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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 22 Mar 1979

Vol. 91 No. 9

Social Welfare Bill, 1979: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill is designed to give effect to the increases in the rates of social welfare payments announced in the budget and other changes in social welfare schemes. As usual, the Bill contains a number of rather technical amendments to existing legislation which I will endeavour to clarify for Senators.

The Government are committed to maintaining the value of social welfare payments by increasing them regularly and bringing about, whenever possible, real improvements in the living standards of social welfare recipients.

Figures recently published indicate that the increase in the consumer price index is running at about 10.8 per cent but it was projected in the budget statement to fall to 5 per cent towards the end of the year. On this basis the 12 per cent increase in rates of short-term payments as a whole should maintain the position of recipients and provide an increase in their living standards. The increase in the case of long-term payments is 16 per cent as those on long-term payments, such as retirement pensioners and old age pensioners, are generally regarded as requiring special attention in the social welfare context and the desirability of higher increases in their case will be readily conceded.

All weekly personal rates of non-contributory old age pension are being increased, the increase at the maximum rate from £13.60 to £15.80 for persons aged under 80 years and from £14.65 to £17.00 for persons aged 80 years or over. Provision is also made in the Bill to ease an anomaly caused by the application in recent years of uniform percentage increases to the reduced rates of pension payable where weekly means exceed £6. This has resulted in a scale of means and rates of pension under which weekly pensions are reduced by £1.40 for every increase of £1 in means. As a step towards achieving a scale where pensions will not be reduced by more than £1 a week for each £1 increase in means, the Bill provides that the stages between rates will be reduced to £1.30. As a result, there will be two additional rates of pension in the table of rates, and reduced rates of pension will be payable to pensioners without qualified children up to a means limit of £17. For a pensioner with qualified children, of course, the means limit will be greater than £17.

The maximum rate of payment in respect of an adult dependant under pensionable age is being increased to £7.85, the allowance payable in respect of a prescribed relative giving full-time care and attention to an incapacitated pensioner is being increased to £8.80 and the addition to pension for a pensioner living alone will become £1.30.

The additions to pension for qualified children are being raised to £4.25 a week for each of the first two children and to £3.20 a week for each other child.

The new scale of weekly means and rates of pension is set out in Table A in section 2 of the Bill.

Section 3 of the Bill provides for the increases in the rates of unemployment assistance. The increase in the personal weekly rate of assistance will bring the maximum to £13.15 in urban areas and to £12.70 in rural areas. The rates for adult dependants are being increased to £9.60 and £9.35 respectively and the rates for dependent children to £4.10 for each of the first two and £3.10 for others.

The rates of unemployment assistance now payable in the case of smallholders whose means are assessed notionally by reference to rateable land valuation are, if their valuations are over £10, lower than the rates which are payable to applicants generally. These lower rates result from the fact that rate increases in previous years were not applied in the case of those smallholders. On this occasion, however, the 12 per cent increase applies to all rates of unemployment assistance. Section 3 includes the three new schedules of rates which will now apply.

Section 4 of the Bill provides for a change in the notional method of assessing means for unemployment assistance purposes in the case of smallholders residing in specified areas of the country.

At present, the multipliers used to assess the annual income of those smallholders are £20 per £1 land valuation where the valuation is £15 or less, and £30 per £1 valuation where the valuation is over £15 and up to £20. The £20 multiplier has not been changed since its introduction in 1966 and the £30 multiplier has been unchanged since 1976. Section 4 provides for increases in the multipliers from the beginning of April. The increase for those with valuations of £10 or under will be from £20 to £30, for those with valuations over £10 and up to £15, from £20 to £50 and for those with valuations over £15 from £30 to £60 per £1 land valuation.

Section 5 of the Bill will give any smallholder covered by these provisions, who feels it would be to his advantage, the option of the factual assessment of means which applies generally to applicants for unemployment assistance.

Section 6 of the Bill provides for increases in non-contributory widow's pensions and the social assistance allowances for deserted wives, unmarried mothers and prisoners' wives. The maximum weekly personal rate is increased to £15.80 and the amount for each qualified child to £5.20. As in the case of non-contributory old age pension, provision is being made for uniform reductions of £1.30 in pension for each £1 increase in means. Section 9 provides for increases in non-contributory orphans' pensions, the new maximum rate being £10.25 per week.

Section 10 provides for increases in single woman's allowance, the new maximum rate being £13.65.

Under section 11 the rates of supplementary welfare allowances are being increased to maintain the parity between the rate of the allowance and the rural rate of unemployment assistance.

Increases in children's allowances are provided in section 19 of the Bill. The monthly allowance for a one-child family is increased to £3.50, for a two-child family to £9, for a three-child family to £14.50 and the allowance for each subsequent child is increased to £5.50. The new rates will come into effect from April.

One reason for the substantial increase in children's allowances on this occasion is to cushion the effect on the lower-paid and those with large families of the recent reductions in food subsidies. Families below the tax threshold will benefit in full from the increases now provided. As an interim measure, compensation for the reduction in subsidies was already given to persons in receipt of assistance payments by an adjustment in the value of the EEC butter scheme vouchers.

The increased rates of contributory benefits and pensions under the social insurance system are set out in section 20 of the Bill. Disability and unemployment benefits are increased to £16.05 for a single person and to £26.50 for a person with an adult dependant. Payments for children with these benefits are being increased to £4.65 for each of the first two children and to £3.80 for each other child. Maternity allowance is also being increased to £16.05.

The personal rate of invalidity pension, which is a long-term payment, is being increased to £16.65 with an addition of £10.85 for an adult dependant.

Contributory old age and retirement pensions for persons under age 80 go up to £18.60 and, for those over 80, to £20. The addition to pension for an adult dependant is being raised to £11.90 where the adult dependant is under pensionable age and to £14.05 where the adult dependant is aged 66 or over.

In the case of widow's contributory pension and deserted wife's benefit, the new personal rate will be £17 for those under age 80 and £18.25 for those aged 80 or over.

The additions to widow's contributory pension and deserted wife's benefit for qualified children are being raised to £5.70 for each child. In the case of other social insurance pensions, the new additions for child dependants will be £4.80 for each of the first two children and £3.95 for each other child.

In line with the improvements in the general social insurance system the Bill provides in sections 25 and 26 for corresponding increases in the rates of benefit payable under the Occupational Injuries Scheme.

In addition to rate increases, the Bill makes provision for a number of other improvements in the social welfare services. Improvements of this nature, while they do not attract the same degree of attention as the general increase in rates of payments, are, nevertheless, well worthwhile because of the benefit or alleviation they bring to individuals or small groups of persons. The first of these relates to equality of treatment for men and women in social welfare schemes. Senators will recall that in 1978, in pursuance of the policy of removing discrimination against women in social welfare, provision was made for the removal of the special conditions for receipt of unemployment assistance by single women and widows. A further major step towards equality of treatment is the provision in section 22 of the Bill extending to 312 days the period for which unemployment benefit may be paid to married women who are now entitled to only 156 days.

Two of the other improvements provided in the Bill relate to the social insurance system. An improvement in the maternity allowance scheme is made in section 23. This allowance is payable at present to a woman for a maximum period of six weeks prior to the expected date of confinement and for six weeks thereafter. However, if the birth of a child occurs prematurely, the allowance may not be paid the full period of 12 weeks. Section 23 provides that from 2 April 1979 the allowance will be paid in all cases for a minimum period of 12 weeks.

The second improvement concerns the position of a deserted wife who becomes widowed while in receipt of deserted wife's benefit. Although the contribution conditions for widow's contributory pension and deserted wife's benefit are the same, the dates on which these conditions must be satisfied are different—the date of desertion in one case and the date of the husband's death in the other. It is possible that a deserted wife, though in receipt of deserted wife's benefit, could fail to qualify for a widow's contributory pension on her husband's death, if his insurance diminished after he deserted her. Section 24 of the Bill provides that such a woman will automatically qualify for widow's (contributory) pension, whether or not the contribution conditions are satisfied in her case.

On the social assistance side, the Bill provides for a considerable number of minor improvements. Section 7 provides for the abolition of the upper age limit for non-contributory widow's pension. The limit is 66 years at present so that a widow at that age is obliged to transfer to non-contributory old age pension. However, this may lead to a reduction in her pension because of the more favourable treatment of income from capital in the case of widow's pension than for old age pension. The position is now being rectified by allowing a widow to continue to retain her widow's non-contributory pension after she reaches 66 years of age.

Sections 13 and 14 will increase to £200 the amount to be disregarded in assessing income from capital for means test purposes. The present amounts which may be disregarded are £25 in the case of old age pensions and £100 in the case of widow's pensions and equivalent allowances.

Section 15 will ensure that any unearned income of a child, such as income from a trust, a portion of which is at present assessed in determining a widow's means, will no longer be so assessed.

Under section 16 the amount of a person's earnings to be disregarded as means where there are qualified children will be increased to a uniform £104 for each child from £39 in the case of an old age pensioner and £78 in the case of a widow. The section also provides for the adoption of a uniform definition of earnings for this purpose.

Section 17 will extend the provision whereby old age and widow pensioners do not suffer an overall reduction of income when certain other pensions to which they are entitled are increased. This provision, which now applies only to pensions payable under statute or by another Government, will in future embrace any occupational pension to which the pensioner is entitled.

Section 18 provides that in assessing means, dwelling houses and farm buildings, which are at present assessable, will be disregarded.

Section 8 of the Bill will allow prisoner's wife's allowance to continue to be paid for four weeks after the prisoner's release. Under present legislation the allowance ceases to be payable immediately the husband is released from prison, but the extension now provided will assist prisoners to adjust to freedom and normal living without having the added problem of an immediate financial crisis in the home.

Section 27 relates to the provision in the Acts which requires an old age pensioner to repay any pension overpaid as result of a failure on his part to notify in due time an increase in his means, regardless of whether or not there was fraudulent intent on his part. This mandatory requirement to repay can cause hardship in certain circumstances and section 27 will enable the Minister for Social Welfare to exercise discretion in dealing with the question of overpayment of pension in such cases in future.

The overall cost in 1979 of the rates increases and other improvements being provided for following the budget is £65.7 million. Of this, social assistance accounts for £33.7 million, all of which is borne by the Exchequer. The total cost on the social insurance side is £32 million and this must be met out of the Social Insurance Fund which is financed by contributions from employers and employees with an annual subvention from the Exchequer. The Exchequer will meet an estimated £6.4 million of this extra cost leaving £25.6 million to be borne by contributions. The cost to contributors of the social insurance improvements in this Bill will be met from the new fully pay-related contributions which, under the Social Welfare (Amendment) Act, 1978, will be payable from 6 April next.

Some of the provisions of the Bill are due to come into operation on 28 March and it is necessary, therefore, that the Bill should be enacted before that date.

I, therefore, commend the Bill to Seanad Eireann for speedy and favourable consideration.

This Bill is to give effect to the increased rates of social welfare payment that arise from the 1979 budget and to give effect to certain changes in social welfare schemes. Before going on to deal with the effects of the Bill in general, I would like to draw attention to the people to whom this Bill applies, the old age pensioners, the widows and orphans, the deserted wives, prisoners' wives, unmarried mothers, handicapped people, the disabled and those who are unemployed—unemployed in many cases through no fault of their own. In all we accept that these people belong to what were generally known as the lower income groups. They are, we must accept, among the weakest, the most underprivileged in our community. They are the least organised and, consequently, are the least able to improve their lot or to take an effective stand against poverty and perhaps injustice also. Their living standards generally are poor and I am afraid that quite honestly they are getting poorer. Certainly this is true in relation to the living standards of the rest of the community. I believe there is a growing gap there between their living standards and the living standards of other sections of our people and that gap is growing wider.

There are certain aspects of what the Minister has described as improvements in this Bill that I want to criticise. The provisions that the Minister has made in the Bill to increase the income of social welfare dependents are inadequate but before going on to express my criticisms of what I feel are the inadequacies of this Bill I want, if I am permitted, to express the concern I feel at the attitude of the community in general towards the position of the people who are covered by this Bill.

I am concerned at what I consider is a growing disregard by many sections of our people of the rights of the poor and the underprivileged in a mad rush by many to grab all they can irrespective of the consequences that that may have on the underprivileged sections. Unless there is a re-awakening of a social conscience among the majority of our people in a relatively short space of time we will arrive at the point where the national cake will be distributed according to the law of the jungle, where the highly organised and those with enough political and economic muscle will grab what they can and what will remain for the poor and the underprivileged will be only the crumbs that fall from the table. If in that rat race the poor and the underprivileged have not the resources and strength among themselves to protect their interests, then in the final analysis the responsibility rests on the Government and I would say also on this Parliament. We should be prepared to take up the slack on their behalf and protect their interests in so far as we can do it.

If this Bill and the budget which gave rise to it are an indication of our commitment as a Government or parliamentarians to fulfil that role, I believe that we measure up poorly. I admit that there are improvements in the Bill. I readily accept that these improvements, together with the removal of one or two anomalies, are desirable developments and I give credit for them but I do not believe that the increases granted will be sufficient to maintain the living standards of people who depend on social welfare. I believe that, in fact, even with these provisions the poor will continue to get poorer.

The Minister in his speech stated:

The Government are committed to maintaining the value of social welfare payments by increasing them regularly and bringing about, whenever possible, real improvements in the living standards of social welfare recipients.

What has been described as the long-term payments in this Bill have been increased by 16 per cent and the short-term payments have been increased by 12 per cent. It is not yet 1 April when the terms of this Bill will apply and I can honestly say that these percentage increases are already shown to be inadequate. The latest figures for the consumer price index have indicated an increase of almost 11 per cent but the food component within that index—and we must accept that food is a basic requirement for people on social welfare—has risen by almost 18 per cent. Therefore, the food element in the consumer price index has increased by 18 per cent according to a recent submission by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which I believe is available to the Minister. Their survey shows that 75 per cent of the household budget of the lower income group is spent on food. Therefore, if the food component in the consumer price index has risen by 18 per cent, I am saying that social welfare increases of 16 per cent long-term and 12 per cent short-term are already inadequate before they come into operation.

The Minister in his speech went on to refer to the consumer price index running at 10.8 per cent and it was projected in the budget statement that there would be a fall of 5 per cent towards the end of the year. I do not know how many people believe that 5 per cent will apply at the end of the year. Perhaps the Minister does. Frankly I do not, and I doubt if the belief that it will is accepted by very many people. If that 5 per cent will prove to be no longer valid by the end of the year, then on that basis the increases being granted are likely to prove inadequate.

I would like to make the point that people on social welfare even at 1 April this year are already handicapped to a degree, handicapped in the sense that events have shown that their income has fallen short of the cost of living. The social welfare payments in the 1978 budget were 10 per cent. If the consumer price index has by now exceeded 10 per cent they are already at a disadvantage. We say that the wages of the average industrial worker increased by 17 per cent in the course of the past year. Then obviously I can go back to what I said earlier, that the living standards of the poor in our society in relation to other sections of our people are contracting and the gap is getting steadily wider.

I want very briefly to deal with the benefits—the Minister says the improvements—that this Bill contains. I want to ask the Minister and my colleagues here if we honestly believe that a non-contributory old age pensioner, an unmarried mother or a deserted wife can have an acceptable standard of living in our society today on an income of £15.80 per week. I do not believe they can. Nor can we accept that a widow with two children can survive on an income of £26.80 per week. Neither can the old pensioner, the unmarried mother, the deserted wife on £15.80 or the widow with two children on £26.80 survive on that type of income without depending on the charity of their family, their relations or their neighbours. I believe this to be a fact. It is a reflection not alone on the Government's social welfare policy but on all of us who are prepared to accept that the poorer and weaker sections of our community should be condemned to this situation.

I want to express my disappointment and say to the Minister that I cannot understand why what I can only regard as a miserable income limit of £17 per week for old age pensioners and for other social welfare people is being persevered with. For a number of years I have had an opportunity to sit on an old age pensions committee. I have always felt that that £17 per week, even two or three years ago, was an unreasonable figure that discriminated against people. I cannot understand why a reduced pension will apply in relation to an old age pensioner and to others if their weekly means exceed a miserable £6 per week. I honestly believe that we must look at these two figures and say in fairness to the people whom they affect that a doubling of both is the very least we should be contemplating.

I want to relate what I have said about the old age pensioners, widows and deserted wives to those people on unemployment assistance, to those who cannot find employment in their areas through no fault of their own. Unemployment assistance under this Bill will be £13.50 per week for a person in the urban area and £12.70 in the rural areas. For an adult dependant there is an allowance, and I would expect that that dependant is a wife of the unemployed person. In an urban area their joint income will be £22.75 per week, in a rural area £22.05. What standard of living can a husband and wife expect to have on that type of income? If they are a young couple recently married, what future can they honestly look forward to on an income as confined and as restricted as that? May I ask the Minister why there is this difference between the rate that is being paid in an urban area and in a rural area? I do not understand why the difference should apply. Perhaps there is a valid reason and, if so, I would like to hear it.

The Minister has described as substantial the increases in children's allowances under this Bill. He is entitled to do that but I am equally entitled to look at them from another angle, and that is what I propose to do. The Minister has stated elsewhere that the increases to a two-child family will be something in the region of 41 per cent, to a four-child family 24 per cent and to a six-child family 20 per cent.

Before going on to analyse in a very brief manner the extent of the increases in terms of pounds and pence, may I ask the Minister why that tiered system of increases was decided upon and the manner in which it will apply where it ranges from 41 per cent to the two-child family down to 20 per cent for the six-child family? Is there not in that scale discrimination against the larger family and, if so, why? It appears that there is a discrimination there and I am asking why this is the case. The Minister has stated that the increase in children's allowances in respect of the first child is 52 per cent, £3.50 per month. Fifty two per cent appears to be quite a substantial increase but, if it is expressed another way, it amounts to £1.20 per month, 30p per week or 4p per day. For the third child in a family, the increase under the Bill is 65 pence a month or twopence a day.

There has been an implication somewhere along the line that this increase in children's allowances will to some degree go to offset the removal of food subsidies. A normal healthy child of up to 16 years of age will consume at least one pint of milk per day. The effect of the removal of food subsidies on the price of milk has been an increase of 3½ pence per pint. Therefore, already the increase in children's allowance has been eroded by the effect of the removal of food subsidies on milk alone, leaving little or nothing, little in the case of the first child and certainly leaving nothing in the case of the third child, to cover the increased cost of the other items which the removal of the food subsidies affected.

There is also another angle to this. Perhaps I have not got the right slant on it but, if I have to, I would be quite happy to be corrected on it. If this child happens to be the son or daughter of an ordinary industrial worker, when account is taken of certain changes which the budget made in the allowance which can be claimed for children in offsetting of income tax, if that is taken into account in the calculation, my sums say that in effect what the Minister is doing here is not increasing by 52 per cent the allowance in respect of the first child but rather he is increasing it at best by 52 pence per month and in fact only by one penny per month in respect of a child or subsequent child. These are my calculations, and if they are wrong I will be happy to have them corrected.

Another group of people are unexpectedly and unreasonably being hit by the effects of this Bill. These are the people who have been qualifying for smallholders unemployment assistance. These are the people who have been in receipt of farmers' "dole". They are being affected because the multiplier for notional assessment is being increased. There are more than 20,000 of these smallholders affected and many of them will be excluded from benefit under the Bill. The Government, as a result of this exercise, will save something slightly in excess of £2 million in a full year. The effect of the removal of that £2 million will be severe and substantial on the people concerned.

The new system of assessing the notional income of the smallholders in question will mean that a smallholder of £10 PLV who, up to the passage of this Bill, had been assessed on the basis of an income of £200 will now find that that has been increased by 50 per cent to a notional income of £300. A smallholder on £15 PLV will find that his present notional assessment of £450 goes up to £750 and the smallholder on £20 PLV will find that his present notional assessment of £650 almost doubles to £1,200.

I might also comment, with the permission of the Cathaoirleach, on what is an unfortunate development and that is the belief of so many people—and this is increasing—that all members of the farming community, for some reason or another, are millionaires. I willingly accept that the top 5 per cent or top 10 per cent are wealthy people but the farmers and the smallholders about whom we are talking and who are affected by the provisions of this Bill, those of £20 poor law valuation and under, are at the very bottom of the scale.

Anybody who has any knowledge of conditions on farms, especially in the west, where the people will be hardest hit, will realise that the lot of these people consistently over the years has been a hard one. Many of them have existed on the basis of hand to mouth. Many of them have lacked the confidence, because of the experience they have had and the poverty they have endured, to take the risks that people on a bigger acreage might be prepared to take to develop their holdings and thereby to increase their income. They have survived on what has become known as the farmers' "dole." They live in disadvantaged areas where they lack good roads and where they have not access to the services people have in other parts of the country, certainly in towns and villages. They often live in remote areas. They farm poor land where a good living is impossible. The few pounds they received in farmers' "dole"—or unemployment assistance for the small-holder—from the State was something which helped them on the road to survival and I deplore its passing.

I conclude by asking the Minister to give a commitment on behalf of the Government that he is prepared to review, later on in the year, if necessary, the question of social welfare rates of payment and that he will do this bearing in mind what the rate of inflation may be, what way the consumer price index is going. I would ask him to try to work towards a system of having social welfare payments based, or at least adjusted, according to the increase in earnings of the average industrial worker. We cannot in justice expect old age pensioners and people on social welfare—old age pensioners especially as I have great sympathy for the old who in many cases are in their failing years of lives that have been toil-filled and troubled in the services of the community and the nation—to survive on an income that is less than one-fifth of what the average industrial worker earns.

I hope events may prove otherwise but all the present indications, in the third or fourth week of March 1979, are that the provisions of this Bill will not be adequate to cushion the old, the handicapped and the disabled and that they will, by the end of 1979, be on a reduced standard of living. It is for that reason that I ask the Minister for an undertaking that he will be prepared to review these rates later on in the year.

I have perhaps been quite critical of certain aspects of the Bill. I am so in all honesty because, to repeat what I said earlier, we all have a responsibility, but especially the Minister and his Government, to ensure that the old and the poor, the weaker sections of our community, are provided with the finance that will ensure that they are not neglected and that they will not have to live in conditions in which the basic necessities of life are unavailable to them.

The passage of this Bill through the Seanad, I understand, is urgent, as it has to be through before the end of this month. Its introduction in this House at this stage could be an opportunity to engage in a really wide debate on the current situation, which I do not propose to do. I would like to commend the Minister first of all on the efforts he is making in the Bill to bring up to date the various adjustments in the payments of social welfare and assistance which he has set out in his speech. I would also like to commend him for the removal of a number of anomalies which have been, very naturally in individual cases, creating some strong feelings of resentment.

On the overall implications of the Social Welfare Bill itself, I think it is necessary to point out at present that the Exchequer is in receipt of approximately 47 per cent of its total out of incomes earned by people working in this country and approximately 53 per cent out of various duties, bank charges and so on. This seems to be the maximum amount which the Government can secure in order to meet its commitments. While it is valid to engage in criticism—and all of us do—of the different levels of assistance and social welfare, it is also necessary to point out that we can only improve the situation through an improvement in the economy. It is only if we ourselves are willing to earn the increased contributions to the Exchequer that it is possible for those in need to be assisted more than they are being assisted.

One wonders how many people in our contemporary society realise that each person who neglects his or her job in fact worsens the position of those in need of assistance. We recently had examples of protests and I am quite sure that the great majority of those protesting would be totally unaware of the fact that one day's protest can cause a fall in output in our economy to the tune of over £30 million, and this has its own direct effect in the ultimate fall in receipts to the Exchequer. Yet, many of those who do neglect their obligations and fail to turn up to work are amongst the loudest in their demands for improved contributions from the Exchequer for those in need. We must all realise that if we genuinely seek improvement for those who are in need, those who need assistance, those who are in retirement depending on pensions from the State, we ourselves must try to make a greater contribution to the general revenue position.

I am sure the Minister is quite aware of that but it is a factor that I think has not so far been brought to the attention of the public. We have had many instances of failure to turn up to work. We have many services which are being neglected at the present time and those taking part in these go-slows, lay-offs and so on are, to a great extent probably, unaware of the fact that they themselves in their actions cannot be benefiting themselves very much; are not affecting employers but are depriving the public, in the first place, of services to which the public are entitled and, in the second place, are creating a situation where the overall revenue to the State will be less rather than more in the coming year, and that therefore whoever is in the position of Minister for Social Welfare, or Minister for Finance, will be in a weaker situation, however good his intentions are to improve the position of those in need of assistance and social welfare. I commend the Bill to the House and again commend the Minister on removing some anomalies which many of us have brought to his attention.

The basic problem with this Bill which is to implement the Government's budgetary proposals is set out very clearly in one of the Minister's introductory paragraphs. He refers to the rates increases in a general way and states that figures recently published indicate that the increase in the consumer price index is running at about 10.8 per cent, but it was projected in the budget statement to fall to 5 per cent towards the end of the year. On this basis, the 12 per cent increase in rates of short-term payments as a whole should maintain the position of recipients and provide an increase in their living standards.

It is very hard to know how to comment on a statement like that because the truth is that it is those at the bottom of the scale, those who are dependent on social welfare—pensioners, deserted wives, parents coping alone, the widows —are the people who are trapped in the Government's assessment that the consumer price index will fall to 5 per cent at the end of the year. Other people, those in business, those who hold jobs can all say, "That is a Government statement at a particular time; we do not really believe it and we are going to insist that our wage increases and our salary increases are not tied to this Government assessment of what the position is going to be". That is the basic problem we are faced with, because undoubtedly the sufferers in our society at the moment are those on fixed welfare incomes—if one can call them that. This is the most serious problem facing our society and I join with the other Senators in emphasising the seriousness of it. We have a major responsibility because we are not talking about maintaining the real value of social welfare incomes; that value has not been maintained; it was not maintained last year. In the one increase during last year social welfare incomes fell further behind and the gap is widening between those who are better off in our society—and I think we should define "better off".

We are not talking about the traditional concept of rich; we are talking about anybody who has a job; anybody who is earning a salary; anybody who is running a car, and anybody who is in a position to negotiate and to try to maintain the standard and the level of wages or salary in the face of the present inflation and increasing cost of living. But those who are helpless in this particular situation, who are the worst hit by the removal of food subsidies, who now see food prices rising at 17½ per cent at the moment, the people who cannot even get out and march effectively for an increase in their standard of living, are the victims of a view which has lost credibility, that the rate of inflation will be down to 5 per cent at the year end.

For that reason the Minister should in his reply to this debate make it clear to the House that there will be a second budget this year for those on social welfare if at the second half of the year it is clear, as it appears clear to more and more observers, that the year-end rate will not be 5 per cent but will be considerably in excess of that. That is the basic premise on which we start. The 12 per cent increase here is based on what is at the best a very shaky premise indeed and this premise affects those most vulnerable in our society and undoubtedly in every way in which it really matters the income of those on social welfare has been drastically eroded in the last few years. Deserted wives or widows trying to bring up two or three children at the moment are cutting down on basic foodstuffs. Well might we talk about the health of the nation, but you cannot have a healthy nation unless those on welfare can afford to feed themselves and their children. If the Minister finds that emotional I am also sure that he finds it in his clinic work in his constituency because it is a fact of life; it is a fact that old age pensioners can no longer afford basic nutritional food; it is a fact of life that women indeed, not necessarily women but single parents, male or female, bringing up their children in our society, cannot cope; that those on unemployment assistance must feel bitterness about our society which purports to champion the family which purports to champion the traditional values of family life in Ireland.

I believe that the approach to the Bill must be one of stating categorically that it appears to be based on a false figure and all the increases are related to that figure. If the Minister will give an undertaking to the House to come back with a further provision for increases in the rates of social welfare right across the board, if the figure proves to be false, then I think the Bill would be more acceptable. If the Minister were to give that undertaking that in the second half of the year, in October, he would introduce a second Bill if this figure is not a credible figure at that stage, then I think that we would go some way towards his aspiration because his aspiration is to maintain the value of social welfare payments by increasing them regularly and to bring about, wherever possible, real improvements in the living standards of social welfare recipients.

This Bill, in so far as it is related to rates of payment, far from maintaining, is going to continue to erode and to undermine the real value of the social welfare benefits, is going to worsen the situation for those who are now below the poverty line in any reasonable drawing of that line, is going to be a further divisive measure. Unfortunately, as I say, the people who are the victims of this continual erosion are not able to have their voice heard, have no collective strength, are demoralised, suffer from their dependence on the community welfare officer or the person whom they believe they must keep in well with in their area. They cannot fight their own cause; they cannot even make us as a society sufficiently aware of just how broad the gap has become over the last few years and they are hit worst by the decisions we take collectively as a society because the decision to remove food subsidies has had a further drastic effect on those who are excluding basic foods from the diet of their children, from their own diet as old age pensioners or as widows, trying to starve themselves in order to give a better nutritional diet to their children. Again, there are the basic problems of coping with transport, rising housing costs, particularly local authority housing.

I believe that the effect on our society is going to be a very serious one because we are failing in a way that is going, to a large extent, unnoticed, and one of the reasons why it is going unnoticed is that we lack in our social welfare code a strong system of appeals, a strong structure to allow the people who are the victims of the system to have a proper outlet. The Minister has introduced one or two useful reforms in this Bill and I would like to mention these, for example, the thoughtful reform of extending the length of time for the receipt of prisoner's wife's benefit to four weeks after the release of the prisoner. That is humane and thoughtful because it does identify the particular vulnerability and weakness of that family when a prisoner is actually released; because very often he cannot come back to a job it may be a particularly difficult time for both the former prisoner and his wife and family. It identifies the need to ensure that there is continuity of that particular income for a period of four weeks.

The Minister proposes to improve the situation and indeed mentions further steps towards the achievement of equality by improving the position of married women seeking unemployment benefit. But the problem is that there are so many barriers in the way of a married woman seeking this benefit—barriers in administration and barriers in the fact that she cannot establish to the satisfaction of the officer that she is unemployed, that she is seeking work and that she is a person who ought to be getting unemployment benefit. If she tries to appeal, once again the appeals system is entirely unsatisfactory. I do not think that the particular provision there is going to remove the major trouble which is, to some extent, a problem of attitudes; to some extent the attitude of the officials who ought to understand the basis of the need and the rights of the unemployed married woman and should not put her through what is at times an insulting exercise as to whether or not she is in fact available for work, asking who is coping with her children, trying to substitute their own sense of the way in which somebody should take responsibility for the household and to deny the married woman concerned any entitlement to unemployment benefit. That is the major problem and the problem is reflected in the lack of a proper structure, the lack of proper appeals, the lack of appeals tribunals as opposed to this internal appeals structure, the apparent unwillingness of the Minister—despite the matter being raised a number of times—to issue regulations providing for an appeals structure for supplementary welfare, and the non-responsiveness of the system to the problems of individual recipients.

The low level of social welfare payment and the erosion of the real value of those payments is something that we should face up to as a society. This 12 per cent increase, based as it is on the false premise—I believe—that we will have 5 per cent inflation at the end of the year, is not going to bring back the real value and is not going to maintain the value in real terms, it is going to continue its erosion.

What must be the reactions of those trying to cope on £21.60 a week with two children or on less than £20 per week as an old age pensioner, unable to shop around in the way that young people can shop around, unable to look for bargains, unable to cope with the fact that essential food items are not going up by 1p any more, they are going up by 5p at a time? Fuel is going up in dimensions which they cannot understand, which frighten them and cause them to cut down on basic heating or basic nutritional food. What must they think of the other kinds of decisions that we as a society have taken in the last two years? What must they think of the way in which so much of the burden of taxation has been removed from the top—the removal of wealth tax, the removal of rates on all dwellings instantly so that those who were paying hundreds of pounds in rates every year have benefited so substantially?

What must they think of the alleviation of income tax at the higher levels, the removal of tax from private cars? How do these compare with the very drastic erosion of social welfare benefits. with the real poverty that exists in Ireland, and that we are worsening rather than trying to improve? How much a factor is this in urban violence among young people? These young people are developing their own sub-culture because we, as a society, are preventing them from having access to education, to the basic intermediate certificate, without which they cannot get any job, have any future in our society, where the home is a place they do not want to be in because they find all the time the tension and strain caused by inadequate money, and very often the break-up of a family because it cannot subsist in decency on the income which we, as a society, decide is what constitutes a minimum income for people.

That is the major problem, that the minimum income that we as a society have decided is an income on which people can live falls below what would maintain either an individual or a family. We have to face this. I would agree with the proposition that far from a 12 per cent increase, there should be an immediate doubling of the rates right across the board and, even then, they should be kept in the kind of indexed review that is the situation in other countries, for example, in Belgium, where the social welfare incomes are automatically indexed to the cost of living. You do not then have this everwidening gap between the poor and those who are better off and you do not have the visible evidence of harsh, grinding, dehumanising poverty as you have in so many areas of Ireland now and the picture is getting worse.

This Bill is totally inadequate to try to take steps to remedy this. Steps will have to go much further. They would have to take in a very radical overhaul of the tax system and a general look at access to the wealth and means of production in society. A good step would be that at least we did not let those below the poverty line fall yet further behind.

This Bill must be judged in the context of the Government's stated priority of ensuring maximum employment for our people. In times of high unemployment there is the danger that the social welfare system, in concentrating on alleviating the effects of that unemployment, will ignore the claims of the disadvantaged, the poor, the old and the sick, and that the weak will go to the wall. It is quite right for Senator Howard and for Senator Robinson to emphasise that the Government have a duty to see that the standard of living of the disadvantaged and those who are at all times dependent on benefits does not fall below that of other sections of the community. However, I disagree with these Senators when they imply that this Bill does not fulfil the Government's duty in this regard. This Bill in its dual approach of increasing benefits and removing anomalies that are calculated to annoy, to exaggerate and, indeed, to frustrate the spirit of social welfare legislation fulfils the Government's commitment to the poor.

These improvements are often overlooked in the roar of protest that comes from the Opposition benches when the amount of the increases is not twice as much as it is, as the Minister points out in his speech:

Improvements of this nature, while they do not attract the same degree of attention as the general increase in the rates of payments, are, nevertheless, well worthwhile because of the benefit or alleviation they bring to individuals or small groups of persons.

If we look at some of these improvements we will see that the Minister, while increasing the non-contributory widows' and old age pensions, has also introduced an element of flexibility into the manner by which the means of such pensioners are assessed. He has also allowed himself some discretion in cases where such old age pensioners, through no fraudulent intent, might have claimed too much.

We must also welcome the fact that the Minister has removed the upper age limit for these non-contributory widows' pensions, for the deserted wives allowance, for unmarried mothers and for prisoners' wives. He has also ended the discrimination that existed against married women who work. Young mothers who work will warmly welcome the extension of maternity benefit for six weeks after the actual date of the birth of their babies. The Minister has also recognised that a man who has served time in jail does not automatically find his job waiting for him when he comes out and the Minister has allowed the prisoner's wife to obtain her allowance for a period of four weeks after his release. All these thoughtful improvements are indicative of the Minister's concern for the more disadvantaged in our society.

The increase in children's allowance got a very unsatisfactory reception in the House. We must remember the Government are criticised this year for increasing it and they were criticised last year for not increasing it. I do not suppose you can please everybody. I welcome the increases as adequate but I find the structure unsatisfactory. I find it unsuitable because it is not based on need. The only criterion for reception of social welfare benefit is need. The children's allowance does not take account of the basic fact that a poor family with two children may need State help far more than a well-off family with ten children. It is unsuitable because it fulfils needs it was never designed to do. For many mothers it represents a very important part of their budget and they look forward to getting it, very desperately in some cases. The amounts are totally inadequate to service or to fulfil these sorts of needs. The children's allowance as presently structured was never meant to be anything more than a supplementary allowance. It was never designed to be anything else but a benevolent gesture, a pat on the head to the mothers of the country, for staying at home and fulfilling their natural functions.

Successive Governments have, of course, been reluctant to do anything about it because it is paid directly to mothers and this invests it with a sort of odour of sanctity—a halo if you like. As it is at the moment it is an anachronism. It should not be beyond the wit of man at this point in time to make a case to provide families with an allowance which will be designed to take care of their real needs and which will enable parents in need to bring up their children in dignity rather than in desperation.

I would appeal to the Minister to help people who do not come within the ambit of his authority. We have seen recently in the postal strike the long queues of people who are entitled to social welfare benefits and it has brought home to us the extent of the system. But what about those who are not entitled to anything, those who are looked after by the voluntary organisations? These are the people who will feel more than other sections of the community the removal of the food subsidies. These are the people who are in real need. I would appeal to the Minister, in as far as he is empowered to do so, to see that the voluntary organisations, who do such very good work in this area, would not be deprived of the necessary money and services to continue their work.

I welcome the improvements in this Bill. I agree with the Minister when he says that real improvements are always desirable. I welcome the idea that long-term payments, old age pensions and so on, must get special attention. Higher increases there are very desirable. I do not think the suggestion about prices will ever be a reality, because although the intention was good, the facts are beginning to show that the prices will not drop. I also welcome the idea of adjusting the means test in certain areas, the improvements in the children's allowances and the removal of some anomalies in social assistance.

In section 24 the question of the deserted wife qualifying for the widow's contributory pension is another good development. I am worried about the criteria in this area. At the moment the only way one qualifies for a deserted wife's allowance is if she does not know where her husband is. By what means can you determine if he is dead or alive? If a wife knows where her husband is, she does not qualify.

That is not true.

I have it wrong. I thought that, if the wife knew where her husband was and he had an income, she could claim from him and therefore would not qualify for the deserted wife's allowance.

She is expected to make every effort to know where he is.

I suppose that will be dealt with later.

Even in the circumstances the Senator describes, she would keep on drawing her deserted wife's benefits.

Another good development is allowing widows to keep their contributory pension after the old age pension age is reached and the extra four weeks benefit granted when a prisoner is released. These changes constitute an improvement in the position of social welfare recipients.

Unfortunately, by the very nature of the society we live in we are subject to the whims of events and so on, and not only of Governments but the people who constitute the nation. I took part in the protest march on taxation. I wonder how many people would take to the streets on behalf of aged and poor? Is there a real commitment to attack the poverty of the nation by any Government or any Opposition? This puzzles me. Senator Brugha mentioned the question of strikes and what they cost. He was talking in particular about the protest march the other day and how it would affect the benefits which would accrue to social welfare recipients. He said it would affect the GNP at some stage and, in turn, it would affect the social welfare recipients.

For a long time we have had self-government and there has never been anything but adjustments in the rates of payments to social welfare recipients. That was not done for the sake of removing poverty; what it did was to make the problem less acute. So far there has not been any real attempt by society to eliminate this. People who were born in poverty rear their children in poverty, are denied educational facilites and so on. We have only to look at certain neighbourhoods of this city to see that. I am not being ideological, but by all our actions we force people to embrace poverty as a way of life. There is no other way for them to live. We have not provided opportunities for them. There is no use making the excuse that we are a young nation. That is no longer the case. What has grown up in the whole system is that we have a savagely unequal society. I am not saying this in the political context, because the Minister would have the same criteria if circumstances were right.

Deputy Cluskey, in co-operation with Deputy Corish, was responsible for social welfare. They tried to demonstrate that they wanted to attack the question of poverty. Whether it was going to be realised was another matter, but the commitment was there. Apart from dealing with the normal increases they introduced social insurance for all over the age of 16 years, the pay-related benefits scheme, old age pensions and so on over a very short period of time. They also eased the means test. The Minister has developed those particular things and it is good to see that. The deserted wife, the unmarried mother, older single women and so on were looked after for the first time. There were also new announcements for wives of prisoners.

The introduction of those benefits was a genuine effort to get away from the idea of coping with the effects of need and deprivation rather than trying to eliminate them. Whether it will eventually become a reality or not, the intention was good. I am glad to see that a lot of things have been developed and that the Minister has taken the right approach in making a lot of adjustments.

It would be very easy to go through every section of the Bill and find political reasons why it is not satisfactory. The problems that are created by GNP being too low and so on and the problems of employment are all factors as to why it is difficult to share out the resources of the nation. I do not think they are distributed in the correct way. For example, when we are dealing with people below the poverty line we offer them an increase. It is a good increase, relatively speaking, but it would not buy one meal in Leinster House; yet, it is an increase. Society as a whole are indicted in this. We are merely trying to make the problem less acute and the sooner we face up to that the better. Everybody is talking about the wonderful benefits to social welfare recipients. They are given benefits in accordance with the way society dictates. We must come to grips with the idea that we are the people who tolerate the circumstances they are in. We must impress on Governments, no matter which Government it is, that they must be seen to give the lead in this area. It may embrace a lot of large, organised groups in society, such as the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the big farming bodies and so on but it will have to be faced one day. It cannot go on forever. We have to do that in order to bring about an awareness that social policies must be directed towards a redistribution of the nation's resources.

Despite the efforts made by Deputies Cluskey and Corish the inequalities still remain. However, they were genuine efforts. We should take an example from them and try to get more people involved in talking about real poverty, not debating whether the increases are sufficient but rather tackling the whole problem. One of the difficulties is that there is very little research on the question of who actually receives benefits and who are denied them. Some research was done on that to which I will refer later.

During the Coalition's term of office a lot of employers, workers and trade unionists chanted a chorus that people could become rich on social welfare benefits. In the process of chanting this chorus they were blind to a lot of things. They forgot that they had not got the facts and could not make a full assessment. One of the reasons why they had not got them was that there does not seem to be any way of getting them. Booklets about entitlements and so on are all right, but that is not adequate. Mr. Murray, the Director of the National Services Council, delivered a paper to the unemployed workers support group of the Local Government and public Services Union on 18 January 1977. He said that industrialists and businessmen were not the only people saying that unemployment payments were too high, that there were others as well, privately if not publicly, but they all had one point in common. He said that they did not have to live on the unemployment payments they were criticising and there was little danger of them having to do so. He went on to say he was not implying that the people who chanted this chorus were heartless but, at the same time, they seemed to be expressing what many people, including some politicians, were thinking.

There is a lack of information but I am not saying that information will solve the problem. However, if people knew exactly what people were receiving and what they were being denied and the difficulties in the area they would be better able to come to terms with a long-term solution to the problem.

There are many misconceptions about social welfare and it is up to us to advocate the idea that people in receipt of social welfare benefits cannot become rich. Unless we get that information across we will continue to be faced with the problem of people thinking that social welfare recipients are well off. Such a mentality is an impediment—it was very substantial one when big improvements were being made during the term of the Coalition Government—to anyone who wants to see genuine improvements made in this area through the use of information and feed-backs that come from various organised groups. It would be an impediment to the desires of the Minister if people were to take up the chorus again and say that the social welfare recipients are well off. We must come to terms with the fact that all we do for social welfare recipients is try to make their problems less acute. I make an earnest appeal that that mentality should, by some means or other, be departed from in the not too distant future. I do not expect the problems to be solved very quickly but at least we could introduce the idea of talking about combating poverty rather than talking about welfare benefits being increased. I would like the Minister to tell me if he has any information from organisations that he has been involved with that would help him to expedite moves tackling the question of poverty. I would be anxious to hear his views.

In his research, Mr. Murray picked one week at random in 1976. He said it did not appear to be an extraordinary week. There were 108,000 people on the live register. Amongst those there were other genuinely unemployed people such as married women, school leavers and so on. He substracted that figure and found that 14,000 people in that week actually signed but got no payment through being ineligible for one reason or another. Roughly 13 per cent of 108,000 people got no payments and 42,000 people did not receive the full amount. They got unemployment assistance and so on. This shows that people who talk about social welfare recipients being very well off are wrong. The problem must be tackled. It is no longer sufficient to give information on what the benefits are; real information must be given.

I am not quite sure about the position of unemployment assistance for school leavers. Is there a possiblity that a school leaver with board and lodgings might not qualify?

Yes. The benefit of the board and lodgings is assessed as means.

There must be recognition by society as a whole that mildly retarded people who cannot get employment have to rear children in a very poor atmosphere. It must also be recognised that we have a hard core of unemployed people, that is those who have never been able to have a steady job. They are sometimes described as socially inadequate. They find it hard to cope for themselves and if they have to cope with rearing children and so on, they are put in a double jeopardy. We cannot say that we will give them a few bob and things will work out right for them. We must fully equip them. All we are doing is making the problem less acute. It may not be possible to give the hard core unemployed steady work but, at the same time, they may have children to rear. There is no reason why they or the children of mildly retarded people should be condemned to live in conditions of poverty for the rest of their lives, which will jeopardise any attempt they may make to develop in life and gain their rightful place in society.

The Bill makes certain improvements and it would be wrong if somebody recognised improvements and did not acknowledge them. At the same time it is equally wrong to make a political football out of people who are living in hardship, or out of human misery. That is not what I am trying to do. It has not been done in any contributions that were made here. We should deal with the question of poverty in a real way rather than continuing our present philosophy of seeing where a few bob can be doled out and trying to make the problem less acute. In other words, I am asking for something positive to be done towards the creation of a more equal society.

My party have not been in power to any sufficient degree but they have been committed to that type of policy since the time it was a joint Labour Party-trade union organisation. There are programmes available, if anyone cares to read them, which will show that this was the line the Labour Party advocated from a very early stage in their political life. Our local authority and Dáil representatives would be only too glad to sit in on any consultation that might help to launch some sort of meaningful campaign to tackle the causes of poverty. I know there is no overnight or single, dramatic solution to it but it should be possible to establish priorities. I appreciate that the Minister has thought about this and I would like to hear his views on it.

The mentally handicapped and those suffering from mental illnesses as well as other social welfare recipients are the victims of nothing happening on the question of real re-distribution of resources. Perhaps there are not enough resources, but that is another day's work. When the budget is available, resources are distributed. It is done in accordance with what the Government of the day feel is adequate to meet the situation. There is no doubt that there are inequalities that need rectifying. We must ensure that the greater portion of the GNP goes to social welfare recipients. We must do it by giving priority to neglected groups.

There is a scarcity of money but it is possible, if we have the will and the desire to tackle poverty. A strategy could be planned which would get at the causes of poverty and eventually eliminate them. It is a mammoth task but the goal can be realised. The initiative must come from the Minister. He has taken initiatives in the area of health and so on. He got great credit for it and rightly so. I would not doubt that he desires to do this but he may have problems in the Government. The intention to have full employment is there but, even with full employment, we would still have social welfare recipients. There is no guarantee that poverty will be eliminated if we carry on as we are. It would become relative in a full employment situation and adjustments would still be needed to bring people into line.

Somebody must cultivate the desire that is there and take the lead. The causes of poverty must be tackled rather than carrying on the philosophy of making the problem less acute from time to time. If the Minister began that task he would be astonished at the response he would get. I have no doubt that, despite the criticisms made about people who took part in the PAYE strike—I am one of them and stand accused in that sense—we might be able to muster as big a crowd on behalf of the social welfare recipients. If the lead comes from the Minister responsible and gets the backing of the Government, I have no doubt that the response will come from other organised groups. It is only when you are in Government that you can take a lead in this area.

I welcome the Minister and his Bill and I wish him well. Senator Harte—a Senator whom I have very high regard for—has made reference to the mentally handicapped. I would like to put it on record if it was not for my service in the field of the mentally handicapped, I would not be here to stand at all. I would like Senator Harte to get the recent grants and increases that the Minister has given to that section of the community. To me, they are heartening and are very good. No other Minister for Health has done so much for that section of people as the present Minister has.

Section 4 is not a popular one for Senators to refer to but that does not worry me. There has been a lot of criticism of the Government and the Minister's decision to change the multiple used in assessing small holdings eligible for unemployment assistance. This criticism is largely unfounded. The Minister has, on a number of occasions, gone to a lot of trouble to explain exactly what he was trying to do here and it has fallen on deaf ears. The Opposition do not seem to know what the Minister is at. Perhaps our own people do not know either. I want it put on record that if Senators bothered to study the matter closely they would see clearly that the effects of the increases in that section to which I referred will be offset to various extents by the budget increases, depending on the size of the holding and on the number of dependants. In general, those with small holdings and large families will fare better than those with large holdings and small families. The overall effect as I see it—or not being an academic may be I am reading it wrong as I have often done before—is that the smallholder with a valuation of £10 or less will have a net weekly gain. That has not been grasped by people who should know that.

Some Senators mentioned that children could do their leaving certificate and that this Bill should help parents to allow these children to do so. I would invite the Senator who made that remark down to the west and south of Ireland to see just who our pupils are. They are not just the children of wealthy people.

Since I came to the House one and a half years ago, I have heard about women, women and the barrier against women. Some people have it in their head that if they say it often enough, in the end it will be believed. The Minister for Social Welfare is not discriminating against women. The Minister has an equal interest in social welfare and in health, even though he has been accused of neglecting social welfare. As somebody at the receiving end of people's problems in health and social welfare. I want to correct that. It is not true and what he is trying to do here might prove to some people that he is not neglecting social welfare.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and wish the Minister well in his work. I suppose a politician should not listen to everything. I remember a priest telling me one time that if one is not criticised one is not going anywhere. That is probably as good a message as any for the Minister.

Every Social Welfare Bill that comes before this House contains, in some form or another, increases to the social welfare category, which vary from being exceptionally good in some years to being niggardly in others. For the benefit of Fianna Fáil, I can say that this year ranks as neither of those, being neither exceptionally good nor niggardly; it falls somewhere in between. Even the increases given in 1979 are better than those given in 1978. In that great variation that can occur in social welfare benefits from year to year lies the greatest defect and flaw in the system of social welfare itself. It has been in the political kudos field for far too long. For far too long it has provided an opportunity to level either criticism at the percentage of social welfare increases or express congratulations at the increases given.

To talk about the level of social welfare benefits in terms of percentage increases from one year to the next is illusory. When we compare the percentage increase in social welfare benefits as against, perhaps, the percentage increase anticipated, or the difference in the cost of living for the current year, we are talking in illusory terms; we are talking in statistical comparative terms, not in real comparative terms, comparative terms that really apply to the beneficiary of these benefits. One must actually hold the cash in that benefit in one's hand and see how far it goes towards meeting the needs of that week. To speak, therefore, in terms of a percentage increase from one year to the next or compare it with cost of living increases or inflation it is not only illusory but defective, because we are starting off from a base which is, itself, far too inadequate for the purposes for which social welfare benefits are supposed to be applied. Indeed, it is rather shameful for Government or Opposition from year to year to indulge in congratulatory terms or critical terms with regard to giving benefits to social welfare classes.

There should be far more constructive criteria applied to the level of social welfare benefits. We speak in terms of social welfare maxima payments ranging from £15 or £17 for certain categories, to £32 or £34 for married couples and old age pensioners. When we compare this sort of money with average industrial earnings we find that it is even less than 50 per cent in many cases. What is the difference? It means that an old age couple, because they are not working or are beyond the age of working, must do with a money value which is less than 50 per cent of what they would have if they were able to work. If the average industrial worker obtains the wage necessary to meet his demands surely we should tie in with that level the figure that should be available to a social welfare recipient.

There is another rather shameful and sad aspect about the whole thing which Senator Harte touched on. It was the experience of the Coalition Government, which in one or two years gave exceptional increases across the board in social welfare benefits, to find then that a certain envy was emanating from the public at large with regard to the level of benefits applicable to social welfare categories. That, of course, had its political implications for the Government, as it would for any Government. It does not, however, get away from the point I am trying to make, that somewhere along the line the Government of the day must regard this whole matter as having a moral aspect, that there is a moral obligation on the Government of the day to give a social welfare payment which is far more in accordance with what the average industrial worker is able to earn for his work. After all, we are talking about people who, because they are old or unable to work, must depend on the State. We are comparing what they get with what a person, because he is able to work and is youthful enough to do so, gets.

Before going on to the different categories of benefit in the Bill, any Government in office must grasp this whole problem and treat it as containing a moral obligation on them to draw up a better system, one which will give far more adequate social welfare payments to the people concerned.

This Bill contains matters which I regret. I also regret no autumn increase is envisaged for the most needy in our society. The autumn increases introduced by the Coalition Government contained, for the beneficiaries, a psychological as well as a cash boost. If people coming into the winter months had an increase in store for them at that time of the year it would help them through the winter months. I would ask the Minister to consider resuming those autumn increases, irrespective of the level of inflation, or the cost-of-living increase in the coming year.

I regret that the pension age has not been reduced to the figure to which it was always envisaged it should be lowered, namely 65 years. We have stalled at this age of 66 years for the past two to three years; we should reduce it next year to 65 years. I regret that the small farmers' dole has, in all aspects, been taken from literally thousands of small holders. The notional basis of calculation involved here is far too high for the people concerned. When we talk in terms of people with a £20 valuation being assessed as having so much income, we are not too alive to the realities of life on small holdings.

There is no doubt that the removal of food subsidies has made very difficult the cost of living for social welfare beneficiaries. The removal of these subsidies has led to an increase of 2p on milk, 3p on bread, 8p on butter. Can we really say, since food costs represent almost 75 per cent of the total expenditure of social welfare beneficiaries and low income families, that the increases we are giving in this budget is commensurate with the extra costs already being borne by these beneficiaries?

Children's allowances have always been regarded as a little bit of pin money for housewives and mothers and fair play to them. It has always been a good thing. I am glad to see that the Government have sidetracked, or got away somewhat from, their ominous threats with regard to children's allowances. There still is, however, a tax clawback involved under this Bill. That is not welcome.

I should like to refer now to the cheap fuel scheme. This is a matter which has been causing certain agitation throughout the country because the original purpose for its formulation back in the forties no longer applies. We find that people who, in certain areas, could readily avail themselves of wood, turf and so on, are not in a position to do that any longer. There are considerable-sized urban areas which should be brought within the ambit of this cheap fuel scheme. I know the Minister promised, more than 12 months ago, to review this system. He promised to have that review concluded at the end of 1978. I would ask him to consider doing something about the cheap fuel scheme before next winter.

The present supplementary welfare scheme is inadequate and confusing as regards criteria involved with regard to its application. I know from experience that in quite a number of cases the beneficiaries do not know exactly what the criteria are. I would ask for far more discretion and flexibility to be applied in regard to the supplementary welfare scheme. The home help and prescribed relative allowances were two welcome introductions in the social welfare field some years ago. The payment given for home help, however, which is now in the region of 70p per hour, subject to tax, is not enough, when we consider the cost of heating a person's home as against the cost to the State of hospitalising that person in an old folks' home. Similarly, in the case of the prescribed relative's allowance, this scheme, while it is good in certain respects, contains some anomalies; it should cover people with special problems in marginal cases. Again, if we consider the cost involved in keeping a person at home as against the cost to the State of providing for that person in an institution or hospital for a lengthy period, there is no comparison; the prescribed allowance should feature in the funds available.

One could go on for a long time discussing various aspects of the Bill before us. It falls somewhere between being niggardly and being exceptionally good. It is an improvement on the 1978 Social Welfare Act. In my opinion, it is not yet adequate. The flaw lies in the philosophy behind what social welfare is supposed to do for our people. Until we get down to the task of drawing up proper criteria to provide an adequate base for social welfare payments, we are only tinkering with the system from year to year.

I should like to add my voice to the voices of other Senators in relation to the Social Welfare Bill at present before the House and to say that, while the Bill is to give effect to increases in the rates of social welfare payments announced in the budget and to other changes, it is not a comprehensive survey or Bill dealing with the broad aspect of social welfare. This is a far ranging problem which, indeed, has been tackled and is being tackled by the Minister. It does exactly what the Minister has indicated the Bill is designed to do, which is to give effect to the budgetary increases. I am happy to have the opportunity of addressing the House and, indeed, the Minister. He is one who has shown serious concern for the underprivileged, not alone in the social welfare area but also in the health area. When he was Minister for Finance he was no less active in his concern for the weaker sections of the community. If one were to enumerate, in detail, the many advances made by the present Minister, in his various ministries, in relation to the weaker sections of the community, one would be here for a considerable period of time. The public at large are well aware of the Minister's continuing concern in relation to the weaker sections of the community, and of his concern in relation to social welfare problems. The changing and updating of the social welfare system is in the very capable hands of a man with a social conscience, who is far-thinking in relation to the problems of the community as a whole.

Most of the social welfare legislation over the years and, indeed, the major advances, are the work of the Fianna Fáil Government down through the years. Under the last Coalition Government there were some advances and nobody wants to take credit away from anyone who was responsible for any advance in social welfare or for helping the needy in their problems.

In relation to the rate of increase and the reasons for the rate of increase and the moneys available to meet this situation on a long-term or short-term basis, some of these matters have been dealt with by the other speakers but the primary factor is that of concern. It is heartening to see people having concern for the weaker section; we know then that we are on the right road. There are, however, people who spend their time cashing in on human misery, developing arguments and then running away, as was the case earlier with Senator Mary Robinson. I want to deal with some of her problems as I progress, but concern is the factor. Senator Harte mentioned in relation to the march the other day that he was one of the marchers. I do not think that he, or anyone else who takes part in peaceful demonstrations to pursue a point, has any reason to apologise to the House. Peaceful protestations are desirable in a democracy and whether we agree or disagree with the activities, people have their rights. I was not marching but would have no apology if I had been. I feel that there are, in the tax situation, aspects that need to be rectified, either by this Government or other Governments. There are factors, other than social welfare aspects, that affect the community as a whole and the taxation system is one of these.

Senator Harte is quite right when he says that there are very few of those people who would march in relation to the problems of the aged or of the disabled. Few people show concern except for themselves. The broad aspect of social welfare is concern for the underprivileged, in general, people living on or below the poverty line. Indeed, if the social welfare benefits were doubled, I would still not be happy. The situation in relation to the tax and other problems is that we have to cut our cloth to our measure.

In regard to the Post Office strike, these people are affecting the weaker sections of the community. I would appeal to them at least to deal with this problem of the underprivileged and the unemployed whose social welfare payments are held up and who are put to tremendous inconvenience at the moment by having to queue up and wait for the benefits that could otherwise be distributed in an orderly fashion. They have consciences and I appeal to them to ensure the essential service of meeting the problems of the needy, and to show the responsibility of the organisers of the pay-as-you-earn march, who said that they did not want interference with essential services. It is a factor of concern when any group, whether I agree with them or not, show concern for essential services. I would appeal to the Post Office Workers Union to say, "We will go in and we will ensure that what has to come from the Department of Social Welfare will be delivered to the people in need and want". This is the greatest contribution the Post Office Workers Union could make to their case or, indeed, to the case of trade unionism as a whole. It is very important to show this concern and I now ask them to consider seriously meeting this grave situation that inconveniences the people who are depressed, the widow, the orphan, the unemployed, the sick, the disabled and all the other people concerned in drawing social welfare benefit, who have been grievously inconvenienced. If they do not want to deal with the other matters, then set them aside and deal with this most essential service, the distribution of money to the needy.

I am glad to hear this particular word, concern, mentioned time and time again throughout the House in relation to the problem of those in need and in distress and who deserve to be assisted in one way or another. We hope the time will come when social welfare benefits will be paid to a small group of people; that all others will be in a position to fend for themselves because of the advances that we might make if everyone showed real concern for the nation as a whole and for the development of the nation's finances as a whole. There are abuses in the social welfare system; somebody mentioned recently that a section of the unemployed said that if they did not get more money they would go on strike and go back to work. There are people who are abusing the system and showing no concern for the people, or the Government, or, indeed, for those in need. We are committed to social advance. Down through the years we have shown in a positive way our concern for the various sections of the community not alone in the direct ways such as are covered in the Finance Bill but by free bus travel and free television licences—for which the Minister was in no small way responsible—and this is a further indication of his concern in assisting in every way possible in meeting present problems. Today we have many and changing problems that must be met by new and changing dimensions in the social welfare system and, indeed, outside it. Whatever the problems are, I am quite positive that a man with a social conscience, a forward thinker like the Minister, is a man who will deal with these as adequately as possible, within the limits at his disposal.

Having listened to Senator Robinson, I would advise her to trade in her 1976 speech because we have heard it before. The Senator had a different speech when she was on other platforms. Today, she attacked the weaker section of the community. The Senator wants to see the rents of corporation houses increased and wants to see rates reapplied—that is what the Senator said here in the course of discussion, that Fianna Fáil took off the rates and that Fianna Fáil took the tax off cars. Is this the policy of the Labour Party, that they want to see an increase in the rents of the weaker section of the community, in corporation houses and elsewhere? Does the Senator want to see the reduction in these rents negatived and rates put back on corporation houses or, indeed, on the dwellings of people who are hard pressed to meet the ever-increasing spiral in the repayment on their houses? Is that what the Senator means by helping people? There are people struggling to pay for their homes, who want to have a stake in society; the fact that the rates were removed from their houses gives them an additional opportunity to achieve this. What would happen if the rates were reapplied and the rents were increased? Further social welfare payments would have to be forthcoming to meet the situation.

The Senator spoke about the removal of car tax. Is it the policy of the Labour Party that car tax should be reapplied and that people who commute to and from their employment should be further burdened with this tax? All these things add up, together with the free television licence to the needy and the free bus fares to the aged and to other people. That is all part of a package that alleviates distress among a wide section of the community. You just cannot isolate one aspect. The Senator comes in here and attacks the Minister and the Government and appears to be unaware that most of the major changes taking place are as a result of either the activity of the Minister or of the Fianna Fáil Government.

I want to say to Senator Harte that I do not want to take away from Deputy Cluskey or Deputy Corish or, indeed, any member of the previous Government who made a contribution in any way to alleviate distress at any time, but we must bring the situation into focus. This "Mary, Mary, quite contrary"—and she seems to be very contrary when she comes into this House at times—has not given us the opportunity of letting her hear what we think about some of the matters she has put forward in the House today. We have established now, and we can write it into the record, that the Senator is no longer concerned about the removal of rates from houses, either of corporation tenants or of those tenants to whom she will be going in a very short time to project herself for another office. She will probably have another story to tell at that stage. The Senator would want to be consistent when she comes in here and she would want to be consistent when she goes outside. We have today established her outlook; perhaps we can be told whether it is her own personal outlook or the outlook of the Labour Party that the rents of corporation tenants should be increased and that the rates and the car tax should be reapplied and that people will have to struggle to have a stake in society if they want to purchase their own homes. These questions should be answered——

Speaking for the Labour Party——

——whether it is her own personal opinion or not——

That is obvious.

——and if it is her own personal opinion, then we can deal with her at a time and a place that will be more suitable than in this House.

Would the Senator come back to the Bill?

However, having made that statement, having put it on the record of the House, I shall be able to refer to it when I get lost in the confusion of problems that will arise during the local and other election campaigns and I shall be able to revise my memory, but, again, I want to say——

The Senator is getting back to the Bill now.

——I am quite certain that the Department of Social Welfare is in capable hands. I want to add my voice in support of this Bill and to assure the Minister of my concern and support and the concern and support of all our party here in relation to the betterment of the welfare of everyone. We know that, as time goes on, the major updating and the major changes that are necessary to meet the future will be effectively handled by the Minister and his Department.

This Bill confirms something that I have always felt about the Fianna Fáil approach to the social welfare code: that the approach is, generally, political in motivation rather than social in motivation and that social welfare measures produced by Fianna Fáil administrations have the characteristic of being carefully tailored to balance the political necessity with what is socially desirable; a clever mix is usually arrived at and this Bill is no exception. It gives and it takes in a politically safe way and has the appearance of being socially progressive. The justification for the rate of the increases mentioned in the front page of the Minister's speech is, on first reading, rational and convincing. The CPI, it says, at the moment is running at about 10.8 but it is projected in the budget statement to fall to 5 per cent. That must be a very optimistic projection; I do not think anyone can, at this stage, agree that inflation will fall to 5 per cent towards the end of the year. In the context of the social welfare code we have to remember that the weightings in the consumer price index do not truly reflect the mode of life of our social welfare recipients because a larger proportion of these people's income must necessarily be spent on food. We see that the price increases in that area—I am speaking from recollection—have been of the order of 17.9 per cent over a recent period. To offer these people, some of them 12 per cent and others 16 per cent of an increase is not a good answer to their predicament. To excuse the increases by referring to the CPI generaly when we all know that it is weighted in a way that does not reflect these people's standard of living is as I said part of the political tailoring that characterises much of the Government's approach—an historical approach to this problem of social welfare.

It is interesting to note the increases and cuts in this particular Bill. The Bill has been drawn up with a careful political eye on the current political scene. Last year there was nothing at all by way of children's allowances; this year there is an increase in children's allowances and the people who are in receipt of children's allowances are articulate and very often well-heeled and well able to express themselves. They also have command of media space and influence with some of the social lobbies in the country which, if activated, could be politically embarrassing for the Government and therefore when nothing was given to them last year, this year something has been put their way.

Business suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

When we adjourned I had just commenced to make some remarks on the changes made in children's allowance under the proposed Bill. I pointed out that last year there was no increase granted in these allowances but that obviously the Minister was not going to risk annoying that particular lobby for a second year running and, consequently, this year we see an increase in that allowance. The increase is cosmetic in the sense that it is designed to disguise its reality. Many a good man has been codded by cosmetics. How it does this is that the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Finance, in the other budget, the major budget of this year, has reduced the allowances for children under the income tax code. The combined effect of the reduction in allowances in that Bill and the increase in this Bill I understand has the following results. I understand these were also given by my colleague, Deputy Boland, in the Dáil.

The monthly allowance for a one-child family is increased to £3.50. I understand that the real effect when we take into account the changes of the Minister for Finance in this area, is 13p per week for the first child. There is an increase of 17½p per week in respect of the second child and in respect of the third and subsequent children the increase amounts to one-quarter of a new penny. That is why I say the increase is a cosmetic increase. When we look behind the superficiality of it we see the reality of it.

Again, the Minister in his statement here anticipated possibly my making this point, or doing it by way of answer to the point made in the Dáil, when he said that families below the tax threshold will benefit in full from the increases now provided. Undoubtedly families below the tax threshold will, but that immediately raises the question: how many families in Ireland are now below the tax threshold? I venture to suggest that they are very much in the minority.

The increases in children's allowances which at first sight seem not unreasonable on examination are paltry—an excellent example of the point I made when I started to speak, that the Fianna Fáil approach to social welfare is always politically tailored rather than socially tailored. This was a masterpiece of political tailoring. Because it was presented in two instalments, one in the budget itself and the second here, it might have escaped notice.

The political tailoring of the social welfare code is motivated by the expected level of response or the expected level of silence as the case may be—response to increases or silence in the face of changes detrimental to particular sections. I am sure the Minister and all his colleagues are well aware that being in Government now has changed significantly from the last time they had that experience. He is well aware of the existence within this State of highly-organised, highly-articulate and highly-effective lobby groups. He is well aware that these have to be placated and in the placating of them lies the trick of modern government. I do not suggest that the placating has been done satisfactorily, that the arrival at the consensus has been done satisfactorily so far, because I think this is a new experience for this administration. This is not something they have experienced before. In endeavouring to placate one, as we see from recent events, they have succeeded in severely antagonising others, with resultant social and possibly political unrest. Nevertheless, there is a consciousness on the part of the Government of the existence of these lobbies.

I am sure the Minister is well aware that the old age pensioners, while not organised, nevertheless command the support of organised lobby groups, the trade unions in particular and women's organisations who can mount quite a campaign on their behalf. In anticipation of such a campaign being mounted in the event of nothing being done for them in the budget, changes were made and they are desirable.

Why I say that these changes are politically motivated rather than socially motivated is because in the case of another section of the population who do not command any lobby support and who have no political cohesion of their own, there are no changes and, in fact, there are decreases. I refer to the small farmers and their unemployment assistance.

They are increased by 12 per cent.

I am glad the Minister has shown some sensitivity to cause him to interrupt me.

I do not like misstatement of facts.

The small farmers in certain parts of the country are given an income subsidy by the rest of the community based on a means test which is based on their valuation. It is known as the farmer's dole. It is an unfortunate term because it paints a picture which does not represent the situation in a rural community. A better term which I suggest to the Minister could be used from now on is "income subsidy". History and geography have decreed that these people are living in areas on indifferent holdings of small sizes which are not adequate to provide them with a living equal to the rest of the community. It is not their fault that they are there and we do not want to depopulate these areas. It is up to the community therefore to subsidise these people by giving them a subsidy to their income.

In certain parts of the country their incomes are calculated on the basis of their rateable valuation. Rateable valuations are multiplied by a notional figure and the resultant sum is the notional means on which the entitlement to income subsidy is decided. Significant changes have been made in the basis of calculating the means. While the Minister has said that there is a percentage increase in the level of assistance given—and that is correct—the benefit is eroded, totally in some cases and significantly in other cases, by the changes made in calculating the notional means. This increase is a cosmetic increase. It conceals the reality of the situation as far as the recipient is concerned.

I understand that up to 2,000 of these people will be cut off completely from any income subsidy and another 5,000 to 6,000 people are going to have their incomes considerably reduced. This is at a time when all other sections of the community are protesting that their incomes are inadequate for them to provide for themselves and their families and when we have seen literally 200,000 citizens take to the streets in support of that same contention. Yet, we have a Government who profess to be socially concerned for the weaker in our society reducing or totally eliminating the income subsidy to people living in a disadvantaged part of the country. The excuse is that because of the increases in farm income they no longer need the same level of subsidy. I do not think that excuse wears well, because when all farm income was at a low level it was decided that relative to the rest of the farming community these people were disadvantaged and needed their incomes supplemented.

Farm income has increased but it has increased in the more prosperous farming parts of the country. The unfavourable relativities that provoked this income subsidy in the first place still exist. Notwithstanding an increase in their farm income by reason of the good regime in farming generally, these people still lag far behind their colleagues in the farming world and behind people in industrial employment or urban employment. Because that unfavourable differential exists there they are still entitled to have the income subsidy retained at its historic level. The Minister does not give any figures to show that there has been any research into establishing the relativity between this particular group of smallholders and other sections of the community so that he and we can decide what would be a fair and equitable level of subsidy.

From political observation, these people are being hard done by in having their income subsidy eleminated in the case of 2,000 of them and substantially reduced in the case of another 5,000 to 6,000. As I have said, these people are not politically cohesive: they do not command any lobby support and, therefore, they are a fair game for a Government whose approach to social welfare is political rather than social.

It is important on this occasion that somebody makes a protest on their behalf and that is what I want to do. I am well aware of the arguments that one hears from time to time that a person getting the farmer's dole is not entitled to it because he has a certain number of cows, two tractors and so on. I hear that argument and, at the same time, I hear the other argument: that this man does not deserve the farmer's dole because he is an undeserving lush—he does nothing but drink it. I do not think that those arguments are typical of the people who are receiving the farmer's dole, nor do I think that our approach to this subject should be coloured by listening to those arguments. Invariably, if the particular case is investigated, one will find that when it is examined fully a different picture comes to light. Very often these criticisms come from people who themselves are not playing fair with the State, possibly self-employed people who are adjusting their incomes to avoid their full income tax liability, or if they are PAYE people who feel they are footing the bill, they wish they were self-employed and could adjust their incomes to achieve the same result.

This provision in the Bill scars it very seriously. It does a real hardship to a part of the country where life is not easy and where the people living there are entitled to suport from the rest of the community. They are entitled to as generous support as can be given. As I have said, these people did not choose to be small farmers on indifferent holdings. Accidents of history and geography have decreed that that is where they live and that that is the sort of holding out of which they have to eke a living. They must stay there because if the small farmers of Ireland were moved from these parts of the country this would not be the Ireland we know. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the small farmers. If it was not for them our revolution would never have happened and certainly would not have been successful. It comes badly of a Government of an independent republic in this year and age, at a time when we boast of our prosperity and our unparalleled rate of growth, to see them bringing in measures prejudicial to the well-being of a vulnerable and weak section of the community.

This confirms what I said in my opening remarks, that the approach of the Fianna Fáil Party to social welfare generally has been motivated by political reasons rather than reasons of social concern. We see it in the Bill where those with power to protest, those with the potential for lobbying, are placated and we see the weak section that is disorganised or not organised being hammered. I think that is regrettable.

I understand that there will be a request for all Stages later when we complete the Second Stage, if we complete it today, and that is something we can discuss at the time.

It is disappointing at this stage in our history that it was not found possible to reduce the qualifying age for the old age pension to 65. In the term of office of the last Government it was reduced from 70 to 66, and seeing that 65 is the accepted age of retirement an effort should have been made to stabilise that and to have the old age pension payable at the age of 65. I am sorry that the Minister did not find it possible to take that step forward this year. The side-effect of that would be that it would do something to reduce the unemployment figure. If people having attained the age of 65 were reasonably secure with an adequate pension then they would feel like retiring. Furthermore, I believe that it would do something to solve the question of land ownership. It is said that some farmers hold on to their farms too long and that young people are denied succession until it is too late in life. If these people could look forward to a reasonable old age pension at the age of 65 it would certainly result in their handing over their farms to their sons.

In fairness it should be said that the increases in the children's allowances can hardly be considered adequate seeing that they cover a two-year period. There was no increase in the 1978 Budget and this increase, coming after a period of two years, could hardly be considered adequate, especially when we bear in mind the removal of food subsidies and the increase in the cost of food which is stated to be about 18 per cent in the past 12 months or in the region of 20 per cent over a year and a half. I do not think that the increase in the family allowance is adequate and I do not see how it can give a reasonable standard of living to families of small incomes with a large number of children. In that respect the figures are disappointing.

A good deal has already been said about the small farmers' allowance and I think that in this regard there is disappointment. For many a day these people on small holdings lived on the poverty level and the introduction of assistance to them was a good scheme. It raised them from the poverty level to something approaching a reasonable level of existence. It is wrong for the idea to go abroad that all farmers are rolling in wealth. The small farmer is not in a position to live on what is on the basis of acreage an uneconomic holding and, if we are to keep these people in parts of the country where we have had serious depopulation because of emigration and migration, this small farmers' assistance is needed. If we take into account that it is generally agreed that a farm of less than 40 acres of good quality land is not an economic holding, we must face up to the fact that people with £15 and £20 valuations are deserving of assistance.

One most unfortunate result of this reduction, and in cases withdrawal, of the small farmer's assistance will mean that they will have to revert to the old system of sending their children out to work at tender years. Children who should be enjoying a second-level education will now be forced out to work to supplement the family income: they will be forced out on to the labour market in dead-end jobs. Assistance to the small farmer section of the community as it operated made a great change in that regard. With the assistance of this allowance, and very often with sacrifices on the part of the parents, people were able to embark on having their children educated to second-level stage at least. This will mean that many of these people will be denied this opportunity and in that regard I think it is a retrograde step.

One welcomes any increases in social welfare to such a large section of the population, but I think the Minister will be the first to agree that it is not enough and it never has been enough. Where there have been genuine increases such increases must be welcomed. It is an interesting speculation that the people who are benefiting from this Bill could have been with the people marching on Tuesday because they depend totally on the taxes from those people who marched for every single penny they are getting and for their life. It would have been very salutary to see them out in the streets, those who would have been able to march that far.

There is one area I want to mention—the unemployment benefit being extended for married women for twice the period which it had been before. That is something which is long overdue and has been fought for for a long time. There is hardly need for me to go again into the unfair system which governs when married women with children will get unemployment assistance at all. The criteria used for deciding this are a scandal, and something will have to be done about this matter. It has to be mentioned at every opportunity. The Minister has often indicated that he is aware of the very fundamental and widespread discrimination against women which goes across the social welfare code. This discrimination is always based on the concept that every woman is dependent on some man. The EEC have finally taken it upon themselves, with some input from Ireland, to decide that discrimination against women in the area of social welfare relating to employment must end in six years' time. I understand this will cost Ireland £35 million, and, if you look at it another way, that £35 million is the extent of the loss of the poor women of this country purely and simply on the grounds of sex.

It seems to me an extraordinary thing that all sides of all the parties in this country can accept that sort of figure with such equanimity. I do not know how we can say in six years time our sins will be forgiven. I know why there is a lack of concern about this area; it is because successive Governments have ignored it and because there is no strong women's lobby to press it and certainly very few women inside the Oireachtas have mentioned it at all. It must be mentioned at every opportunity.

The other areas in which the EEC does not involve itself, the areas of social welfare discrimination not related to employment will remain to be tackled without any prodding from Europe. I do not know what more lobbying can be done by the unfortunate widows, elderly single women and deserted wives. By concerted lobbying by a very concerned group of women's organisations over the last eight or ten years they have got a certain minimum from successive Governments but I really do not know how much more lobbying they can be expected to do.

I want to put those thoughts before the Minister because I appreciate that he has repeated his concern about women being discriminated against and I appreciate that concern, but I really feel there is a lot more remaining to be done and that while women may be described as a strong lobby, they are not a strong lobby. They have no financial resources because of the legal system and other sorts of systems in this country so that the Minister needs to pay special attention to that area.

I have listened with great attention to the contributions which have been made on the Bill during this debate on the Second Stage. I want immediately to say that I accept a great deal of the general type of arguments which has been put forward. May I take first the points made by the distinguished lady Senator who has just concluded. I fully accept the obligation to eliminate discrimination against women in all areas of the public sector and indeed in the private sector and particularly in the area of social welfare because in that area the element of discrimination can be quite clearly identified. Indeed one wonders why women have tolerated the existing situation for so long where you find that a woman who is unemployed is just not entitled to the same level of benefit as a man or to the same duration as a man. It is obvious that this is not acceptable in a modern community.

However, I think the Seanad would agree that this Government have started fairly well on the way towards elimination of this discrimination in the social welfare sector. Last year we began with widows and single women and this year we have made a very substantial stride forward in the case of married women. There is still a fairly long way to go but the members of the European Community have given themselves six years in which to eliminate the remaining elements. I do not regard that as a time scale to be aimed at but as an upper limit and I hope we will be able to proceed much more rapidly than that, that we will not have to wait six years to have these very blatant elements of discrimination eliminated.

I deal with the next subject now because it is fresh on my mind and the case was made by Senator Cooney, Senator O'Brien and some other Senators about the question of the changes to be made in the small farmers' unemployment assistance scheme. As Senators pointed out, it is sometimes called the small farmers' "dole". I accept the arguments put forward that history and geography as Senator Cooney said have combined to make life difficult for small farmers and that they do need some income supplement to enable them to stay on the land and to help to stabilise the population over a wide area of the western seaboard. I accept those arguments because these are the very arguments that were responsible for my introducing this scheme in the first instance. I want to make that point to the House, that it was I who introduced this scheme of income supplement or assistance, if you like to call it that, for small farmers in the 12 western counties. I am fully aware of its value and its implications and I am also prepared to state here in this House very categorically that it has succeeded in its purpose since it was first introduced and it has had an enormously beneficial effect in stabilising the population in these 12 western counties.

I want to make a few points about the changes which have been made. First of all, as Senator Cooney acknowledged, we have granted the full 12 per cent to all the rates in the scheme. If you take that basic increase of 12 per cent across the board in the rates and set it against the reductions brought about by the changes in the multiplier, then the net saving to the Exchequer is only £164,000 this year. To that extent it is not valid to say that we are taking £2,500,000 out of the pockets of the small western farmers; we are not.

In fact, Deputy Harte had a question down to me in Dáil Éireann about the situation in Donegal. It so happens because of the structure of the farms in Donegal that the net amount going into County Donegal to these small farmers will increase in 1979 but over the whole 12 western counties to which the scheme applies the amount saved to the Exchequer is only £164,000. Really what we are doing, to a large extent, is reallocating the funds available in favour of the small farmer. I think everybody agrees that the really hard-pressed family in this instance is the farmer with £10 valuation and under. In every single case in 1979, whether it is a farmer with £10 valuation or under, with the very minor exception of a few single men there will be an increase in their weekly income from the scheme.

In regard to the remainder there will be approximately 2,000 people who will lose entitlement completely. One thousand of those will be single men and another 1,000 of them will be in the £15 to £20 valuation range. Anybody who is taken out of the scheme or who loses entitlement because of these changes in the multipliers has the option of going back in again under a factual basis, so that I do not think anybody can say that there is anything brutal or savage or that any real hardship is involved in this. If a farmer can show that the change in the multiplier takes him out of the scheme but his situation is such that he is still entitled to unemployment assistance, then he can go on to a factual means assesment and come back in again. That is a safeguard which applies to everybody right across the board. In fact when on a previous occasion farmers with £20 valuation or over were removed from the scheme a number of them went on to factual assessment and came back in again. That shows what the reality of the situation is but in any event if a change had to be made in this scheme—and for budgetary reasons a change had to be made—I think the changes we have made are the least severe that we could possibly have made. We have changed the multiplier but at the same time we have given the full 12 per cent right across the board. Let us look at the multipliers. Are they that severe? They will now be £30, £50 and £60. These are the multipliers which are being used. Compare those with the multipliers which are used for other purposes. In 1979 ordinary farmers throughout the country for income tax purposes will have a multiplier of £125, so in the worse case of the small farmer scheme the biggest multiplier will be less than half that which is used throughout the rest of the country for income tax purposes.

There is also the fact which influenced the change in this scheme, that is, the fact that the disadvantaged areas scheme is now there. It was not there when I brought in this small farmers' assistance scheme. It is there now and its effects and its benefits are directed very clearly at a very large section of small western farmers who are also in the unemployment assistance scheme. If you take all those factors into account, I do not think an overwhelming case can be made against the changes which we are making, particularly when you take into account the fact that there is always the final saver there for any small farming family affected that they go on to the means test and regain their unemployment assistance on that basis where circumstances warrant it.

Some Senators, and I do not blame them, for political reasons are arguing this case as if the smallholders' assistance was meant to be the total income at the disposal of the small farmers and their families. Of course, it is not. In fact, Senator Cooney gave the game away when he said that he would prefer to call it an income supplement, and it is an income supplement. It is not at all intended to be the sole income or the sole salvation of these particular farmers. It is only meant to be a device whereby they can go ahead and increase their real incomes from farming without having the disincentive of losing their assistance if they do so. That was what the scheme was brought in for in the first place. Deputies and Senators who go back to when this scheme was introduced will remember that the cry then was that the small western farmer could not attempt to improve his output and productivity because as soon as he did so he lost his unemployment assistance. That was the background. It was to get over that argument and that difficulty that we brought in this scheme at that time.

We said that we would bring about a situation where a farmer would have a notional income attributed to his farm on which his entitlement to assistance would be based and thereafter he could go and earn as much as he liked and his entitlement to assistance would not be affected. That is what the scheme is, and it is totally wrong to start talking about it as if it were, as in the case of an unemployed man in a different setting his sole income. Of course it is not; it is only the notional income attributed to his farm activities for purposes of assessing his means for unemployment assistance so that he can then be free to go ahead and maximise his output from his farm without any disincentive.

Any reasonable person looking at this situation and looking at the changes made and the improvements that have come about in farm incomes in recent years would have to admit that it is not a very severe, a very savage change nor indeed is it likely to cause any amount of hardship throughout the west. However, it would be better if we did not have to introduce this change; we would all prefer that. But if a change had to be made, I think the Senators will agree—looking at it broadly—that it is not as severe as it might otherwise have been.

I said that the general thrust of the arguments made during the course of the debate was something with which I could not disagree. First of all, the statements that were made about our social welfare system as a whole—and indeed it is encouraging for me to note that the debate took the form of talking about our social welfare system as such rather than about this particular legislation—and the comments that were made were, generally speaking, that the basis of social welfare allowances and benefits are so inadequate that annual increases of such and such a per cent are no more than palliatives. That is an argument that any reasonable person would have to give a certain amount of weight to. What we would all like to see is some major, basic, structural change in the whole level of services and benefits. That argument was put forward very decisively by a number of Senators who spoke.

To reinforce that I would like to look back very briefly to what happened in one of the Coalition years when they gave a substantial percentage increase across the board in benefits but if they did, and very substantial though the rate of increase was, it was all eaten up in that year by inflation. That emerges quite clearly to anybody looking objectively at the figures. Even though the Coalition Ministers at the time thought they were giving a substantial increase, in fact, they were not. It certainly adds weight to what Senators have been saying about the need for some basic change in the whole structure and the general underlying basis of social welfare benefits.

The next point that was made, a more short-term type of argument, was that the rates of increase, while they appeared to be fairly substantial looking at them as percentage rates of increase in any year, are not all that great when you take the cost of living increases into account. That is the nub of this whole argument about social welfare and annual rates of increase. They are quite meaningless unless they are related to the increase in the cost of living. Looking back now we see that last year, we gave an increase of 10 per cent in the budget, a flat increase across the board of 10 per cent which came into operation in April and that now seems to have coincided with an increase for roughly the same period of 10.8 per cent in inflation. Looking at it very superficially, you could say that the whole 10 per cent given in last year's budget has been eaten up by inflation but that is not quite true. Most people would agree that the 10.8 per cent which came out in the most recent figures was very largely influenced by events towards the end of the time period. I do not think it would be quite honest to suggest that the 10 per cent given in last year's budget was more than eaten up by a corresponding increase in inflation of 10.8 per cent. The two figures have to be related.

We have to look at the same situation arising in 1979. We have given increases in this Bill of 16 per cent and 12 per cent and if the rate of inflation stayed at 10.8 per cent for the present and then went down by the end of the year to the 5 per cent that is projected in the budget, there is no doubt that the social welfare recipients would do fairly well in 1979. That is something which we will have to watch and, as Senators know there are very widespread discussions going on at present with different sectors of the community regarding taxation matters, pay levels and so on. It will be my responsibility to deal with social welfare with special responsibility for social welfare recipients. It will be my responsibility to participate in the discussions which will emerge from all these current consultations and ensure that whatever takes place the interests of the social welfare recipients are not lost sight of.

If I may single out one Senator who spoke I must say that I was very impressed by what Senator Harte had to say about the situation generally. I want to contrast the calm, objective, mature way he looked at the Bill and its provisions in contrast with his namesake, in the other House, Deputy Harte. I am not saying this in any sort of cute, political way but by way of example of the ill-conceived type of attack which can be made——

I do not think it is in order to refer derogatorily to a Member of the other House here. For my part I did not read a thing he said and so I do not know it.

I did not get an opportunity to reply to him in the other House but——

Could the Chair help in this? I do not think it is in order?

No, it is not in order.

There is a convention not to reply here to speeches in the other House.

I am sure the Minister can make the point adequately while following the tradition.

I intend to. The namesake of Senator Harte in another place attacked the provisions of this Bill. He had quite a lot to say about the inappropriateness of the title of one of the benefits because it was called a prisoner's wife's allowance. Waxing furious about this inappropriate title he completely ignored the fact, and was not aware—I am quite certain—of the fact, that in the Bill about which he was talking there was this important little provision about an extension of the benefit of that particular scheme. I just contrast that with the mature, objective and sensible approach which so many Senators on both sides of the House have taken about the provisions of this Bill.

These are the two main lines of attack, or lines on which the discussions have developed. The first is that the entire structure of social welfare services is not very adequate and, indeed, Senator Howard made a very good point in that connection with which I would also agree — the same point was made in a different way by Senator Harte. Is it not just a reflection of a lack of concern throughout the community that is responsible for an inadequate social welfare system? In other words, if there was a much more active community conscience and a much greater measure of active concern throughout the community, would that not be the first step in getting a better social welfare structure? There is a great deal in that argument. Senator Harte went on to contrast the number of people who marched in protest against the income tax system in relation to the number of people who might march if asked to do so on behalf of social welfare recipients. These are points which we could all take in a nonpolitical, non-party political way.

Finally, let me say that the rates are not as generous as any of us would have wished them to be. On the other hand, at the time of their introduction they were a lot better than a number of people expected. I will not say any more about them at this stage in a general way except that they must always be related to changes in the cost of living and, therefore, they will have to be continually looked at in the context of these discussions and consultations which are taking place at present.

I have a number of difficulties in the Department of Social Welfare and Senators are aware of them. They place in jeopardy the payment of a number of essential benefits to the less well-off sections of the community. We are endeavouring to overcome them. There is a great deal of goodwill for me, in my ministerial capacity as Minister for Social Welfare and for my Department and for the services which it is our obligation to render to the poor or weaker sections of the community. I paid tribute already to the president of congress for his good efforts on our behalf. Many other people are very anxious that we should be facilitated in overcoming the difficulties which the postal dispute is causing us.

I am still hopeful that we will be able to find some solution and I apologise again to all those members of the community who live from day to day and from week to week on these benefits. Their position is different from that of many others in the community. Most of us, if we know we are going to get an income, if we are guaranteed an income, we do not worry too much about when it arrives in cash because we know we can make some arrangements to tide us over, so long as this income is certain to come. But for the social welfare classes, or most of the social welfare recipients, particularly the old age pensioners, that is not the situation. They live from day to day and week to week and unless they get their actual cash payment when they expected it they can be subject to very real hardship. So that, even though the money is accumulating there for them and they will get it eventually, that is not any good to them. Unless they get it week by week, when they are entitled to it, they are placed in a very serious and difficult position. That is the aspect of the situation which is causing us very real concern at the moment. We are trying to grapple with that difficult situation. We are trying to make some arrangements to ensure that there is no hardship or if there is any hardship caused that it will be minimal throughout the community to these sections of our community.

For that reason, once again I find myself having to ask the Seanad to facilitate me with this Bill. I really must get all Stages of this Bill today. I know the Seanad is continuously and constantly being asked to short-circuit legislation and other procedures because of the exigencies of the situation. I do not like to have to do that but I really must press on this occasion. I must ask the Seanad to facilitate me and to give me all Stages of this Bill today. Senators will see from the Order Paper that I am also looking for a motion to reduce the period for signature, an early signature motion. It is going to be very difficult anyway to get these benefits to the recipients who need them. I will just put it this way: we have enough problems on our hands without having to wait for this legislation. I am appealing to the Seanad to see our difficulty in this regard and to do their part by giving me all Stages of the Bill.

When is it intended to take the next Stage?

Having regard to what the Minister has just said, we on this side of the House would want to facilitate him, although I wonder what excuse he would have for seeking a quick Second Stage if there were not a Post Office strike. I cannot see how the two things are related. I honestly feel that he is using the Post Office strike as an extra reason for looking for this Bill at this stage. Even if there were no Post Office strike, we would want to facilitate the Minister because the Bill provides for the increased payments to take effect from next week, and we would have to facilitate him in that regard. But whatever help we give here will be quite pointless unless his colleague in Posts and Telegraphs puts his house in order so that not alone the old benefits but the new benefits can be sent to those who are entitled to them. It was hardly accurate of the Minister to blame the Post Office strike for his having to ask us to give all Stages of this Bill to-day. I will not put it any stronger than that, but I must make a protest at the Seanad having to do this.

This Bill was presented on 5 March and it is now 22 March. That is not a very long time, but the Bill was presented at a date early enough to have it in here sooner to enable us to give it the attention all legislation should get. I was particularly keen to tease out further the matter I spoke on principally on the Second Stage. I was hoping to do that by way of amendment on the section, but we are not going to be able to do that. I do not want to preach on this when we have agreed to let it through, but I think it is serious enough to draw attention to. There were 150,000 people on the streets last Tuesday and many people are saying that one of the causes was the inability of Parliament to react to matters of public concern. If we start mechanically processing legislation, particularly legislation which has an impact on so many citizens in an emotive way, the lack of confidence or belief in this institution will become even greater, and goodness knows with what consequences.

There is always a feeling that when the Government party have a very large majority there is a temptation, if not a tendency, to regard the Houses of the Oireachtas as a mere rubber stamp. I do not accuse the Minister of that tendency but there is a danger that that tendency might grow and we have been sensitive of it in the Seanad on a number of occasions in the past. Without sermonising, I appreciate the predicament the Minister is in but I feel this an occasion to make that statement.

Agreed to take remaining Stages to-day.