Social Welfare System: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Senator B. Ryan on 12 December 1990:
That Seanad Éireann, nothing the increasing commitment to a pluralist inclusive vision of Ireland, recognising that the unemployed are the State's largest excluded minority, calls on the Government to take all necessary steps to ensure that the dignity and self respect of unemployed people are enhanced by the social welfare system and other services, and calls specifically for:
1. an increase in payments to unemployed people to the levels recommended by the Commission on Social Welfare;
2. a revamping of Social Employment Schemes to ensure that scheme workers are not deprived of Christmas bonuses, Family Income Supplement, and Supplementary Welfare;
3. an end, for the long term unemployed, of the invidious requirement to sign on;
4. an end, for the long term unemployed of the cruel and degrading demand to "actively seek employment" in a society where no employment is available;
5. a fundamental review, for the long term unemployed, of the manner in which alleged "non availability for work" is used to harass unemployed people, diminish their initiative and is particularly used against unemployed women with children.
Debate resumed on the following amendment:
To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:
"having regard to the problems associated with unemployment, particularly long term unemployment:
(a) welcomes the substantial progress that has been made by the Government in implementing the rates of payment recommended by the Commission on Social Welfare for this disadvantaged group through special increases given in successive Budgets,
(b) welcomes the introduction by the Minister for Social Welfare of a flexible and innovative approach through special educational schemes and employment-related measures specifically directed at the long term unemployed,
(c) acknowledges the Government's record of improvements in the delivery of social welfare services with particular emphasis on the dignity and privacy of those dependent on those services,
(d) notes the priority attached by the Minister for Labour to the problems of the long term unemployed through the continuation and improvements in training-employment schemes to assist that group return to the workforce, and
(e) notes the resolution on the long term unemployed adopted by the Council of Social Affairs Ministers during the Irish Presidency.
—(Senator Ó Cuív.)

Senators mentioned a number of issues on Wednesday last to which I would like to respond. Reference was made to the signing arrangements for people of no fixed abode who are mainly from the travelling community. In my speech circulated last week I explained the conditions attached to signing on. I also indicated that the computerisation of local offices will allow alternative paying methods and new signing arrangements.

Senators Ryan and O'Toole specifically mentioned the signing arrangements for members of the travelling community. The current arrangements for this group are not onerous. They constitute a reasonably effective way of ensuring that claimants regularly declare their availability for work when collecting their weekly cash payments.

In 1981, following a review, by one of my predecessors, it became apparent that there was need for special signing arrangements for all claimants of no fixed abode. This review was necessary to avoid the possibility of such claimants signing on and receiving payments under different names at two or more local offices in the one week. There were indications that this kind of abuse of the system was a significant and growing problem. In these circumstances, it was decided to introduce special arrangements for those concerned. I should add, also, that the exact same arrangement is operated by the authorities in Northern Ireland who have experienced similar problems especially in border areas.

There is no question of discrimination in having all people of no fixed abode sign at the one time. The fact of having no fixed abode gave rise to special problems of control which needed to be addressed. My Department would be failing in their responsibilities if they did not ensure that appropriate measures were in operation to meet this special situation. In this connection I would like to point out that settled members of the travelling community are subject to the signing arrangements which apply to settled claimants generally.

Early this year following a meeting between officials of my Department and the Monitoring Committee for Travelling People, a review of the arrangements was carried out at two Dublin exchanges. The purpose was to identify settled travellers with permanent addresses with a view to integrating them into the normal signing arrangements. Following the examination of approximately 500 applications at the two exchanges, 67 people were identified as being settled travellers. They were notified of their new signing arrangements which came into operation on 3 April 1990. In some cases the change also involved a change in the office at which they were required to attend.

Senators will be interested to hear that some of the travellers deemed as settled did not wish to change their signing arrangements as they regarded the Thursday morning gathering as something of a social occasion. Others did not want to change as they had arrangements made for the payment of bills, such as rent, to coincide with their unemployment payment day.

In my speech last week I made reference to the delivery of the social welfare service. I would now like to outline in some detail what is proposed in this whole area. Early in the New Year I will be launching eight regional centres throughout the country. This will be a major reorganisation in the way these services are administered. The new regional centres will be Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Dundalk, Sligo, Galway, Longford and Dublin. This forms part of my wider plans to bring the services closer to the people who need them. I am committed to providing a more local, personal and relevant service to social welfare recipients and claimants. Each region will be broken down into Social Welfare Local Office (SWLO) areas. Each SWLO will be responsible for managing all aspects of the delivery of social welfare services including the management of all local offices, branch employment offices and outdoor staff in the SWLO area.

With these measures I am focusing responsibility for services at the point where they are provided. It is my intention that the SWLO will become the operating core of the Department. It will be responsible for receiving claims, issuing decisions, authorising payments and providing information services. It will also be responsible for the control of claims.

I do not think Senators, or indeed Deputies in the other House, realise fully the significance of the changes which are taking place at present. I would like to emphasise them. These are dramatic and almost revoluntionary changes in the way in which all the social services will be delivered in future and they will have a huge impact on the way in which we can provide service locally.

The SWLOs will operate according to the one-stop-shop concept. All the Department's services will eventually be delivered through these offices. Each SWLO will be divided into four main functional areas.

A new claims processing area will be responsible for taking all claims for social welfare payments, establishing eligibility and entitlements and advising clients of other services to which they may be entitled.

A payments processing and claim maintenance area will be responsible for changes to peoples claims, ensuring clients receive their due payments and organising replacement payments as appropriate.

A review and control area will be responsible for the review of entitlements and control of scheme payments and the administration of the PRSI system including the control of employers.

An information section will be responsible for general information on social welfare services, including talks to local voluntary and interest groups. The information section will also be responsible for feedback into the system on how clients perceive the service and how it might be improved.

To support the localisation of functions, I am strengthening the regional management structure in the Department by the establishment of the regional centres. The regional centres will be involved in monitoring regional performance, planning the devolution of additional functions to the local offices and introducing more streamlined work methods.

Each regional manager will be responsible for ensuring the consistent implementation of policy and dealing with any problems arising in his or her area. Regional centres will support the local offices through organisation, personnel and training functions; monitor performance through its mainstream management functions; control the organisation through its internal audit function; control the quality of delivery by reference to agreed standards and support service development, policy and procedural changes through its planning and research functions.

The management of the regional structure will be based on the achievement of set targets. Accordingly, procedures for measuring achievement are being established so that a uniform method of measurement will exist across the whole structure. Targets will, for example, include claim turnaround times, provision of comprehensive information services, provision of local services and quality of service.

Voluntary organisations play an important part in the welfare of the less well off in the community. As part of the regionalisation programme I intend that there will be a greater degree of contact with these organisations at both regional and local level. This will enable them to keep up to date on developments in social welfare and contribute to further developments. Regional managers will be responsible for the establishment and maintenance of these links.

The introduction of regionalisation will involve significant change in the manner in which the Department are organised. It is important, therefore, that this huge change in the Department's structure should be introduced in a planned way and with the full co-operation of staff.

The regional structure will provide the platform on which we can build a fully localised and client-oriented service. It will be the bedrock for the service of the future. It is important, therefore, that we get it right. That is why we are putting such effort into our plans. We will maintain the present service at its high level while we make progress on the new regional and local structures.

Enhanced computer communications between my Department and FÁS will ensure that the best possible mix of training and employment scheme opportunities is made available to the long term unemployed.

In providing new employment exchanges, we ensure that FÁS placement officers are accommodated at our offices. I intend to strengthen the liaison arrangements between local offices of my Department and those of FÁS to ensure that clients have every assistance in obtaining jobs or training.

The Government have over the years made a significant investment in information technology and telecommunications systems. We are now in a position to reap the additional benefits of this investment. These information systems are creating the environment in which the objectives of localised, client-oriented services can be achieved. Information technology is also providing us with the opportunity to introduce a greater choice of payment methods.

Social welfare payments are currently paid either through the post offices, the banks or the Department's own offices. A major development in this area in recent times has been the introduction of per-sonalised payable orders for pension and other allowances. This system provides a more secure and reliable method of payment and introduces a significant degree of control into the payment system.

I want to provide social welfare claimants with a choice of different payment methods. The post office network of offices forms an integral part of the administration of the social welfare system and over 70 per cent of our expenditure is distributed through this network. That is 70 per cent of £2.9 billion. We are working with An Post to upgrade and automate their counter services. This will ensure that the most modern and sophisticated payment options will be available to social welfare clients.

With the introduction of this new technology into the post offices, it will be possible for our clients to use electronic fund transfers which are already widely available. Clients' money will be paid directly into an account which can be drawn down as required. The use of automatic teller machines (ATMs) will also be an option. It opens up many other possibilities which have been mentioned by Senators from time to time but these cannot even be attempted until those systems are in place.

A number of initiatives have recently been introduced to simplify means-testing. For example, in some instances claims are being decided on the basis of claim data supported by documentary evidence or data already on file in the Department. Home visits have been eliminated for many people claiming unemployment assistance. Instead, their claims are dealt with by way of desk-interviews. With the introduction of regionalisation and localisation, the process of simplifying means-testing will continue. I also envisage that with the continued development of the one-stop-shop concept, our clients will have an integrated local service to speed up claim processing, give them access to up-to-date information on their entitlements and provide a better service all round.

In the few minutes available to me last week I spoke about the improvement in public finances secured under this Government and how that, in turn, has ensured that we were in a position to protect the less well off members of our society. Social welfare increases, in real terms, over the past three years have more than kept pace with inflation and, in so far as the lowest rates of payments are concerned such as unemployment assistance, have outstripped anything that was achieved before. The Government have been particularly conscious of the need to ensure that those dependent on social welfare benefit from the improvement in the economy as a whole.

Despite the financial constraints, the Government continues their policy of sustained improvements in the social welfare area. Over the past three years we have: more than maintained all payments against inflation; given special increases to those on the lowest payments; introduced many improvements in existing schemes; introduced a number of major new schemes and services including the Carers Allowance and the Lone Parents Allowance not to mention the free travel for companions with the handicapped; improved in many respects the effectiveness of the delivery of our services. The new Social Welfare Appeals Office is a major development in social welfare. This new office, with its own Director and Chief Appeals Officer, will ensure that social welfare clients have an appeals system which is clearly seen to be independent, modern, efficient, fair and easily accessible.

Considerable improvements have been made in the basic rates of payment: for example, special increases for those on the lowest levels of payment, the abolition of the rural rate of unemployment assistance, the streamlining of adult dependant and child dependant rates— the child dependant rates are now down to six, they were 36 just two years ago. These have all resulted in substantial improvements. In addition, 16 categories of social welfare recipients, including the long term unemployed, received special increases of up to 11 per cent in the 1990 budget. The basic rate of unemployment assitance, long term, has been increased from £36.70 in July 1986 to £52 in July 1990, an increase of 42 per cent in nominal terms and almost 26 per cent in real terms. A family with three children has come from a rate of £89.45 up to £116, an increase of £26.55 in money terms, representing an increase of almost 30 per cent in nominal terms and 15 per cent in real terms.

Developments in the social welfare system in recent years have taken place broadly within the framework outlined by the Commission on Social Welfare. Substantial progress has been made under each of the main headings identified by the commission namely: (1) improvement in basic payments; (2) improved child income support; (3) broadening the insurance base, and (4) improvement in the delivery of service. The Commission on Social Welfare recommended a priority rate of £45 in 1985 terms which, in current terms, would be equivalent to £53. This rate has been achieved in the case of pension rates. The long term unemployed rate of £52 means that the priority rate for this group has almost been achieved.

I have introduced a considerable degree of flexibility into the unemployment system over the past number of years. I might add that the total cost of the improvements over the past three years, which is the period of The Programme for National Recovery, was £500 million. That is the actual extra cost of improvements given over the last three years. That point is often missed by people when they look at the increases in individual terms; a very substantial additional amount of money has been provided.

My objective in introducing the various initiatives to allow part-time working, voluntary working in the community and the pursuance of educational courses, is to give unemployed people the opportunity with a view to gaining a foothold in the jobs market again. There is now a range of facilities available to unemployed people whereby they can avail of second chance education and equip themselves with new qualifications. Indeed, in second chance education there are no 68 long term unemployed people who have taken up the pilot scheme and who are at third level in second chance education.

The current signing arrangements for unemployed people are governed by statutory regulations which provide that claimants for unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance must sign the unemployed register to indicate that they are available for and genuinely seeking work. Traditionally, the frequency with which claimants were required to sign the register depended on the distance they lived from the nearest signing centre. Those within two miles were required to sign daily, those over two and less than four miles were required to sign twice a week and once a week for those over four and less than six miles. Those over six miles were not required to attend at a local office but instead at their local Garda station.

The Commission on Social Welfare considered that, as a test of availability, the current signing arrangements were not very meaningful, that is, the signing arrangements in the year 1986. People quote the commission as if the figures they were talking about were current 1990 figures; the figures were based on studies done in 1986. While they accepted that the signing arrangements offer an opportunity of interviewing claimants regarding efforts to obtain employment, they questioned whether they are the most useful mechanism for doing so. They concluded that it should not be necessary to have all claimants sign so frequently. In late 1988 the position was standardised and improved, when I made once a week signing the norm for counter claimants.

Earlier this year I decided to offer those on long term unemployment assistance and over 60 years of age the option of transferring to a pre-retirement allowance scheme. Under the terms of this scheme claimants are paid by pension order books which they cash at the local post office and are only required to make a declaration regarding unemployment once a year. To date, approximately 6,500 claimants including smallholders have availed of this option.

The commission also recognised, however, that one of the most important aspects of the current signing arrangements is that they facilitate weekly cash payments. Until different methods of payment could be introduced, it would not be possible to introduce the kind of signing arrangements they envisaged.

There is a need for modification in the current signing arrangements. However, payment to people who attend at the local office is in the vast majority of cases made there and then in cash. As long as this system continues to operate, attendance at the local office on a weekly basis is necessary to enable weekly payments to be made. The introduction of alternative paying methods requires the computerisation of local office procedures. This process is proceeding but in view of the number of offices involved it will take some years to complete.

It is a statutory condition for the receipt of unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance that a person must be available for and genuinely seeking but unable to find, suitable employment, having regard to age, sex, physique, education, normal occupation, place of residence and family circumstances. These conditions are a common feature of unemployment schemes worldwide. The legislation provides also that the onus is on the individual claimant's to prove they are available for work. It does not, however, state what form such proof should take. It is, accordingly, a question for the deciding officers and appeals officers to decide whether any claimant has shown that he or she fulfils the condition having regard to the available evidence when making a claim.

All claimants are normally asked when making a claim for unemployment benefit or assistance to complete a questionnaire regarding their efforts to obtain employment. Claimants may also be asked subsequently at any stage of their claim about this matter. In most cases the replies given by claimants to this questionnaire will, when taken in conjunction with other evidence available regarding the claimant's employment history, be sufficient to satisfy the deciding officer that the person concerned is available for and genuinely seeking work. If, however, there is any element of doubt about the position, the deciding officer may seek further relevant information on such matters as the extent to which the claimant has made efforts to obtain employment since becoming unemployed; the type of work the claimant is seeking and the reasons for any restrictions which the claimant may be placing on the type of work he or she is available to do; whether there are domestic or other commitments or circumstances which limit the claimant's ability to accept full-time employment which would normally be regarded as suitable; whether the claimant has a history of leaving employments frequently, without good cause.

It is on the basis of the replies given to questions such as these that the deciding officer determines whether the person is or is not available for and genuinely seeking work. Each case has to be considered on its own merits and it is a matter for the deciding officer to decide the exact evidence required in any case having regard to the individual circumstances of the claimant.

At the new claim stage detailed information is requested from the claimant on a questionnaire to be completed in respect of the claimant. For example, the claimant is asked what type of work he or she is seeking and the hours of employment being sought. The claimant is also asked what specific efforts have been made to obtain employment and to furnish any documentary evidence he or she may have. Claimants are also asked have they registered for employment with FÁS. Details of ages of any children in the household are also required as well as particulars about who will care for the children in the event of the claimant finding employment.

Claims are reviewed subsequently on a regular basis to ensure that the claimant continues to satisfy the conditions for entitlement to payment. The review consists of an updating of the previous examination, including details of recent efforts by the claimant to obtain employment. This may be done orally at the counter in the exchange or through the use of a written request to be handed or posted to the claimant. In carrying out these reviews claimants may be asked to furnish any documentary evidence they may have about their efforts to obtain work.

As regards child care responsibilities, many married men and married women with young children are able to make child-minding arrangements which allow both spouses to take up employment. But there are other cases where one or other spouse is not available for employment because he or she has decided to remain at home to look after children or else is not in a position to make adequate child care arrangements in the event of being offered a job. It is by no means uncommon for a parent to give up employment for the purpose of minding a child.

It will often be readily apparent from the particular circumstances of a claimant with young children that child care arrangements do not constitute a problem in relation to availability for work. An example would be where such a claimant had previously been in employment and made child care arrangements. However, where, for example, a claimant with children gives up employment, or following the birth of a child fails to resume employment even though there was a right to return to the job under employment protection legislation, the matter would have to be discussed further with the claimant. Similarly, where claimants had previously withdrawn from the labour market for a number of years to look after children or other dependants, inquiries would have to be made of the claimant as the deciding officer would have to satisfy herself that suitable arrangements can be made for the care of the children.

I am fully aware that this can be a difficult and sensitive area. It was for this reason that I arranged for the reissue of guidelines to the staff at all of the local offices of my Department spelling out that the utmost care must be taken to ensure that any questions asked are relevant and that the purpose of the questions should be explained so that the claimants will understand why they are necessary. The guidelines also stress that claimants, both male and female, are subject to the same line of inquiry. For instance, a male claimant with young children would have to be queried about child care arrangements where his wife was working in exactly the same way as would be the case if it were she who was claiming instead. These guidelines were designed to ensure that, in questioning claimants, there is no discrimination on grounds of sex, family or marital status.

The vast majority of decisions are made by local deciding officers. In most cases the decision would be to accept that the claimant is available for and genuinely seeking work. It is in only a very small proportion of cases that the question of disallowance under this heading would arise. Where it does all the evidence including the claimant's side of the story is available to the deciding officer for decision.

Any person who is dissatisfied with the decision of a deciding officer has the right of appeal to the new social welfare appeals office.

The social employment scheme (SES) is administered by the Department of Labour. It is aimed at providing part-time employment to assist unemployed people, particularly the long term unemployed, to re-enter the labour market. Allowances under the scheme are payable at at standard rate of £69 for a single person and £98.50 for a person with an adult dependant. The Government introduced improvements in the scheme in 1989 when a child dependant allowance of £10 weekly became payable. As a result of these changes all SES participants now receive a payment which is in excess of the entitlements under the unemployment assistance scheme. The £11 per child applies and the basic rates are higher than the rates for long term unemployment assistance. For example, an SES participant with an adult dependant and three child dependants now receives a total allowance of £131.50 per week, as against an entitlement under long term unemployment assistance of £116.00 per week. Even a single person receives £17 a week more on the SES, that is, £69 as against £52. Of course, it is considerably more than the short term rate. In addition, SES participants are free to engage in other work or activities during their week off. Such earnings have no effect on their payments from the SES.

The purpose of the family income supplement scheme (FIS) on the other hand, is to maintain an incentive for full-time workers with families, who are in low paid employment, to remain at work. Its purpose is essentially different from the SES and to extend entitlement to FIS to persons on the SES would involve fundamental changes in the FIS scheme.

The clear intention at all times was that the increased payments to SES participants compensated for the loss of added benefits, such as the Christmas bonus. For example, during December a single person on the SES will earn £276, plus earnings from other work, if any. This compares with an entitlement of £208 on long term unemployment assistance which attracts a Christmas bonus of £36.40. The Government have used the funds available for the social employment scheme to provide opportunities for the long term unemployed on the basis of normal weekly payments. This year over 11,000 people will participate in the scheme. I would refer Senators to the very comprehensive statement on this subject by my colleague, the Minister for Labour, in the adjournment debate on 1 November 1990 in the other House.

Persons participating in the SES do not qualify for basic SWA because their income exceeds the SWA rate. However, they could qualify for exceptional needs payments or urgent need payments if a health board consider such payments appropriate in particular circumstances. In general, SES participants qualified for the new £5.3 million back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance which I introduced in July of this year and which was paid out at the end of August. Payment of a rent/mortgage supplement could also be made depending on the individual's income level.

On 29 May last, the EC Social Affairs Council, at the initiative of my colleague, the Minister for Labour, Deputy Ahern, adopted a resolution on action to assist the long term unemployed. The resolution identifies a need to take a more integrated approach to unemployment blackspots in order to tackle the problems of high unemployment, inadequate or non-existent social, recreational and educational facilities and other social problems. The resolution also recognises that employers have an important part to play in tackling long term unemployment.

Despite the continuing need to control expenditure, we have made sure that special consideration is given to the most vulnerable sections of our society. We have not only maintained the system but have also improved it significantly. I see my Department as not just being in the business of providing money but also being involved in the welfare of people in the broadest sense.

Voluntary organisations have a major role in this regard. Many such organisations are working on a daily basis with social welfare clients and are aware of their needs and their difficulties. In recent years I was glad to be able to provide assistance to many such organisations. In particular, I have received a great deal of assistance from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in meeting the needs of the poor. The society have now over 10,000 voluntary workers in the field. The society have been to the fore in tackling the problems associated with moneylenders, in providing job opportunities through a major innovative community-based scheme, in organising a programme of home management and personal development courses, designed to help people acquire the basic skill of budgeting and self-development. In April 1988 I made a special grant to the society to fund the setting up of these courses on a nationwide basis. I am pleased to be able to make a further grant of £100,000 to the society, which I am announcing today, to expand and develop these innovative and worthwhile home management and personal development courses. The funds for these come from savings which I have at the end of the year.

I am confident that, with the agreement of the social partners on a new Programme for Economic and Social Development, we will be in a position to lay the foundations for further major improvements in social welfare in the years ahead.

We have announced just today the details of the Estimates for next year and Senators will be aware that those Estimates embody total expenditure on social welfare of £2.9 billion, which is £100 million above the outturn for this current year and it is a net increase in the net Estimate of £78 million, leaving a net Estimate of £1,554 million, which will cover all the current schemes that we have and we will continue them into next year at the increased rates. We now have quite a number of new schemes. These include the scheme for the handicapped, the scheme for the free companion pass for the handicapped — £6,500 of these passes have been issued in approximately the last six weeks — the new lone parent's scheme and the carer's allowance, for which over 3,500 claims have already come in. Full funding for these schemes is provided into next year, together with a back-to-school payment again for next year, which is funded in today's Estimates. Further developments will fall to be considered within the context of the forthcoming budget.

With all these improvements which have, in many respects, been made possible through the Programme for National Recovery, we look forward to underpinning more major improvements in social welfare by continued co-operation between the national partners in a further programme for economic and social development. I, therefore, urge Senators to support the amendment to this motion.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I would like to compliment him on his efforts over the last couple of years to try to streamline the system in so far as it is possible to do so. I must say I was struck by one of the last figures he gave, the figure of £2.9 billion as being the Estimate for the coming year. That coincides almost equally with what we are in receipt of from the Structural Funds for a period of five years, 1988 to 1993, and this is supposed to be the wonderful boon that we are getting to bring us in from the periphery to be able to compete with the core of Europe. It certainly puts in context the incredible extent of our social welfare obligations and burden.

Even though that is the amount of money being spent, when we look right across the sphere of social welfare we are still talking from a low plateau in terms of the funding available to people in the various social welfare categories. If we look at any single one of them I do not think there is a person in this country who would say that they are satisfactory or sufficient to enable anybody to live in decency and in dignity.

That is the context in which this motion is being put. It speaks rather optimistically about the increasing commitment to a pluralist, inclusive vision of Ireland. I do not know what the inclusive vision is but it will be a pluralist Ireland is perhaps a little over-optimistic. I would certainly like to see that being the case but we have a long way to go. The State's largest minority, undoubtedly a discriminated against minority, are the one million or thereabouts who are living or the poverty line and many of these, of course, make up the 200,000-plus of our unemployed. The centre of the motion is that all steps be taken to ensure that the dignity and self-respect of unemployed people is enhanced by the social welfare system and other services. That is the problem. We have a system. It is an inadequate system. It is a very poor system. It is a morass of rules and regulations and details and structures but it certainly does not enhance the dignity and self-respect of people who are in receipt of its benefits. Indeed, neither do the other ancillary services.

I will just tell a little story. Last Friday morning I was awoken very early by a family in a block of flats next door to me in Séan McDermott Street, St. Mary's Mansions. The flats were flooded; two of them were absolutely swamped with water. The mains had burst. As I was the only one in the area with a telephone I tried to get the corporation, without success. There is no emergency service over the weekends. This happened to be Friday morning and there would be nothing available on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, not until Monday. I got the Garda and the Fire Brigade and the ESB all of whom turned up, but we could not get anybody from the Dublin Corporation. We were unable to find the stop cock because some repairs had been done. There are not that many repairs done in the area because of the totally inadequate level of funding for maintenance. That was the way of it. We eventually had to try to get the sub-contractor. He turned up hours and hours later when water was flowing out of the premises. Nobody came from the corporation. All the clothes were destroyed. New clothes had to be got by collecting from the neighbours. There was nowhere for the family to go that night, or the following night, or the night after that. Eventually, a Super Ser was got to dry up the flat and another one for the other flat overhead.

That is the situation at present. Here we are on Wednesday still without an adequate service. We must talk about the concomitant services. In terms of the local authorities there is not an adequate maintenance service, particularly for people in public housing. These were two families who were unemployed, in one case a family with four children. The other case was just a couple. As they had nowhere else to go they were taken in by neighbours. The local authority service is totally inadequate to provide a support in an emergency and, indeed, after an emergency, for such people. There is no service to provide compensation for the destruction of their furniture, the clothes that were required, and so on. Indeed, that brings us back to what the Minister talked about, the voluntary organisations. The St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Simon Community went in and helped out, but not the State services. That is the problem. The State service was found to be inadequate in the circumstances. The voluntary organisations, I agree, have played a major role in providing back-up services. The Simon Community in their submission to the social partners in relation to the new programme for social and economic development indicated that it receives approximately 10 per cent in grants from the Government of what it needs to carry out its work. That means a very important voluntary organisation that deals almost exclusively in a support service for the homeless has only 10 per cent of the funding it requires from Government sources. That surely is totally inadequate. This could not be defended.

The Minister referred to his desire that An Post would be extended and the network of services that were available through An Post would form an integral part of the administration of the social welfare system. He said that over 70 per cent of expenditure is distributed through this network. We see that there are, in fact, proposals to close down many of the local post offices throughout the country. This is part of a rationalisation process. Here again part of the infrastructure for the provision of services is to be eliminated. That, of course, will not assist in enhancing the dignity and the self-respect of the unemployed and others who are in receipt of State services in relation to social welfare.

There is very much a macro level in terms of the operation. There is the whole area of the unemployed and the State's responsibility in that area. With Spain we have the highest level of unemployment in Europe running at 17 per cent. The unemployment level, in fact, is increasing now. We will find that our budget this time next year — even if we were not to increase in real terms at all — will be in excess of what it is at present. Of course there is a huge drain on our own resources for productive development; so much has to be spent on services simply to ensure that unemployed people have some form of decent living standards.

That is a major area on the macro level which must not be left out of the calculations and, of course, the whole area of emigration is also something we never came to grips with. It is increasing all the more in recent years. With increasing mobility in Europe after 1993 our youth population and our productive population are the people who will be leaving. We will be left more and more with those who are unable and have not the means to find employment abroad and who are going to be a drain on our own inadequate industrial and employment structures.

As regards the first recommendation, increasing payments to unemployed people to levels recommended by the Commission on Social Welfare, what the commission were talking about were simply minimum levels of payment. They were not talking about anything that would bring the level of social welfare payments to the unemployed to a point where they could live in luxury. We are not talking about that. We are talking about what they consider to be the bare minimum. I would have thought that more progress could have been made in that respect considering that — and it has been mentioned by the Government and all credit to them — over the last four years we have had a fairly extensive surplus of exports over imports, and our balance of payments has been improving at a considerable rate all the time. However, we have not invested that adequately to eliminate the level of unemployment or to raise the levels of social welfare to people who are on the unemployed list.

That is something we have not addressed. We have tinkered with the system, we have added a bit here, pushed another bit there, and tried to sort out what were perceived as fraud levels elsewhere and so on: this, of course, relates to the criticism about the signing on on the same day by the travelling community, which I would have certain reservations about. The Minister says it is not discriminatory but I think it is, because they are the only group in the community that are singled out in such a fashion. I would have thought the proper approach would be as it is in other areas, to prosecute those against whom you have evidence of committing fraud, rather than discriminate against an entire category of people. That is not satisfactory, and to say that it operates in Northern Ireland does not remove the discriminatory aspect of it. The Minister would need to look at that again and see if a more humane method might be used.

Coming back to the Commission on Social Welfare, I think a lot more could be done to give what would be the equivalent of a decent living wage. There should be a minimum level of social welfare payment for everybody. That would be a major advance in the social welfare area, something like the free education system at the end of the 1960s, which could be regarded as the level at which a person could live in relative decency. We should establish criteria for housing, food, clothing, education requirements for children and so on. We should add all these things together, make out a certain number of points, and say that people are not allowed to be paid below that level. Until we come up with an actual threshold of payment, a basic minimum wage, we are going to find ourselves without dignity in our social welfare system.

In relation to the second point, the revamping of the social employment schemes to ensure that scheme workers are not deprived of Christmas bonuses, family income supplement and supplementary welfare, that badly needs to be addressed because SES people do not receive family income supplement, they do not get holidays, they are not protected by the new legislation in relation to part-time workers, they do not get fuel allowances, rent allowances or any form of seasonal bonuses. They are very much discriminated against. That total area needs to be reviewed to give them more of the rights that workers are entitled to. It is in many ways a cheap way of keeping youngsters off the live register and it very often involves dead-end jobs with very little future.

I would like to add to that the question of prisoners. They do not get Christmas bonuses either if they are recently released, so they would lose out because they are not long term unemployed. There is no after care for prisoners which means that we have about 10,000 people going through the system every single year and these people are coming out homeless; in many cases the families do not want to see them. There is a very glaring lacuna in the services provided there. They are coming out without the support facilities and they become part and parcel of the unemployed section of the community on social welfare. There is a great deal I would like to say about that but I will not have time to do so.

Finally, point No. 4 deals with putting an end to the long term unemployed, the cruel and degrading demand to actively seek employment where no employment is available. That is a scandal. In areas where there is endemic unemployment, where it is impossible to find employment, there are people going around being told they have to sign forms saying they have been actively seeking employment and they must go around here and there. It is simply an exercise, and it is absolute hypocrisy that it should be required. It is part of the bureaucracy which I would think greatly undermines and takes away from the dignity and self-respect of the unemployed. While the Minister has endeavoured to improve the system in various areas, there is need for a substantial overhaul of the system rather than tinkering with various aspects of it.

This evening, we could find ourselves in the happy position that we could agree to the motion and the amendment before the House. I do not think we should be put in the position of having to have an either/or situation. I would certainly agree with the five points in the amendment, which simply says that we welcome the progress that has been made by the Government. Progress has undoubtedly been made in implementing the rates of payment recommended by the Commission on Social Welfare for the disadvantaged. We can welcome the flexible and innovative approaches being taken on schemes and employment-related measures. We can acknowledge that improvements have been made in these areas of social services. It would be very wrong of us not to accept that improvements have been made, and thank God they have been made. There was plenty of scope and need for them. We also can accept the bona fides of the Minister for Labour in the priority which he has attached to helping and looking at the problems of the long term unemployed. We can certainly note the resolution that was adopted by the Council of Social Affairs Ministers. However, I do not see that that in any way cuts across the five points which are contained in this motion.

The first one is quite clear. If I could start with the preamble, I am sure the other side of the House would like to ensure that the dignity and self-respect of unemployed people is enhanced and is not diminished by the way the system is operated, so there should not be any problem there.

The first item seeks an increase in the payments to the unemployed to the level recommended by the Commission on Social Welfare. I have found it a little difficult, not being particularly good at figures, to establish exactly what sort of increase we would be talking about in that area. I do not think Senators Ryan or O'Toole who spoke last week indicated where the money will come from. I know in the corporation if we want to propose an extra payment in one area we have to say when doing our estimates where the money is to come from. That is an intelligent way to approach it. We all know that there is not limitless money available, and if we are going to give extra unemployment benefits to people, we must see where it is to come from. I certainly would not like to see it coming from the health budget or the education budget as that is one area from which we get a positive return. Sadly, one cannot say the same for the £2.9 billion the Minister mentioned for social welfare. When money is spent on education young people acquire extra skills which help them to get jobs and so keep off the unemployment register.

It is worth noting that in Great Britain, which has the highest unskilled labour force in the European Community, has the highest unemployment level. The higher a person's level of education the better is his or her chance of getting a job, whether in Ireland or in the European Community. I support those who suggest that we have higher taxes on petrol, drink and cigarettes.

The Government should look long and hard at the great waste in Government Departments. As regards the heating bill for Leinster House, it is not uncommon for us to be sweltering in the House and for the windows to be open. I was in one of the adjuncts to this building and the windows were open. Kildare Street and Kildare Place are being heated. That wastage is a scandal and it is an area which should be looked at to see what economies could be made.

With regard to comments made last week about fraud, Senator Brendan Ryan quoted from the Craig Gardner report. It is an area that is worth commenting on. There are stringent rules laid down about signing on. The public perception is that there is a large degree of fraud. The Craig Gardner report showed that only 2 per cent of the number of unemployment payments and 1 per cent of the number of disability payments were based on claims which contained some clear element of fraud. The number of unemployed is approximately 220,000 and if we were talking about something as small as 2 per cent that would mean 4,400 people were claiming benefit fraudulently. I understand that the word "clear" is the pertinent word, that means people who are claiming when they have no right to the benefit. It would not include cases where somebody was claiming for a wife and two dependent children when they had only one dependent child. Fraud, by its very nature, is concealed and anyone investigating that area would find it difficult. There are a great number of people who imagine that there are huge areas of fraud. This is not the case. It is important that the rules and regulations should not encourage or facilitate fraud because that is counter-productive. It tends to generate the sort of opinion which people have that everybody who is unemployed is involved in some great scam. I do not think that is the case. I was not here for the debate last week but I read the comments of Senators Ryan and O'Toole. I do not think that there is as much prejudice against the unemployed as they made out. I have had the unfortunate experience as a public representative of coming across considerable prejudice towards the travelling community. I do not believe that the same prejudice pertains with regard to the unemployed. The reality is that we all know large numbers of people who were holding down very good jobs and who found themselves unemployed, through no fault of their own. People imagine that there are a large number of people who do not want to work and that they should be made to do so or have their benefits curtailed. Those of us who know people who are unemployed realise how quickly their self-confidence is undermined and this quickly leads to a position where they feel unable to face the challenge of a job. I experienced that recently with a number of people and I was shocked and shattered at how quickly it happened to people who up to then appeared to be stable. If there are people who appear not to be so enthusiastic about getting a job, great sympathy and understanding should be shown to them. This could happen to any of us if we found ourselves in the same position.

I welcome and support the excellent and worthwhile social employment scheme. In Dublin, the corporation did not have such a happy experience with it. I was involved recently in the promotion of the Tidy Towns competition around the country and I was delighted with the extent to which the SES scheme has benefited those who are gaining employment through it. People on the SES, working for local authorities on worthwhile projects can bring pride to a locality. My experience has been that it not only is beneficial in those ways but it creates close bonds between the local community and the unemployed who are now on an SES. They are very highly thought of in the community. The work is often something which the local community would not be able to undertake. It is a scheme which should be supported in every way. I support the second item in this motion which seeks to ensure that people on SES are not deprived of Christmas bonuses. It would act as a disincentive to take up the scheme.

The third item in the motion calls for an end to the invidious requirement of signing on. It is counter-productive. I notice in the Craig Gardner report they suggest the abolition of weekly signing on and suggest that selective signing on should be introduced instead. Society cannot provide jobs and this is making paupers out of the poor. It takes away their dignity as does the requirement to actively seek employment. The same comments could apply there and to Item No. 5.

The Government and the political parties in general have been reticent about accepting or that unemployment is something which, sadly, is here to stay. We may well find that it is something which is on the increase. They are afraid that if they admit unemployment is here to stay, they will be admitting failure. If we accepted unemployment, attitudes towards the unemployed could change and young people particularly in our schools could be encouraged not to go out into life feeling they are a total failure because they are unemployed for a short or even a long period.

I wish to share my time with Senator Jackman.

I support the various points made in the motion. They are relevant and need to be addressed in order to overcome this very major cancer of unemployment in our society, not unemployment in itself but the affects that it has on the families directly affected by it. There are about 500,000 to one million people in a very downgraded position in our society. Some parts of the country are more seriously affected than others, for instance, our cities and towns. Part of Dublin has 70 or 80 per cent unemployment. The same obtains in Cork, Limerick and parts of the West of Ireland such as Connemara where 95 per cent of the population are drawing the dole. It is not an evenly spread problem. It is prevalent in particular spots. That makes it all the more serious because there is an attitude amongst those communities which is not healthy or good. Young people who are brought up in that atmosphere do not have a work ethic. We must leave no stone unturned to ensure that, if people have to emigrate in order to get gainful and meaningful employment, they are trained to get and hold the best jobs available to them. This is an area in which we could do a lot more.

The Minister referred to moneylending and the fact that the St. Vincent de Paul Society were to the fore in tackling that problem. Moneylending, which is very serious particularly for the more vulnerable in our society, should be tackled head-on by the State. I do not think that the St. Vincent de Paul Society or any other voluntary organisation should be left with this problem upfront with the State coming in behind them. It should be the other way around. There are various organisations such as the Simon Community, St. Vincent de Paul and so on, who are doing magnificent work but the State should take the initiative and, of course, be supported by these organisations.

The provision that people must make themselves available for work and prove that they are available is a lot of red tape. People should not be put through the ropes of applying regularly for jobs that are not available in order to qualify for unemployment assistance. It would be far more practical if the State contacted people and offered them jobs. I agree that people should be available when they are offered a job but being compelled to go out in search of jobs which do not exist is quite unreasonable.

There are various forms of indignity which, unfortunately, the unemployed suffer. Moneylending is one example of that. There is the lack of the very basics for living in the area of food, clothing, housing and so on. Those who are fortunate not to experience unemployment do not fully appreciate this fact. This applies to a great number in our community. The Government should do a great deal more to help the unemployed. They stand condemned for the present rate of remuneration to the unemployed and for their lack of success in providing gainful and meaningful employment for people. Let us call a spade a spade. If we did not have the outlet of emigration we would have a much more serious unemployment figure than we have at present, which is in excess of 200,000, or 17 per cent of our workforce. Emigration is not the answer to our unemployment problem. We have one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe. There are many more aspects I would like to cover but because I am sharing my time with Senator Jackman I will have to gloss over them.

The figure of £116 per week for a family is totally inadequate. There is no way in which a family could live on that. The Government stand condemned for their lack of effort on two fronts, first, for their failure to provide gainful and meaningful employment for our people and, secondly, their failure to look after those who are unemployed.

I had hoped that the Minister would exude some Christmas spirit and announce that a Christmas bonus would be paid to those participating in the social employment scheme.

That is a matter for the Minister for Labour in the first instance.

I hope the Minister will influence the Minister for Labour. I am disappointed that they will not get a Christmas bonus. I support the motion. It is a pity we have so little time to debate it. At Christmas time our minds are drawn to the plight of the less well off both at home and in Third World countries. There were many people who wished to contribute to this debate and hopefully next year we will have an opportunity to debate this issue of poverty at length.

Social welfare is an income support for approximately 700,000 people. There are 600,000 adult and child dependants. In 1989 the cost was £2.66 billion. That is a tremendous amount of money but much more is needed. The provision of this service plays a vital part in determining the financial well-being of individuals and families and in alleviating poverty. There has been some improvements, as indicated by the Minister in his speech last week, but a lot remains to be done.

I hope the bullet will be bitten in the forthcoming budget and that instead of tinkering with the system it will be reformed. The ad hoc increases based on the level of inflation do nothing at the end of the day to address the issue properly. It is essential to provide an adequate income for everyone.

The Commission on Social Welfare made certain recommendations and four and a half year later we are still waiting for their implementation. People say it can be done on a phased basis but at this stage we should be at phase three or four. Their basic figures were £62 for a single person and £100 for a couple.

There are three levels of social welfare payments. There are a few groups which are often quoted to show that social welfare payments are satisfactory. Within those groups there are old age and retirement pensions, which would be considered adequate by the commission, as well as injury and disability benefit. There are a number of recipients who are still £6 or £7 below the adequate minimum recommended by the commission. These include payments for widows, deserted wives, prisoners' wives, unmarried mothers, non-contributory old age pensioners, those on single women's allowance and long term unemployment assistance.

The £52 a week which the Minister mentioned in relation to the social employment scheme is still £10 below the minimum recommended. Those at the very bottom who receive far less than the minimum are on short term unemployment assistance and basic social welfare which is £45 a week—£15 below the minimum. We are looking for a simple, consistent and comprehensive social welfare system.

When social welfare payments were orginally introduced they were not meant to be the principal source of income but were to tide a person over until he or she got a job, recovered from illness, or whatever. Today the position is radically different because we have permanent unemployment. Levels of payment for the long term unemployed were originally kept low so that they would act as an incentive for people to seek employment.

As regards the social employment scheme, the Minister referred to a figure of £17 which is the difference between the payment for social welfare and social employment. In urban areas it is difficult to get people to take up the social employment scheme. There is a greater incentive to take it up in rural areas because farm labourers are still below that level. There are 11,000 people who come within the social employment scheme. In the mid-west alone there are 1,200 people availing of the scheme. It suits the Government to keep this scheme intact as it keeps people off the live register. They do not have the benefit of receiving a Christmas bonus. They feel exploited and will continue to do so unless something is done to increase the amount of money they receive.

I support the motion and Senator Costello's reference to the fact that the puralist inclusive vision referred to in the text of the motion applies to this large and discriminated against minority of the unemployed. The President's ringing invitation to come dance with her sounded rather hollow when the people on social employment schemes visited this House and said there would be no dancing for them.

Although my name is down on this motion I do not fully support the implication of intent behind some of the words like "harass" and so on. The system is degrading and demeaning, not out of any conspiratorial intent but because poverty is degrading and demeaning. The amendment is not very convincing. In an effort to retrieve their former support perhaps Fianna Fáil should go back to their roots and see how they can get the working class and the workers class to support it. It has been said that there is nothing so strange as the willingness of the poor to connive at their own poverty and misery. That is a situation that may not last forever.

I may have to get my head examined because I am making a habit these days of praising people but I thought Senator Ryan's speech last week was forceful, well researched and very compassionate. There is little I could say to improve on it.

I hope that is reported in The Cork Examiner.

I hope the Senator reciprocates.

While I will have many critical things to say about the Minister's contribution it was comprehensive and thoughtful. It reflects the innovations the Minister has introduced. It is one of the reasons why I am hopeful, even if we do not agree tonight, that many of the things I aspire to may be possible. To be fair to the Minister, he has demonstrated a willingness to think along new lines. It is quite clear that his vision is one which many of us would subscribe to even if the vision he offers us is not much of a reality to many recipients of the service.

I will compliment the Minister and have a side swipe at a colleague of his in the process. I was interested in his announcement that £100,000 extra was being given to the St. Vincent's de Paul Society to facilitate their domestic management training schemes. He said he managed to put this aside out of savings from other areas. He might pass on this message to his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, who has half a million pounds which he will return unspent, within the next fortnight to the Department of Finance. It would be a commendable exercise of imagination by his colleague if he did the same as this Minister and found some use for this money. Over Christmas would be an appropriate time to do so.

I would like to talk a little bit about expenditure on social welfare. I have at my disposal only the Government Estimates of expenditure which do not include the contribution of the social insurance fund. Those figures are as follows and I checked them because the Minister was waxing eloquent about huge extra expenditure: the net expenditure, that is excluding the expenditure by the social insurance fund on various insurable benefits, was £1.2 billion in 1984; £1.36 billion in 1985; £1,543 billion in 1986; £1.6 billion in 1987; £1.535 billion, a decrease, let it be said, in 1988; £1.513 billion in 1989; £1.476 billion in 1990 and an increase promised for 1991. The sum of £1.553 billion is almost £50 million less than the expenditure by his Department in 1987, net of social insurance contributions.

What happens when you broaden the base? Think that out and you will understand the difference.

I cannot think that out on my feet.

The payments to the social insurance fund are much lower.

I still think that it is a reasonable conclusion to draw. I know that payments to the social insurance fund are much lower because of cutbacks and the level of benefits that are available to people. The other point that needs to be made—I have made it on radio debates subsequent to budgets—concerns the increases that have been made available to the long term unemployed. The long term unemployed according to the Minister's own booklet are people unemployed for in excess of 15 months and who have been getting an unemployment payment for at least 15 months. Their children still receive £11 a week. Even adding on child benefit which is available to everyone and which should not be added on, £11 a week is not sufficient to support is a child. It is one of the recommendations of the Commission on Social Welfare that the income support for children in poor families should be sufficient to support a child but that is not sufficient. Indeed, it is nowhere near sufficient and it is playing around with statistics to pretend that the adult payment alone is sufficient to meet the requirements of the Commission on Social Welfare. The most shameful system and form of poverty in our society is the poverty of our children. It is an area where we are scandalously neglectful.

With regard to the Minister's reply there are many things that need to be said about it. I will pass over the Minister's comments on the travellers by saying I am intrigued by the insistent reference both by himself and some of his predecessors to persons of no fixed abode. When you tell the Department of Social Welfare that you have no fixed abode they will not give you anything; you have to have an address before you qualify for anything. The no fixed abode phrase is code for the travellers. This particular requirement to sign on applies to the travellers. No matter what the reason, no matter what the justification, no matter what the plausible explanation, if this was done to an identifiable racial minority who were different in the colour of their skin or in their religion, there would be an outcry. Yet, it is done to our travellers and it should not be done. To claim, as the Minister has claimed, that many of them actually like it is, to a certain extent, reminiscent of certain of the authorities in South Africa who had us believe for years that the blacks did not mind about apartheid, that they liked many of the benefits of it.

I must object to that statement. I ask the Senator to withdraw it immediately or I will withdraw from the House at this stage. That is a disgraceful, scurrilous statement.

I ask Senator Ryan to withdraw that statement. It was uncalled for.

Well, I will withdraw the statement; I am happy to do so. I was drawing an analogy because I think our travellers do suffer from a form of racial discrimination. Many people in our society use language about them which is disgraceful. However, I want to make a point, namely that I think it is for the person in the Chair in this House to correct me, not the Minister. It should have been the Chair who asked me to withdraw the statement, not the Minister.

Acting Chairman

The Senator knows the rules of the House as well as anybody else.

I am fully in your hands in operating the rules of the House. The Minister made many references in his speech to other issues that deserve to be talked about. There have been many welcome initiatives in his period as Minister and I hope he will accept that as a genuine compliment to him for his work. On the issue I wanted to discuss at length, namely, the whole question of being available for work and actively seeking employment, there are fundamental differences between us.

The Minister in his speech said that the legislation provides also that the onus is on the individual claimant to prove that he or she is available for work. It does not however, state what form such proof should take. That is like something out of Kafka: you have to prove it, but we will not write it down in simple English in legislation so that you can know what to write and know what we want. Who would tolerate that treatment of any other minority? You must do something as a condition of having an income but we will not tell you how you must do it, we will not say in law what you must do, we will not give you a legally enforceable right to know what it is you must do to prove it. That is straight out of Kafka.

The Minister is not the author of this legislation but it has totalitarian overtones to it. It leaves enormous discretion in the hands of the State vis-á-vis a very vulnerable minority and that is wrong. The fact that the Minister is not the author of that legislation does not mean it is not his job to deal with it because the situation about the unemployed has changed quite dramatically in recent years.

The Minister talked about making a claim. He then went on to talk about the people where there might be some doubts about them; the extent to which the claimant has made efforts to obtain employment since becoming unemployed, the type of work the claimant is seeking, whether there are domestic or other commitments or circumstances which limit the claimant's ability to accept full-time employment which would normally be regarded as suitable, and whether the claimant has a history. I know this is all said with perfect goodwill, but to somebody who has been unemployed for 12 months, living in a country where there are over 200,000 people unemployed and where the most optimistic forecast suggests that we will not get below 150,000 and perhaps not below 190,000 for ten years, that is meaningless gobbledegook. How can you hypothesise that people have domestic or other commitments that will prevent them taking up a full-time job when they cannot find a job offer anywhere in the area in which they live? It is meaningless gobbledegook. That is the objection I have to the present system, to suggest that somebody after six months or nine months unemployment should still have to go through a meaningless ritual and a meaningless attempt to prove they are available for something that does not exist.

I agree with what Senator Murphy said. I deliberately tried to word this motion so that it was not seen in conspiratorial terms. It is simply that a large system which started when there was relatively no unemployment, is still operating within the parameters of a society where there is scandalously high unemployment and is trying to make the same system fit an entirely different problem. That is what is wrong with the whole issue. That is what is wrong with the whole problem of the long term unemployed.

There must come a time in our society when, in all humanity, we say to unemployed people, enough is enough, we have tried to train you, we have tried to get you work, you have tried to get work, everybody else has tried to get you work and we have all failed. The least we can do at the end of all that is leave people alone with what is left of their dignity when they are unemployed and not perpetually pursue this. How, for instance, is it possible to adjudicate on the record of somebody who has been unemployed for 15 months as to whether that person has a history of leaving employment frequently without good cause? How can anybody adjudicate on that for somebody who has been unemployed for 15 months or two years? There is a philosophy and a thinking behind this; it is not the fault of the Minister, it is most emphatically not the fault of his officials; it is the fault of a system that we have thought up. What I have tried to say throughout this debate is that in the case of the long term unemployed, all of these phrases like "availability for work" are meaningless. The Minister issued guidelines in pursuit of what I would still say is a meaningless exercise. Certain questions are to be asked in a sensitive fashion. He talks about the guidelines that are being issued to officials which stress that all claimants, both male and female, are subject to the same line of inquiry.

I do not want to be snide about this but I made desperate efforts today to get my hands on those guidelines and the Minister's office did not seem to be able to put their hands on them anywhere. It would have been very useful to have them in order to comment on them. I sincerely hope that local offices are able to find them more rapidly than the Minister's office was. They seem like a good idea. They seem well-intentioned and they seem to meet the reasonable, limited perceptions. In the minute or so that I have left, I want to repeat what I have said at the beginning. In terms of this requirement to be available for work and the requirement to be actively seeking employment, people in our society who have been unemployed for 12 months, and are most likely to remain unemployed know that the statistics and the experts all say that unemployment is going to stay around 200,000 indefinitely. To ask them to go through a meaningless ritual of looking for work, availabilty for work, is in fact a systematic, built into the system persecution of a large minority of our society. This is not by individuals, not by Ministers, but by us, our society and our system. We ought to change it. We must end it. They are a minority. They are excluded. They suffer. We could stop it and stop it quickly. I appeal to the Minister to be the one to begin to end it.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 20.

  • Bennett, Olga.
  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Byrne, Hugh
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Fallon, Sean.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Tom.
  • Haughey, Seán F.
  • Honan, Tras.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Kiely, Dan.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • McCarthy, Seán.
  • McGowan, Paddy.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • Ryan, Eoin David.
  • Wright, G.V.

Níl

  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Hourigan, Richard V.
  • Howard, Michael.
  • Jackman, Mary.
  • Kennedy, Patrick.
  • McDonald, Charlie.
  • Manning, Maurice.
  • Murphy, John A.
  • Neville, Daniel.
  • Ó Foighil, Pól.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Toole, Joe.
  • Raftery, Tom.
  • Ross, Shane P.N.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Staunton, Myles.
  • Upton, Pat.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Wright and S. Haughey; Níl, Senators Ryan and O'Toole.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

The Seanad will sit tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.