I will come to that in one minute. It is true to say that the benefits that are now received were first mentioned when the Social Welfare Bill was introduced in March, 1951 by the former Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Norton. These increases now, as I have said, represent an increase of 25 per cent., and are, if you like, continuing in the line that was introduced by Deputy Norton in the Bill he presented to Dáil Éireann. I would suggest that in this Bill we more than compensate those people for the increased cost of living, and there is no use in anybody saying in this House or elsewhere that those increases are necessary because of the rapid increase in the cost of living during the past 12 months. This is to make up leeway that was not made up by the former Government. They are facts, and if anybody wants to challenge these figures as far as the percentage increase in the cost of living is concerned, or the increases now proposed, he will very easily and in a very short time find out what the facts really are.
It has been suggested that the generosity is limited. I think that in respect of social welfare history, or schemes in this country, this is the biggest percentage increase ever given. I hope to be able to continue the policy of endeavouring to compensate these people and all those in receipt of social welfare benefits as the cost-of-living index figure fluctuates.
Senator Hawkins asked that we take social welfare out of the realm of politics. I wish we could. I have heard many pleas from the two sides of the House to take agriculture out of the realm of politics, and to take Partition out of the realm of politics, and now we have a plea to take income-tax out of the realm of politics. I do not know whether it can ever happen or not. I am very doubtful if it can, having regard to the political set-up in the country for the past 35 years.
I agree with Senator Hawkins when he said—I hope I interpreted him correctly—we should try to arrive at a stage where these social welfare benefits should increase, as will probably be the case, as the cost-of-living index figure increases. I think we would be in a very happy state if we could get agreement on that point. The Senator suggested a committee. I presume he meant a committee representative of all Parties that would examine the whole question of social welfare.
We have had people from time to time, as we had Senator Hickey to-day and different other Senators, talking about the inadequacy of these benefits. The country is unanimous about the inadequacy of the old age pension allowance. We all agree it is inadequate, but we ought also to be unanimous as to the proper method of raising the money. When people think of old age pensions, they think of an increase of £1 or 10/- per week. An increase of £1 to the old age pensioners means an increase of £8,000,000 per year and an increase of 10/- means £4,000,000.
We would be a much happier community and the old age pensioners would certainly be much happier, if we could get agreement as to the method of raising that money. I do not speak on behalf of the Government in this connection. I would like to see the day come when we could say, when we are framing our Budget: "We will impose these taxes to ensure that old age pensioners will have a reasonable standard of living and that widows and orphans who are not in receipt of contributory pensions will have an adequate allowance."
We know what the pattern has been, not in respect of this Dáil, but in respect of all Dála. No matter what Government might give an increase to the old age pensioners, whether it be an increase of 2/6, 5/- or 7/6, which necessitated an increase in income-tax, immediately there is a "holler" from the Opposition, no matter who they may be. Therefore, I certainly would favour the suggestion made by Senator Hawkins in this case, and by Senators and Deputies from time to time, that we might be in agreement about the rates of social benefit, but that we might also be in agreement as to the method of raising the money. There is no reason why we should not have agreement on that, too.
There have been complaints, too, that, even though these benefits are well deserved, inadequate though they may be, the contributors will have to pay and the employer and worker will have to pay. In the first place, the State is doing its share. The State is prepared to face up to its responsibility in providing this year approximately £500,000. I cannot understand why anybody in the House, from the right hand side or the left hand side, should object to the fact that the worker and the employer will have to pay their share as well, because we accepted in the Seanad, as we accepted in the Dáil, the principle upon which the social insurance scheme was founded.
It was introduced by Deputy Norton in March, 1951, and the Dáil at least unanimously accepted the principle that there would be a one-third contribution from the employer, the employee and the State. When Deputy Dr. Ryan as Minister for Social Welfare, introduced his Social Welfare Bill, it was also unanimously accepted in the Dáil and Seanad that that should be the basis of the scheme as far as the financing of it was concerned—that the worker would pay his one-third, the employer his one-third and the State its one-third.
As far as these increases are concerned, the increases are financed on the very some principle: 5d. from the employer, 5d. from the employee and £500,000 from the State represents one-third each as far as the increases are concerned. Therefore, I do not think it is really fair, honest or just for anybody from either side of the House to complain about contributions when the country as a whole has been unanimous in its approval of that method of financing the social insurance fund.
There has been some talk in the Seanad about what are commonly called the "dole men." I think it is true to say that there have been comments from time to time down through the years about the same "dole men." We are apt to get a wrong impression about these unfortunate people. Complaints have been made here and in other places outside both Houses of the Oireachtas that these people are getting money under false pretences. I do not think anybody would suggest that there is a perfect system in the administration of the distribution of unemployment assistance.
I do not disbelieve what Senator Commons said in respect of certain people in regard to certain areas which are unnamed, but we must remember that these "dole men" are not the total number of unemployed and that well over 50 per cent. of the people who are unemployed at the present time are in receipt of unemployment benefit to which they have contributed. They are entitled to that without any regard to means tests or any other form of test, except the test of being available for employment.
As far as those in receipt of unemployment assistance are concerned, I do not disbelieve there are some people who are obtaining money under false pretences. As far as my Department is concerned, it frowns very strongly on that practice, and has endeavoured to trace these people who are responsible for drawing unemployment assistance and at the same time are gainfully employed in some sort of work or other. It is very difficult to make a system perfect and, as Senator Crosbie said, there are evasions of income-tax. Practically every single law passed in this country for the past few hundred years has been broken and is being broken. The traffic laws are being broken; the income-tax code is evaded, and it is inevitable that there will be some people who will try to get through the Social Welfare Acts and Unemployment Assistance Acts.
I and the Department endeavour to trace these people, but with little cooperation from the people who complain. I refer to a vast number of employers and they are responsible to some extent in not helping us to trace down those people who have been described here. It is the duty of an employer, when he employs any person, to demand his insurance card. Once he takes his insurance card out of the employment exchange it means, so far as the officials are concerned, that he is working and that he is not entitled to sign for unemployment assistance.
The employers have not co-operated in trying to trace down these individuals and on the flimsy evidence we sometimes get, employers are reluctant to give any evidence. As far as the investigation officers of the Department of Social Welfare and the officers of employment exchanges and branch employment exchanges are concerned, they do their utmost to make sure that people do not get money under false pretences. Whether it is peculiar in certain areas of the country, I do not know, but as far as the part of the country with which I am familiar is concerned, I do not think it is widespread. I might say that I do not think it is as widespread as people imagine. Out of the 20,000 or 23,000 who at present are drawing unemployment assistance a hard core of those, as Senator Walsh reminded the House, could be re garded as being unemployable.
They are not dodgers. Let nobody get it into their heads that they are people who do not want to work. They are people who are unemployable as far as employers are concerned. These people believe themselves they could do a day's work, but would not be acceptable by employers for any work they might have. I think we ought to be a little more considerate of these people who are unemployed, simply because they are unemployable. In my experience and in my personal contact with these men, I know that there is a small percentage of people unemployed in this country who would not take work. There is a good deal of criticism of these people who draw unemployment benefit and I am not referring to Senator Commons or to anybody else who made comments in this House to-day. I would say that there are a few who are getting unemployment benefit while they work and it is difficult to catch them, and when they are caught and prosecuted, certain people in other places do not deal with them in the way in which the Department would like them to be dealt with.
The suggestion was also made that people who are in receipt of the dole should be sent to work. I do not think I would favour that suggestion. There was the specific suggestion by Senator Commons that the money devoted to unemployment assistance might be paid to the county councils who would employ these men and pay them out of money contributed to the county council by the Social Welfare Fund. That might be feasible in respect of certain people who are unemployed, but I do not think it would be generally feasible. I do not want to represent myself as making a difference as between one type of worker and another, but there could be the situation where you might have ten clerical workers who have become unemployed. Would it be fair to those workers to tell them that a qualification for drawing unemployment assistance would be to go out and work for the county council for six or seven or eight hours during the week? I do not think it would be fair, because I have seen men of that type who are not used to manual labour—clerks in my town who, through force of circumstance, were required to go on relief schemes —and who when they had worked for a few hours found their hands blistered and bleeding. If I were unemployed and asked to go and work in a quarry with a sledge, a pick or shovel or to use a wheelbarrow, I would like to know what condition I would be in at the end of a few hours' work.
As I say, the suggestion of Senator Commons might be feasible in respect of certain types of manual workers but I do not think it would be feasible in the case of other workers. I do not think it would be desirable to place an obligation on these people to take any work that might offer in that way. I think there is an obligation on us to provide these workers with assistance when they become unemployed and when the State or the community cannot provide employment for them.
I think it was Senator Burke who mentioned that there was a considerable abuse by married women receiving unemployment benefit shortly after they were married. Such is not the case. As a matter of fact, it ought to be known that women who are married must requalify for unemployment benefit by obtaining 26 weeks' employment or stamps. Prior to January, 1955, they had certain rights under the Insurance Acts. Under the 1952 Act, they could receive unemployment benefit because they were entitled to it, by having made a certain number of contributions in stamps. As long as they were available for work, even if married, they were entitled to that benefit. Now they are compensated when they get married to the extent of a gratuity of £10 and that more or less cuts them off from any social welfare benefit, but they can become entitled again to requalify for benefit by having 26 stamps.
It was Senator Burke who also complained that there were certain people who refused work to which they were sent by the employment exchange. I do not think that that is widespread, nor do I think the officials in my Department in the exchanges or the sub-branch exchanges insist that people take up work not suited to them. Again, I quote the example of the clerk. I do not think such a person would be sent to a job that required him to use his hands or that would be detrimental to his health. Persons in that position are not expected to take on work of that sort and I think every effort would be made in the exchanges to place unemployed persons in occupations that suit them.
As I have said, I do not think it is widespread. If, however, people refuse to take a job because it is not suitable to them and are cut off from unemployment assistance or benefit, they have the right of appeal to the appeals officers. I must say in respect of the appeals officers that I as a Deputy in my dealings with them found that they were very humane indeed. It is not their policy and it is certainly not my policy that people should be shoved into occupations for which they are physically and perhaps mentally unsuited.
Senator Walsh, I think, asked about the modification of the qualifications for unemployment benefit, particularly in respect of the number of stamps required. He mentioned that 26 might possibly be too many and that there ought to be a reduction in the number and I think he mentioned that 12 stamps should be sufficient for requalification. I am afraid I could not make any alterations in that, because for one reason it is very much easier to qualify for unemployment benefit now under the terms of the 1952 Act than it was heretofore. Secondly, any big modification in the number of stamps required would seriously affect the social insurance fund. It might be hard in respect of certain people, but it would not be possible to modify the position in the present circumstances. I think I have covered most of the points raised by the Senators and I would like to thank them for the reception they have given this Bill and for their helpful criticism and suggestions.