which are not strongly organised by unions or management, the intimacy of the workplace can be very intimidating and a person who might genuinely be ill and who would wish to take time off work could find——

The Deputy is taking freedom with his amendment which refers to laying regulations before the House.

I appreciate that, but does the Chair not see the connection between the Minister giving responsibility to employers to pay out short term sickness benefits and my amendment calling for the regulations to be laid before the House? I am trying to warn the Minister that if he brings in such regulations without the participation of the House the workers will be the victims.

The Chair concedes that the Deputy may make a passing reference to those who might suffer, but he should not delve too deeply into the spirit or the implications of what is happening abroad.

I disagree with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on one fundamental point, that we should not delve deeply into these issues. For all we know the regulations could already be drafted and could be at the printer. The regulations are of fundamental importance to the Bill. Will the Minister tell me if I am misreading his intention to devolve to employers the right to administer sick pay?

The Deputy will be entitled to conclude. He is the only Deputy entitled to make two contributions by virtue of the fact that the Deputy moved the amendment. The point at issue here is whether the Minister is required to bring regulations before the House. That is what we are discussing.

The section concerns the administration of social welfare schemes and the regulations required. The regulations will implement the provisions of the Bill. The amendment seeks to have the regulations placed before the House in the form of a motion which must be passed by the House before they come into effect. I strongly support that proposal. The practice in the Department of Social Welfare, and in other Departments, has been to use the regulation system to implement black aspects of legislation, the politically undesirable aspects hidden in a Bill. This is a secretive stealthy way to bring into force new regulations that affect people. This House has no effective means of discussing quite substantive changes that affect people. The old system whereby regulations were placed in the Library of the House and a Member could bring the regulation before the House in the form of a motion has gone by the board. The rules of the House have been changed and Private Members' time must be available within 21 sitting days of the making of the regulation in order to bring the matter before the House.

The amendment would have the effect of giving authority back to this House and taking it away, not necessarily from the Minister but from his officials who have an immense amount of authority, given the convoluted language they use in the regulations. One would need a barrister to interpret them, never mind somebody who is unemployed and, perhaps, illiterate. I know a fair bit about social welfare, from practice and when I get copies of regulations from the Department I have great difficulty in understanding what they mean. It would be good if such regulations had to be laid before this House.

Under the Bill the Minister will be required to make regulations concerning the new means test for unemployment assistance. Under the new regulations if somebody on unemployment assistance gets a day's work and signs off, he will lose two days pay, so he cannot under any circumstances take part-time work. That is an outrageous new poverty trap created by the regulations the Minister must introduce to implement unemployment assistance under this Bill. We will not have any opportunity to debate that regressive step which means that the long term unemployed will be effectively excluded from taking up insured part-time work. Up to now the person who worked one day lost one day's benefit; the day's wages were in lieu of the benefit. Now one will be means-tested against the other days by the wages one earned on the day one worked. That is a new poverty trap and it will be implemented by regulations without this House having any say in the matter. The amendment will give this House the authority to express its opinion.

I am disappointed that the Minister did not table any amendments on Report Stage. He gave a commitment to me on Committee Stage that he would consider an amendment on Report Stage in relation to dependent social welfare recipients. Since the Minister has not brought forward an amendment, will he be able to implement the change by regulation?

We are examining this matter and considering the cost implications. The Department have been looking at the matter since the Deputy brought it to my attention and we may be able to proceed by way of regulation.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I worry somewhat about regulations. The Minister may have as much ability as any of us and perhaps more than many of us. He is, however, taking to himself the power to make decisions which we cannot discuss. There are several matters which need to be teased out, including the problem of dental and optical care for people earning over £25,000 a year. There is also the question of the self-employed and the carer's allowance scheme. All these matters can be dealt with by way of regulation. Because the Minister has not accepted publicly any changes we have proposed, I have written the following verse: O Minister, my Minister, this Social Bill is through, The problems we discussed, I know, were hardly new to you, But yet you baulked our every try as we explained the flaws, and so it seems we'll once again bring forward muddled laws, Unless you bring in regulations that suit us and that we can approve.

Every party should have a poet laureate.

The poet laureate from Carlow has spoken.

I, too, am concerned about ministerial authority being exercised by way of regulation. Ministers have given as a reason for not telling the Dáil all the details on certain matters that they had to negotiate with outside bodies. That is the way Government works and I have no objection, but the buck should stop here. The Minister should come back to the House and tell us exactly the reasons for his actions. The Minister may want to talk to the employers and the unions on, for instance, the case of spouses who will not be entitled to optical and dental benefit. I asked at an earlier point in the debate what would happen in the case of two spouses both earning £24,000. Perhaps the Minister would answer that question when he has spoken to people outside the House but before the measure is implemented.

Another question arises regarding the penalty involving loss of unemployment benefit for up to nine weeks where a certain level of redundancy payment is received. I want to know that level. The interested parties outside the House will have this information but I will not be aware of it. This is the Chamber where we decide what will happen. Perhaps it is a debate for another occasion. I certainly support the amendment because we are the people who should decide these questions, after the interested parties have been consulted.

The Minister must recognise the very serious concern among the vast majority of social welfare recipients regarding the implementation of legislation by regulation. It is desirable that those who are affected by this legislation from 6 April should know the impact it will have on them and their dependants. Representations were made to me during the week in relation to redundancy payments. In cases where redundancy payments have now been decided but will not be paid until after 6 April, will the recipients be caught in the nine weeks unemployment benefit trap? This is a major concern. The level of redundancy above which this penalty comes into play will not be clearly demonstrated in the legislation. The Minister might clarify the matter.

Deputy Moynihan's point does not relate to this section. The amount of redundancy money which will disqualify a person for up to nine weeks will be prescribed by regulation but it will be some time before we decide on that amount. I must enter negotiations with the ICTU and the employers federation. This will not apply to anybody receiving a redundancy payment next week. The enabling power is in the Bill and it will be utilised when agreement is secured and a decision is made. The Deputy may be assured that it will take some time.

The Minister may not get any agreement.

I am optimistic, but the Deputy may be right. On amendment No. 20, successive Bills have given powers to Ministers to make regulations. Section 41 relates purely to administrative matters in my Department. Deputy Stagg and Deputy Byrne are talking about the principle of regulations. There are sections in this Bill which give the Minister power to make regulations. Deputy Stagg raised a matter relating to unemployment assistance which is dealt with in section 27. That is one section where I do not have to make regulations. I have spelled it out very clearly.

The effect of what I said is true.

We discussed that on Committee Stage and I will not return to it now. I cannot accept the amendment before us because it relates to administrative matters.

Deputy Byrne has gone off on a tangent in regard to statutory sick pay. I announced on Second Stage the Government's decision to have a statutory sick pay scheme. I spoke on Committee Stage about such a scheme and doing away with pay-related benefit and disability benefit. A statutory sick pay scheme will be the subject of a Bill before this House, when the Deputy will have ample opportunity to make his case. We will be taking on board some of the ideas expressed by Deputies in this regard. The idea of a statutory sick pay scheme was first mooted in 1987 but we have yet to do anything about it. I hope to prepare a statutory sick pay scheme this year and Deputies will have ample opportunity of speaking about the matter at that stage. Therefore, there is no need to be concerned about it now.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but the time has come to put the question.

As mover of the amendment do I not have an opportunity of responding?

No. As it is now 7 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day.

Question put: "That Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 70; Níl, 63.

  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Brady Gerard.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Burke, Raphael P.
  • Calleary, Seán.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
  • Cullimore, Séamus.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Lyons, Denis.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDaid, Jim.
  • McEllistrim, Tom.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • O'Toole, Martin Joe.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Stafford, John.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilson, John P.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Therese.
  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Barry, Peter.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Belton, Louis J.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connor, John.
  • Cotter, Bill.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Doyle, Joe.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Enright, Thomas W.
  • Farrelly, John V.
  • Fennell, Nuala.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Garland, Roger.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Philip.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Lee, Pat.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McCartan, Pat.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).
  • O'Brien, Fergus.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Gerry.
  • Owen, Nora.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reynolds, Gerry.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sheehan, Patrick J.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine
  • Yates, Ivan.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Dempsey and Clohessy; Níl, Deputies Flanagan and Howlin.
Question declared carried.