Private Business. - Social Welfare Bill, 1991: Second Stage.

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

For the convenience of Senators, I have two versions of my speech. I have a short version, to allow me keep within the time allocated, and a slightly longer version which will provide Senators with more information on the matters I will refer to.

This Bill is an important piece of social legislation. Its primary purpose is to give effect to the increases in social welfare payments announced in the budget. However, it goes further than that. It provides for significant improvements in our social welfare services and continues the Government's policy of care and support for those who depend on social welfare. It provides for: the increases in social welfare announced in the budget; the extension of social insurance benefits to part-time workers; the introduction of pro rata pensions for people affected by mixed insurance; the extension of the carer's allowance to additional groups, and other provisions to improve schemes and administration.

Over the past four years we have targeted extra resources to social welfare recipients and families at work on low pay to give them a decent standard of living. We have taken steps to eliminate anomalies in the system introduced many new caring schemes. In short, we are making our social welfare services more flexible and more responsive to the real needs of people.

The new Programme for Economic and Social Progress has set the agenda for social welfare during the nineties. It sets out to meet the needs identified by the Commission on Social Welfare. Over the term of the programme, the Government are committed to improving the level of payments to the tune of £400 million in 1990 terms as the resources of the economy grow. I am delighted that the first steps towards implementing the social welfare commitments in the programme have been taken in the Bill before the House today.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the incentive to work. It has been suggested that people are better off on the dole than at work. That is nonsense. Through our progressive social policy over the last three years we have raised the real standard of living of both the unemployed and those families at work on low pay. We have reached the Commission on Social Welfare's priority rates while increasing the incentive to work. The combination of increased child related tax exemptions, family income supplement and child benefit makes a very significant contribution to the incentive to work. As a result, a married person with four children earning £162 a week will now get an extra £13.30 per week. A person at work with four children earning £160 per week gross will now end up with £175.20 per week in cash. This is £44.20 per week more than if they were receiving unemployment benefit. The same family were only £22 better off at work in 1987 when this programme began. The incentive to work has, therefore, been doubled since 1987.

This Bill removes a major disincentive to work which existed for those on long term unemployment assistance. Senators will be aware that there are many seasonal jobs or short term work opportunities available for varying lengths of time. Many long term unemployed people are reluctant to take up these jobs because they lose the extra benefits associated with their long term unemployed status if they work for more than 20 weeks. I am now removing that disincentive. People on long term unemployment assistance can now take up jobs for up to 52 weeks and return to their long term payment without any fuss and without loss of extra benefits.

The extension of full social insurance cover to part-time workers from 6 April next is a further major incentive to work. I will deal with this later in my speech. The new area-based response to long term unemployment set out in the new Programme for Economic and Social Progress is a further initiative specifically designed to tackle the problems of the long term unemployed in black spot areas. It will ensure that a range of options will be available to the long term unemployed resulting in a greater possibility of a job.

The social welfare package in this Bill costs £164 million in a full year and £71 million this year. Gross expenditure on social welfare is now, for the first time, in excess of £3 billion per year.

The main improvements in rates are special increases of up to 11 per cent for those on the lowest payments; a 4 per cent general increase in all social welfare and health board payments while a new minimum child dependant allowance of £12 per week is being given to over 380,000 children of those on social welfare. We now have three rates of child dependant allowance whereas four years ago there were 36. In addition, the higher rate of child benefit, £22.90, will be paid for the fourth child onwards. This will benefit almost 400,000 children. Child dependant allowance will be paid up to age 21 for school-going children of long term recipients and the allowance will continue throughout the summer months where the child is not receiving a payment in his or her own right. As Senators will be aware, that allowance was normally stopped in June and the person had to reapply in September. It will now be continued throughout the summer months and if the child does not return to school in September it will be stopped.

The family income supplement paid to people at work is being substantially improved. A family with two children on £140 per week will get an increase of £7 per week in addition to improvements under the child tax exeption limits. School-going children up to age 21 can now be included and the restriction on the amount of payment based on family size is gone. The maximum personal rate for the carer's allowance is being increased from £45 to £50 per week while a new minimum adult dependant payment of £33 per week is being introduced for all unemployment payments and disability benefit, an increase of 6.5 per cent. In addition, widowed people and parents will continue to receive adult dependant or child dependant allowances for six weeks after the death of a spouse or child.

We now have the lowest inflation rate in the European Community, 2.6 per cent. Therefore, the general increase of 4 per cent provided for in this Bill would clearly keep those on social welfare ahead of inflation. This more than meets the Government's commitment to the social partners to protect all payments against inflation.

We are going further than this. Again, this year we are giving special increases of up to 11 per cent to those on the lowest payments. This is the fourth year in a row in which extra resources have been provided to raise the standards for the lowest paid. The personal rate of supplementary welfare allowance and short term unemployment assistance will be increased by over 11 per cent from July. Families on these payments will receive increases of over 9 per cent. As a result, some 100,000 people will benefit from these special increases. Families of those on unemployment benefit and disability benefit are also getting special increases ranging up to 7 per cent.

The main features of the new arrangements for part-time workers are social insurance cover is being provided for all part-time employees whose earnings exceed £25 a week; the condition under which employees are only insurable if working for 18 hours or more is being abolished. The arrangement whereby employers had to establish whether or not an employee was mainly dependent on earnings from that employment is also being abolished; part-time workers will now have access to the full range of social insurance payments. Benefits such as old age and retirement pensions will be paid at the full rate. Unemployment and sickness benefits will be payable on a pro rata basis to insured people earning below £70 a week; only part-time workers earning £60 or more a week will be required to pay the class A contribution of 5.5 per cent. Employers will contribute at a rate of 12.2 per cent in respect of each employee, an increase on their present rate of contribution.

In February last I signed regulations bringing 21,000 part-time workers into the protection of the social welfare system. Eighty per cent of these employees are women. I stated at that time that if employers attempted to reduce hours of work or wages in order to bring employees' weekly earnings below the threshold specified I would not hesitate to take action. Following discussions which I had with representatives of ICTU, SIPTU and the employers in the contract cleaning industry, it emerged that some employers were prepared to reduce employees' earnings below the threshold and that in some case this process had already begun. The effect of this action would be to deny workers these vital benefits and to undercut competitors. I am now reducing the threshold to £25 or more a week. I am confident that this threshold will reduce the scope for evasion and the effect of the black economy. As a consequence, the number of part-time employees who will benefit will increase from 21,000 to 27,000.

One sector largely affected by the new provisions is the contract cleaning industry. Thousands of women who work in this industry will now have access to social welfare benefits and pensions for the first time. The weekly cost of full social insurance cover to an employer at the threshold is £2.82 per employee per week. This is a small sum to pay to guarantee substantial insurance benefits for workers. I am very pleased to include these workers in the social welfare system in line with the commitment in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress.

I am delighted to tell you that we are solving once and for all the problems of people with a mixed insurance record. Pro rate pensions for persons who failed to qualify for old age contributory and retirement pension because of their mixed insurance records are provided for in sections 23 to 27. This initiative will be of great benefit to some workers, such as employees in CIE, who previously lost out on a social welfare pension when they retired. To assist the many people who may be wondering about their rights a freephone facility will be provided on this issue in April.

The Government are committed to the elimination of fraud and abuse in the social welfare system and to reducing the effect of the black economy. An extra £20 million of taxpayers money will be saved this year in a major crackdown on PRSI related fraud. The crackdown will involve: overhauling the PRSI registration system; and ensuring that employers comply with their PRSI obligations for their employees and the recruitment of additional staff costing £1 million to investigate firms and detect defaulting employers. Inspectors of my Department will carry out surveys on 15,000 firms annually to ensure that employers are complying with the law. Last year for the first time we carried out surveys on 2,400 employers. As part of the crackdown I recently announced an amnesty for employers and employees. I will not take legal action against employers who do not meet their obligations under the PRSI system on condition that they now come clean and make arrangements to pay what they owe and to bring their PRSI payments up-to-date. Similarly, employees and other individuals fraudulently in receipt of any social welfare payment will be immune from prosecution on condition that they now report to my Department and make arrangements to repay the moneys received. Already a reasonable number of people have come forward.

The increased investigations by inspectors of my Department will mean reduced opportunities for fraudulent activity in the future.

There has been a lot of comment recently about the alleged inadequacy of the carer's scheme introduced last November. Successive Governments shied away from a scheme of this nature. I was successful last year in getting the support of the Government in getting the resources necessary to get a scheme up and running. I made it clear from the outset that the scheme was aimed at people on low incomes. I appreciate that many other people also provide care, but we had to start somewhere. My next priority is to extend the scheme to people providing full-time care and attention to recipients of disabled person's maintenance allowance. I am now doing this in this Bill.

I have already given an undertaking that I will review the scheme. This review will include an examination of the means test provisions as they now apply. In addition, I also have in mind extending the scheme to members of religious orders requiring full-time care and attention. I am having this question examined by the Department at present to see if appropriate arrangements can be worked out. I will also examine the question of how we should provide for people who are caring for more than one incapacitated pensioner.

Apart from the social welfare scheme for carers there are a number of other provisions under the income tax code which are designed to assist people looking after elderly and infirm persons. For example, an incapacitated person's allowance is available whereby a deduction up to a maximum of £5,000 is allowable in respect of expenditure incurred in employing a person to take care of a taxpayer, or the spouse of a taxpayer, who is totally incapacitated by reason of mental or physical infirmity. The dependant relative's allowance of £110 is also available in respect of certain dependent relatives incapacitated by old age or infirmity. The income tax code does recognise the position of those caring for the elderly and infirm. I believe that there may well be scope for health boards to become more involved in provisions for carers. In reviewing our scheme I will be in touch with the health boards with a view to co-ordinating our approach to providing assistance to carers.

I would now like to briefly mention the main provisions of the Bill. Section 3 to 5 provide for the increases from July next in the various payments. Section 6 provides for extending the age limits for payment of child dependant increases with certain long term social welfare payments from 20 to 21 where the child is in full-time education. This measure will take effect from September. This section also provides that family income supplement will continue to be paid where the child is between 18 and 21 years and is in full-time education.

Section 7 increases with effect from July next the amount of family income below which FIS is payable and also provides for the abolition of the maximum payments which were related to family size.

Section 8 provides for the extension of the carer's allowance to the carers of DPMA recipients and those getting a pension from another EC state or a country with which we have a bilateral social security agreement.

Section 9 provides for the first time for the payment of an adult or child dependant allowance to be continued for six weeks after the death of a spouse or child. This recognises the burden which parents and widowed people have to endure following the sad loss of a child or spouse. It is intended to ease the adjustment in the early stages of bereavement.

The remaining sections of the Bill deal with a variety of issues: for example, the abolition of the seven year test for receipt of the maximum rate of unemployment benefit — this is a benefit to those who apply for that payment; minimum payment of £5 per week unemployment assistance for certain young people; customary increases in the earning ceiling for PRSI purposes, and no increase in the contribution rate; easing of contribution conditions from £48 to £39 for receipt of short term benefits; the standardisation of maternity provisions to take account of the new provisions in the Worker Protection Bill, 1990; reduction in the number of PRSI classes; measures to deal with the mixed insurance problem; measures to further control fraud and abuse; abolition of separate employers' occupational injuries and redundancy contributions; miscellaneous provisions, including the exemption of income derived from casual employment as a home help and from the Haemophilia HIV Trust Fund from the means test; provision of non-discriminatory measures for dealing with payments of supplementary welfare allowance, family income supplement and disabled person's maintenance allowance; and, finally various technical amendments to the Pensions Act, 1990.

This is important social legislation. It is the means by which we can ensure that the position of those dependent on social welfare is protected. In addition it allows us to continue the progress we made in the past four years in progressively improving payments and modernising the system. In that regard I would like to point out that in the period 1983 to 1986 those on unemployment assistance had a real increase of 5.9 per cent while, during the period 1987 to 1991 the real increase is 30 per cent. That is a very clear indication of the size of the increase and improvements that have been applied over the last four years. I note that some Senators are concerned about implementing the improvements suggested in the report of the Commission on Social Welfare. We have, in very large measure and in real terms implemented improvements recommended by the commission by providing far greater improvements and increases than were provided in the equivalent period before we came into office just four years ago.

We can look forward to the nineties with confidence in the knowledge that the social welfare system will continue to improve the standard of living of those dependent on it and meet the changing needs of society in Ireland today. There is a great deal more to be done but given the circumstances and the resources available, we have made huge strides over the last number of years. I am particularly happy that the Programme for Economic and Social Progress has guaranteed that social welfare will have a prominent place in the allocation of the resources which will be generated under that programme in the years ahead. I commend this Bill to the House.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Seanad Éireann declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill because—

(a) It fails fundamentally to reform the Social Welfare System;

(b) It fails to tackle the reality of deep proverty in our Country;

(c) It fails to tackle and to eliminate poverty traps and the vicious cycle of unemployment;

(d) It leaves the bulk of the low paid in the PRSI net;

(e) It retains substantial anomalies and multiple means testing based on gross rather than net incomes;

(f) It totally fails to develop adquate educational opportunities and voluntary work options for the unemployed and their dependants; and

(g) It totally fails to make adequate provisions in respect of families with children."

Social welfare recipients are among the most vulnerable sections of our society. For that reason our overriding objective at all times must be to safeguard and to improve the position of those who are dependent on the State's support systems. The Report of the Commission on Social Welfare sets out the principles on which a modern social welfare system should be founded. It stated:

A social welfare system should have explicit underlying principles. These have not been clearly enunciated in the Irish context. We, therefore, considered that the guiding principles should be adequacy, redistribution, comprehensiveness, consistency and simplicity.

It is because this Social Welfare Bill, 1991, fails to give effect to these essential and fundamental principles as outlined in the report that I propose the amendment. As the amendment states, the Dáil retains substantial anomalies and multiple means testing based on gross rather than on net incomes. It fails to improve and revamp the social employment scheme so that those 10,000 people or so who are employed in these schemes and who are doing such excellent work throughout the country, in urban and rural areas, are not deprived of such modest concessions as Christmas bonuses, fuel allowances, butter vouchers, etc. and are not made subject to local authority rent increases merely because they have participated in these very valuable schemes, and totally fails to develop adequate educational opportunities and voluntary work options for the 250,000 unemployed and their dependants.

With regard to the question of the basic payment structure, the report of the Commission on Social Welfare emphasises that the most important issue dealt with in this report is the specification of a minimum adequate income. That report states:

Social welfare payments should be set at a level that ensures a minimum adequate standard of living relative to incomes and to the living standards in society generally. While some social welfare recipients have additional sources of income or are living in households with additional sources of income, we believe that in establishing an adequate minimum income and an adequate basic level for social welfare payments, our primary concern should be to ensure that social welfare payments offer an adequate standard of living to social welfare recipients whatever their household circumstances and independent of any income sources accruing to individuals or households.

We recognise that for about half the households with a social welfare recipient, there is no income source other than social welfare and for many more the individuals and families are dependent on social welfare. The minimum income from social welfare must, therefore, be set at a sufficiently high level to provide for total income needs.

With regard to the question of administration and the delivery process, the report states that in general the quality of the service is in marked contrast to the standard which the claimants are entitled to expect.

What about 1985?

I know that some improvements have been made. I did not interrupt the Minister during the course of his speech. There is a tradition in this House that we do not interrupt the Minister, and I would be glad if he would favour me with the same courtesy. He will have an opportunity to reply.

Be assured of my protection.

It is very hard to contain myself but I will certainly try to listen.

If the Minister wishes to leave the House he may do so.

Senator Kennedy, without interruption.

This is evident from delays in processing claims — most Senators who have constituents to look after will appreciate this — the lack of access to information and the general appearance of buildings throughout this country. The report stresses that a sense of entitlement should prevail in relation to social insurance and social assistance and that arrangements for means testing should not be socially stigmatising. The report summarises its conclusions with regard to the delivery process in the following words. I would like to stress that this was a Government appointed commission. They say:

The system should be administered in a manner which enables it to respond quickly and efficiently to the needs of the applicant and which responds to their individual rights and dignities. The present high level of dependency on social welfare with over one third of the population dependent on these payments for all or part of their income gives added impetus to the need to maximise efficiency within the system.

That report also considers that the administration of the social welfare system should be localised as far as possible. In this connection I believe there is a very strong case to be made for the regionalisation of the social welfare system so that all our social welfare schemes and all determinations can be dealt with on a regional basis. I know a regional management structure was set up in the summer of 1990 but I would like to see far more effective regionalisation and localisation coming into effect as soon as possible.

I do not believe there has ever been an occasion in modern Irish history when the Social Welfare Bill and its contents has been of such importance to people than at this time. This is particularly so because we are continuing into a period where widespread long term unemployment is an endemic feature of our society; indeed, even on the most optimistic job creation forecasts, it will be with us until the end of this century.

Unfortunately the view of unemployment as a temporary black spot in a person's life is no longer a reality. For many people the quality of their life will, of necessity, be shaped by the social welfare system and the social welfare code. This is why this is such an important debate and why this Social Welfare Bill deserves the closest scrutiny and attention from the Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas. In an article in the Financial Times dated 3 August 1988 entitled “The Long Term Unemployed — How Business Can Tap the Wasted Potential” Richard Jackman of the London School of Economics and Political Science states that the greatest social evil of our time is long term unemployment. Professor Jonankar of the University of Essex in a report prepared for the Commission of the European Communities entitled “The Very Long-Term Unemployed in the European Community” points out that since the beginning of the eighties there has been an enormous increase in unemployment in the Community and a concomitant increase in long term unemployment where the duration is for one year or more and in very long term unemployment where the duration is two years or more. For the European Community as a whole unemployment increased from 12 million in 1983 to 13 million in 1986 while very long term unemployment increased over the same period from two million in 1983 to three million in 1986. These enormous increases suggest a crisis in the European labour market which requires concerted action by the Community and, indeed, by the members of the Community to alleviate the social and economic costs of unemployment.

The extent of the problem in Ireland was highlighted in a submission made on 7 June 1989 to the ministerial committee on unemployment by the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice entitled "Long-Term Unemployment". That submission states that the eighties have seen a massive increase in the numbers of people unemployed in the Republic of Ireland and in addition the character of unemployment has changed significantly. Throughout the eighties the numbers of people trapped in long term unemployment grew even more rapidly than total unemployment. At the latest count according to the report in October 1988 there were 109,000 long term unemployed on the live register in this country. That represented 47 per cent of the total unemployed at that time. It seems, therefore, that a long term strategy of job creation must be at the centre of efforts to combat unemployment. However, all the available evidence suggests that as things stand the long term unemployed will be the last to benefit from any general increase in employment. They are, in effect, blocked out of the labour market and I believe special measures are now necessary to enable them to break back in.

That submission from the Jesuit Centre draws the following conclusions in relation to policy. They say that special interventions are needed to combat long term unemployment. This point was also forcefully made in the OECD report in a recent publication. They state that long term unemployment will not disappear of its own accord even in the event of substantial economic and employment growth. There has to be, therefore, an acceptance that its resolution will require special measures. If the situation is allowed to drift, as appears to be happening over the past number of years, with insufficient assistance provided for those out of work for a long time, in many countries this would, indeed, be tantamount to consigning large numbers of the long term unemployed people to permanent social oblivion.

On a more hopeful note, intervention can make a difference. As Professor Jonankar points out, the available data suggest that an active policy towards the long term unemployed and the very long term unemployed such as those operated in Denmark and France, has succeeded in decreasing long term unemployment and very long term unemployment. As Richard Jackman points out the experience of Sweden also highlights the effectiveness of intervention. The second conclusion drawn by that submission is that the overall extent of intervention to date in this country is clearly inadequate given the scale of the problem. Therefore we risk falling into the category of countries in which the situation is allowed to drift with all the obvious and unwelcome consequences. The third conclusion drawn by that submission is the need for targeting. This must be emphasised, I believe, and in this connection the OECD report of 1988 emphasised that once a policy decision has been taken to support disadvantaged groups such as the long term unemployed, measures must then be taken with provisions which direct and concentrate and, indeed, target assistance on the groups concerned.

In their response to the budget and the Book of Estimates for 1991 the Justice Commission of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors have stated (1) there were no significant policy developments in the budget which would tackle the high levels of unemployment; and (2) while predicting an increase in unemployment the budget failed to introduce measures to ensure that unemployed people are not barred from working when jobs do not exist. This Government's Book of Estimates and all the prognostications in the social welfare budget are based on an employment figure of 221,000. The critical situation which now exists has been well analysed in an article by George Lee in the Sunday Post of last Sunday, 24 March 1991 entitled “Unemployment a Public Scandal”. Thus in October of 1990, a figure of 218,400 were registered as unemployed in this country. That represented 16.8 per cent of the live register. Unfortunately, within the last four months the labour market has taken a turn for the worse and an extra 25,000 people have joined the dole queues. The unemployment rate now stands at 18.7 per cent. If we add the 7,836 people in the new social welfare pre-retirement category who were traditionally classified as unemployed, the true rate of registered unemployment is 19.3 per cent. That is within a whisker of the 19.4 per cent unemployment rate recorded in January 1987 which was the highest rate of unemployment ever recorded in the history of the State. There is thus a growing despair that despite low inflation, substantial economic growth and massive emigration since the mid-eighties, Ireland's unemployment is worse than ever before.

The Minister has extended the carer's allowance to cover carers of recipients of disabled person's maintenance allowances. Despite the many changes occurring in our society, the family continues to be the strongest and most reliable of care for elderly and disabled people. My party strongly advocated the extension of this scheme during the past few years to the carers of DPMA recipients, but there is no real commitment by the Government to helping people who are charged with the responsibility of looking after elderly and incapacitated people, thus relieving the State of the huge financial obligations which would otherwise have to be incurred. This scheme was introduced by the Minister for Social Welfare with much hype and fanfare and expectations were built up to such a level that people are bitterly disappointed when the true facts of this scheme are pointed out. There are very few schemes in the social welfare code which have such enormous potential to do good as has the carer's allowance scheme, but it needs to be revamped in a more generous way and to be better funded.

This Bill makes totally inadequate provision in respect of families with children. Social Welfare Bills over several years have been basically anti-family. In terms of support for families, this Bill is grossly inadequate to meet the crisis being faced. Report after report has highlighted the fact that families with children are bearing the brunt of the recession. Huge numbers of children are growing up in dire poverty. Older children make adult demands on family budgets. The costs of clothing, food and educational needs are at an all time high. The need for additional payments in respect of teenage children has been identified by the ESRI, the CMRS, the Combat Poverty Agency and the National Campaign for Social Welfare Reform, yet the Minister for Social Welfare and the Government have a very poor record in regard to child benefit. Families in receipt of child benefit received no increase whatever in 1987, 1988 or 1989. In 1990 they received a mere 20 pence per week extra as a result of the budget. This year child benefit is frozen, except in the case of children in excess of three. This approach runs counter to the recommendations of the Commission on Social Welfare and will do very little to end the poverty trap for these families.

This Bill, like its predecessors, appears to continue to ignore the letter and spirit of EC legislation. It comes into this House under the cloud of the historic decision of the European Court of Justice in the case of Ann Cotter and Nora McDermott which was delivered on 14 March 1991. The Minister should spell out the implications and the decisions of the Government in respect of this judgment and say whether it will be necessary in view of the overall figure involved to bring in a supplementary estimate. While the Minister was speaking in the other House this judgment was delivered. I take it his Department have a copy of the judgment and I would have expected some reference to it in his speech this morning. I am sure this will be done later.

This matter is sub judice and consequently mention of it is not appropriate, nor is it relevant on Second Stage.

I will be guided by you in that matter. The justice commission of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors have highlighted many of the inadequacies and shortcomings of the budget provisions and of this Bill. These shortcomings include the following:

1. The 1991 budget failed to put the elimination of poverty and social division at the top of the agenda. The poor, the weak and the homeless are simply left behind.

2. Government spokespersons and economic commentators have been praising the economic recovery of recent years. The question is who is to benefit from this national recovery. On the evidence of this budget and this Bill a significant number of Irish people are excluded from the benefits.

3. The justice commission of the CMRS maintain that the elimination of poverty and social division should be given an absolute priority when budget decisions are made.

4. About 30 per cent of our population live in households where the income equivalent is less than £57 per week for a single person and less than £94 per week for a couple. These levels of income are lower than the recommended minimum adequate income by the Commission on Social Welfare. That commission recommended a minimum social welfare payment of £62 per week for a single person and £100 per week for a couple in 1991 terms.

5. The budget failed to reform the PRSI system so as to benefit low paid employees and to reduce the poverty traps.

6. There was no progress in integrating tax and the social welfare system.

7. The effects of the social welfare increases will be reduced somewhat by the 2.5 per cent rise in the low rate of value added tax. They could also be further reduced through increases in local authority rents. Even a modest increase in inflation could leave social welfare recipients losing in real terms.

8. The key to tackling poverty and ensuring that everyone benefits from national recovery is to provide an adequate income for everyone. The Commission on Social Welfare examined the whole issue of income adequacy and concluded that in 1991 terms a single person needs £62 per week and a couple £100 per week to have a minimum standard of living.

9. The Government continue to ignore emigration and have totally failed to face up to the implications of the very high numbers of people being forced to emigrate.

10. Poverty is widespread in Ireland. All the available research shows that wherever we draw the poverty line the numbers living in poverty have increased during the past few years. As well as this, poverty is a much more significant problem in Ireland than in any other EC country.

They are the responses from the justice commission of the CMRS. No wonder the Taoiseach does not like them. They tell the truth as they see it and as the information is available to them. They have professional people working in the field in constant consultation with people in these categories. They are not politically motivated but they have a religious and social commitment. The Taoiseach even worried about the words "major" and "superior". He did not of course realise that the Conference of Major Religious Superiors of Ireland were named under Canon Law and that they believe they have a major social responsibility in this country.

My party are opposing the Second Stage of this Bill for all the reasons I have outlined in this amendment and particularly because the social welfare system is more central to people now than at any time in our history. It is vitally important that we get the system working right and that it provides the people with an opportunity to live with some dignity, until such time as our society is organised in a way that can offer them full participation in employment. I do not believe that this Bill will contribute substantially to that end.

Ba mhaith liom, i dtús báire, fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. Cuireann sé ionadh orm scaití a laghad béime a chuirtear, go mór mhór ag an bhFreasúra, ar chúrsaí Leasa Shóisialaigh.

I welcome the Minister to the House, and it gives me great pleasure to support this Bill. By asking us to oppose this Bill, the Opposition are opposing the payment of £165 million to those who depend on social welfare payments. The importance of social welfare can be gauged from the fact that the total pay-out will exceed £3 billion this year. People think that social welfare only affects the unemployed and the old but nowadays it affects pensioners, workers, invalids, the unemployed, the low paid, in fact everybody in society. Of all the legislation passed by these Houses, the Social Welfare Bill and the Finance Bill probably affect the everyday lives of the greatest number of people.

Senator Kennedy referred to the report of the Commission on Social Welfare in 1985. It is well known that the report was put on the shelf because the then Coalition Government believed that its recommendations could not be implemented. However it is a cause of great satisfaction to us that the provisions of this report have been implemented year by year. The Social Welfare Bills of the past three years are the most comprehensive ever placed before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Among the many provisions last year in the Social Welfare Bill we had the introduction of a carer's allowance and changes in the entitlements of the old to free ESB and telephone service and improvements in the system of means testing. Following on from that, this year the Minister has made three fundamental changes: the extension of social insurance benefits to part-time workers; the introduction of a pro rata pension for people with mixed insurance; and the extension of the carer's allowance.

With our success in overhauling the system year by year, there is a danger that people may become blasé and expect major changes in the social welfare structure each year. The very success of the Minister in carrying out this major overhaul of the system — which, of course, has cost ramifications — has made people expect this as normal. However, if we go back a number of years it is clear there has been a radical rate of improvement. As somebody who has had dealings with the social welfare code on behalf of employees and others over a long number of years, I can say that the delivery of the service has improved dramatically for instance in regard to premises, the information available to social welfare recipients, and the operational systems on the ground. I hope that the improvement of the buildings and the extension of computerisation will continue and, to use computer language, that the system will become more "user friendly". I hope that the people who are entitled to social welfare benefits of one kind or another can empathise with the system, have confidence in it and that they will be treated with care and consideration. I also hope we can eliminate the fear element when people are claiming benefits to which they are entitled.

I would like to comment on the attitude of people at large to the unemployed. It is said that people are better off unemployed than at work. This concerns me. Some of this talk may be well-meaning but at times it seems to reinforce attitudes that the unemployed would not be unemployed if they put their minds to it. It seems also to reinforce the attitude that unemployment is not such a bad thing and that the unemployed really have it quite handy. Those of us dealing with unemployed people know that this is not true; that aside from the financial consequences of unemployment, which are great, there are also social consequences. It is natural that at times apathy can build up, and therefore, we can never take the issue of unemployment lightly. We will have to look at the whole structure of unemployment to ensure that we do something not only about the financial aspects but also about the activity element, which can be a great burden on people. I compliment the Minister on the steps that have been taken in the last few years, such as allowing voluntary work and extending the right to education at third level. By opening up avenues to the unemployed — and I would like to see more of this in the future — we are at least addressing one element of the unemployment scene.

I cannot understand how anybody could fail to see that the Government have tackled the problem of low paid and part-time work radically in the past number of years. This year, for example, part-time workers are being brought into the social welfare code, and I welcome the extension to them of the rights that full-time workers have traditionally enjoyed. This is a major advance in view of the present large numbers of part-time workers, thereby contributing to a raising of their standards of living and their status as workers. When one allies that to another Bill we had here recently — extended holiday, redundancy rights and so on — the Government's intent regarding low paid, and the part-time workers becomes obvious. Last year a special exemption from PRSI contributions in respect of workers with incomes of less than £60 a week was introduced. Its benefit for full-time workers was fairly modest. The inclusion of part-time workers in the general social welfare code renders the significance of that decision last year of great importance.

There have been large increases in the family income supplement along with the stipulation that the family income supplement would not be regarded as income for assessment purposes for medical cards. There has been published recently a policy of social housing enabling the low paid to own their houses. The provisions of this Bill have extended long term social welfare to people who work up to 52 weeks to enable them take up short term employment as it becomes available. As an employer I have observed many people work for three weeks, ten weeks, perhaps 20 weeks in any given year and, over a period of time, engage in full-time employment. Anything that affords people opportunities of employment is of major social importance and cannot be decried.

On the question of unemployment it should be placed on the record that, when Fianna Fáil assumed office in 1987, there were 252,000 people on the live register. Notwithstanding the fact that unemployment is a huge problem, according to Senator Kennedy's figures, that figure was reduced to 218,000 by October last. While that is unsatisfactory it does mean that the figure has been reducing rather than increasing, as the Senator seemed to imply.

What has happened since October?

There is at present a serious unemployment problem aggravated by the downturn in the United Kingdom and United States economies leading to increasing numbers of emigrants returning. The whole question of unemployment warrants serious debate. I do not believe that unemployment will be solved by special schemes. I have always believed that unemployment would be solved in the long term only by the creation of wealth and jobs opportunities here.

There has been a vast improvement in the social welfare code over the past three years while the Government have tackled public finances. From a position of near bankruptcy in 1987 they have managed to turn round our economy to circumstances in which our interest rates are lower than those of our neighbours, and our rate of inflation the lowest in Europe. Indeed, all the economic indicators are that we are now competitive. I have always believed that it is only when one can compete one can create real employment.

There have been many long quotations from various reports. The most obvious measure of where we are going is the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. That was an effort to bring all the social partners together in a concerted manner to tackle our problems. I have no doubt that, unless the unions perceived within that framework a method of improving working standards and of reducing unemployment they would not have been a party to it. The same applies to farmers and farming interests generally. It is obvious there is general agreement on the part of those with the greatest concern for workers and the unemployed that it is within the framework of the programme that the greatest progress can be made particularly with regard to unemployment. In the meantime, radical steps have been taken to improve the lot of the unemployed. Nonetheless, a lot remains to be done.

Of course much more could be done were it not so vital to maintain a balance on the State's finances in everybody's long term interests. It is also vital to convert public opinion to seeing the importance of providing for the less-welloff. I have often noticed that people are willing to say: "Yes, give more to the less-well-off but do not take it from me, no matter how well off I may be". Often there is a double-think on the whole question of social welfare. The Minister has been more than effective in selling the need for radical change in the system to the public at large; in proving that, on the one hand, we can maintain the State finances in proper order so that we can invite investment and development and, on the other, radically overhaul our social welfare system so that it protects particularly the weakest in our society, those most in need of protection, at whom the bulk of social welfare benefits are directed.

Ba mhaith liom moladh a thabhairt don Bhille seo. Curtha leis na Billí eile a chuir an tAire seo roimh an Seanad le cúpla bliain anuas tá sé thar a bheith cuimsitheach. Tá go leor déanta in achar beag de bhlianta nach gcreidfí go bhféadfaí a dhéanamh. Ní dóigh liom go raibh éinne ann a chreid sé nó seacht de bhlianta ó shin go bhféadfaí an oiread athruithe a dhéanamh i gcúrsaí leasa shóisialaigh, go bhféadfaí an oiread ardú céime a thabhairt dó mar ábhar ar an gclár náisiúnta. Tá áthas orm faoi sin, mar bím ag plé le daoine atá ag brath ar chúrsaí leasa shóisialaigh go mion minic.

Tá a fhios agam go dtuigeann an tAire go speisialta na fadhbanna atá ag na feirmeoirí beaga agus na hiascairí beaga atá ar chósta an iarthair. Chuir sé athruithe ar chúrsaí dóibhsean anuraidh agus is féidir bheith cínnte go mbainfidh siad leas as na hathruithe atá curtha ar an gcóras i mbliana, go mórmhór, mar shampla, an t-athrú a cuireadh ar an carer's allowance, mar is iomad duine atá ag tabhairt aire do sheanduine atá ag brath ar ar an íocaíocht sin. Tá a fhios agam go raibh mná tí na Gaeltachta thar a bheith buíoch den Aire anuraidh nuair a chuir sé deireadh le scrúdú maoine ar na mná tí. Feicim arís i mbliana go bhfuil sé tar éis faoiseamh a thabhairt ó thaobh scrúdú maoine do na daoine atá ag tabhairt aire nó ag tabhairt home help, agus is maith an scéal é sin.

Ba mhaith liom, ar deireadh, moladh a thabhairt don Aire, mar go ciúin agus go réidh, go mórmhór leis an carer's allowance, agus leis an t-athrú bunúsach seo atá déanta maidir le obair páirt-aimsearach, tá sé tar éis rud a dhéanamh do mhná na tíre seo. Tá sé tar éis chur len a stádas go mór agus creidim go leanfaidh sé leis sin sna blianta atá le teacht.

Senator Kennedy moved amendment No. 1. Will you second that, Senator Doyle?

I second the amendment. It is very tempting when in Opposition to make a very destructive contribution to a Bill, such as we have before us, because in one sense no matter how much the Minister for Social Welfare and the Minister for Finance of the day do in this regard it will never be enough. We all have an obligation to ensure that those who, through no fault of their own, either through illness, unemployment or age, are not in a position to look after themselves are looked after by the State to the best of our ability. I suppose the argument is about what is best in this case, what can we really afford and where does one draw the line. We quote different philosophies and ideologies at that stage and we will never agree.

The primary purpose of the Bill is to give legislative effect to the social welfare announcements in the recent budget and, to be fair, there are aspects we have to welcome and there are improvements in various areas. The Minister quite rightly, and with little shyness, has underlined the main benefits in the legislation before us. Perhaps the biggest problems exist in areas that are left unmentioned and, if I may, I will suggest some examples the Minister gives in relation to work incentives and supports in the beginning of his contribution. Perhaps we could look at those again when we get to them.

They relate to the recent media statements.

I am fully aware of the reason the Minister felt the need to put these down and get them on the record. What is not included is more important. A family at work — the Minister obviously defending himself against recent media coverage on this point — earning £160 gross will now end up with £175.20 per week; £44.20 per week more than if they were receiving unemployment benefit. This is in defence of his statement that it is better to be at work than to be unemployed. I must say, ultimately I agree with that general statement; one has got to be better off at work than unemployed but let us see if the actual cash figures fit the case the Minister is trying to make. The example the Minister gives, as far as I can make out, does not cost the benefits of the potential loss of a GMS card to the family at work, with four children, earning £160 a week gross. The Minister does include in that the family income supplement and any tax exemptions for lower paid workers that might be involved. To my knowledge, no cash benefit is included for the loss of a medical card and/or increase in local authority rent. The Minister goes on to point out that only a small number of people in receipt of unemployment benefit live in local authority houses.

I will supply later a longer statement which deals with those elements.

Maybe we should have it before us.

Acting Chairman

I have no doubt the Minister will reply to the Senator.

We are being a little naughty. I accept your ruling. I would like to know from the Minister how many on unemployment assistance live in local authority houses? I will not argue with the Minister when he states that only 4 per cent of those on unemployment benefit live in local authority houses because I do not know the figure. I wonder why he just took those on unemployment benefit which is, after all, short term help, because those on benefit are still, as we used to say, under stamps, they are still on their insurance contributions.

Fifty per cent of those on assistance are single.

I thank the Minister for his help as we go through this.

Acting Chairman

Let us not have a question and answer session.

Generally, those on unemployment assistance are long term unemployed. They would have their rent impacted if they went back to low paid work. We can argue the details later. There was very good media exposure pointing out anomalies that exist, whether they only affect 4 per cent or 50 per cent. I am not going to get into the game with the Minister because, quite frankly, I am not qualified nor have I enough information to hand to be dictatorial about what I am saying. There is obviously a major problem in this area and it comes about from the genuine attempts by the Minister to try to ensure that those on long term unemployment payments or who are out of work for a long time — some could be on disability benefit for a long time — are assisted and aided in getting back into the workforce.

What we have done is to create a further poverty trap not only with difficulties for those who might risk the loss of a medical card — a medical card does not just entitle one to a GP and general medical services; it is a passport to school bus transport, possibly school books and many other fringe benefits that are very valuable to people on very low incomes from whatever source. In trying to help those at the bottom end of the scale we have moved into the poverty trap those slightly up the ladder. A man at work earning from £10,000 to £14,000 or £15,000 a year or, indeed, a women at work earning the same — if she is the bread winner — now find that he or she is not eligible for the family income supplement. They are not eligible for family tax exemptions for the lower paid when they are just above the limit and, in fact, could be worse off than those on an income of a couple of thousand pounds less than they are receiving.

There is a major problem pitched at just above the bottom rung of the ladder when it comes to the workforce. I think I am right in saying that the recent media exposure of examples of people who had no incentive to work was pitched at exposing that the poverty trap has moved up the ladder a couple of rungs and that now, perhaps with the best will in the world to help those worse off, the next income category have less incentive to work than heretofore. All of this comes about because we have never had a proper reform of either the social welfare system or a proper integration of social welfare and tax codes. It is patch and mend from budget to budget without any overall strategic reform. As this Minister and, indeed, previous Ministers tried to tackle problems as they arose others were created along the line. The question he needs to respond to when replying is when will we see an attempt to strategically reform our social welfare code and to integrate our social welfare and tax codes. If that is done many of the issues being dealt with today, under a patch and mend system, would automatically slot into place, rises would come across the board in the Social Welfare and Finance Bills each year and we would not pick and choose a group this year, another group next year and a third group the following year. We are just patching and mending the system as we go along without having any idea of what we are doing.

We all have our own particular interests, hobby horses, and constituencies in the social welfare system we are concerned about but the major criticism the Minister must accept, a indeed his predecessors had to accept, is that no effort has been made to reform the social welfare code or to integrate the social welfare and tax codes. Until that is done all the talk, voting and hot air expended on the different and very important issues before us will be wasted. We appear to be, in solving one problem, creating another. We are going nowhere fast in relation to a most important category of people who are not in a position, through no fault of their own in 99 per cent of cases, to look after themselves. We must ensure that we look after them to the best of our ability.

I would now like to take up some of the specific points made by the Minister in his speech. I have already made the point that I do not accept the examples he gave because they are clinical. Transport to and from work is not costed and is not allowable against tax unless it is more than £12 per week. Many hidden costs have to be met by a person going back to work. Twelve pounds a week is an enormous amount of money if a person is on £150 or £160 net per week.

The unemployed also have to use transport in going to collect their money.

They do not have to go to and from work each day. The point I am trying to make is that they sign once a week and collect their money once a week.

Indeed, a person living in a remote rural community, walks down to the local Garda station. Therefore, not even the cost of a bus fare is involved. Consequently, for obvious reasons, transport to and from work represents a big cost for the low paid and, to my knowledge, is not allowable against tax. It is only allowable for GMS eligibility where over £12.50 is expended per week. It is not, however, allowable under the tax system and represents a direct cost for those on unemployment assistance who decide to go back to work. We have got to get rid of any genuine disincentives, not contrived disincentives, for those who want to work — the 99 per cent we are all interested in — not for those who are looking for excuses not to go back to work, and encourage people to go back to work.

I welcome the Minister's comments on new incentives to take up work. Last week we discussed legislation dealing with non-standard employment which extends insurance cover to those who earn more than £25 a week. We abolished the 18 hour category and the A1 and J1 entitlements under the insurance code. During the course of my contribution on Second Stage of that Bill I made the point that those who opt to take part-time or temporary work, for two days or two nights a week, for six weeks or three months, could face great difficulty in reclaiming their unemployment entitlements. For example, they could lose their medical card and not be eligible for unemployment assistance. They may have to fight a battle for months to prove that they are entitled to benefits. This fear of not being able to reclaim unemployment assistance and other entitlements once part-time or short-term work is no longer available drives people towards the option of taking up jobs in the black economy, in the hope that no one will find out, as against staying on unemployment assistance indefinitely.

I firmly believe that there is much work to be done which is not structured as employment as it is part-time or temporary work. The unemployment figures, to which we will all refer, could be dramatically reduced if a genuine way could be found to get people into what we now refer as non-standard employment. This would allow people to take up short term or part-time work without losing their entitlements when they have to sign on again once the part-time work is no longer available. If the incentive mentioned by the Minister this morning works as well in practice as it sounds in theory it will be of tremendous help in encouraging people to take up non-standard employment and to come off the dole queues, albeit for a short term, a couple of days a week.

I live in a maritime constituency where the summer holiday trade is of great importance. Hoteliers, restaurants and bars take on extra people during weekends, in particular bank holiday weekends, during the summer. It is also a farming county and for a short period farmers need extra help at harvest time. They cannot get help from the white economy; they will only get people who will need time off to sign on as those people will not put their long term unemployment assistance at risk for the sake of three weeks' work at harvest time or for five or six weekends' work in the local pub during the summer. As the Minister is aware, they have been doing this work — the Minister seeks to tackle this problem in the section dealing with fraud — but he could save a large amount of money if he made it easier for people to transfer to non-standard work and reclaim unemployment assistance when that work was no longer available, or if people did not feel constricted and hidebound by rules to such an extent that they are afraid to take a chance and take up part-time or short term work. I welcome the new incentive to up work and I sincerely hope it works. It should be of help to employers and employees. Non-standard work represents the answer to their needs, but one must maintain a balance.

One cannot argue with a previous speaker who referred to the need to maintain competitiveness, in terms of creating real jobs. We are trying to get the economy into line, keep inflation down — it has been brought down successfully over the years — keep interest rates down — the Government's success rate in relation to interest rates has not been as good and this is forgotten occasionally — and increase our exports with the aim of increasing the number of people at work. We are in theory trying to make our products more competitive, particularly on the export markets, but somehow or other the theory is not working at present. As we become more competitive, on paper, tragically our unemployment figures continue to increase. The official figures languish around 243,000 to 245,000 or 18.6 per cent but, as the Minister is aware, they mask a much more serious problem. The true unemployment rate is above 18.6 per cent. Our emigrants have been coming back in droves from the United Kingdom and the United States during the past few months as they could not find sustainable work in the countries they chose to go to when this country could not meet their employment needs.

Perhaps the Minister could give us the exact figure, when he replies to Second Stage, of people opting for pre-retirement payment. I understand they are not included in the unemployment figures.

Eight thousand.

When this figure is added it brings us——

That includes small farmers who were not previously on the register. Therefore, the Senator could be wrong.

Taking into account those categories, the number of people on FÁS schemes who are for the moment occupied gainfully but not yet employed gainfully — I hope the scheme will help them obtain gainful employment — people who are technically off the register, I would like the Minister to give us the figure for the unemployed. It is very important to take into account the number of people not gainfully employed. It amounts to about 19.5 per cent, although it could be nearer 20 per cent. When the FÁS figures and the pre-retirement figures are included we will see exactly what the position is. If we wanted we could add the percentage of young people who in another few months will be coming out of school.

I do not envy the Minister his task. He has to continue to find funds to support these people, at least in the short term until they get back to work. Many more people need long term support, and this will be an enormous drain on resources. It is an indictment of Government policy that these people are not getting the necessary support. The policy of the Minister for Social Welfare is to look after social welfare recipients, many of whom are on social welfare as a result of the failure of the Government to act in other areas. Criticism, however constructive, should not be directed only at the Minister for Social Welfare. He has a particular brief, which does not include employment creation, and one must recognise that.

The Minister in his speech listed the improvements in different rates, many of which are very welcome and we all agree on that. There is a 4 per cent general increase in all social welfare and health board payments. As regards health board payments, will the Minister explain if there are going to be changes in them shortly? Gossip — I do not use that word in a derogatory fashion — or local chat has it that community welfare officers will work along the lines of social welfare officers and the supplementary welfare allowance type payments now operating will be made in conjunction with the Department of Social Welfare. If there are to be changes along those lines — I appreciate I am being slightly vague, but if there is any truth in what I am saying the Minister will know what I am talking about and if there is no truth in it, it does not matter — it could be a cause of concern.

Many men and women who claim social welfare payments each week sometimes find they have been struck off for whatever reason, maybe as a result of a review of their entitlement or of someone reporting that they were working, or it may be just a technical hiccup in their eligibility in terms of contributions over the years. The only resource to short term payments to see these families through the weekend has been to go from the social welfare office to the community welfare office for a supplementary allowance for the period in question. If the community welfare officers are to operate on a similar basis to the social welfare officers, if they are to operate hand in glove with the social welfare officers — maybe they will even operate from the social welfare offices — I cannot see the same discretionary help being available to such families. If a social welfare officer tells a person he is not entitled to money for whatever reason, it would be very difficult for that person to go to the room next door and say to his colleague: "I now want £50 to see me over the weekend". It would not be in the interests of recipients for social welfare officers and community welfare officers to work so closely in this area.

The relationship up to now between the health board and the social welfare officers has been very successful, and the discretionary payments, so long as they were based on a real set of principles, were very valuable. In my experience in rural Ireland this has been extremely valuable over the years for people who find themselves cut off with no payment over a weekend and who are not in a position to resolve the dilemma, be it technical or otherwise, of the cut off. Maybe the changes in this area are not as we suspect and perhaps the Minister could elaborate on what changes may take place. Certainly community welfare officers have received a very welcome increase in their salary to bring them into line with social welfare officers on the basis that they would accept this change without too much noise. I would like the Minister to tell us what is going on in this regard.

The Minister mentioned that there are now three rates of child dependant allowances whereas for years there were 36 rates. This is an excellent improvement. Rationalisation and a bit of sense in this area was badly needed. The Minister said that the higher rate of child benefit of £22.90 will be paid for the fourth child onwards. One would have to be careful about what one says in this area, but I would be in favour of paying the high rate for the first three children and the existing rate for any child thereafter. What is the logic, apart from playing Scrooge, of exempting the first three children in any family? The Minister is not disadvantaging the large families because they will have more than three children anyway and the increased child benefit will apply to them, but he is cutting off the vast majority of young families today who do not have more than three children. What is the Minister's thinking behind this? If he is being miserable and saving the pennies he should say so. If this is an incentive to families to increase the population the Minister should tell us. Are the Government concerned, all of a sudden, about the decreasing birth rate, or what is the convoluted thinking behind this? I would like to see the allowance for the first three children at the higher rate of £22.90, with the existing rate applying to the fourth child on. I would be very interested to know the Minister's thinking on that.

The Minister said that widowed people and parents will continue to receive adult dependant and child dependant allowances for six weeks after the death of a spouse or a child. I agree fully with that. It is a very worthwhile move. Consideration should be given to widows and widowers who lose one, two or three months' entitlement, usually to non-contributory widow's pension, because their claim after the death of their spouse was not submitted immediately. Many widows, particularly those whose husbands were self-employed, are not aware of how the system works. If a husband dies intestate there are a number of problems winding up the affairs of the estate. The eligibility to a non-contributory widow's pension does not become apparent until some weeks or often months after the death of the spouse. In those cases I would ask the Minister to allow the back-dating of the non-contributory widow's pension to immediately after the death or perhaps a few weeks after the husband's death. There would not be many people involved, but for those people who are and find they have no money when expenses have been paid, it would mean a lot.

Last week we dealt with the Worker Protection (Regular Part-Time Employees) Bill, 1990, and all Stages were passed in this House. Today we are dealing with the second piece of legislation to help part-time workers, under the social insurance for part-time workers section of the Social Welfare Bill. Both Bills are very welcome. I would like to ask the Minister how much further he intends to go to comply with the three main EC Directives on non-standard employment that will affect us post-1992.

The three directives include the directive on certain employment relationships with regard to working conditions, based on Article 100 of the Treaty and lays down a large number of conditions governing the employment of part-time and temporary workers. It applies only to those who work more than eight hours per week on average. We went part of the way last week in relation to that directive. The Minister went further in certain aspects than the European Community was demanding of us, although he left out many other important parts.

The Bill we dealt with last week was introduced by the Minister for Labour, extending the benefits of protection in legislation to all workers who have regularly worked for more than eight hours per week. That met the requirement of this directive in regard to workers' representation, holidays, minimum notice and redundancy rights. However, the rights with respect to maternity, unfair dismissal and insolvency in the Bill are entitlements not proposed in the directive. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Woods, and his colleague, the Minister for Labour, Deputy B. Ahern, for including them in the Bill we dealt with last week.

On the other hand there are proposals in the directive which would require employers to extend benefits which companies give to full-time workers in the areas of training, social welfare and seniority pay to part-time and temporary workers. These are important additional benefits that the Commission has proposed in its legislation but I would like an explanation why those aspects were omitted from the Bill last week. They are also based on social welfare. Perhaps the Government plan to come back with further legislation to cover those aspects that we will be required to take on board by the EC Directive. However, I have had no indication that any further legislation is due in that regard.

I would also like to ask a question of the Minister arising from the legislation we discussed last week and which appears to impinge on the family income supplement entitlement. Only some of the articles in the three directives that will be coming from Europe will affect the responsibilities of the Department of Social Welfare. The main bulk are the responsibility of the Department of Labour. There are implications that at least one of these could be important to the Minister. Under Article 3 of the directive on working conditions, equal treatment of part-time and full-time workers could require a change in the family income supplement scheme which at present is only available to people working at least 20 hours per week. When the Minister is winding up Second Stage, perhaps he will address what would appear now to be an anomaly — or which will become an anomaly — in this area. I am not sure which way he will move but if we are trying to equalise the treatment of part-time and full-time workers or non-standard and standard workers, if you like, we must rectify the anomaly under the family income supplement. I would respect the Minister's views how he will resolve the anomaly in that area.

I welcome the pro rata pensions for people with mixed insurance. There had been anomaly for many years in this area which caused dreadful confusion. People who worked and paid contributions could find themselves not entitled to what they thought they had when they came of pensionable age because of moving around during their employment years. It also would help mobility, unemployment generally and remove concerns from this area. Under the carer's allowance the Minister, as quietly as he can, is saying that all the hype and media coverage surrounding the announcement of the carer's allowance some months ago was false. He now recognises that the scheme did not help the numbers it purported to affect and that, because of the very strict limiting in terms of means and eligibility, very few of those who deserve help in this area got it. I thank the Minister for stating that, albeit very technically; it is what is not written, it is reading between the lines, in this paragraph. I welcome his attempts to open up what has been a constricted scheme. There is no one in this House who could not give examples of families who are looking after elderly, incontinent and bedridden members of their families and who could quite easily allow the burden of such care to be thrown back on the State at £400, £500 or £600 per week. Most families, if they physically can, want to look after their own and to care for them in their home environment. It is the best place, that is beyond argument.

When a widow in receipt of a non-contributory widow's pension who has a 12 year old child is looking after her bedridden mother 24 hours a day, two miles from the nearest house, cannot leave it even to shop unless she leaves the 12 year old in charge of a very old and senile woman, is not entitled to a few pounds from the State for saving it £500 per week looking after this woman, I do not know who is. The theory behind the Minister's announcement sounded good at the time but in practice it did not work.

The £8 million was fairly good too.

In practice it did not work, it did not get to those we felt the Minister intended it to go. Maybe I judge him wrongly, maybe he did not intend it to go to them anyway, maybe it was all media hype but, to be fair, I do not think that was his intention. I think it was intended to go to the families of little or no means who are doing their best to look after their elderly and infirm at home. Not only is it the best thing for the infirm, elderly or the sick person, it is the best thing for the State. There should be a minimum payment, where the State is being saved £500 per week, of maybe £20 which is not as strictly means-tested as the present carer's scheme. There could be an increase, depending on the means of the family concerned, but there should be some recognition in virtually all cases of people who are prepared to put themselves and their family out to look after their own. I wish to goodness that more would do it because it is the right and ideal way but some people with the means the best will in the world will not be able to because of the condition of the family member concerned. There will always be some people who will need State and institutional care but many more could be kept at home if there was a little bit of help to the families concerned.

I welcome the Minister's changes although they do not go far enough. All families in these circumstances should get some recognition from the State and from thereon means testing will allow the amount they are paid to be determined. We should immediately have a uniform means testing system for all payments. There are many system of means testing, in relation to eligibility for medical card for an unemployed factory worker or a small farmer down the road, carer's allowance and others, whatever you like to name, there are different systems of means testing used in different sections of the State apparatus. It causes confusion and unfairness and unequal delivery of service to people who should be entitled to it and who are not in fact getting it in many cases.

Finally, I want to turn to an aspect of the social welfare system which has been a particular bone of contention with me for some months now. I understand that this Thursday the Minister is meeting Mr. Frank Doyle of the Irish Fishermen's Organisation. This meeting has been promised since last December——

Is he a relation?

No. There are many Doyles, particularly in Wicklow, Wexford and the south-east. There are even a few in Dublin.

There is only one Doyle in the House.

Thank you very much, Senator. I will take that in the spirit I am sure it was not intended. A Leas-Cathaoirligh, this meeting has been delayed for many months but all the delays have not been on the Minister's side. I say that——

A date was set.

A date was set two weeks ago which has to be postponed because Mr. Doyle was in Brussels on a fisheries matter.

It is not the practice to mention names in the House.

Why not? I have not said anything about him. He is not undergoing a jail sentence or anything, I merely mentioned that he is the leader of the Irish Fishermen's Organisation.

Acting Chairman

It is not the practice to mention names of private individuals.

He is not a private individual, he is the chairman of the Irish Fishermen's Organisation and I will mention his name again. The Minister is meeting him on Thursday.

There is a major problem with the insurability of share fishing. The Minister is aware of this and I hope he is familiar with the problem. This dates back to a judgment in 1986, the DPP v. McLoughlin. McLoughlin, if I am allowed to mention his name, is on all sorts of records all around the place. He was a skipper who took a case to court — and it is not sub judice before anyone suggests it — in relation to the social welfare insurance status of his skippers, his deck-hands and his share fishermen. The judgment held that share fishermen were self-employed, that they were co-adventurers and they were partners. The Department of Social Welfare treat share fishermen as employees. The judgment said they were self-employed, the Department of Social Welfare——

For tax purposes it said they were self-employed. That is before the courts at the moment. There is a case——

It is not before the courts at the moment. It has been postponed. It is coming up in Kilmacthomas, County Waterford, in a few weeks and the Wexford case has been adjourned.

You can prejudice the case.

Acting Chairman

It is sub judice. It should not be mentioned.

You can prejudice the case one way or the other.

I am not prejudicing it. I have not even stated my case yet so you do not know if I am prejudicing it.

Acting Chairman

It is sub judice.

I was trying to make a point in relation to this issue.

You should give some other example.

Some other example of what?

Acting Chairman

Another example would be a case that is sub judice.

I am making the case that there are families in Wexford, and I am sure other constituencies, who are hungry because this Minister for Social Wefare has prevaricated for too long in relation to the confusion that exists on the insurability of share fishermen. I will say no more about the specifics because the case is coming up before the courts. There will be a case in Waterford and the Wexford case has been adjourned. I spoke about this matter on the Adjournment Debate in this House last autumn and on the Appropriation Bill a couple of weeks ago. The Minister is nervous because of his vulnerability due to his inaction in this area. I suspect I am in order, but I will abide by your ruling, Sir, because with respect you do not know the details. I was not even allowed to state the case I was making.

Acting Chairman

I take exception to that remark. I am ruling——

That reflection on the Chair is uncalled for and is not acceptable to any Member of this House. It is totally unacceptable. In the name of the Members of this House I would ask the Senator to withdraw that remark.

Which remark? That I was accepting the Acting Chairman's ruling?

That the Acting Chairman did not understand what she was talking about.

I have not made my case, Sir, I said I accept your ruling on the case.

Acting Chairman

I accept that.

I accept your ruling on the case notwithstanding that I have not made my point. In the spirit it was given I fully accept it.

We made them all insurable last year to clear it up and give them the cover they needed. That has not been accepted and that is what is in court.

That is what is in court. I am at a disadvantage here. I was not allowed to go on. I was in a position to deal with and to talk about the Statutory Instrument of November 1989. I am not allowed to state it but the Minister may. There must be a rule that applies to all of us. There is utter confusion in this House.

Acting Chairman

The matter is sub judice. We should not refer to it. I would like the Senator to continue without referring to that case.

Is it sub judice for everyone in the House?

Acting Chairman

Yes, it is sub judice for everyone. You mentioned it and the Minister mentioned it and I corrected both of you.

I just tried to do what the Senator is asking. The matter is being contested now.

Acting Chairman

The matter is sub judice and we should not refer to it. I would appreciate if the Minister——

Perhaps the Wexford families who are hungry, with no entitlement to social welfare payments, will have the matter resolved in the near future. I sincerely hope they do. It has been a sad and sorry tale and the delays are inexcusable. I will leave it at that on your ruling, Sir, and I respect your ruling.

We will be opposing the Bill and my colleague, Senator Pat Kennedy, our Social Welfare spokesman, put the reasons articulately and expressed the Fine Gael case. Fundamentally the Bill before us fails to reform the social welfare system; it fails to tackle the reality of deep poverty in our country. All of us must have been affected by the statistics that 40 per cent of children are at or below the bread line. Of all the statistics I have read in recent times that figure struck me as horrific and it is an indictment of all of us as legislators, particularly of the Government who have been in power for the last three and a half years in one form of coalition or other. This Bill fails to tackle and eliminate the poverty traps — I mentioned some of them — particularly for those one step up the ladder in terms of low pay and it fails to eliminate the vicious cycle of unemployment. It leaves the bulk of the low paid in the PRSI net. There is no reform of PRSI which all of us right across the political spectrum have been calling for for some time.

The Bill retains substantial anomalies and multiple means testing based on gross rather than on net incomes. Again I will mention the different types of means tests which are very discriminatory towards certain sections of our community. The Bill fails to create adequate education opportunities, and recent legislation on non-standard employment has omitted training for those working earning less than £25 a week by right. It fails to develop adequate voluntary work options for the unemployed and their dependants. The Bill fails to make adequate provision in respect of families with children. The higher rate of child benefit going to the fourth and subsequent children was a sleight of hand by the Minister to ensure that most families here who have three or fewer children do not benefit from the increase in child benefit. There I will rest my case.

I realise that in speaking to a Bill like this one could go on for a long time because we are all involved in social issues. The issues involved affect all of us. We are dealing with them every day in our constituencies. I will confine my remarks to the Bill because I realise a number of my colleagues would like to speak on it and I will not delay them unduly.

The Bill is one of the most important to be introduced in this House because it gives effect to the increases granted in the budget and thereby provides increased benefits to the less well off in our community. It proves once again that Fianna Fáil in Government are prepared to support and to look after those who depend on social welfare. Many new caring schemes have been introduced and the social welfare services in general are more flexible. As the economy grows the Government can be relied on to increase the social welfare benefits to all recipients. The successful negotiation of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress augurs well for social welfare services in the nineties. The programme not alone underlines the Government's commitment to improvements in the social services but manifests the concern of the social partners for those less well off people who are dependent on the services.

There is a consensus that social services should be significantly improved. The main constraint on improvements is economic resources. However, despite the tightening of public expenditure which is necessary to sustain the growth of the economy, the Government have provided extra finances for social welfare. All payments have kept ahead of inflation and have been targeted at the most disadvantaged groups such as the families of the long term unemployed. It is fair to say that the Bill demonstrates human concern for our less fortunate brethern. The improvements in social services set out in the Bill embody an initial phase of the implementation of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. The Bill also continues the commitment of the Government towards implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Social Welfare. I am not arguing the Bill solves all the problems of people dependent on social welfare benefit and assistance, but it goes a reasonable distance towards contributing to their material needs.

At the root of the problem is unemployment. That is why I would like to stress the importance of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. The programme will, hopefully, help the resources of the economy to grow by getting more people back to work and thereby free-up resources for the social services. Human dignity is a major factor that has to be considered in relation to the social services. Many people are reliant on social services because they have been victims of decline in certain areas of the economy. Technology, which is usually associated with economic progress has an invidious downside — it can, if not properly harnessed, force people out of work. Industrial and commercial policy have an important part to play in redressing the problems of those dependent on the social services.

However welcome increases in social welfare payments may be, they are not a panacea for the problems of the people dependent on them. A steady well-paid job restores family income, life changes and above all human dignity.

A group that is being made reliant, more and more, on the social services is the small farming community. Technology has made major strides in the area of food production with the result that small farmers cannot compete with big farmers to secure a market for their produce and hence they are denied an adequate income.

In recent years there has been a dramatic decline in farm income, yet there has been very little relaxation in the assessment of small farmers in respect of unemployment assistance. I am amazed sometimes at the income figures social welfare officers come up with when carrying out those assessments. The day is fast approaching when small farmers will get those social welfare payments as a right. No farmer need be shy or ashamed of applying for unemployment assistance since there is no way he can eke out a living for himself and his family on a small farm. I am talking about farms in the 20-30 acre bracket. Those of us who are dealing with these farmers on a daily basis know that they simply cannot manage.

The appeals system is much too slow. When farmers are refused unemployment assistance they should not be expected to continue reporting at the local Garda barracks for three months or more while awaiting a decision on their appeal. The system should be speeded up.

Social welfare is bound up inextricably with the development of the economy at all levels. A common and dangerously misleading concept is frequently bruited about nowadays — that unemployed people are better off on the dole than working. In other words, it is claimed that there are no incentives to go back to work. This line of argument is absolutely false, seriously misleading and demoralising. An examination of the facts reveals that unemployed people were up to 40 per cent better off while working than on the dole. The increases in the family income supplement and the introduction of family tax exemptions for lower paid workers have contributed to this.

Seasonal and short term work, which becomes available in areas such as tourism and fishing, has not proved attractive to the long term unemployed because of the 20 week restriction on extra benefits. Long-term unemployed can now take up these jobs for a full year and return to their long term payments without loss of extra benefits. This is a vast improvement.

I commend the Minister's approach in sections 28 to 38 of the Bill to combat fraud and abuse in the area of social welfare payments, and to curb the effect of the black economy. Money creamed off in these areas means that fewer resources are available for genuine cases.

With an expenditure of over £3 billion, sophisticated anti-fraud measures are very necessary. It is hoped to save £20 million of taxpayers' money this year in a major crackdown on PRSI-related fraud. Overall the Social Welfare Bill, within the limited financial resources at our disposal, underlines the fact that the Government are caring and show concern for the less well-off.

A special word of praise is due to those voluntary organisations who supplement the official social services. In a world of harsh realities, they do sterling work which is greatly appreciated by the community.

I welcome the Government's decentralisation programme and the fact that a branch of the Department of Social Welfare has been transferred to Sligo and another to Letterkenny. This will make the Department much more accessible to people in rural areas. This is a great step forward and I hope to see further decentralisation in the years ahead. It is good to put a human face on the Department of Social Welfare since that Department deal with the problems of those who are less well off and who are dependent on the Government. These are people who have not the force of trade unions or organised groups to fend for them. This is a caring Government who will always look after social welfare recipients.

I welcome the inclusion of part-time workers in the social welfare system. This will give protection to about 21,000 workers, and represents another aspect of implemention of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. Part-time workers are mostly women in traditionally low-paid and insecure jobs. Many families rely on the income from these poorly paid jobs so I congratulate the Minister for bringing them within the protective ambit of the social welfare system.

I would add a word of caution here: the Minister and his Department must be vigilant that this progressive development in our social welfare code is not frustrated by unscrupulous employers. All groups of workers are now included in the social insurance system. This is a landmark for the development of the social welfare system. However, we must always bear in mind that the best boost for the social welfare system is strong sustained growth in the economy with its attendant employment creation. There is no substitute for a steady well paid job. The success of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress is vital, particularly its aspirations for industrial peace and job creation. I feel sure that the Government will achieve the aspirations set out in that programme and that we can rely on the Government at all times to look after and advance the cause of the people in receipt of social welfare. That is why I cannot understand the negative approach of the Fine Gael Party to this Bill. They are opposing it without offering any alternative, which is a very negative approach. Certainly for the past number of years and particularly under our present Minister, Deputy Michael Woods, we have seen dramatic changes take place in the social welfare system. We have seen reform of the social welfare system. The Minister has made a genuine effort to root out poverty. He has tried to eliminate the poverty traps and I must say that he has been very successful in many instances. There are anomalies and I am sure there will be anomalies for some time but this Minister more than anybody else before him has done his best to eliminate those anomalies. That is why I think this Bill should be supported because it is a genune effort to tackle the problems and to eliminate for good the anomalies in the social welfare system.

Like Senator Hussey I recognise that if one were to talk about all aspects of this Bill one certainly could go on for an hour, two hours or maybe even longer. I hope also to be brief. We are discussing this Bill at a time when there are about a quarter of a million unemployed people in this country. The ESRI estimate that in the region of a million people, or a third of the population, are living in poverty.

We are discussing the Bill today after there has been a marginal decrease in the proportion of current Government expenditure devoted to social welfare, a decline from 27.9 per cent in 1990 to 27.4 per cent this year. We have seen that decline despite the fact that there has been an increase of the order of 12,000 in the number of employed. We are also discussing this Bill at a time when all the social welfare payments are below those recommendated in the report of the Commission for Social Welfare, which certainly seem to be gathering dust at a depressing rate.

We are debating this Bill at a time when 30 per cent of all employees in the State receive a gross weekly wage of less than £130 a week. There are now 45,000 children who live in households which are below the poverty line. That is the context in which social welfare increases of the order of 4 per cent have been proposed. At a time when inflation is of the order of 3 per cent, the increases are, at best marginal and indeed they are being rapidly eroded before people's eyes. There are rent increases for local authority tenants. There are the VAT increases on the ESB and telephone charges. There are increases in the cost of cable television, which also has been subjected to VAT, and there is, of course, the question of whether inflation will stay at the predicted rate. If it moves beyond the predicted rate that will be the end of the marginal gain. In any case these increases in social welfare will not take place until the middle of the year by which time, of course, the other increases in expenses are already in place.

There is no mention of a minimum wage in the Bill. Our party has advocated a minimum wage of £3.50 an hour. Indeed we are very conscious of advocating it in terms of hourly payment because we are particularly concerned about the welfare of the part-time workers. According to the 1987 labour force survey there was something like 65,000 regular part-time workers, the vast majority of whom were female and married: 72 per cent were female, and 70 per cent of the females were married. We regret that the Minister has not increased beyond £55 per week the level of earnings which disqualify spouses from being classified as a dependant, if they are in part-time work. That certainly is a pity and I think it is highly desirable that that figure should be increased substantially.

We welcome the fact that the special pre-retirement allowance is payable to people now at the age of 58 as distinct from 60 years, which previously was the age to qualify. I was pleased to hear the Minister confirm my figure of 8,000, as the number who will now be eligible for this allowance.

The figure is 7,800, which includes smallholders.

I am glad I was right on the figure because to some extent I was working from memory. One of the effects of this measure is that it will artificially depress the estimate of the long term unemployed. At present there are of the order of 100,000 people long term unemployed. In other words though this device is welcome, it reduces the estimate of people who are long term unemployed by a figure of the order of 8 per cent, a substantial reduction in terms of the propaganda value and the debating value of reductions in the levels of the unemployed, and particularly of the long term unemployed. It is also a tacit admission that there is little or no hope of employment for the middle aged who are long term unemployed. The situation for this group, in particular, seems to me to be exceptionally grim. That is very worrying, given the findings of a recent report which showed that the unemployed were five times more likely to suffer from stress than those who were in employment. It also showed that those who are even in training schemes are five times less likely to be stressed than those who are unemployed. The Minister should have done something to improve specifically the lot of the long term unemployed and I would be very anxious that he do so.

I welcome the fact that new incentives are proposed to stimulate seasonal work in areas such as fishing, tourism and so on. I am disappointed that people on the social employment schemes will not qualify for free fuel, for the Christmas bonus or for free beef. I am concerned about the problems of unemployed 18 year olds and older who come from relatively well off families. They are left in a very difficult situation of having to have their hand out to be supported by the family because of the way the social welfare system works. I welcome the proposal that these people will be given or allowed a £5 income, but I also have to say that it is miserly.

There are some other areas of concern that I would like to mention. I believe that the number of people who are having difficulties with their mortgages is on the increase. There is certainly data from the United Kingdom which indicates that it is a growing problem and that indeed as many as 20 per cent of the people who have mortgages in the United States are having problems meeting their repayments. I do not have corresponding data for the Irish situation but I believe from my own observations that it is becoming an increasing problem. There is an unacceptable anomaly here reflected in the fact that people, working and paying tax, receive tax relief from the State on their mortgage interest, whereas if they are unemployed that relief is abolished. I know that people on social welfare assistance can be given help by their health board but, as I understand it, they must be in receipt of social welfare assistance to obtain that benefit.

I am concerned about some aspects of medical refereeing, if I might so describe it. I am very anxious that the Minister would re-examine this matter in the hope that he would find it possible to reduce the necessity for referring people to medical referees. My experience leads me to believe that such referrals are excessive. One gets the impression that people with clearly defined illnesses are being referred back to medical referees who continue to make the same diagnosis.

On a minor issue, I welcome the fact that in the Dublin area it is possible to telephone Sligo welfare offices directly using the Department's Dublin number. While it may seem trivial the fact that people with social welfare problems can dial a local Dublin number and be connected to Sligo welfare offices is of considerable help to them. I should be honest and say it is very welcome for public representatives who spend much time telephoning Sligo from Dublin.

I hear the Senator hopes he will not be doing so after the next election.

The problem still obtains for people outside the Dublin area who either have to ring Dublin or Sligo at considerable expense. I hope something can be done on that score. It appears to me that the carer's allowance must have been drafted by somebody who has spent many years watching "Catch-22" because it is a mighty achievement in that art. I have found many people very interested in the allowance but having investigated its provisions most have returned contending they would need to render themselves considerably worse off in order to qualify for the carer's allowance. Broadly speaking, it has been a total failure. That is a pity because the idea was a good one. I hope appropriate modifications can be effected so that it will benefit those people who make a tremendous contribution in caring for relatives, primarily, those in their declining years.

There is another anomaly much referred to, that is the payments made in respect of dependent children regardless of their ages. It is a pity that allowance is not made for the varying requirements of children of different ages. They all need to be fed but will incur varying expenses in relation to the amount of food they consume. Indeed, I doubt whether the amount made available would be adequate to provide young adolescents between 14 and 16 years with a fairly normal diet. Their educational requirements will be greater also even allowing for their special educational entitlements, as will their clothing and entertainment needs. However, those are minor criticisms.

My overwhelming feeling about this Bill and its provisions is one of hopelessness and despair. It is tired, weary, giving no hope to the one-third of our population who are poor; it is another case of the medicine being administered as before, appearing to emanate from a Department overwhelmed by it all. The Bill conjures up the aura of somebody struggling to make it through another day.

Despite the improvement in many of the economic indicators it appears the problem of unemployment is worsening. For the one million or so people unemployed and impoverished, this Bill offers them nothing more than another dose of the same medicine that has failed to solve their problem. In this Bill I do not see any hope that the recurring cycle of social welfare dependency will be changed or revised. I see no hope for those people in receipt of social welfare assistance. There is no real hope that, for the most part, their children will be able to break the cycle. The reality of life is that it is the children of social welfare recipients who themselves become social welfare recipients. We have now a two-tier society with one half of the country not really knowing or caring how the other half exists. The overall scenario is terrible for those people in receipt of social welfare assistance.

I join other speakers in welcoming the introduction of this Bill and compliment the Minister and his Department on having made a major breakthrough in the development of our social welfare code generally. Representing an area close to the Border, where many people draw social welfare, I can fairly assess how social welfare generally operates and how it has failed in the past. Looking at our neighbours in the North all too often we were embarrassed being told what were the social welfare and health care provisions in the North and in the United Kingdom. I am proud to be part of the structure within this State now providing health care and social welfare equal to the best in Europe, to which the Minister has contributed enormously. That is a fair and honest claim. I am sure he had to fight a hard battle in Government to get £400 million which, in a small State with a limit on its resources, is a lot of money.

All those contributing, particularly those on PAYE, must recognise that the money is going to the benefit of the less-well-off in our society. That money must be well spent. That has been a major undertaking and achievement of this Government. I compliment the Minister and his Department who have striven consistently to upgrade and improve every aspect of the overall social welfare programme. They have had a major success. Nonetheless, there will never be a time or day when no further improvement is necessary; that is life; that is why we are here. I could cite many improvements that could be effected, as I am sure could every Member of this House. They, too, will need to re-examine the system and improve it. Nonetheless, we must recognise that we have come a long way. We have come from the point of having been embarrassed to talk about it in company across the Border to the stage at which we can hold our heads high. I have often being asked by people residing in the North why they should join a State where the social welfare benefits were so miserable. That question is no longer being asked as our social welfare benefits are now more than equal to those in the North. I could talk about sections of it. I am concerned about the increase in the rate to 12 per cent for the employer. The reason is that the small employer has been identified as a major contributor to job creation. On the one hand we offer an incentive to those who are providing jobs — they need incentives and encouragement — but, on the other hand, we are increasing the employer's rate to 12 per cent.

A situation is created whereby those in receipt of social welfare or unemployment benefit do nixers — as they say in my part of the world — they work and draw unemployment benefit at the same time. That is my concern. I urge the Minister, and the Department, to look sympathetically at young people — including farmers — who get jobs for the first time, whether at the age of 17, 18 or 22, and consider exempting their employers from the 12 per cent rate. The measures in the Bill are generous and are geared towards encouraging people to use social welfare when there are difficulties in the family or when they are out of work. There must be an incentive to create jobs and take as many people as possible off the unemployment register. We must continue to provide incentives. The small employer needs help and encouragement and I strongly urge the Minister to continue on the programme he has initiated of encouraging people to find jobs. This matter may be under consideration and, if so, I am pleased.

Understandably, Senator Kennedy and Senator Avril Doyle, to whom I listened find it difficult to support the Bill because there are improvements in it which are an embarrassment to them. We are in political life long enough to understand that there have been substantial improvements and I do not think we can ever expect to reach the stage when improvements will not be necessary. After all the Chinese said a long time ago that nobody will give you as much as those it was not theirs to give in the first place. Those who suggest radical reform and call for substantial increases under the Social Welfare Bill realise that they are not in a position to provide the money; it is only politics of the day. I appeal to the Minister on behalf of the small employer to provide as many of the incentives as possible.

We must recognise that farmers in Ireland face problems at present. While much consideration is given to the plight of those living on farms by the Government and the EC at the GATT negotiations the importance of continuing to support small farmers is recognised. Small farmers in rural Ireland — and there are many small farmers in Donegal — find it difficult to pay farm help. I would encourage the Minister to go as far as possible because the job on the farm is not sufficiently secure to take somebody off unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit for a full-time or even a part-time job on a farm.

Unemployed people believe that by breaking unemployment assistance for six weeks, a month or two months their family will be without funds for the month following employment on a farm. Much work has to be done but with the aid of computer technology we can improve the position substantially. I strongly urge the Minister to look again at this provision, to help farmers give part-time employment and to make it easy for the employee to have a smooth change from unemployment benefit to employment on farms. I make that appeal from personal knowledge. There will have to be greater co-ordination on this. We can achieve very substantial improvements.

Much heavy weather has been made of the amount of money alleged to be going down the drain — so to speak — because of fraud by those who are working and drawing unemployment benefit at the same time. That is the case largely because it is very difficult, following a period of employment, to get back on unemployment assistance. We can make improvements on that. I encourage the Minister to work closely with FÁS. Of the £400 million the Department of Social Welfare spend, FÁS spend about £140 million, a sizeable sum of money.

I wish to put forward one example of where the Minister may achieve some progress. Every public representative realises that it is impossible to have enough money for every social provision whether it is health, housing roads, social welfare or whatever. I find it very difficult to support the building of a house, at the expense of the State, for a person who is in receipt of unemployment benefit on a full-time basis. That person is unemployed, is in receipt of unemployment benefit while the State, build a house for him using its resources. I strongly urge the Minister to work closely with the Department of the Environment and FÁS to see if the State in providing a home and spending funds on that person should allow that person participate in the building of the home.

He may not be a joiner or a bricklayer but in the provision of a house an unemployed person could contribute whether it is in the laying of foundations. construction of drains, roads or whatever. An unemployed person could make a major contribution to the provision of his own house especially at a time when he is being paid. I strongly urge the Minister to look at this matter. I hope FÁS, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Social Welfare will initiate a house building programme in County Donegal, which those drawing unemployment benefit will be allowed participate. I would ask the Minister's support and recognition for this approach. At one time it was very difficult for people to defend the social welfare programme. I am not referring to the time when a Government took a shilling off the old age pension and there was a slogan about social welfare but we have come a long way since. There is competition at the moment as to who will provide the best social welfare benefits for a wide section of the people.

Recently I met a retired teacher who is active, alert and capable of teaching for a long time. I asked him if he would give a grind or a special course and he replied that he would dearly love to do something rather than be unemployed, but if he did work his pension would be stopped. This is a disincentive to work. I strongly urge the Minister and his Department to encourage retired people where possible to participate in work because the State would benefit. People who spend a lifetime in the teaching profession, or any other profession, acquire a wealth of knowledge and only those who have reached the age of retirement are in a position to understand that. I regret there is a disincentive to people to continue to make a contribution to the State. It could be argued that if these people continued working they would deprive young people of jobs, and perhaps that argument could be justified. When you consider the full value of the social welfare package, the benefit of a medical card, the low rents and all the perks and benefits of social welfare, you realise this country has come a very long way. Members of the Government side have pride in these achievements.

There will always be the unemployed, and this has been mentioned in the discussion today. We have been told about the high numbers unemployed, and this is a major problem for the Government. The introduction of new technology has made it very difficult to sustain large numbers in employment. I will give an example of a textile factory in Ballybofey, County Donegal, where 180 or 190 people were employed. After 18 years the factory owners rightly decided that they needed new technology to compete. The installation of computer-controlled looms automatically halved the number employed, leaving 90 people unemployed in that small town. This is very hard to explain, and no political slogan can be an answer to the problem. It is only through consistent development of the social welfare system, FÁS training schemes and encouraging people to set up new businesses that we will achieve any progress.

I congratulate the Minister and his Department on their tremendous success in developing the social welfare system. It might not be perfect but we have come a long way. I compliment the Minister for his consistent effort which has been outstanding.

This Social Welfare Bill gives effect to the social welfare provisions in the budget. I have looked through it for some real innovation and initiative, but I am disappointed. While there seems to be positive innovation, when examined closely the measures do not live up to expectations. That is particularly so in relation to a matter that has been mentioned by many Senators, the carer's allowance.

Since the report of the Commission on Social Welfare — which is now five years old — it is interesting that it has remained the backdrop for comparisons between their recommendations and subsequent budgets. That report recommends that children's allowance at £15.80 per child for the first three, with higher amounts for subsequent children, should be amended to give a higher rate to children aged 12 and over because of the cost of clothing, feeding and looking after older children. As a mother and teacher I am very aware of the high cost of looking after teenagers, not just with regard to education which is a priority for all parents, but also in such a way as they can socialise as young adults and have the finance to develop sound element of independence.

The second recommendation of the commission sought changes in the family income supplement scheme. They were not happy with the existing arrangements and asked that they be discontinued in the long term in favour of giving higher children's allowances and setting realistic marginal tax rates for low paid employees. That has been debated over and over again in budget after budget. It is now time to consider the commission's proposals seriously and make the necessary amendments. It is a waste of time for commissions to bring forth reports if their recommendations are not implemented. The family income supplement scheme has not been addressed very favourably in the Bill, and it is time to approach it seriously.

With regard to the carer's allowance — I feel very strongly about this — a number of people have come to me in clinics expecting a bonanza, but they have been disappointed. That seems to be mirrored throughout the country. Anybody with an income in excess of £90 a week is excluded from this allowance. The State is ignoring the tremendous voluntary support to the community given by people who look after elderly people. We know of the pressure to try to get patients into nursing homes and the cost involved. However, when they — and generally it is women who are involved, who have given of their lives and who in many cases have turned down offers of marriage — seek an allowance they find they do not qualify. The Minister has quoted the figure of £4,000 but out of how many? I do not know how many people have applied but in my own area not one deserving person has been able to benefit from the carer's allowance. Many people throughout the country had hoped there would have been something for them in the budget but they were disappointed.

I welcome positively the Minister's contribution of £500,000 to the voluntary women's organisations and think he is aware that the women who run these voluntary organisations are exceptionally thrifty. Indeed, the comment has been made that if the Reverend Mothers of religious orders were running the country we would never have a debt problem. It is recognised the world over that they are able to run extremely costly institutions on a shoestring and I suggest the same goes for those involved in organisations such as AIM, Cherish and the women's refuge. Indeed, the Minister listened very carefully and patiently to me when I looked for an allocation for the women's refuge, Adapt House in Limerick. The numbers continue to increase. We have many social problems as a consequence of unemployment, of deserted wives and of sexually abused children. We cannot, therefore, ignore the problem. I hope the figure of £500,000 will be increased in next year's budget.

We all realise the tremendous value of the social employment scheme to local authorities. I am well aware, as a member of a local authority, that had it not been for the scheme there would have been many accidents on worn footpaths which could not be repaired because funding was not available to local authorities. They have had to be repaired under the social employment scheme. When we proposed to the Minister before Christmas that workers on the scheme should benefit from the free fuel allowance and other benefits such as the Christmas bonus, response was in the negative.

I had hoped the Minister would have been in a position to reduce the age limit applying under the social employment scheme. There is very little for young people once they leave school, particularly for those who may not have academic prowess. The social employment scheme would suit them at the age of 21 or 22 having regard to the fact that they may not be eligible or suitable for sophisticated training schemes in the vocational education committee system or the second level system. social employment schemes would suit students who leave school because the system has failed them. It is extremely academic. At least they would be given an introduction to the world of work. Many of them — and I see them hanging around the streets of our villages and cities — can not find employment and do not have the skills which would allow them find work abroad. It is our highly qualified and extremely academic graduates educated at great cost who are picked up by Krups by Phillips of Eindhoven, Unilever and others. I am looking at the other side of the equation. Young people who may not be able to benefit from more academictype training schemes should be allowed to avail of the social employment scheme. We should not forget them.

Another matter which concerns me — and this is related to women — is the condition that a person be available for work. There seems to be a hidden agenda. Let me give the example of a woman who was made redundant. When she applied for social welfare benefit she was told, "No, we cannot give you that because you are not available for work", even though there was proof that she had worked over a period of time. When she appealed the decision she was told the reason was she had a young family. Men do not get the same negative response and are not asked if they have made arrangements to have their children looked after. Indeed, we have one of the worst records in Europe on child care.

They are treated equally.

I am glad to hear that, but that does not happen in reality. I am glad that anomaly has been removed. It is my experience that women who appeal the decision find that they have nobody to fight for them and are told they are not available for work because they have children. Every other EC country — I raised this matter when we discussed the Child Care Bill — has addressed this issue. Greece, which like Ireland is considered to be on the periphery of the EC and has a very low GNP, has one of the best records in the community because their Government are willing to provide child care facilities. If women are not to be given social welfare payments it is incumbent on the Government, if they want to treat them as equal citizens, to make child care facilities available. Our record in this area is the second worst in Europe and has been referred to by all women's groups throughout the country, by the Council for the Status for Women and during the debate on the Child Care Bill, but nothing has happened. I am not saying that we should stretch our coffers any further but funding is available from Europe to provide child care facilities. I cannot understand why this does not take priority when we are seeking EC money for our well deserving farmers, roads, etc. It is the same old story, women are not given priority and that disturbs me.

Since we are talking about equality, the Minister, who referred to maternity leave, might think of making provisions next year for paternity leave, a practice which is now accepted in all modern countries given the change in work patterns. I would welcome such a move. Some effort must be made to accept the fact that men are parents too and have a responsibility to their children.

I welcome the proposal to extend social insurance cover to 21,000 part-time workers. I would like to see the £40 threshold reduced as there are unscrupulous employers who will seek to circumvent the legislation by employing school children aged 15 or 16 or perhaps younger. They are not supposed to do this but they do. It is cheap labour and I hope those children will be protected. They need the money but if they could not get these jobs, there would not be this unscrupulous use of child labour. This is something I would associate with Dickens. I can understand the reasons parents want their children to work because they are at their wits end trying to make ends meet. That certainly does not excuse employers for exploitation of workers. Senator Doyle spent some time talking about farmers and the problems in the whole area of farming today. We are very much aware of the problems under CAP and GATT. I hope that social welfare recipients will not increase a millionfold — which they will — if our people are taken off the land; it seems to be the European policy to give them farm dole, rural dole, land dole — I do not know what name to give it — but I hope that they would not be an added burden on the State which they will be if the proposals come to fruition. We will be left with not just environmental devastation but with untended fields, covered in ragwort and thistles if people are told not to tend the land because we do not need to produce, and that they will be given dole instead.

I am not happy with the Social Welfare Bill, I am particularly concerned about its lack of effect on women and on the whole area of carer's allowance. It should not have been welcomed in the way it was on the other side. Long-term unemployment is the scourge of this country, there is nothing in the Bill to show that things will change.

The Bill has 64 sections and four Schedules. We should remember how important this legislation is to our people. The Social Welfare Bill has a cost factor of £164 million in a full year — £71 million in this year. Gross expenditure on social welfare is now over £3 billion.

As a Government Senator with long service, I accept that the unemployment levels are too high. There are many reasons given and measures have also been outlined for getting some of the people who are unemployed into a job. I hope we are trying to do that but, as one of my colleagues said here this morning, it is sad at times to hear it being said quite glibly by people in secure jobs that people on the unemployment register are there from choice and would like to stay there. I thought it was said this morning in an early address to this House that my colleague whom indeed I consider a good friend Senator Kennedy, from Limerick, my neighbour, made the type of address he did — which is his privilege — to the House on this legislation. We have known each other for a long time and on this Bill it has been traditional not to make practically a political speech. Social welfare concerns us all and I rarely have disagreed with the Senator who has served for nearly as long as I have. I would not make my remarks if Senator Kennedy was not present; he even went as far as saying that this legislation was anti-family. I would have expected more from the distinguished Senator and lawyer. It is, of course, quite easy to read reports and make a speech from them. It was never my style and I am so long here I will hardly start now. It is the one Department with which it is dangerous to play politics. When I had the distinction of being on the Opposition benches I never challenged a Minister of another party when a Minister for Social Welfare was present.

I welcome this legislation and I particularly welcome and compliment the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Woods. I appreciate, as we all do in public life, that it would be much better if the amount of money I just mentioned did not have to be spent in this Department. It is not just unemployment money, there are other absolute, positive benefits gained and given out in the Department of Social Welfare. As other Members said there is worry and concern in this area. There is confusion about the carer's allowance and maybe when the Minister is replying he will clarify the matter.

There are very honest people who care for others, giving them a carer's allowance would cost the Department only a small amount of money. I came across a case at the weekend which is an example of where carer's money should be paid in the future. There is a widow of 59 years of age in the town of Ennis, she had a daughter living with her, a very good girl in a fairly decent job, because her daughter stays with her and gives her money, the mother is cut off from any of the benefits that would accrue to her if she had been a widow living alone. That is fine but you could have a widow with a daughter living with her who does not give her money.

The first widow to whom I referred goes to another house where she has a marvellous sister of 63, a powerful woman stricken down by a disease which means she will be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Her husband has now been diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis with the result that the widow looks after her sister and brother-in-law. I appeal to the Minister to consider a carer's allowance in these cases. If the widow did not look after those people, what would be the cost to the State of looking after the person in the wheelchair and her husband? I am sure there are other cases like that all over the country.

I understand that pressures are put on the Minister to add more money, and more money is needed, but I have strong views on where some of the lottery money is going. Tomorrow night the prize will be £1 million and, as an elected representative to this House and to local authorities in County Clare, I do not understand why some of that money could not be allocated for particular cases to the Department, and to the Department of Health but that is not this Minister's portfolio. We in Fianna Fáil and in this Government and Members on the other side, including my colleague at whom I have had a go, Senator Kennedy——

I am favoured.

——try to care for the disadvantaged and the deprived in our society.

I welcome the crack down on fraud and I understand that there are 500 cases being processed with a view to prosecutions. I welcome this and the fact that the Minister is giving employers and employees a chance to pay up. I hope this will reach the people who are abusing the system and that some of the people who are so honest that it costs them money will get their due, and maybe a little more.

Senator McGowan referred to more co-operation between the Department of Social Welfare, FÁS and the Department of the Environment. He said there should be more co-ordination to help people who are unemployed to build their own houses. I welcome that proposal.

Since Fianna Fáil returned to Government in 1987 we have raised the standard of living in real terms for everybody on social welfare. Every year basic increases have been ahead of inflation. For the fourth year in a row we have given special increases up to 11 per cent, to those on the lower payments. Following this year's budget all long term payments now reach or exceed the Commission on Social Welfare's priority rate of £54.60 a week for 1991. This year's increases in the short term rates are a major step towards implementing the commission's priority rates for those groups by 1993. All morning we have heard about the Minister ignoring this very important commission. Maybe if he was given credit for what he implemented at budget time and putting these Bills through the Houses would be much more beneficial to all.

As a result of the combined family income supplement and the child tax exemption aimed at the low paid a married person with two children earning £135 will get an extra £10 a week; a married person with four children earning £162 will get £13.80 a week. The Minister will probably correct me when he is replying to Second Stage, but he has stated what he is doing with the two children family and the four children family. Is the family with three children being looked after also? Here I come to not a grey area but a gap in society today. I hate to use the tag "the new poor", "middle class", "down class" and "up class", in my life there have been no classes. Everyone has been the same to me and that will continue, but there are people in a certain wage bracket who are really badly off and they are not able to get anything from the Department of Social Welfare. I know families who are very badly off but they do not fit into any specific bracket and, therefore, are not being looked after by anybody. The Minister said recently that he would be providing new social welfare service offices to accommodate FÁS placement officers. In addition, he intends to designate staff in the local offices whose task will be to help individual unemployed people in their search for work. I welcome that. This morning we have heard that there is nothing new in anything the Minister has done. That surely is new and I welcome it.

Last year the Minister introduced a special scheme of grants in recognition of the very valuable voluntary social service given by locally based women's groups throughout Ireland. This grant scheme provided support and assistance to the groups, encouraged self-help and personal development for women working in the home, provided educational opportunities, encouraged the active participation of women in the group and in their community and provided aids to address social problems like stress and isolation. In allocating the grants the Minister gave priority to groups in disadvantaged areas and to projects catering mainly for disadvantaged groups. The scheme has been an outstanding success. Over 6,000 women have participated directly in some 200 groups receiving funding of £350,000 in grants ranging from £100 to £10,000.

Reference was made this morning in this House to the farmers. There is no doubt that no matter what party or group we are talking about, we are faced with particular difficulties at present. The new programme recognises this by identifying farming families on low incomes among those who require special attention. This problem will be addressed in consultation with the farming organisation. Having regard to the relevant development at EC level, last month's budget provided an allocation of £1 million to fund a scheme to help very low income farming families and that scheme will be submitted in due course for incorporation into the expected EC scheme. I welcome that. As a Dublin TD the Minister need not have thought about the small farmers at all but it was always this party's policy to look after the small farmers. I am glad we have stuck to our principles. There are not too many small farmers left but we should look after them.

Social welfare should not be a matter of party policy.

I can still make a point on what is my party's policy. The Senator is unfortunate in that he does not have a party.

I am very fortunate.

I welcome also the extension from 20 to 21 years for child dependants in full-time education from June 1991. The Minister says this Bill represents a major step forward in Government policy by further improving the position of those who depend on our social welfare system. I welcome the allowance made for a person who is in higher education to the age of 21. A case was made that a person could finish higher education at the age of 20 and the family would then lose the allowance. I am glad this anomaly has been eradicated.

The Minister for Finance referred in his budget speech to the extension of an allowance to carers of recipients of DPMA. It is the responsibility of the Minister for Social Welfare to put this into effect. The National Association of the Mentally Handicapped of Ireland, who are my nominating body, would ask the Minister to be flexible and to recognise the enormous pressures on people caring in their homes for adult relatives who are mentally handicapped. I have 25 years service with these very special people. Concern is expressed at every meeting of the association regarding an allowance. I appeal to the Minister to be flexible in drafting the regulations regarding the carer's allowance and to take account of the needs of the mentally handicapped.

Sections 60 to 64 provide for amendments to the Pensions Act, 1990, which will enable the Pensions Board to borrow money for the purpose of its expenditure and to exclude certain schemes from certain requirements provided for in the Pensions Act. The Minister might discuss this point in his reply.

There is a technical amendment to section 53 which provides that a person will be required to notify the Minister instead of a social welfare officer of any increase in his means. Perhaps the Minister would explain why this change is necessary.

I welcome the provision in section 54 whereby, with the consent of the recipient, the Department may withhold money to pay accounts such as the ESB account. That seems to be a good idea.

The consent of the Minister for Finance is referred to in sections 60 to 64. When I see that provisions I shiver. Section 61 refers to Defence Force pension schemes. As spokesman for Defence in this House I would ask the Minister to elaborate on the detail of this section.

I thank the Minister for his extraordinary commitment to his Department. It is very easy to slag and to ennumerate all the things we should or should not do in government. I am either getting old or maturing politically. If the latter, it has taken me a long time. It is only together that we can look after those who respect us enough to elect us, as well as the people of the nation as a whole whom we as legislators have a responsibility to serve. The Government are committed during the term of the Programme for Government to improving the level of payments to the tune of £400 million in the 1990s. That is a lot of money. We look forward with confidence in the knowledge that the social welfare system will continue to improve the standard of living of those dependent on us and to meet the changing needs of society now and in the years ahead. That is the responsibility laid on us. The buck stops with us to look after the people. There might well be much more respect for people serving in public life if we did not play politics with an important Bill such as that before us.

I differ a little with the previous speaker. Although it would not be appropriate to play party politics with issues of social welfare, there is an important political and ideological dimension to questions of social welfare. It would be very difficult to deny this. There are real problems which need a fairly radical solution. I will not be cheeseparing about this Bill because it represents an improvement. For the satisfaction of Senator Honan and others on the Government side, I am happy to place this on record and I will substantiate it by agreeing on some facts and figures.

It is, however difficult to be proud of the situation when there is so much unemployment. I recognise that this is not specifically and immediately a matter for the Minister for Social Welfare, but some of the agencies whose reports Senator Honan dismissed in such a cavalier fashion have suggested that some kind of combined task force on job creation should be set up which would take into account the interests of the Department of Social Welfare. There is a great deal of unemployment spread unevenly throughout the country.

We are approaching a weekend when we will remember the celebrated words in the Easter proclamation about cherishing all the children of the nation equally. It is perfectly clear that this is not happening. The Social Welfare Bill may be a small move in ironing out some of the grosser inequalities but it clearly does not go far enough. In my opinion — and this is a political and ideological opinion of which I am unashamed — without the machinery to transfer resources from the advantaged to the disadvantaged there always will be disadvantaged. I myself am a kind of living provocation. I am a double jobber. I am very happy to teach in the College of the Sacred and Undivided Trinity just down the road and I am very happy also to be a Member of this august House so I have a reasonable income. I have an interesting and challenging life here with other Members of this House whom I respect, I must say, but I live in an area of 80 per cent unemployment in the north inner city of Dublin. I heard this morning on a radio programme a representative of the plain people of Ireland who had telephoned from Limerick, indicating that she lived in an area where the rates of unemployment were also up to 80 per cent. Unemployment in certain pockets of the country is a real problem.

I do not maintain for one second that the Minister has personally created this problem and I will suggest that there has been some improvement in the rates of pay to the victims of unemployment. I may say, having disagreed a little with Senator Honan that I was very glad to hear her say that she did not think that people gloried in unemployment and that it was mean to suggest that people deliberately became and remained unemployed in order to benefit from the State. I do not think this is the case. I think very few people do and I think it is a pity that on some instances people are, perhaps unintentionally, made ashamed of being unemployed in situations where they are not responsible for it.

On the other hand, to balance things out I welcome the Minister's statements on the question of welfare fraud, because I think this is a particularly mean form of crime. I am aware of it. I remember when I had a particular kind of car going on one occasion to a little garage that specialised in those cars and the man used to tell me not to bother bringing my car in on a Thursday because that was when the lorry drivers leave their lorries in to be serviced because they can then collect their social welfare and go off and spend it on the booze. I remember him telling me another story of a man who was very well paid, he was employed in the restaurant business, who used to come in on a particular day to leave his car in to be serviced and then collect his benefits. I do not know how he did it and I hope those particular sections are caught because they were people with very considerable incomes. I thought it was extraordinarily mean and disgraceful that they should collect this social welfare payment as simply drinking money to suit themselves. I hope these sort of people will be caught by the Minister's measures on fraud. However, that does not negate what I said at the beginning about the necessity for some means of transfer of assets from the privileged, among whom I would certainly include myself to the really disadvantaged in this community.

I had a conversation with a colleague, Senator Ryan, and he suggested to me that at the time of the foundation of the State there was a situation where 75 per cent of the community approximately were disadvantaged and they were governed by a small unrepresentative elite. Now we have the reverse of this situation where 75 per cent of people may be in reasonable comfort, but there is a concealed 25 per cent who are really genuinely poor and disadvantaged, who are unheard of and whose rights are very rarely handled with any real sensitivity.

However, the provisions of this Bill clearly indicate in financial terms some modest improvement in the living standards of people who are most affected by poverty, but minimally adequate levels of income are still a good way off for most social welfare recipients. The measures will undoubtedly reduce the intensity of poverty for people most at risk but will be unlikely to reduce significantly the numbers in poverty as long as the very high levels of unemployment which I have already indicated exist, for example, both in my own area in Dublin and also in pockets around the country, continue to exist.

I would like to point out to the Minister that some of the levels, although they represent an improvement do not match the target figures indicated by the Commission on Social Welfare. I would like to hear him indicate the stages by which these target figures, which I think are or should be indexed, will be reached. Although there had been increases in social welfare, and I certainly welcome the fact that, as the Minister indicated in his speech, the increases in this Bill are above and beyond the annual rate of inflation, we still have not reached the levels recommended by the Commission on Social Welfare. I would like him to indicate by what stages and in what period of time it is anticipated these minimal requirements of the Commission on Social Welfare will be achieved.

There is an 11 per cent increase in the lowest payments of social welfare this is particularly welcome. This is the supplementary welfare allowance, short term unemployment assistance and carer's allowance, but this leaves these payments £10 short of the basic levels recommended by the Commission on Social Welfare. I would have to say again, and it is almost disconcerting to be agreeing so frequently with Senator Honan, that I agree heartily with her in approving the extension of the carer's allowance and in particular to the allowance being made available to carer's of disabled persons who are in receipt of disabled person's maintenance allowance. This is a just and appropriate measure.

It is very good that social insurance coverage has been extended to part-time workers. I believe this is an appropriate action on the part of the Minister. I am not going to put too much from reports or legal documents on the record of the House because this might be tedious but I am sure the Minister is aware of the fact that had this measure not been taken, we might very rapidly have been brought into conflict with European Community law on the subject of discrimination because there is an EC directive on equal treatment which is quite specific and under which a number of cases has been taken. One aspect of this directive is to deal with indirect discrimination. As a number of speakers have indicated, there is a disproportionate representation of women in the part-time worker category and it is quite possible that the European Community legal structures would have determined, as it would have been entitled to do, that the non-extension of social insurance cover to part-time workers would constitute just this kind of indirect discrimination. I do not wish to take away from the humanity of the Minister for Social Welfare. I am not suggesting there was simply a big stick held somewhere in Europe that induced this, but I believe there is a growing Europeanisation of principles involving issues such as part-time workers and involving fairly sophisticated concepts such as indirect discrimination.

We have been working on this for over two years. We have to provide pensions and it is a very big study. It is not new in that sense. I agree that it could still be forced.

I accept what the Minister has said and I am grateful for his intervention but he will also, I am sure, recall that although he has been working on it for the past ten years, the basic legal documentation in Europe goes back to 1984 and there could be consequences flowing from that time lapse. I am not a very good mathematician but from 1984 to 1991 is slightly longer than two years — I can just about do that, although arithmetic was not my principal subject.

I would like to go on to another parallel issue which interests me very much. It is an issue of principle and is a question the Minister raises in his explanatory memorandum dealing with Part VII, sections 41-59, where he deals with a number of miscellaneous provisions. There is the following comment:

application to co-habiting couples of similar conditions as apply to married couples claiming supplementary welfare allowance, family income supplement, disabled persons maintenance allowance and child dependant increases.

I am all in favour of equality but I am a little suspicious of this one. I note that it is repeated on page 10 of the explanatory memorandum where it is said:

Sections 45 to 48 provide that co-habiting couples will be treated in the same manner as a married couple with regard to assessment of means, income and payment of child dependant increases for the purposes of certain social welfare schemes.

The reason I raise this is that I would like to see an improvement. I believe I am correct in saying that this represents not an improvement for married couples but a deterioration for co-habiting couples and was arrived at as a result of a Supreme Court case.

It is an improvement in relation to the family income supplement and a deterioration in relation to supplementary welfare allowance. It is actually evening out matters.

In that case I will concentrate my comment in principle without going into the mathematics. In fact, it may even out but there is a principle involved. With regard to the social welfare allowance — to which the Minister has directed my attention — there is a deterioration for co-habiting couples. With regard to the principle I would, at least, like to see circumstances obtain in which we move towards an understanding of and respect for the dignity and the economic and social rights of the individual and away from the family. I say this absolutely unashamedly.

Senator Honan said that what another Senator said was anti-family. I do not want to be particularly anti-family, as it is generally and properly understood, because, after all, even I am the product of a family and indeed part of a family in its general and broad definition. But I would like to envisage circumstances obtaining in which we respected the individual and regarded institutions as worthy of respect only in so far as they cherish the individual. This is not a situation that exists politically in this country where, for example, we ludicrously exhort the institution of marriage above the rights of the individuals who compose that unit. It seems to me it would be a very useful principle if we started looking at people as individuals. If people co-habiting, living together, and having perhaps a sexual relationship with each other, because of that, received a slightly higher benefit than people who got married, why not increase the benefit for married people? This has arisen several times before in this House. I do not remember the exact context but I remember arguing this out before. Why should they not be brought up? I do hope there is not going to be this mean, awful, ghastly, snooping that goes on in England to find out if people are co-habiting and if they are having a sexual relationship. If they are, more power to them. I do not think they should be penalised by having money removed from their social welfare allowance or indeed any other form of allowance.

May I express some concern because this provision about co-habiting couples was introduced in advance of a report we were promised in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. In that programme at Section IV, paragraph 17 under the heading “Treatment of Households” reads:

A review of the treatment of households within the social welfare code has been completed by a special Household Review Group. The report of this Group will be discussed with appropriate interests. Developments at EC level in relation to equal treatment on matters of social security will be fully taken into account in the context of the future development of the system.

As I understand it, the report may well have been completed. I do not believe it has been published.

The review has been completed, not the report; the report will be available around mid-April, fairly soon.

That is good news and I am grateful to the Minister for it. I wonder whether he will agree with me that, although what he said here is not binding perhaps there is an implication that measures would not be introduced in advance of the publication of this report and of its discussion with what are described in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress as interested parties because this is plainly what has happened. It would be more democratic if this kind of discussion occurred before the announcement of measures which actually implement certain things that may be discussed in the document.

This follows a court decision. Therefore, we did not have much option in terms of time.

I feel in a curious way that we are moving around in circles, because that is what I was saying. I felt it was a pity we were moving in that direction as a result of court decisions but I take it that this document will be published in April and will be discussed with the interested parties.

Appropriate interests.

I would like to nominate myself as an appropriate interest because I am very interested indeed in the definition of "household". I would like to think that, in the 75th anniversary of the proclamation of Easter Week, 1916, we might be a little more generous in our definition and scrutiny of "household" and of the appropriate entitlements flowing from the existence of an Irish household.

I would like to move to another area which is still of concern, although the Minister is being so helpful I anticipate that he may well intervene and indicate to me that there are changes taking place here as well, that is the question of the provision for payments of certain benefits, particularly unemployment benefit. I would like to deal with two particular sections of the community who are particularly disadvantaged. The first is the travelling community. This is an old chestnut. My colleague, Senator Ryan, has repeatedly brought this up and is much more versed in it than I am. Therefore, I will not be discomfited if the Minister is in a position to say that three weeks ago they altered the regulations and have now imposed a humane régime. I will not be at all discomfited; I will be very pleased. My understanding is that travellers have to report on a particular day — I think Thursday — to a specific location; certainly in the city of Dublin I understand this is true. My information is that there have been moves made to examine the possibility of altering this in some degree but what I was told this afternoon was that they were thinking of making some provision for travellers who had settled. Is that not an Irish one because travellers who have settled are not really travelling very much, are they, they have stopped travelling. I would like to see something done for travellers——

May be temporarily.

All right but it is a move and I accept it; I will not be too begrudging. It is an area of consistent interest to Members of the Seanad. I would not claim a particular virtue for this side of the House. There has been a generous interest in the fate of the travellers from all round the House. There is still clearly discrimination against members of the travelling community, whether or not this be justified, for administrative reasons.

If the Senator conducts a survey of local government down the country he will find that is untrue. He should first be elected.

I welcome Senator Honan's invitation, to serve on, say, Ennis Urban District Council.

Senator Norris, without interruptions.

I like being interrupted by Senator Honan. These invitations to participate in local democracy are a bonus to public life. I was interrupting the Senator to such an extent I could not hear her interruption, so I will have to let it go. I am genuinely concerned. Many people here are concerned about the situation with regard to travel.

I would like also to refer to the position of the long term unemployed and the fact that they also have to report every week. It does seem to me that this is degrading. I live in an area where there is a considerable amount of unemployment and I see at the Cumberland Street Exchange, down in Gardiner Street and so on people shuffle into queues. It does seem to me that it is rather cruel when people are known to be out of work, and it is known that they cannot get employment, and this is likely to continue for a very long time. In other words it is chronic unemployment and to make them waste a morning queueing just simply to sign a form is, in my opinion, Dickensian and I wonder if something cannot be done about that. I understand that in the North of Ireland——

They collect their money that day too. Until the money system changes that——

Could the money system not be changed? Surely the issuing of a cheque or some kind of a plastic computerised something or other would be better.

We are working on that but as claimants they did not want it at first. Overwhelmingly they did not want it but we are trying to encourage it.

I am very interested to hear that and may I encourage the Minister to continue exploring the possibilities. I quite accept there may be practical difficulties but, perhaps, I can illustrate an area going on from what the Minister has said: For example, not everybody in the country signs on at an employment exchange and my understanding is that at least one-third of people signing on for long term unemployment do so in Garda stations and the money already issues to them as cheques. I really do not see the problem there and, as I understand it, anybody who lives more than six miles beyond an employment exchange sings on in a Garda station. A routine must be gone through where the gardai report to the social welfare centre and the social welfare centre sends out cheques. I am possibly a little naive but I have to say that it appears to me to be daft, a waste of people's time and, secondly, it is coming close to criminalising unemployment. Why make them report to Garda stations? People do not really like going to Garda stations. They assume the neighbours might think, did they not pay a parking fine, were they caught for drunk driving or whatever it was and so on. Perhaps the Minister will be able to reassure me on that point.

I would like to turn rapidly to one or two further points which, I acknowledge absolutely, I have culled from a document sent to me, I imagine it was sent to everybody — entitled Tackling Poverty in the Nineties, from the Combat Poverty Agency. It is a remarkably good and interesting document. I have no doubt the Minister has studied this document. It would be boring for me to point to particular sections in it in any great detail but, again, the arguments I have made in general are substantiated in the document with facts and figures which indicate — and it is a very responsible body that has prepared this report — that although there are moves in the right direction, minimum levels have not yet been reached. They are still a target.

One of the sections I find very interesting — and I hope the Minister would agree with me — is the section about low levels of take-up of social welfare benefits. This does concern me because although there may be provision for very welcome social benefits here, very often people do not take them up. I think there should be an analysis of why this is the case. I remember there were several bodies such as the NSSB and others. They did not cost a great deal of money and they were abolished over the past few years. There were a number of bodies whose primary function was to assist people to understand what benefits they were entitled to receive and I felt at the time it was a particularly mean form of cutback. The target was not the comparatively small amount of money involved in administering these semi-State bodies or quangos, they were actually targeting the most vulnerable sections of society by depriving people of adequate information which would inform them as to their precise entitlement and the correct machinery through which they should apply.

I would like to quote a little of what the Combat Poverty Agency said with regard to low level of take-up. The first principle they enunciate is that the efficiency of the whole social welfare system can be gauged by the rate of take-up of entitlement. That is an unexceptionable principle so if there is a low level of take-up it is not something on which the Government could compliment themselves unless they were in the person of the figure in the Cabinet that causes Senator Honan to shiver in horror, the Minister for Finance. I do not think the Minister for Social Welfare would congratulate himself on a low level of take-up. Therefore, if there is, as the Combat Poverty Agency suggest, a low level of take-up in certain areas, I think it is incumbent on the Minister as part of his ministerial responsibility to determine why this is occurring. The Combat Poverty Agency make a very good point and they suggest — and again this is an ideological point — that there is a particularly low level of take-up in schemes that are discretionary and means tested. I really wonder if the means test is an efficient method of monitoring and correcting inequities in schemes such as social assistance and supplementary welfare allowance because I very much doubt if people in the millionaire class are frequently the recipient of these particular schemes.

I would like to put on record what the agency says. One section of a paragraph states — I will not overindulge myself in this—

Means testing is the mechanism used for determining eligibility under social assistance schemes and Supplementary Welfare Allowance. It is, as presently constituted, a major deterrent to claimants of such schemes. This arises from the stigma associated with means testing,

We are back to a similar principle of what I was talking about with regard to take up of unemployment payments and the coercion of people to sign on at Garda stations.

the criteria taken into account in assessing means and the sharp cut-off points between entitlement and non-entitlement. A simplification and reduction in the number of means tests would curtail the amount of information required under assistance schemes. In addition, qualification under the one test should ensure entitlement to other schemes, such as medical card, back-to-school clothing and footwear scheme, free school books and transport, higher education grants, etc.

The report makes the point that currently the opposite frequently happens. I do not normally read swathes into the record, but I think that is an important piece to have on the record of this House — I am not aware that it has been put in before — and it illustrates precisely the kind of philosophical point that I would wish to make about the fact that, welcome as a number of the provisions in this Social Welfare Bill are, it still does not radically address many of the inequities in Irish society.

It may be a very challenging thing to ask a Minister for Social Welfare to address these inequities, but that is the kind of thing I would like to see a Minister for Social Welfare addressing. I welcome many of the provisions in the Bill.

Most of the agencies operating in the area of poverty and social welfare agree there is an advance, a welcome advance, but it is, in a sense, only marginal. It is certainly not radical, and I doubt the Minister would suggest it was overwhelmingly radical. Perhaps his party would welcome the fact that it is not radical. I am quite happy to stand on this side of the House, as an Independent, to say that, welcome as some of the provisions in the Bill are, they represent only a tinkering with a problem. I believe we need more radical changes. I have dealt with specific sections of the Bill which do not propose anything radical. Reallocating the provisions for travellers, looking at the long term unemployed and so on, does not radically alter the situation of poverty in this country. We will always have problems in the area of social welfare until we address the problem of basic inequities in our society.

Mr. Farrell

I welcome the Bill which is a very good one. I would like to take this opportunity to pay a special tribute to the staff working in the social welfare offices in Sligo, some of whom are involved in social work in the community. They are very dedicated and sincere people.

I welcome the proposal in this Bill that the Minister and the Department be allowed retain part of a payment to be used to pay a person's bills. I said on a previous occasion that the problem was not a lack of money but rather a lack of know-how. People are simply not able to manage money. It would be far better if money was stopped at source and used to pay a person's bills because this money is usually spent on alcohol which benefits nobody but the manufacturers.

I welcome the proposal in the Bill that a person be allowed to work for one year and not lose any benefits. Up to now if a person decided to take a job, he was taken out of the system and had to undergo a new means test on returning for social welfare payments. That was a major handicap. This is a great improvement and is to be welcomed.

The section on the family income supplement is also very welcome. Last evening I met a young man who inquired about this supplement. It was his intention to become self-employed and to buy a machine but he decided he could not take the risk and lose the £127 per week social welfare he was receiving, given that he had a loan and mortgage to repay. I introduced him to an officer in the Department of Social Welfare with the result that he will continue to get the family income supplement. This means he will now be able to become self-employed, and will not have to run or hide if he does some work.

I am pleased this Bill is dealing not alone with single parents and those who are co-habiting but also with families. I make no apologies for backing the family at all times. The previous speaker, Senator Norris, seemed to contradict himself. He did not have much regard for the family a few minutes ago but recently when he was approached by a member of the DUP, part of a picket in Belfast, he was delighted to speak about the active part played by seven generations of his family played in the Church of Ireland. I wonder if his father, grandfather and grandmother had been as wayward as he is would he have such a glorious past and be able to put that young DUP boy in his proper place. I do not think so. I make no apologise for upholding the family. While we hope that those who are cohabiting will eventually settle down and get married — and we want to be as compassionate and as helpful as possible to single parents, the family must come first.

When I was a rate collector years ago in the fifties and early sixties there was little work available. However things brightened up in the sixties. Houses were shabby and dirty but as soon as people got work and received a wage they were delighted to see you call and had the rates ready. Indeed they were soon talking about the job they were doing and started to decorate and tidy their homes, for the simple reason that their morale had been boggled. I find it very demoralising, as I pass through Gardiner Street to see the number of young people waiting to sign on. The saying goes "for Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do". If the Departments of Labour and Social Welfare got together we could extend the Social employment scheme to give everyone a full week's wage. This would be preferable to paying inspectors to look for people who are abusing the system. I have a problem with the black economy.

I remember a neighbour who was on the dole and spent the winter picking sea rods, not a pleasant job. Once he had sold the sea rods, he had to repay all the dole money he had received, because the Department said he was working. Yet his neighbours were getting as much money for staying at home or sitting on the high stool. To me, the worker should always get priority.

We are all aware of the great work done under the social employment scheme. We are also aware that many of the people who worked on these schemes have gone on to find other employment and got out of the rut. The money spent on inspections and trying to do detective work should be directed towards increasing wages. We should tell every county council, town commission and corporation that if they create jobs we will give them the money to pay the wages. They have the manpower and the methods to do that. This would create an entirely different environment for young people. If a person is drawing dole and has a good job, be it as an electrician, a plumber or whatever, got a card for work he would have to make up his mind whether to go out to work or to do the job he is good at and become fully self-employed. That would cut out the black economy thereby saving a lot of money. It would also cut out a lot of vandalism which results from there being insufficient work.

It amuses me to hear on television how much some families have to live on. I heard of a family recently who are receiving £180 a week, but that family said they could not live on that amount. I know many people working for less than £180 a week and paying their taxes. Those television programmes never reveal the fact that these people have free medical service, get an allowance from the Department for shoes and clothes, get free school books and all the perks that go with being unemployed. We should be told all the facts about the income of such a family, whether it be in cash or in benefits.

I would like to see a little improvement in another area. With regard to the old age pension, I would love to see the means test abolished. A person who has a job, owns a few cows and is a diligent worker saves a few pounds for a rainy day or for when he gets old and is unable to look after himself and his neighbour spends his time on the high stool and does not save a penny, but when they reach the age of 65 the person who spent all his money will get a full pension while the person who worked hard, was thrifty and put a few pounds aside is penalised. He gets no pension or, if he does, it will be a very small amount. That is a pity. The Minister should consider that matter. It is a pity to penalise the person who works all his life and takes nothing from the State. I would love to see something done in that area.

There were many house robberies over the years and old people were advised to put their money into a bank. That was a good idea, but now they have to pay DIRT. These people have to deal with the Revenue Commissioners who ask a lot of complicated questions such as: "Where did you get the money? How did you save it?" An income tax form, as everybody knows, is a complicated document and not something for an old age pensioner to deal with. Many of these people who are entitled to a refund do not apply for it because the forms are so complicated. The Minister for Social Welfare and the Minister for Finance should come up with some simplified system. By putting their money in banks those people are saving the State a lot of money and the banks then use it to grant loans. It also reduces the number of robberies because robbers have a knack of knowing who keeps money and who puts it into the bank. When people put money in the bank it benefits the country. I would like to see something being done in regard to this tax because old people are near and dear to my heart — I will be in that category shortly. I always felt it is grossly unfair to penalise these people. I would love to see a change in that regard.

This is a very good Bill although we have heard criticism of it from the Opposition. When you consider the social welfare payments when the Opposition were in power only a few short years ago, they have been increased by 57 to 62 per cent. That is a big increase and, again, it shows that at a time of financial constraint, the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Woods, was always thinking of the poor and the under-privileged. He found the money to put into the system and to make life easier for these people.

I welcome the Bill. If a system is devised whereby people agree to let the Department of Social Welfare pay their bills it would greatly benefit them. They would not have to worry about paying their bills because the Department of Social Welfare would do so and would give them the balance of the money. That would be a good system. I welcome the Bill and I congratulate the Minister.

First, I welcome the Minister to the House. I support the Social Welfare Bill each year. It focuses our minds on those in society who are less privileged, less well-off and experiencing certain difficulties, whether they be the long term unemployed, part-time workers or people on pensions such as invalidity or disabled pensions. All these people do not have it easy in life. They have difficulties in getting through life and in making ends meet.

Much has been said about the 4 per cent increase, and I obviously welcome that increase. I am sure the Minister would like to have given more and I am sure in his own way he fought at Cabinet for as much as possible in relation to certain areas. We must consider what this increase of 4 per cent will mean. Allowances have been increased from £61.50 to £64, from £48 to £50 and from £101.80 to £107, but we must remember that the price of many items has also been increased. This year allowances in relation to VHI have been reduced. I spoke to an old person last night who is finding it extremely difficult to buy the tablets she needs for her sight which is fading.

There have been increases in VAT on ESB charges and it is expected that there will be increases in Telecom charges. Extra money will have to be found for all these increases announced by the Minister. We would all like to be able to do more for social welfare recipients. Most of us at our clinics deal with more of them than with the people who are doing better. Most of the people who come to our advice centres seeking assistance are struggling to make ends meet to provide for their children's welfare and education. I was interested to hear what the Minister had to say about the notion that people could be better off on the dole than at work. He produced figures that appear to disprove that. The combination of social welfare and the black economy may make it better to be on the dole than at work and this problem must be addressed. This raises the question of taxation of wages and bonuses in relation to people making an effort to provide extra money for a holiday or for grinds for their children in order to get extra points. The Minister is probably correct about the figures relating to a family on £160 as distinct from a family obtaining unemployment assistance, the reality is that people who are unemployed, paid social welfare and doing nixers are creating the problems which must be addressed. Perhaps the Minister will respond to this.

The Minister mentioned that fraud in his Department is being investigated. I would be interested to know how many cases have been brought to court. There was a recent case of a person involved in a personal injuries action, it was alleged at the time that he was working and this came to light. How many cases have been brought to the attention of the Department and in how many cases have charges been brought? The difficulty is that even if a judgment is given it will be difficult to recoup the money; it is like uninsured driving. If fraud could be eliminated — and I am sure we would all support that — there would be more money to go to women whose husbands have left them with perhaps a large family to bring up, to widows and to those people who have been employed for perhaps 20 years and find themselves unemployed with no prospect of ever working again. How many of these people over the last number of years have been caught? How many people in the Department of Social Welfare are investigating the area of fraud? We all know of people who are working and claiming social welfare at the taxpayers' expense.

I would like the Minister to address the question of the outlets for the payment of social welfare benefits at present. I refer in particular to the lottery and how much social welfare money is spent on it. Tomorrow is the third carryover and the jackpot will again read £1 million. Many social welfare recipients will be hoping that perhaps they will be the newest millionaire in Ireland. The reality is that many of those people will go without certain essentials this week, food, heating or clothing, just to ensure that the national lottery target will reach £1 million for yet another week. I accept that they can spend their welfare money on drink, gambling or on one-armed bandits, but should a person in receipt of social welfare payments be in a position to give the money back perhaps further down the counter by purchasing lottery tickets? Are we exploiting the unemployed, the old, the less well off by allowing the sale of lottery tickets at outlets where social welfare payments are made? This matter should be investigated. The lottery has been a success; it has benefited many organisations throughout the country. Indeed, it has probably taken the place of some of our other Departments in providing facilities. This matter should be looked at in the light of the social fabric disaster in relation to many of our social welfare recipients.

Another area that should be looked at is the care of our aged population. While I welcome the extension of the carer's allowance — as the Minister said, he had to start somewhere — I hope there will be a progression in the extension of this allowance. People are living longer and many of them find it very difficult to exist in nursing homes or to obtain subventions. The dependent relative's allowance of £110 is a joke in this day and age. How long has it been at this figure? From what I know it has been the same for many years. It is a figure that boils down to something like £1 or £2 a week and many people in looking after their elderly relatives are taking the place of nursing homes, health boards etc. In many cases it is the son, daughter, son-in-law or daughter-in-law who will be next to fall victim to sickness because they do not have the means or the know-how, or have their own family to look after. This area has to be looked at. While I welcome the concept of the carer's allowance more must be done.

I ask the Minister to have a special investigation into the dependent relative's allowance because it has no basis in reality to present day values.

I pay tribute to the many voluntary agencies, bodies like the St. Vincent De Paul Society in particular who, I am sure, the Minister acknowledges do very great work. I think it is fair to say that if they were not there the Minister would have mutiny on his hands in relation to certain tragic and sad cases in our society. The various voluntary agencies work at fund raising, dealing with difficult cases and contracting bodies such as An Bord Gáis, the ESB and Telecom Éireann to try to ensure a lifeline for people who get into difficulties because they hesitate to seek help or know no better and hope that the whole problem will somehow pass away. We should all acknowledge the tremendous work that the voluntary agencies do and I am sure the Minister would be the first to do so. It is important that we do not begin to regard them as a further arm of State services because there is a danger then that some of the people who traditionally donate to them may need help from them.

Last year I mentioned appeals procedures and the difficulties in relation to decisions. It is fair to say that there have been certain improvements in this regard. I ask the Minister to keep that matter under review.

Another matter that has been raised is the question of amnesties and exemptions in relation to PRSI payments being deducted by employers and not passed on to Revenue, and subsequently firms getting into difficulties and the employees being the victims. In this day and age there should be provision for a quarterly or six monthly check and for receipts to be issued from the Department to the individuals concerned when moneys have been paid in. The employee's pay slip may record the deductions but that is all.

We on this side of the House will be supporting the amendment put down by our spokesman, which reads:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Seanad Éireann declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill because:

(a) It fails fundamentally to reform the Social Welfare System;

(b) It fails to tackle the reality of deep poverty in our Country;

(c) It fails to tackle and to eliminate poverty traps and the vicious cycle of unemployment;

(d) It leaves the bulk of the low paid in the PRSI net;

(e) It retains substantial anomalies and multiple meanstesting based on gross rather than net incomes;

(f) It totally fails to develop adequate educational opportunities and voluntary work options for the unemployed and their dependants; and

(g) It totally fails to make adequate provisions in respect of families with children."

It is important that the family the basic fabric of our society, is maintained and that husbands and wives parents including single parents, are able to bring up their children with a certain sense of dignity. If they are social welfare recipients, long term or short term unemployed or at the low end of the wages scale they should be able to provide their family with basic needs in food, heating, clothing and education so as to prepare them for life in a proper way. This Government have not addressed this problem of providing for so many people who have difficulty in barely keeping not alone their chin but even their nose or their eyes above water.

At the outset in my short contribution to this important Bill I warmly congratulate Deputy Michael Woods, the Minister for Social Welfare, on his consistent and, indeed, exceptional progress over the years in improving the lot of social welfare recipients. He has a great track record in social welfare. Indeed the party that the Minister and I belong to have an equally successful track record in the area of social welfare. I can recall, in what were regarded as the toughest of times, increases of the order of 25 per cent being granted to old age pension recipients by the present Minister who was Minister for Social Welfare then, in 1981 and 1982. I suggest this is not socialism as an ideology, it is practical socialism at its very best. Again this year significant increases are granted. The Minister is simply being consistent and for this I applaud him loudly.

There is a great concentration in the Bill on the needs of the family and those on low incomes and how welfare payments, and no one could oppose that. The Programme for Economic and Social Progress has been hailed as a very important document for the decade ahead. The Minister has indicated that this legislation sets the agenda for social welfare for the decade ahead. It certainly makes it clear that the Government are committed to improving the lot of the elderly, the sick, the unemployed, lone parent families and families of people at work on low pay. Despite the fact that we all agree that there is a need to, at all times, contain public expenditure, this year the Government are providing £164 million for the proposals in this Bill. The total social welfare bill in this year is something in the region of £3 billion, a staggering figure which clearly indicates the Government's determination to continue to help those who are less well off. This year inflation is running at 2.6 per cent, the lowest in the EC. The increases the Government have given are well and truly above the inflation rate. Improvements continue to be made in the system of child income support for families on social welfare and those at work on low pay. This Bill provides for a minimum child dependant allowance of £12, as well as the payment of a high rate of child benefits for the fourth child onwards. Noticeably the third dependant rate has been streamlined again this year down as low as three. We have come a long way over the past number of years in regard to this aspect of social welfare.

The Bill also removes the major disincentive to seasonal work for those on long term unemployment assistance. Unemployed people have no hesitation in saying that they would much rather work than claim the dole. This initiative will allow them to develop work skills and experience and make them more viable in the jobs market.

The extension of the full social insurance cover to part-time workers comes into effect from 6 April. It is particularly welcome and it will be a major incentive to work. The reduction in the income threshold to £25 a week should protect workers from unscrupulous employers in a sector where employment has often been low paid and insecure. This applies mostly to women employees whose families in many cases depend on their wages. They now have the safety net of social insurance if they get sick. They will also be able to build up pension entitlements for their retirement. The Minister's decision to extend social insurance coverage to part-time workers is an enlightened one and he is to be congratulated.

The carer's allowance has been touched upon by many speakers. It was introduced last year by the Minister and seen as a very innovative scheme. There has been comment about the inadequacies of the carer's scheme but the Minister makes the point that over the years other parties and other Governments spoke about it but shied away from the scheme. The Minister took it on board last year. He said then that it was a start and that he would improve upon it. This year the Minister has extended the carer's allowance scheme to the carers of DPMA recipients and persons getting a pension from other EC states or from a country with whom we have a bilateral social security agreement. That is a significant improvement in the scheme.

When the scheme was introduced last year the Minister said he would review it. He is now doing that and is keeping his promise. Carers are certainly deserving of a payment in their own right, as they do a lot of good work that would otherwise have to be done by State institutions, and they are saving the State a lot of money by doing so. I am pleased with the Minister's comment that he will review the scheme. He says this review will include an examination of the means test provisions as they now apply. In addition, he has in mind extending the scheme to members of religious orders requiring full-time care and attention. The Minister further states that he is having the question examined by the Department to see if appropriate arrangements can be worked out. He will examine the question of how we should provide for people who are caring for more than one incapacitated pensioner. All of this is very welcome. It is in keeping with the Minister's commitment in regard to this very important aspect of social welfare, the carer's allowance.

There are many other worthwhile provisions in the Bill. It provides for the payment of an adult or a child dependant allowance for six weeks after the death of a spouse or a child. This measure will ease the burden which parents and widowed people have to endure after the death of a child or a spouse.

The measure to combat fraud is to be welcomed. Fraud has unfortunately been a feature of the whole social welfare system over a number of years and I am pleased the Minister is taking further steps to stamp it out.

The provision of a new minimum weekly payment of £5 for young people with an unemployment assistance entitlement whose means are derived from board and lodging in the family home is very welcome. Young people in this situation will no longer be effectively penalised for living with their parents. The means test will be further improved by the proposed disregard of income from casual employment as a home help. This measure will ensure that elderly and disabled persons continue to be looked after in their communities.

The previous speaker referred to the role of voluntary bodies and it is right and proper that we should pay tribute to them. I, too, congratulate the Society of St. Vincent de Paul on the magnificent work the are doing for the poor.

The Bill has many excellent features. It is in line with the Minister's and the Government's caring concern for recipients of social welfare and people who are generally on low incomes. Obviously I support the Bill.

Tá roinnt nithe sa Bhille a chuireann amú mé. Ní thuigim conas nach mbeadh scéim leasa shóisialaigh chomh cúntach is ba chóir di a bheith agus í ag plé le daoine atá ar bheagán. Tá spéis agam féin le blianta beaga anuas sa scéim fostaíochta shóisialta nó an SES.

Tá an-mheas agam ar an scéim seo mar mhodh fostaíochta. Tionscnaíodh an scéim seo tríd an Roinn Leasa Shóisialaigh chun maitheasa an phobail go fadtéarmach. Dob fhéidir daoine a choimeád i dtaithí na hoibre leis an scéim seo. Is cuimhin liom teacht ar thoscaireacht go dtí Aíre na Gaeltachta i rith na seascaidí i dteannta Ardeaspag Thuama an Dochtúir Breatnach, agus beirt eile as Chonamara. An tUasal Ó Móráin, as Caisleán an Bharraigh, nach maireann anois, a bhí ina Aire. Thángamar le chéile in Óstán an Shelbourne i dtosach báire roimh bhualadh leis an Aire, féachaint conas a áiteoimis air rud éigin a dhéanamh ar son an líon daoine a bhí dífhostaithe sa Ghaeltacht. B'fhacthas dúinn go raibh pionós á chur ar dhaoine a dhéanfadh iarracht a gcás féin a fheabhsú thar dhaoine nach ndéanfadh an iarracht sin.

Chuir sé seo isteach go mór orm óir bhí comharsa béal dorais agam a bhí gan obair agus a bhain dhá lorraí móna dó fhéin. Bhí clann óg ar an bhfear seo agus nuair dhíol sé an dá lorraí móna cuireadh scéala isteach faoi ionas gur baineadh a chárta leighis dó dá bharr. B'shin an chéad uair a thug mé faoi deara iarracht a bheith á déanamh ag an Stát chun cos ar bholg a imirt ar an duine a bhí thíos cheana féin.

Chuaigh an toscaireacht seo isteach chuig an Aire agus is í an cheist is mó a bhí againn ar an Aire ná an bhféadfaí scéim a thionscnamh a thabharfadh deis don líon dífhostaithe beagán airgid a shaothrú agus nach ngearrfadh pionós orthu dá bharr. Smaoiníomar gur mhaith an scéim í dá dtabharfaí cead do dhaoine íocaíocht dífhostaíochta a ghlacadh agus an méid céanna airgid a shaothrú ina theannta. Bheadh deis oibre ag an duine a chuideadh lena fhéin-mheas agus a thairraingeadh meas a mhuintir air, agus choimeádfadh an scéim i dtaithí leis an obair é.

Níor éirigh linn an scéim seo a thabhairt chun críche ar an ócáid sin ach i bhfad níos deanaí, tionscnaíodh an scéim fostaiochta shóisialta — is é sin an SES — atá ina mhacasamhail den scéim a bhí i gceist againn sna seascaidí. Theastaigh uainn dúshlán a thabhairt don duine dífhostaithe dul amach ag obair dó féin agus ag an am céanna go mbeadh teacht isteach éigin dá réir le fáil aige.

Cuireadh iontas agus alltacht orm mar sin nuair a tharraing an Rialtas £3 mhilliún amach as Meastachán na Roinne Saothair i mbuiséad na bliana seo. Goideadh airgead a bhí le caitheamh ar an scéim fostaíochta shóisialta, agus mar thoradh ar an ngníomh sin tá laghdú tagtha ar an líon daoine atá ag glacadh páirte sa scéim. Rinne an Rialtas casadh thart iomlán ar mhuintir na scéime seo.

Is cúis imní dom freisin í go bhfuil tuairisc an choimisiún leasa shóisialaigh fógraithe agus foilsithe agus go bhfuil dóthain moltaí sa tuairisc sin le cur ina luí ar an Rialtas go gcaithfear gníomhú ionas nach mbeidh daoine fágtha sa bhochtanas go síoraí toisc go bhfuil siad dífhostaithe. Léifidh mé alt a 11, ar leathanach 22 ar an ábhar seo:

The Government now commit themselves under this programme to the following:

(a) To continue to protect social welfare rates against inflation;

(b) To move by 1993 to the priority level of rates recommended by the Commission on Social Welfare involving an estimated additional full year expenditure of £65 million on the assumption of an annual 3 per cent inflation rate thereafter.

Más rud é gurb é seo aidhm an Rialtais, ní foláir a mheabhrú dúinn féin go bhfuil an-difir idir aidhm agus gníomh. Dúradh go mb'fhéidir an leasú seo a dhéanamh de réir mar a bheadh an tír ag dul i bhfeabhas ó thaobh saibhris de. Sáraidhm atá anseo agus tá 1993 leagtha síos mar spriocdháta lena chur i bhfeidhm. Má leanann an Rialtas, áfach, leis na rátaí dífhostaióchta atá á íoc anois, ní chomhlíonfar moltaí an choimisiúin sin go deo. Bíodh is go bhfuil sé ráite go mbeidh athrú scéala ann faoi 1993, má leantar leis an modh oibre agus an ráta fáis atá ann faoi láthair, ní bheidh deis ag daoine éalú amach as trap an bhochtanais.

Is eol dúinn uilig gur bhreá le 95 faoin gcéad den líon dífhostaithe dul amach agus lá oibre a dhéanamh. Teastaíonn obair uathu; ba bhreá leo a gcuid oibre a dhéanamh i rith na seachtaine agus pá cóir, réasúnta a ghnóthú ar son a gcuid oibre. Conas mar atá an scéal? Ar thaobh amháin tá daoine ann agus fonn oibre orthu, agus ar an dtaobh eile tá stádas dífhostaíochta i bhfeidhm ag an Roinn Leasa Shóisialaigh faoin a bhfuil airgead á íoc le daoine nuair nach bhfuil obair ann dóibh. I gcás an duine atá ag obair ar phá íseal go lan aimseartha, tá sé léirithe go mbeadh cuid acu níos fearr as a bheith ar an "dole" toisc an oiread cánach a ghearrtar orthu. Is dona an scéal é sin. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil £94 nó mar sin in aghaidh na seachtaine a fháil ag beirt dífhostathe le páiste amháin, ach ní leor é chun an chlann sin a ardú as trap an bhochtanais. Is gá deis fostaíochta chuige sin. Caithfidh an Stát freastal níos éifeachtaí a dhéanamh ar na daoine seo. Maraíonn an easpa oibre anam an duine agus loiteann sé a dhóchas.

Tá aithne agam ar go leor daoine i gConamara agus thart fán dtír go bhfuil sé de thuairim acu nach mbeidh jab acu riamh arís. Níl airgead an Stáit ach dá gcoimeád beo, ar éigean. Ní fhéadfadh go mbeadh barr ar an dá chás ainnis sin: an duine a chreideann go mbeidh sé gan obair choíche agus daortha don dole, agus an duine eile atá ag obair go dian ach nach bhfuil ag fáil cúitimh cóir mar go bhfuil an oiread sin cánach á íoc aige.

Tá an-ghá le scéimeanna cúnaimh agus bheinn ag súil go mbeidis ag dul i lión chun deis oibre a thabhairt dóibh siúd atá gan obair. Is iontach an rud é go mbeadh deis ag duine dul ag obair ar feadh seachtaine, a bheith saor ar feadh seachtaine agus filleadh ar obair arís i gceann seachtaine eile.

Chuir mé féin an scéim seo i bhfeidhm amuigh ar Oileán Árainn ar feadh ceithre bliana; dob é sin an chéad scéim dá shórt a tionscnaíodh sa Ghaeltacht. Bhí 18 fir óga as Inis Oírr ag obair ar scéim shóisialta agus cheap siad, agus iad os cionn 25 bliain d'aois gur rud é a tháinig anuas as na flaithis go mbeadh deis oibre acu don chéad uair ina saoil. Roimhe sin ní raibh jab de chineál ar bith ar Inis Oírr ach amháin an jab a bhí agam féin mar bhainisteoir ar an gcomharchumann. Ní raibh jab ag duine ar bith eile; má fhágann tú as an áireamh an múinteoir scoile agus an sagart, agus an sagart bocht, ní raibh seisean ag fáil móráin ach oiread. Ach é sin ráite, chuir sé gliondar croí ar na fir óga seo, a bhí os cionn 25 bliana, go raibh siad in ann dul amach faoin scéim seo, agus chuireamar caoi ar na bóithre ar an oileán. B'iontach an scéim í agus bhí ardú meanman agus misnigh ar na daoine dá réir. Ach bhí an chuid eile acu, lads a bhí faoi bhun cúig bliana is fiche, agus iadsan ina suí ar na ballaí nó ar an gclaí ag éisteacht linn agus ag féachaint orainn ag obair. Ba é an trua nach raibh, agus nach bhfuil, eisceachtúlacht ag baint leis an scéim sin i gcás oileáin. Nuair a bhíonn aon scéim ann faoi aon rannóg, go hiondúil bíonn gá le eisceachtúlacht ag baint leis chun go mbeadh sé oiriúnach d'oileán, agus bhí orainn i gcónaí, is cuma cén scéim a bhí ann, dul siar go Baile Átha Cliath le bualadh le daoine, Teachtaí Dála agus a leithéidí, agus a iarraidh orthu an scéim a leasú agus a chur san áireamh gur ar oileán a mhaireamar, agus nach ionann na tosca ar oileán agus ar an mórthír. D'éirigh linn an scéal a chur ina cheart de réir a chéile. Ach ansin, nuair a bhí an bhliain istigh acu, ní raibh daoine eile fágtha mar a tharlaíonn i gcás áiteanna ar an mórthír; tar éis bliana caithfidh siad éirí as agus ligean do dhaoine eile dul isteach ann.

Tá sé sin ceart go leor ar an mórthír, ach, ar oileán, a bhfuil 200 duine nó mar sin ann, mar shampla, ní raibh aon duine fágtha le leanúint leis an scéim an bhliain dar gcionn mar nach raibh cead acu dul ar ais ag obair an dara bliain. B'éigean dúinn arís dul ar ais go Baile Átha Cliath lenár gcás a phlé arís, nárbh ionann saol an oileáin agus saol na mórthíre, agus d'éirigh linn tar éis go leor ama a chaitheamh leis an scéal. Anois, sin an scéim shóisialta fhostaíochta. Is mór ann é agus tá mé iontach sásta go bhfuil sé ann, ach is trua liom nach féidir é a mhéadú, agus in ionad bheith ag baint airgid den chiste a bhí ann lena aghaidh, ba chóir dúinn a bheith ag cur leis.

Tá mé ag éisteacht ó mhaidin le go leor daoine ag caint faoin carer's allowance —níl a fhios agam go baileach cén leagan Gaeilge a chuirfí ar a leithéid — ach mar dhuine atá ag obair go pearsanta sa réimse sin tá mé ag rá gur chóir don Aire breathnú go géar air, mar is mór an náire é an chaoi a bhfuil sé faoi láthair. Tá mé ag caint freisin mar dhuine go bhfuil go leor bainte agam le bheith ag cuidiú le seandaoine agus daoine sa bhaile a bhfuil cúnamh ag teastáil uathu. Tá a fhios agam féin an chaoi a bhfuil an tseanaois ag dul i gcion ar mhuintir na tuaithe. Tá "grey area" ansin maidir leis an méid daoine atá ar a gconlán féin, atá sean agus gan ar a gcumas teach council a fháil. Níl an chomhairle féin in ann teach ceart a chur ar fáil dóibh ach amháin an sórt so-ardaithe nó solúbtha seo a dtugtar "demountable" orthu i mBéarla.

Chaith mé coicís le déanaí ag dul thart ar Chonamara ag breathnú ar na tithe seo agus ba bhreá liom go bhfeicfeadh an tAire féin an méid a chonaic mise sna háiteanna sin. Bhíomar ag ceapadh go raibh rudaí go maith go dtí go bhfaca muid a leithéidí siúd. Tá an iomarca ar fad ann, tá an iomarca seandaoine fágtha leo féin. Tá an t-aos óg imithe, agus tá na seandaoine fágtha ansin gan cúnamh ar bith. Fiú má tá mac ar an dole fágtha sa bhaile acu nó má tá daoine gar dóibh sa bhaile a thugann cúnamh dóibh, níl tada le fáil faoin scéim seo. Caithfidh siad cunáamh a thabhairt do na seandaoine seo chuile lá den tseachtain, chuile sheachtain sa bhliain. Nuair a chuireann tú chuile shórt le chéile, má bhíonn an teacht isteach os cionn £92 i dteach ar bith ní bhíonn pingin le fáil le haghaidh carer's allowance.

Ba cheart a chur san áireamh an méid a chosnaíonn sé aire a thabhairt do na seandaoine seo i dteach banaltrais nó in ospidéil timpeall na tíre. Tá sé chomh hard le £300 in aghaidh na seachtaine. Níl mé ag déanamh aon aibhéile anseo, mar tá a fhios ag Seanadóirí. Tá go leor daoine, comharsana béal dorais, mar shampla, a thugann aire do na seandaoine seo, agus ní gaolta fola na daoine seo in aon chor. Is comharsana iad nó bean ar gaol cleamhnais í, nó duine éiginn mar sin, agus níl siad in ann, de bharr an fear bheith ag obair, pingin chúitimh a fháil. Má bhíonn an teacht isteach os cionn £92 níl tada le fáil. Ní dul ar aghaidh an scéim seo, is dul ar chúl é.

Tá aithne agam ar sheandaoine a chruinnigh cúpla punt le chéile chuile sheachtain lena chur i dtaisce le haghaidh lá na coise tine agus nuair a théann siad isteach i dteach banaltrais de bharr nó nach bhfuil aon áit dóibh sa bhaile nó nach bhfuil duine ar bith ann le haire a thabhairt dóibh — fiú an té gur mhaith leis aire a thabhairt ní dhéanfaidh sé é mar nach mbeadh pingin íocaíochta le fáil aige ón Stát — bíonn orthu an pinsean a thabhairt don teach banaltrais. Chomh maith leis sin bíonn orthu in amanna an beagán airgid a chuir siad i dtaisce le blianta fada roimhe a chur leis chun an bille a íoc. Taobh istigh de chúpla bliain tá an beagán sin caite agus cuirtear abhaile iad go dtí teach nach bhfuil teas ná solas ná uisce ná séarachas ann. Tá sé sin feiche agam le súile mo chinn féin agus is mór an trua gurb amhlaidh an scéal.

Sitting suspended at 5.30 p.m. and resumed at 6.30.

I am very pleased to be able to contribute to this debate on the Social Welfare Bill, 1991. First, I would like to congratulate the Minister for Social Welfare on bringing the Bill before the House. It is fair to say that over the years we have had very good Ministers for Social Welfare but the present Minister excels in his portfolio and he should be congratulated by all sides of the House. I am sure the Bill will be accepted by Members of this House as legislation which will significantly improve our social welfare services.

The Bill continues the good work of recent years. Despite constraints on public expenditure, extra resources have been provided for social welfare. This year, for the first time, gross expenditure on social welfare schemes is over £3 billion on a full year basis. The priority rates recommended by the Commission on Social Welfare will be achieved this year in the case of all the long term unemployed. This new minimum long term personal rate of £55 means that all long term rates of social welfare payments now reach or exceed the commission's priority rate of £54.60 for 1991. The expectation that the commission's priority rate for all can now be reached by 1993 is a realistic one.

It is now official that this country has the lowest inflation rate in the EC at 2.6 per cent. I said here only a few weeks ago that we were the envy of Europe and we saw headlines to that effect last week. The Government, the Taoiseach, and all concerned should be congratulated on this magnificent achievement.

The 4 per cent general increase in weekly payments for those who depend on social welfare, which is provided for in the Bill, is well above the inflation rate. The Bill also provides for increases of up to 11 per cent for those on supplementary welfare allowance and short term unemployment assistance, bringing their personal rates to £50 per week. This, of course, is a step towards the achievement of the commission's priority rate for these groups by 1993. All of these measures demonstrate the Government's commitment to ensure that those who depend on social welfare and their families do not lose out.

Those who work have not been forgotten either. I am very happy to note the improvements in child benefit and family income supplement provided for in this Bill, as well as the extension of social insurance to part-time workers. The latter is especially timely, given the increase in part-time work in recent years, particularly among women. The decison to reduce the weekly income threshold to £25 per week is welcome.

A significant development arising from the Bill is the provision of pro rata pensions to pensioners with mixed insurance. This measure seals an obvious gap in pension provision. The Minister is to be congratulated for taking unilateral action ahead of the final report of the National Pensions Board in order to solve the problem. Pro rata pensions will greatly benefit some elderly and retired workers who felt hard done by in the past when they failed to get a social welfare pension on retirement.

The introduction of the carer's allowance scheme last November was widely welcomed. It provides support for persons who otherwise have little means of their own because they are giving full-time care and attention to elderly or disabled persons in their own home. That scheme which became operative last November was very welcome. Many parents, in particular, are now enjoying retirement in their own home, being looked after by a member of their own family, instead of the family person being out at work and trying to visit their parents in a home at the weekends. This is one of the best items of social legislation that has been enacted since I became a Member. The Minister is obviously aware that carers save the State a great deal of time and effort. The extension of the scheme to cater for the DPMA recipients and those receiving a pension from another EC state or a country with which we have a bilateral social security agreement is welcome in this context.

I am pleased to note the Minister has promised a review of the carer's allowance scheme, including an examination of the means test provisions as they operate at present. The Minister's flexibility and approach to the scheme augurs well for its future development. The Bill also proposes improvements in the means test. I welcome the introduction of a minimum weekly payment of £5 for those claimants whose current entitlement is less than £5 and whose only means is the yearly value of the benefit and privilege derived from board and lodgings at home. This provision will dispel any suggestion of discrimination against young unemployed persons who live at home with their parents. Hopefully, this minimum weekly payment will be increased in the coming years, depending on the state of the public finances.

The proposals disregard income derived from casual employment. The home help will greatly benefit the elderly and disabled. Those who use their time to help elderly and disabled persons will no longer see their small income reduced correspondingly in the means tested payment.

Finally, I applaud the Minister for his generous gesture in disregarding for means test purposes future income derived from the HIV haemophilia fund. It is my pleasure to commend this Bill to my colleagues in the House.

The Justice Commission of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors have once again found it imperative to make a submission to the Oireachtas on aspects of the 1991 budget. The submission expresses a clear understanding of the current situation and of the need to continue to improve the national finances. I do not propose to go into the details of that submission but I want to pose a question, as we are concerned about a number of aspects of the Bill, to which I will refer later. There has been talk about a national recovery but a national recovery for whom? This question needs to be asked because any programme for national recovery agreed with the social partners should not give the impression that more emphasis is laid on the need to create material wealth than on the need to redistribute wealth. To some extent one could argue that the social partners in the area of social welfare acquiesced — I say that as a trade unionist — to the detriment of the majority of people. Consequently, it is very difficult not to be critical. The balance between economic efficiency and social responsibility is not always maintained when it comes to setting out social welfare entitlements and so on. I do not think it has been maintained in the way the Irish Congress of Trade Unions would have liked.

The Conference of Major Religious Superiors and the Catholic Social Services Conference recognise that many social welfare recipients, and their families, are living in poverty and that those who depend on short term assistance payments are most vulnerable. Given that 1.4 million people depend on social welfare, there is an urgent need to reform the system and make extra resources available. We need to give families a fair deal and the way to do this is by setting up a special Ministry to deal exclusively with matters such as prices and consumer affairs. Such a Ministry could also seek to reach agreement with shopkeepers and manufacturers on the need to peg the prices of essential foods such as cheese butter, bread, flour, milk, and tea, and in the process put an end to the practice of repricing products already on the shelf. They could also seek to stave off price increases for three months and set up advice centres. A major problem confronts us in that area but the Bill will do nothing to improve the position.

Members of my party in the Dáil put down some far reaching amendments to the Bill. They proposed radical reforms without saying where the money would come from. They proposed that the child income support, the PRSI levy, the benefit and privilege rule and rates of pay should be reformed.

They suggested the rate of child benefit should be increased from £15.80 to £43.50 with an additional £15 for each child over the age of 12 years. They argued that this could be financed by subjecting child benefit to income tax and abolishing the family income supplement. They proposed the abolition of the income contribution ceiling for the PRSI levy, and that all income be subject to a 5.5 per cent levy. They further proposed that the first £3,000 of taxpayer's income be exempt from PRSI to provide relief for lower and middle income groups and increase the PRSI burden on the people in society who can bear it.

The Labour Party also proposed the abolition of the benefit and privilege rule so that young people living at home would no longer be assessed on their parent's income, but rather on their own income and means. They further suggested the abolition of the means test for the carer's allowance and proposed that it be subject to income tax. This would mean that all people who care for dependent relatives would get an automatic weekly payment from the State which would be subject to income tax to ensure that lower and middle income groups benefit more.

It has also been suggested that the minimum social welfare payment should be £58 per week for a single person and £92.80 for married couples and that there should be an increase of 30 per cent for those on the lower rates of social welfare. Many people are now living on the poverty line and are permanently unemployed. I would much prefer to talk about the number of jobs which have been created but the fact is we are not creating enough jobs to keep pace with the number of redundancies. In fact we can now look upon long term unemployment as a permanent feature of our society.

We object to the proposal in the Bill to extend PRSI cover to part-time workers as they will only be paid a reduced rate of benefit. We also object to the proposal to abolish the maternity allowance scheme for women who are not in employment or who work less than eight hours a week and to the reducing of social welfare payments for co-habiting couples to the level paid to a married couple. Our objections relate to a fundamental principle which we have espoused for years, an annual income for all citizens regardless of means or marital status. We have also proposed the abolition of means-testing and the status of dependency and support financial independence for women.

When in Government with the Fine Gael Party we agreed a programme to move us in that direction. Indeed, between 1973 and 1976 child benefit was increased by about 96 per cent. In fact the main social welfare payments were increased during that period by between 93 to 97 per cent. Given that the rates of social welfare will be increased by 4 per cent, the argument that the rate of inflation is only 3 per cent sounds good but it should be remembered that when the decision was made to grant a 4 per cent increase from the middle of the year the rate of inflation was below 3 per cent. It is natural to assume that if inflation was below 3 per cent it will rise to 3 per cent by the time the Social Welfare Bill is introduced. When you add to that the increase in VAT on telephone and ESB charges it will off set the benefits to a great extent. The question of phone calls being timed is another area where there will be great difficulty.

There are more than a million people in the poverty trap, and that has been confirmed by the ESRI and the Conference of Major Religious Superiors. These bodies also recognise that there is a lack of information available to people who are entitled to social welfare benefits.

I believe there is scope for improvement. We welcome the improvements that have been made already and the agreement of the social partners on certain developments. Resources, however, are not being distributed in the way intended. Perhaps the Minister, in concluding the Second Stage, would indicate what progress has been made as regards the redistribution of resources. There should not be only a transfer of money from the wealthy to the worker and from the worker to the unemployed. There should be real redistribution, ensuring equity and justice for society as a whole. I would like the Minister to give some indication of the Government's intention in this direction.

I have already mentioned job creation. Profits in the top 50 companies doubled in the two years of the Programme for National Recovery, but the profits invested in job creation fell far below what would normally be expected of these companies. While increased profits and dividends are to be welcomed the workers should get a fair share of the benefits. Increased payments to social welfare recipients should also result from an improved economy.

The Minister is very welcome to the House. Since he took office in 1987 in the Department of Social Welfare, despite constraints in public expenditure, he ensured that extra resources were made available to people in the social welfare sector. In this year's budget there is an increase of 4 per cent in social welfare, an increase in excess of the rate of inflation, there is an increase in social insurance benefits to part-time workers, the introduction of pro rata pensions for people affected by mixed insurance and other provisions to improve schemes and administration.

The Minister has made it evident that people are better off at work than being unemployed and that it is important. Many statements to the contrary have been made on this issue in the recent past. I am glad the Minister has given examples that a family with four children earning £160 per week is £44.20 per week better off at work than on unemployment; a family with four children earning £180 per week is £35 per week better off and a young person on £115 per week is £36 per week better off. Since 1987 people have been saying that there is a disincentive to work, but by increasing the levels of social welfare in sensitive areas the Minister has ensured that there is an incentive for people to go out and seek employment.

One thing that seems to be forgotten by the Labour Party and particularly by Fine Gael is that the Minister has now exceeded the commission's recommended rate of £54.60 for people on unemployment assistance. Taking into account the cutbacks in resources since 1987, this is no mean achievement and the Minister is to be congratulated on it. Given that he is a member of a Cabinet in a Government which made cutbacks in education, health and other areas, he was able to ensure that the income for the less well off was increased.

In the debate today very little was said about social welfare but quite a lot was said about unemployment. It is to be understood that the Opposition will latch on to this aspect. From a Government point of view it is important to say that between 1987 and 1990 the number of people at work increased by 40,000, to 1.12 million. In that period unemployment was reduced from 250,000 to 225,000. This happened despite redundancies, reorganisation and rationalisation within industry and despite the number of people in the public sector who took voluntary redundancy. I would say to Fine Gael that they cannot have it both ways. They claimed last year that 30,000 people a year were emigrating for work while this year they are saying that unemployment is not decreasing because these people are coming back. There is a slow-down in economic growth in the UK and the US, and it is to be expected that people will come back to this country. These people when they come back will receive a rate of social welfare that will ensure they have a reasonable standard of living. Again, that is thanks to the Minister.

People say that unemployment figures are not falling. We all have to agree that there is a slow-down in economic growth in Ireland. There is also a recession in the UK and the US and inevitably that means more people will come back to our shores. They are very welcome but it will also mean that the number on the unemployment register will not decrease as sharply as over the past two years in particular.

The one thing that has been of particular significance in terms of the Irish economy has been economic growth and everyone knows that it is a necessary condition for employment growth. Over the past number of years when economic growth has been good, the private sector has created a significant number of jobs, in other words, it has expanded massively. However, if there is high immigration it is quite likely that over the next number of years the level of unemployment will not slow down as significantly as we would hope.

That brings me to the question of how well the Government have performed in terms of employment and particularly their programme in relation to education and training policies. As somebody coming from the third level sector and involved in it, I know that third level graduates are — and will be — of vital importance in increasing employment in this country. Government policy and IDA policy identified the electronics, computer and pharmaceutical industries and health care products as high tech in their own way. The message must ring out loud and clear, therefore, that if we want to reduce the number of people who will benefit from social welfare we must keep as many of our students and our young people as possible in education for as long as possible.

We have many advantages here which are now becoming quite clear and marked in the number of multinational companies deciding to locate in Ireland. In terms of taxation, our corporation tax of 10 per cent still remains a vital inducement for outside companies. It is a major advantage, it is a well known fact that they are attracted by this, and the Government have confirmed this by acknowledging that they will allow it to continue until 1992, again significant in terms of attracting future employment into this country by way of companies from abroad locating here.

This Government have also taken into account the economic factors and their economic performance since 1987 has been revolutionary in that they have not shirked from the responsibility of taking tough decisions for the good of this country in the long term. They have succeeded in bringing inflation down to something like 2.75 per cent. If you compare that with Europe, we are doing particularly well. We are still something like three or four per centage points below the UK. Interest rates are likely to reduce by a further 0.5 per cent over the next few weeks, again in the European context we are doing well and we are certainly about six percentage points below the UK level. We have reduced our industrial costs and as a result of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress agreed with the unions and employers, we have ensured that there will be industrial peace and progress over the next number of years, which gives us an extremely important competitive advantage. I am sure the Minister for Social Welfare is delighted with that because competitive advantage for people coming into this country means that fewer people will be making demands on his portfolio. I am concentrating on employment here because the vast majority of the Opposition speakers made the point that unemployment is a major factor. It is important to set the record straight and I am attempting to do that this evening.

In Ireland we have a growing population, which was up to 20 per cent over the last two years, two and a half times the EC average. We have a young population, half of them are under 30 years of age — our figure is 53 per cent under 30 years of age while the German figure is something like 39 per cent. From the year 2000 our population of 15 to 19 year olds will rise whereas across Europe it will fall. Our education level is particularly high and we can be extremely proud of it, 78 per cent of 16 year olds are in education in Ireland. In Europe it is 68 per cent, 10 per cent less. Our most important asset is a sophisticated young workforce which can give higher productivity to any company from outside wishing to come in here.

While our young people are a major advantage, are our education and training systems in parallel with the task of creating growth in employment terms? I will outline exactly what I mean. A survey was carried out recently by the IDA which, as I already intimated homed in on industry, where peripherality will not be important. They are interested in information technology, computers, electronics, health care products and pharamacuticals; peripherality, thanks be to God, does not come into it, the IDA are interested in education, training and know-how of the people our education system and training produce. The IDA have pinpointed that our greatest asset, our young people, could cause us an immediate problem given the outline and the programme for job creation here in Ireland.

The IDA estimate that the annual need for computer science graduates will be 1,050. They categorically state that we will be producing 240 per annum, well below quarter our demand. In the electrical and the electronic engineering areas it is said that by 1995 the need will be for 630 graduates a year. The number expected to be produced by our education system is around 175. In any other field in education the number of people we are producing is more than adequate for the requirements for the future. The reason I am throwing out these figures this evening is I am well aware the Minister will take them back to Cabinet and ask the very important question how we can address the imbalance the IDA survey has shown up. In terms of recruiting into the third level sector he will be asking the Government, must we not ensure that the people come into the disciplines that are our future, our jobs, will reduce social welfare claims?

The one criticism I have of this Government is that, while the economic forecasts have been excellent, I am not certain the overall concentration between education, training and employment has been as co-ordinated as it might be. This evening I am asking the Minister to take that back to Cabinet and address it in the short term, and I do so in the knowledge that this Government are making a significant number of new places available in the third level sector for post-leaving certificate students.

No more let us have this over-emphasis on the business side. If you have any type of business course you will have such an overflow of candidates that it is unreal, but for some reason if you start a course in engineering or computer science, the same demand is not there. To the outside world our industrial policy is geared to job growth in that sector. As somebody involved in the third level area, I say let us address that immediately. Let us ensure the prognostication made by the IDA does not hold through into 1995 by ensuring now that people in third level institutions put on courses that address the real problem areas, the real employment growth areas, which are those areas already identified by the IDA.

Let me also put out a warning. Since much of our sophistication and expertise might be in the business related area and the courses being promoted by the third level sector may not be in keeping with Government or industrial policy, we need to look at the two sides. We need a look at the IDA side but we also need to look at what third level institutions are demanding and offering by way of courses. Right is not all on their side and often they promote courses that will not produce proper employment for their graduates at the end of the day. We need to address that problem immediately.

An issue which is really the responsibility of the Minister for Labour bothers me, that is, international firms locating in Ireland. It bothers me from the point of view of co-ordination and the relevance of courses being offered to trainees. If we emphasise health care, electronics, computers and pharmaceuticals, I ask the Minister present to relate to the Minister for Labour the over-emphasis we are putting on training people in those areas in FÁS training centres all over the country. We seem to have this notion that in the US there was a massive growth in employment in the services sector. I do not think there is the same scope in Ireland. If industrial policy is geared to particular areas then our training policy through FÁS should signify and reflect that and should produce a significant number of trainees who have a certain expertise in the electronics, computer and pharmaceutical areas. I am not certain that is happening at present.

It has been brought to my notice that people on social employment schemes are being regarded as in full-time employment, and that such families are not entitled to supplementary welfare allowance. I also understand that, even though they are regarded as being in full-time employment, they are not entitled to the FIS. Perhaps the Minister when replying will address this.

At a time of major cutbacks and retrenchment the Minister for Social Welfare has provided a better service for our underprivileged than any other Minister. He has tightened up the system, contracted the number of social welfare schemes and brought a human face to social welfare that was never in evidence. For that he is to be congratulated. It is a compliment to him this evening that I did not deal so much with what he has achieved in social welfare but rather with unemployment which is not directly his area of responsibility.

I recommend this Bill to the House.

I support Senator Kennedy's amendment. I congratulate him on that amendment which is timely and appropriate in the light of the provisions in the Bill. The amendment seeks to bring into this legislation an equity, a caring dimension, a Christian commitment to the welfare of those in need. It is because that is absent and because of the growth in inadequacies and anomalies in the existing Bill, that we bring forward the amendment. Paragraph (a) states that the Bill fails fundamentally to reform the social welfare system.

There is no evidence in this Bill that a mechanism has been built into the social welfare system to alleviate at base level the greatest areas of poverty. The most frightening aspect of the Bill is that there is no evidence to suggest a mechanism is built into it to take people out of the poverty trap.

The thrust of all social welfare legislation must be to create mechanisms whereby people can develop the capacity to get out of the proverty trap. Thirty per cent of the population live in households where the income equivalent per adult is less than £57 per week. That frightening statistic cannot evoke anything but a reaction of shame. Up to 30 per cent of married couples have a joint income in the region of £94 per week.

The growth of rural poverty is a frightening phenomenon. As a representative of a rural constituency at local authority level and here in the Seanad, I am aware of the very real problem of poverty among small farmers in Cavan-Monaghan and the deficiencies in the assessment method in respect of small farmer's assistance. The taking into account of the capital value of land and a notional value of stock which bears no relation to the vagaries of farming life or to the realities of the marketplace can be penal. Farmers who could not be established to have anything other than a meagre income are refused small farmers' dole — a dreadful term used for an allowance to which they are entitled. They are estimated to have an income well above what is realistic. The income of anybody living in the home, perhaps a son who is a factory worker, is assessed as part of the household income. Last year there was a real decrease in the price of farm produce such as lamb, beef and milk. This resulted in a drop in the already marginal level of income of many farmers. Rural poverty has reached crisis proportions and presents us with a great challenge. This amendment seeks to meet that challenge.

Statistics show that we have an astronomical number of unemployed. We have passed what might be regarded as an acceptable level of unemployment, although I do not believe there is such a thing. I would submit in no begrudging or belittling way that the Programme for Economic and Social Progress is effectively a wages agreement. I have read the programme and it contains many worthy aspirations. I do not, however, see them as having concrete expression. What is objectionable is not that it is a wages agreement but that it purports to be more.

The great inadequacy of the PESP, of the Social Welfare Bill and of all contemporary Government strategy is the lack of a practical and philosophical approach to unemployment. This lack is obvious in Government but also in other sectors. There is a developing idea that unemployment is a fact of life with which we must live. I do not believe we should accept unemployment as a fact of life and our duty as public representatives is to devise strategies to deal with this problem. This malaise is not peculiar to Government but permeates many sectoral groups who approach national and social policy purely in terms of self-interest and thereby deny the unemployed. It is not possible to be convinced that there is built into Government strategy a commitment to deal with unemployment. I urge the Minister to take it to Cabinet as a priority.

Apart from the dreadful spectacle of unemployment and all it means in terms of personal debilitation and ostracisation and other horrendous side-effects for individuals and their families, there is the by-product of mass emigration. This very grave problem will shortly be measured by the census. It is a direct result of unemployment and of anomalies in the tax system. More people than it would take to pack the Cusack Stand, the Hogan Stand and the Nally Stand for an all-Ireland football final have left this country in the past couple of years. The people who have left are the young, the talented and the vibrant, those who could give us the kind of creativity which is necessary to deal with the changes we will face after 1992. It is for that reason that paragraph (c) of our amendment is so urgent and important.

Paragraph (d) raises a point mentioned by the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, namely the question of PRSI for the low paid. It is our contention that those in the low paid bracket should not have to pay PRSI. The Minister could introduce such radical reform, which would be remembered for generations to come as having real meaning for those caught in the poverty trap. The low paid are in a real poverty trap. We addressed ourselves last week to the question of part-time workers who are obviously a significant impoverished sector. Traditional and historical considerations and sociological realities will make it difficult to quantify and get to the root of rural poverty. Lest anyone is under any illusions to the contrary I can tell the House, as somebody representing rural and urban communities, that rural poverty is a very real phenomenon at present. I am not glad to be bringing this to the notice of this House. It will be difficult to deal with but it needs urgent treatment and it will not get that under the Bill.

The low paid could be helped by the PRSI changes, and there is need for major amendment to this Bill to deal with the rural poor and the low paid. An excellent amendment to the Bill by Senator Kennedy raised the question of means-testing. Senator Kennedy deserves the thanks of the House for the work he has put into the Bill. I have already alluded to means testing. There are many anomalies in means test. We should get rid of the concept of gross income and refer instead to net income, because that is more realistic.

I came across a practical example recently of a very fine young farmer who worked as a milk cartier, a traditional job in rural Ireland. He has a small patch of land and an expensive tractor and trailer for his work as a milk cartier. According to the means-testing mechanism in place at the moment, his income is marginally above the level to get a medical card; or the small farmer's dole. As a self-employed person — and God knows it is stretching the English language to describe him as self-employed — he was outside the remit of the family income supplement scheme. He considered his gross income was a purely notional thing because he had to take account of all the costs associated with his work, the seasonal nature of his work and the variations within his year. The unfortunate person was in the position of not qualifying for social welfare allowances. He is in very difficult circumstances and he has a young family. I did the sums up, down and side ways and I discussed his case with an accountant who was a personal friend because he could not afford the services of an accountant. One would be doing wonderous things with his income to realise £85 net, yet, because of the capital value of his land and assets, he was in these difficulties. There are anomalies in the whole method of assessment and they should be looked at.

Senator Kennedy's amendment raises the question of educational opportunities and voluntary work options for the unemployed. I submit that educational opportunities are of critical importance. One way we can give dignity, freedom and capacity for self improvement to people is by education and by the use of educational strategies. Equality of opportunity and upward mobility can be achieved through reform of the education system. There is no greater vehicle to achieve that objective. For that reason the absence of a commitment to develop adequate educational opportunities and the practical expression of how that could be achieved in the Bill is a great pity.

It was included in last year's Bill.

If it was worth including on one occasion then it would be worth tackling on a continuous basis. I submit we should be developing and expanding educational opportunities. It is the least we can give our impoverished people and our unemployed.

I appeal to the Minister to respond once again to a matter I raised before. This change can be achieved without extra cost to the Exchequer and very seldom will the Minister be confronted with propositions within this House, in the other House or at any public meeting that involved very little expenditure. I welcome the carer's allowance in principle but the reality is that people are not qualifying for it because of the crippling means test. The amount paid is £45 a week and that we could live with. For the information of those who may not be familiar with the carer's allowance it is an allowance paid to a person who is giving whole time care and attention to an infirm, disabled person. The carer can receive £45 a week under the terms of the Act and that is to be welcomed. I do not quibble with the amount, but the problem lies in eligibility, because if a person is earning they cease to be eligible for the carer's allowance. I came across a case recently of a person earning a modest income whose spouse was giving full-time care and attention to a disabled person or a long term ill person. A proportion of this income is taken into account as the spouse's allotted notional income for the purposes of assesment for the carer's allowance.

The reality is that in the case of a person earning the very modest income in contemporary terms of £9,000 a year, the spouse would be deemed to be earning something in the region of £4,000 a year and by virtue of that would not be eligible for the carer's allowance. The implications of that are quite awful. It would be petty of any Member to denigrate what I believe in principle is a good idea if it could be implemented properly. It is a nightmare for local politicians and all Members of this House. Many people applying for the allowance fail to get it because it is not possible to qualify for it. They put the local politicians through a horrendous process of making useless representations. For the sake of the politicians, and the social welfare officers, I submit to the Minister that he look at two options, either change the income level for eligibility, or abolish the scheme. The second option would be frightening and I would not recommend it.

Three thousand eight hundred people have the allowance at present and we do not want to take it from them.

I dread to think what situation those people were in prior to getting the carer's allowance. There should be a change. In my work I receive representations from people who may inherit small farms. Invariably when somebody inherits a small farm they find themselves giving full-time care and attention to the surviving parent who is more often the mother. Generally the eldest son is the person concerned. Because of the low level of return from a small farm, coupled with the amount of care they must provide for the aging parent, they cannot function properly as farmers. Unfortunately, though, the little sideshow in farming disqualifies them from eligibility for the carer's allowance. That happens to be in many ways a bleak and sad part of rural Ireland for which there are also post-famine historical reasons. That is very sad. These are tremendous people whom we should all applaud. Indeed we should stand in awe of them as we observe the work they do. Very few of us would have that selfless commitment to undertake that work on a full-time basis. You can well imagine how demanding and trying that work becomes but it remains a noble undertaking.

I appeal to the Minister to re-examine the carer's allowance to see what can be done about it.

The question has been raised of the children's allowance. I propose to finish dealing with a most timely, necessary and worth-while amendment by examining this allowance. The children's allowance has much significance particularly in our culture. Unfortunately, tragically and reprehensibly, the children's allowance has been practically the sole income of many spouses for all sorts of reasons, whether an irresponsible partner, impoverished partner, a partner with personal and social problems and so on. In many cases the children's allowance was one thing over which the woman in the home had control and had immediate access to it. It went directly to the benefit of the children.

I heard a dreadful story recently of somebody who, out of their children's allowance — granted in respect of a reasonably large family — saved up the money for essentials for the home. Quite apart from attempting to feed the children from the children's allowance — if such were possible that woman saved for essentials for the home. That is a bizarre, sad, dreadful situation. Thank God, there are not too many such cases but the fact that there are any is frightening. My basic contention is that, in many homes, the children's allowance is a major proportion of the income going to the direct welfare of the dependent children. For that reason alone it is extremely important that it should keep pace not only with inflation but that it be realistically increased at every available opportunity. Given that the children's allowances were not increased in the years 1987, 1988 or 1989 and that there is a most minimal increase only this year a major difficulty remains.

I ask the Minister to re-examine this matter and accept our amendment on the children's allowance. He should go back to Cabinet in regard to that allowance. I contend it is mechanism for the alleviation of poverty and the creation of some degree of social equity, being a direct income to help our children. We have spoken often here of a charter of children's rights. I would totally support such a worth-while concept giving practical expression to our commitment to children's rights. Realistically increasing these allowances would implement that commitment to our children.

Although it is not a function of Opposition, the question might be posed: how should one fund a radical reform of the social welfare system? I do not think that to date we have been sufficiently courageous or radical in dealing with our taxation system. Over the years the thrust of taxation has been to extract taxation from defenceless PAYE workers who have no discretion in the matter. As has been recommended by the Conference of Major Religious Superiors and various other groups, the Government must examine corporation capital and wealth taxes. I know this must be done with sensitivity to economic growth and so on but I do not believe that any effort is being made to go down those roads as a method of fund raising. That is not the remit of Opposition nor is it the remit of today's debate. Today's debate is about the Social Welfare Bill before us which we find unacceptable in its present form which is the reason I support this amendment.

I do not intend to delay the House. Certainly I do not intend to go through the entire Bill. I have been listening to the debate on and off throughout the afternoon. Many good things have been said, demanded and claimed and it would be very difficult to take a new approach. What the amendment seeks is something all sides of the House would support but whether or not it can be implemented at this stage is a matter for the Minister. I contend social welfare generally must be examined in a wider context, one that takes account of the need to create wealth, for an equitable tax system and a proper redistribution of overall wealth.

Social welfare is simply another name for the redistribution of wealth. Social welfare, its application and limits are absolutely determined by the taxation system. The ability of the State to provide social welfare is determined more than anything else by the taxation system and the wealth creation within that system. Without doubt, were we to increase employment and prosperity nationwide, the demands on social welfare would be far fewer than is the case at present.

I welcome many provisions of the Bill especially the fact that it is the first major step in the social welfare area, to meet some of the commitments on the part of Government and social partners under the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. Certainly it is to be welcomed in that regard and it would be churlish of anyone to contend that it does not have some novel progressive features. However, it is important to say that it in no way meets the expectations of those unfortunate people who daily depend on social welfare to put bread on the table. That is the other reality, the reality we have failed to face time and time again.

There are aspects of the Bill I do not understand, some of them too complicated for somebody who is not working closely in the area. Certainly there are aspects of the Bill which will create new opportunities to deal with long term outstanding issues. I refer to the consolidated system of PRSI and also the provisions outlined in the Bill to ensure that people are brought into the contributory old age pension scheme, people who have lost out for various reasons over various years. I am glad that the carers of young adult handicapped have been dealt with in the Bill. I subscribe to the comments made by Senator Honan. She has raised this question and associated questions consistently during the years I have been in the Seanad and I support the point of view she has put forward.

The Minister must, and probably does, recognise that as a result of advances both in health care and with a more developed social fabric that handicapped people and those with a disability are living to a greater age then ever before. This is something positive but it creates greater demands on the carers and it was, therefor, important that we would deal with it. It does not meet the expectations of people and does not go far enough but the measure must be welcomed in as much as it moves forward a certain distance. There is the question of the rights of people with disability, of the rights of the handicapped and what we do with the older adult handicapped. I know parents of mature, almost middle-aged, people with the disability of Down's Syndrome or other illnesses. There is nothing as tragic as the sight of ageing parents who wonder what will happen to their child when they die. I ask the Minister to make that a priority issue for the future. The appalling vista that some of these people will end up in a psychiatric home which is not really the milieu in which they can develop and have a full life is very worrying. It appears that money cannot buy the facilities that are required. Those facilities can be used only in a structured way and this has not been done. I wonder how we can deal with that aspect.

In the UK many successful programmes have been set up which allow people with handicap, with disability, to live in the community by allocating to them a certain allowance per week. What does the Minister think of that development? Is it possible for us to integrate people with disability into the community in a positive way that will give them support and also recognise the invaluable role being played by their carers who may be and generally are family members, but also in effect to allow for the employment of carers? The reality is that in many European countries, as the Minister will be aware, there are programmes in operation which allow adult handicapped persons to employ carers to look after them and allow them to live an integrated and full life in the community. I say this because it is an issue that will be on the Minister's desk in his Department very shortly. This is evident in the education area. There is an understandable demand that people with handicap or a disability be educated in a normal milieu or a group of normal people whether at school or in the community. We must recognise that this is a movement that will take place and it is very important. I am not quite sure how we ought to deal with it.

We need to go a little further in the area of child benefit. I say in a very positive way that one of the great problems that will face the European Community over the next ten years or so will be the replacement of population. What we see here is a fairly clever way of dealing with the amount for each child in excess of three; which is a recognition of family size in Ireland and what it purports to be a present. The Government, by offering an incentive to those people with three or more children, appear generous. I welcome this as somebody whose members depend for employment on the number of children. The more incentives the Minister gives with regard to child benefit the better. The replacement of population is a serious problem and one that has to be addressed by a number of European countries. The pro-natal, fiscal and social welfare policies of France have managed, in effect, to change the fertility rate and, similarly, some of the more positive aspects of social welfare in Scandinavia, particularly in Sweden, have led to the same position. We will be going down that road also.

I do not intend to go through the Bill section by section; that was my original intention but every part of it has been referred to three or four times already. It is important that the Minister has time to sum up and respond comprehensively to the questions and issues raised.

However, I want to raise a number of specific areas in relation to social insurance for part-time workers in particular. The Minister stated that part-time workers earning £60 or more a week will be required to pay class A contributions of 5.5 per cent. I would like clarification on aspects of that. The very fact that it is based on weekly employment can work to the detriment of many part-time workers. Frequently, part-time workers are seasonal workers and they may work only part-time for certain periods of the year. Will their liability for PRSI be determined by annualising their income in that way? In other words, will we multiply £60 by 52 and get £3,120 or whatever it works out at and determine that as an annual income?

There is a group of workers in whom I have a special interest, namely, the substitute teachers. Substitute teachers are employed at approximately £50 per day. The reality is that they cannot work every day or every week or every month of the year. They are the spailpín fánach of Irish professional society, many of whom are caught in a most awkward situation where they are paying full PRSI and they do not derive any benefit from it. There are many other workers in a similar situation. I want to raise two points with the Minister. It would appear that in the very near future it will be possible for those workers to contribute to the superannuation scheme of the Department of Education. For part-time teachers to pay the full class A PRSI and the full superannuation contribution would mean that they would pay 12.5 per cent or so out of a very meagre payment. Two specific questions arise. Can we say that for a period in which a person is paying into a superannuation fund, particularly a State superannuation fund to which many public servants contribute, that person would not also be required to pay the full PRSI during that period, or will it be possible for those people on entering full-time employment to transfer the superannuation element of their Class A PRSI contributions to the superannuation fund operated in that employment? I am conscious of the fact that it has been Government policy for a long time to ensure that people are able to transfer their superannuation benefits from one employment to another. However, I am aware that a large number of primary teachers who have been paying Class A PRSI contributions for the last five or six years have never been able to qualify for benefits because of the way the school year is structured.

They will now; that is the difference.

If those people are lucky enough to find full-time employment, will they be able to ask the Department to transfer the superannuation element of their PRSI contributions to the superannuation fund operated by the Department of Education? The Government are saying that people should be able to transfer superannuation benefits when they move from one employment to another. They are professionals but they are also disadvantaged, and do not earn big money. It is therefore not very realistic to require them to pay contributions at the rate of 12.5 per cent to the teachers superannuation fund in addition to Class A PRSI contributions. The third option might be some form of co-ordinated PRSI contribution so that a person could simply move from Class A to a lower class of PRSI. For instance, if the Department of Education introduce a system where substitute teachers would be allowed to make contributions to the superannuation fund, would they also be allowed to pay a lower class of PRSI? Those are some of the issues that have come up in my discussions on this area and I look forward with interest to the Minister's response.

I have read the Bill carefully but I am still not clear on the question of pro rata pensions for people with mixed insurance. On a previous occasion I discussed with the Minister the problems which have been created for the spouses of people who paid stamps prior to 1953 and who had mixed contributions. Section 26 intrigues me. It contains a clause which is beginning to appear more and more in Bills coming before this House: “If in any respect any difficulty arises in bringing this Part into operation the Minister, may ... by order, do anything which appears to be necessary or expedient for bringing this Part into operation...”.

For a period of one year.

Acting Chairman

I would ask the Senator not to encourage the Minister to respond to questions during Second Stage. He will have an opportunity to reply later.

I understand that the Bill will operate until the next one is introduced, more than likely this time next year, therefore this provision will be in place for a year. I do not have any difficulty with that because I do not think it will break the country but it is time it was included because, as I am aware having raised issues with the Minister on one or two occasions, the problem was that the power to do so did not exist.

I promise that I will raise again with the Minister a number of long standing cases from 1953-56 involving the spouses of people with mixed insurance. A number of widows now in their eighties have suffered because their spouses did not pay the full stamp at particular times either because they were above or below the limit. I ask the Minister to examine sympathetically those cases since a large amount of money would not be required as there are only a small number of people involved. Such a provision would relieve a great deal of this hardship.

I ask the Minister to consider the issues I have raised. I intend to support Senator Kennedy's amendmend because the aspirations it expresses are to be welcomed. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to this debate.

I thank the Senators who have commented on the Bill. The debate has certainly been very wide ranging. The simplest thing for me to do would be to respond to the comments made by Senator O'Toole while they are still fresh in our minds. Since the Senator concluded by saying that he supports the amendment, I am not so sure I should be helpful to him at this stage but I will do my best.

Of course he should.

I do not think he should.

With the exception of that comment, the Senator was very constructive. I think the amendment is ridiculous, and I am not casting any aspersions on the Senator as he is probably only doing what he has been directed to do.

Senator O'Toole referred to the need to create wealth and redistribute our resources. We will distribute £164 million this year, which is not bad for a start. Indeed, one would have to go back quite a while before one would find a Minister who gave out £164 million. If we examine the record of Fine Gael and Labour while in Government and the real increases proposed by them, we will find they did not amount to one-sixth of the increases being proposed here; yet we have had to listen today to Senators crawthumping about the level of poverty and the things we are not doing.

We are improving in real terms the position of families and children. At the outset I stated that 750 children will gain directly from this Bill which Senators are about to reject. Indeed, if we take last year into account the figure is even greater. For the last four years we have been improving the position of the family and, if Senators wish, I can give the figures to prove it. Senators have produced these statements out of the blue and the general plan is to attack, attack, attack. Let them attack, but they have lost sight of reality. In fact, some Senators contradicted each other. Some Senators said there are disincentives to work. The increases in child dependant allowance are substantial; they are well above what was proposed by the Commission on Social Welfare. For the very large number of children in that group, where is the priority in this Bill? The priority is for those people who are depending on social welfare, the people referred to by the Commission on Social Welfare. What we are doing is in line with what they recommended. I find it very difficult to follow the reasoning and logic behind the comments of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, and I might as well say that. Year after year I get more and more money and give it to the people who need it most, and I get support in both Houses to transfer greater amounts to this area.

No matter what I do, the Opposition come back an say it is not enough, it is not being given in the right direction and it is not what is needed. We heard all these comments cited here today. What are these people talking about? They are talking about 1985 figures. I would remind Senators and the Conference of Major Religious Superiors that this is 1991. Those figures relate to many years ago and we have moved a long way since then. The country has experienced great difficulties since then and numerous changes have been made because of pressures on the Government at that time. Following the 1987 Budget the Government went out of office, the commission's report was put on the shelf by the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition — in fact, they fell out over it — and nothing was done.

What did we do when we came to office? We had a disastrous year in 1987. We had to pick up a budget that had brought about the collapse of a Government. Things were so bad the then Coalition could not put a budget together. We had to put that budget together. I cut out some of the meanest changes proposed in that Fine Gael budget in 1987. If Senators look at it they will see what I did. I did not go ahead with measures that proposed to cut back on allowances to the people who depend on social welfare. In fairness to the Labour Party they would not go along with these measures and the Government collapsed. We had difficulty finding money and our Government and Minister for Finance were pressed even to find a middle road measure at that time, but we managed. Year after year since then we have continued to implement the broad framework proposed by the Commission on Social Welfare. I did not intend to get into that area; I intended to answer some of the questions raised by Senator O'Toole.

Senator O'Toole was right when he said that this Bill is a first step in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. There are progressive measures in it. Incidentally there are 64 sections in this Bill. We have heard much about Social Welfare Bills and what is not in this Bill or in last year's Bill. The Social Welfare Bills for 1989, 1990 and 1991 are the three largest since the system was set up. How then can people say there is nothing in them? There is no reason for saying that and Senators will not fool anybody by saying it. Anybody who knows anything about the system and what is happening will know the reality. I have the 1985 Social Welfare Bill from the Fine Gael-Labour Government. I just looked at it because I was so annoyed with the lack of reality in what is being said. There are 15 sections in it and half of the Bill was made up of tables — I will not embarrass Fine Gael and Labour Senators by saying what is in these tables — but there is a vast number of tables, a lack of standardisation and low levels of £5.50 and £6.20 for children's allowances. That is the substance of the 1985 Bill. It is a very light, small piece of legislation and the other Social Welfare Bills from the Government were equally light and small.

If Senators look at this Bill by comparison they will see all the improvements we are making and how they fit in with what we did last year and the year before. Many improvements have been made and very hard work has been done by my officials and myself in getting agreement at Government level for these changes. People mentioned changes of all sorts today, but virtually every change costs money. We are not talking about thousands or hundreds of thousands of pounds but about millions of pounds and that, of course, is the great problem which nobody alluded to here today.

Some views have been expressed quite graphically here. Mention has been made of the unemployed, particularly the long term unemployed, the Commission on Social Welfare and the changes made since 1986. Nothing was done between 1986 and 1987, but in 1987-88 there were big increases which had never been experienced before. This Bill provides for a lot of what has been mentioned here.

The pro rata pensions are very important. They will affect people across the board. They are not specifically aimed at one group, for example, the pro rata pensions for CIE pensioners and other specific groups. This is much more wide-ranging. It takes in many of those people Senator O'Toole spoke about. They now get benefits to which they were not previously entitled and they are now building up entitlements. That is particularly important.

The Senator raised a number of questions, for instance, the £60 a week and the problems that arise for substitute teachers and possibly others. The Senator is getting into the area of the public service pension system. I was very interested to hear Senator O'Toole's reasoning. What he suggested is that it is time the public service got around the table and asked how we are to bring these two things together. The self-employed are involved, anomalies are being taken out of the system and the part-time workers are being included in this Bill. However, more than half the public service are not included; that cannot go on forever. This has to be addressed at some stage. Now is the time to begin to talk about it and to say what kind of package is required and how it should work. The sooner that gets under way the better. It is a matter largely for the unions to discuss how this should be achieved.

We can agree to differ on that point.

Of course. The world still goes round and people come to some sort of arrangements. Ultimately, we will have to consider the position of the many people who are now excluded from paying the full PRSI rate. As I said there are may anomalies in the system and the pro rata pension goes a good distance towards correcting some of those anomalies, but the system will never be right until there is a scheme where these two areas work together.

Senator O'Toole pointed out, very rightly, that since people are now living much longer, and that that trend will continue, people will need good solid pension cover. The best way to provide that is to have a basic pension right across the board for everybody in the State, and on top of that to have an occupational pension. One would relate to the other. The private sector and the self-employed have worked in out, by and large and various other groups such as the part-time workers are also involved but it remains a problem which has to be sorted out.

Is the Minister prepared to address it?

I am doing revolutionary things. You would think from what has been said, by Fine Gael particularly, that I am doing nothing but I assure you, if you look back over the past three years you find that there is a revolution in the pensions world, the people concerned know it and they have said so openly to me. They really believe it is moving very fast and that it is very progressive and we are now advising other countries about pension schemes. We have officials in the Department who have been particularly good on that subject and we are doing a lot of work in that area. The Senator raised a very interesting point and it is one on which I will certainly be working. I hope the final report of the pensions board which is due around the middle of the year will deal with all that area and that following that we will be able to have further discussions.

The question of child benefit was mentioned. It is important in relation to population trends. We are still ahead in Europe by a narrow head in terms of population replacement. Senator O'Toole also brought up another very interesting point, the question of the handicapped, including the older handicapped. I am not the Minister for Health——

I appreciate that but there is a question——


By discussing the carers we are, to some extent, confusing things because I am really only entitled to discuss them in relation to social welfare. In this Bill I am crossing into the health area because we are taking on the DPMA. We are doing that because we see it as a need and because Senators made the point previously.

In this Bill I am also getting authority to adjust the means test. That is jointly signed by myself and the Minister for Finance so there is a financial control on it but it means that we will now have a power to move means test and to try to expand the carer's allowance. The allowance was introduced last November and it is now March and 3,800 people are already covered. I knew there would be teething problems because although it was a major breakthrough we were very tightly constricted initially. However, in this Bill we are getting more freedom and I hope we will be able to go a good deal further.

Senator O'Toole brought up a very interesting point in relation to the handicapped and Down's Syndrome particularly. We have introduced the travel pass for the companion——

That is very welcome.

Ten thousand people have taken it up already so it has been very successful. Mentally handicapped people got it without question, without any check in relation to the disability. In relation to the DPMA, there had to be a check on disability and we are dependent on the health boards to give us that information. By and large that has gone very well. That is a very important area in which we will work jointly with the Department of Health.

I will go back to the initial amendments because I do not want to delay too long, I know Senators have been here for a long day; I am quite used to this, I could go on through the night if you like.

So are some of us.

I was disappointed in Senator Kennedy's contribution, which was very negative. I have mentioned that the figures which are quoted all the time are based on figures taken in 1985 and 1986. Things have changed a lot since that time and in that regard our figures are correct. My Department were involved and wrote up the report. In 1985 terms they gave the priority rate as £45, the assistance rate as £50 and the insurance rate as £55. The priority rate of £45 in 1991 terms is £54.60. I am very happy that all our long term payments have now exceeded that amount some of them just by a small margin like the £55 rate others are over £60 or £64. Since all our long term payments exceed the priority rate, we are moving on already. Under the programme, we were to achieve those priority rates by 1993, but are already in a position to move beyond those rates and I hope we will have moved beyond them by 1993. This is a very good omen in relation to achieving the targets set. We are taking measures in this Bill to close the gap on the short term rates by the 11 per cent increase, so our minimum in that regard is now £50, a substantial improvement. For some of the short term rates of course, they are up to the priority rate but we still have short term unemployment assistance and supplementary welfare allowances of £50, which have to come up to the priority rate. Disability and unemployment benefits have pay related benefit associated with them and the commission said that the pay-related benefit should be done away with and the rates increases. The pay related benefit would be about £17.10, the rate to be added to the £50, giving these people £67. However, as those rates are increasing the pay related is shortening and since this is being done in a logical way, we are pursuing the targets set out by the commission.

The Fine Gael Members made much of child benefit; I want to point out here that child benefit is a package — to direct resources, as stated by the Commission on Social Welfare, to the people in greatest need and those at the lowest levels, that is what we have been doing. There has been a great deal of criticism of the child benefit system, the first person to criticise it most was the former Fine Gael Taoiseach Deputy Garret FitzGerald who said it should be taxed and that he and others like him should not be getting it. That is a fact. That is the way he approached it at the time and he set in motion an attempt to tax it. It was impractical, it was not possible and that attempt to relate the two things is still going on all those years later. I can spell out all the reasons for it if somebody wants to hear them. However, at some stage it may become practical albeit with imperfections which will have to be judged at that stage because it is not a perfect system for our purposes.

I know that the policy of Fine Gael at the moment is to tax it and to presumably plough the money back into the system. The policy as stated by Labour is to tax child benefit. That, apart from anything else, would not work; but let us leave that aside for a moment. I also know there is division on this Fine Gael policy because Deputy Fennell in the other House felt very strongly that this should not be done and that it would not be welcome. What have we done in the meantime? There is a problem in relation to child benefit. We have been bringing the higher rate as low as we can and we hope to go on with that, but this year and last year we have been directing more resources to child related tax exemptions. A sum of £14 million is provided for that at the moment. We must consider what is being done for children. The FIS is based on increases for children. There is the minimum of £12 for all children dependent on social welfare. We now have three rates in that and the other two rates are higher. We have the child related tax exemptions and the increase in child benefit. It is a substantial package for children with the resources directed mainly at the people in the lowest income area. That is being studied to see how it can best be developed from here forward.

Employment is one of the issues raised in the amendment. I am asked to introduce legislation to do things about employment and I am told I am not being modern enough or progressive enough here. I do not have to bring in legislation because I brought it in last year. I now have the powers because last year's Act provides for them. Therefore, that part of the amendment can be withdrawn. We have a whole series of educational opportunities including the education opportunities scheme, vocational training, part-time education initiatives, the part-time job incentive scheme, the voluntary work option, facilities to pursue second level education, the VPT scheme and the third level pilot scheme. We have many educational schemes. The schemes are not all full at the moment and we are now ahead in terms of places for them. I want to do much more, but I can now deem a person to be available for work when that person is participating in any scheme I regard as suitable. I do not know how much further I can go or what more I can do in legislation. I have the power already and I do not need it in the amendment. It seems to me somebody just took that aspect off the top of his head without considering the situation.

Comment has been made here about the take-up of social welfare payments generally and reference was made to a study about poverty, income and social welfare in Ireland sponsored by the Combat Poverty Agency, the EC Commission and the ESRI at the Minister's request. We want the facts and we want to deal with them. The study shows that only 3.1 per cent of all units—and we pay out literally millions of units—appeared not to be taken up by people who were entitled to some form of payment but did not claim. The payments to which these people appeared to be entitled included unemployment assistance supplementary welfare allowance and family income supplement. On further investigation it transpired that in some of the cases there was other income that was not declared in surveys. A person doing a survey asks what income category the person surveyed comes into but in social welfare there is a penalty if the right income is not declared. Therefore, the income must be declared fully as must the other incomes a person may have. We went to great lengths in separate independent research on the FIS. We discovered that what our predecessors thought were the figures were not realistic and that the number who would qualify was only between 12,000 and 13,000. That was the result of an in-depth study by an independent researcher. Consequently, it transpired that the take-up was not as low as people thought but people were not entitled because they had other incomes which were not declared in general surveys but were declared in in-depth surveys.

I reject the kind of criticism made here this afternoon. People said we were not prepared to give out information, that we were not getting it across to people. I want to stop that here and now. I assure the House that in the past three or four years particularly we have concentrated on making that information available in the most simple of forms. The voluntary bodies, the National Social Service Board and similar groups, received this service from the information section of my Department. We are getting the information out. We regard it as very important and we will continue to do that.

The Programme for Economic and Social Progress has been criticised particularly by Fine Gael. I am particularly happy that the programme includes a very strong reference and a very strong real commitment to social welfare. At this stage suffice it to say we have provided £8 million this year for the carers. Secondly, we began from the position, for example, of people looking after elderly retired parents who had no income whatsoever. Typically, throughout the country there were cases of women at home who could not claim social welfare or unemployment because they were not available for work or they were discovered not to be available for work and, consequently, they lost their payment and were left with no income. Naturally, as Minister for Social Welfare I make no apology for starting with the people with no income. That is the business I am in. I am working up from that and I have dealt with a number of people who have some income. With possible amendments in the means test we will see how much further we can go with that. The number of people who have received the allowance so far is 3,800 but in the claims that have been made the biggest number of rejections were people receiving the disabled person's maintenance allowance. I have heard many things about all sorts of individual cases. What are we doing in this Bill? We are bringing in the Disabled Person's Maintenance Allowance. It is not under my Department; it involves technical and administrative difficulties; it is within the ambit of another Department; notwithstanding all that, we are bringing it into the social welfare system. We are also improving the means test and making a number of other improvements to the scheme. We hope that scheme will continue to progress. I am certain it will do so and in my speech at the outset I set out the way in which we hope to progress with it.

Deputy O'Keeffe raised a number of points about the Programme for Economic and Social Progress providing the best chance for real job creation. I want to see the programme working well because through it we will get jobs — real, lasting jobs. Just as the Programme for National Recovery, its predecessor, reversed the trend under which jobs were being lost, it has led to the generation of new jobs and a net increase in the number of jobs and will go on beyond that. I have taken on board Senator O'Keeffe's comments about particular areas and I will convey those to the proper quarter. These are very important areas for development in the manufacturing sector. The Programme for Economic and Social Progress will continue to generate 20,000 new jobs annually, as did the previous programme. The services sector is continuing to create additional jobs. Of course, we have problems in agriculture. As was said, many emigrants are returning to Ireland. Because they are coming back with experience, are a few years older and are ready to take jobs particularly in the specialised areas, other people who might have got the jobs are failing to do so.

Senator Ó Cuív spoke about the educational and voluntary work options which we intend to pursue and develop. We will make the whole system more user friendly. In doing so we are bound by the legislation, to which staff members must adhere. It is not fair to be unduly critical when they are working to the legislation passed by the Dáil and Seanad. We are amending that legislation and trying to make the whole system more friendly.

Senator Doyle referred to the question of whether one is better off at work and the size of the increases. There is a certain ambivalence in Fine Gael's approach. Senator Doyle referred to my response to certain figures produced in the media, but these figures were misquoted by some of the media to suggest that recipients of unemployment assistance are getting too much and that one is better off in that position than otherwise. I was not prepared to let that lie. I made it clear that the media people got their figures wrong. They used an internal comparison as a cross comparison and compared people at work at different tax levels with people out of work. The figures did not relate to that.

Deputy Mitchell took up that point because it is an old hobby horse of his. He keeps talking about families with four children. If one wants to make the point that recipients of social welfare are doing too well one picks a larger family who benefit from the increase in the child dependant allowance. We increased the allowance because it was suggested by the commission and because it is needed in those circumstances. The Commission on Social Welfare reported that the much quoted four child family represents only 4 per cent of the total number of recipients of social welfare payments. Over 50 per cent of people on assistance payments are single, a fact of which many people lose sight; the figure is actually nearer to 60 per cent.

Recipients of the family income supplement no longer lose the medical card, although they did when Fine Gael and Labour were in Government. People on the Fine Gael benches are now saying we should reject the £164 million which the Government are putting into social welfare. Some health boards co-operated but others would not and we had to direct them in the end.

Surveys have shown that only 5 per cent of unemployment benefit claimants live in local authority houses, yet spurious figures show everybody benefiting from reduced rents. This is not real. The incentive to work has doubled since 1987.

Senator Doyle spoke about integrating the taxation and welfare systems. Of course this is desirable and I will go along with it as long as it does not hurt any of the people for whom I am responsible. If it means reducing the payment to somebody on social welfare, forget it — I will not go along with it. That is one of the obstacles to the fancy integration schemes one hears about from time to time. These schemes are put forward by people who do not have their feet on the ground. They are sitting in some office drawing up plans and looking at tables. The reality is that when changes are made many people can be hurt, perhaps unintentionally.

Senator Doyle welcomed some of the incentives in the Bill. Questions were asked about the number of people in receipt of the pre-retirement allowance. The figure is 6,500, including smallholders who were never counted in the register. Thus the effect on the register is less than 6,500. In previous years a case was made on behalf of people over 60 who had to sign on and I was asked if we could not do something better for them. We did something better by giving them a book and providing that they do not have to sign on. This option is not forced on anyone. Then it was claimed that these people were not on the register any more because they were not signing on. We cannot have it both ways. We can allow people to do the dignified thing and forget about statistics, yet there is a call for their inclusion in the statistics. We have decided that they need no longer be statistics and that we do not want anybody claiming a capitation grant on their behalf. For every little statistic somebody gets a few bob because another person is on the list. We took people out of that system by letting them have a book. Senators must make up their minds whether they want to allow people some human dignity or to have them as statistics. I am happy that the scheme has worked very well.

Senator Doyle wondered what was happening in regard to community welfare officers. The commission reported that the community welfare officers should belong to the Department of Social Welfare, but that does not mean their functions should change. The Senator is confusing two things — the people and the functions they are performing. The discretionary payments and exceptional needs functions will have to be maintained, wherever the officers are. Quite a number of them are working in our offices already but their function and obligation to do a particular job remain the same. By and large, they do that job very well. It is a very difficult job because they are the people of last resort. Allowances are being standardised as much as possible. Examples are the back to school allowance and the free fuel allowance, but there will always be people who have special needs and they will be looked after by the community welfare officers. What is to happen in the future will be a matter for discussion and negotiation. We certainly respect the job they do.

A number of proposals have been made by Fine Gael, including proposals to tax child benefit and to give the higher rates for the first three children and the lower rates after that. Senator Doyle considers this is the way it should be. I do not know how many other people in Fine Gael would agree with her on that, but there certainly seems to be some confusion as to what the policy is. Senator Doyle asked about the backdating of a widow's pension. The simple situation in relation to widows' non-contributory pensions is that there is a period of three months in which the pension may be back dated. The Senator may be talking about periods that go beyond that. If there is an exceptional reason for it going beyond that period it can be dealt with. It is normally expected that a widow would claim within the three months for a non-contributory pension. If one wants to claim for a period that goes back beyond that, one would have to have a good reason for getting retrospection. However, it is possible in those circumstances.

Senator Doyle talked about the hype surrounding the introduction of the carer's allowance. If anyone wishes I will show the way the advertising was directed by my Department and myself very specifically at people on low incomes and social welfare pensioners. That was made very clear at the time. I accept that many people who provide care feel they should have some support in that regard. That whole area of care will have to be developed further in the future. The health boards, of course, have a role in this and that will have to be developed also. I mentioned in my speech initially some of the tax arrangements that are in place. The question whether they should be developed further remains to be seen and perhaps discussed further.

The question of having one means test for everything was raised. Fine Gael have been making that proposal. Senator Doyle proposed it, yet she wanted the social welfare officers to have a totally different approach. By doing so she exemplified the real problem, that is, that there are different requirements for different payments. A pension is for a long term payment and one has to look more closely at what one is doing; there has to be a very firm approach to many things such as assets etc. Shorter-term payments are somewhat different. We have been rationalising and standardising the means tests and we will continue to do so. We will bring them as close together as is feasible, but there are different requirements. We may have a base level from which we adapt above that. There will be a lot more work done in that area over the coming years.

Senator Doyle raised the question of the share fishermen not getting payments during the winter. I made sure they were included. The matter was clarified so that they would have cover during bad periods such as they experienced this winter. Unfortunately, a tax case which Senator Doyle mentioned is used as a precedent in defence of paying anything by way of social welfare in this whole area. My advice is that we have our own social welfare legislation which is very clear and covers the situation. That issue has been brought before the courts and we will see what happens. In the meantime very few people are paying anything so they are not getting the cover which they would have had this winter if they had been prepared to go along with the arrangements I made last year specifically to suit them.

Senator Hussey mentioned a number of important areas, particularly the difficulties facing small farmers. If you were to ask my Department about the points raised by the Senator they would find it a little surprising on the basis of calculations that have been in operation for a long time. It is open to smallholders in receipt of unemployment assistance but who consider they may now be entitled to a higher rate of payment to come along and look for a reassessment of their means. My Department find that there has been no upsurge in requests for means reviews for existing smallholder claimants or by way of fresh applications from farmers. In fact the number of smallholders is declining currently mainly due to the pre-retirement allowance scheme. I know that small farmers are facing problems, and these problems will have to be addressed. We will be examining how best to address them, but it will involve both the Department of Social Welfare and the Department of Agriculture and Food. It is tied up in the arrangements that will be made in Brussels, because we are talking about a type of farm income supplement. The EC should be involved in the arrangements which are made in that area. We will be keeping very closely in touch with the Department of Agriculture and Food as we are at present in relation to that whole area. I appreciate there are difficulties and we will be keeping closely in touch with the development of that system.

Senator Hussey welcomed the fact that part-time workers are being brought into social insurance. He said it was a landmark development. It certainly is and it is way ahead of the position in most European countries. I am being told here there is nothing radical in this Bill, there are many radical measures in what we are doing currently. We are changing the system along the lines proposed by the commission particularly — that is the largest framework — but we are doing other things which the commission did not think of because you learn these with the passage of time anyway. That is a landmark development and a very important one. We have met some of the issues raised by the cleaning industry in particular in relation to the black economy in that area. We brought the threshold down to meet their requirements. Employees will not have to pay because they are earning under £60 a week — there is an increase in payment by employers but it is only of the order of £2.50 a week at the threshold. Employees will get the benefits of the whole social insurance system for a payment by the employer of £2.52 at the threshold, you would want to be a very bad employer not to do that for your employees. The expense is not at all sustainable as an argument. We have brought down the threshold in an effort to wipe out the black economy and to bring in as many of the people concerned as possible. Senator Hussey is right; it is a landmark development.

Senator Upton talked about the various payments being low. This is very interesting because other Senators talked about the disincentive to work. Under this Bill a long term unemployed person with a dependent spouse will get a weekly payment of £88 plus £12 for each child, or a basic rate of £148 in, for instance, the case of five children. We would like to be able to give more. In addition, over the winter months we have the free fuel scheme whereby in Dublin the payment is another £8 a week and around the rest of the country, £5 a week. There are the other payments which may go with it, like the back to school payments and the Christmas bonus. Senator McGowan who lives near the Border mentioned that he used to be embarrassed by the payments for social welfare on the other side of the Border. I would say at this stage that the position is reversed. A comparative study was done last year which showed that in Northern Ireland unemployment benefit was £41.46 wheras it was £48 plus pay related benefit here at that time. Even at that stage the position vis-à-vis the two areas had changed. Assistance payments are much lower in the North and it is the assistance level we are talking about. We have certainly got over that embarrassement. We have gone to the point at which we are at least equal and in many respects now better than our neighbours across the Border. Senator McGowan lives next to the Border and knows the reality of the situation there. He knows how good these payments are. I am sorry Senator Upton was not here to hear him when he made his comments. I could go through a lot of the other payments but I will not bore Members by doing so. The payments now are quite significant and we have made good progress.

Senator Upton welcomed the fact that 52 weeks may expire before long term unemployed people lose their benefits if they take up work for short periods. He asked that I re-examine referrals to medical referees and the frequency with which people, obviously not well enough, are referred.

A number of Senators raised the question of telephones. When we moved our pensions office to Sligo we arranged that there would be no change for anybody in Dublin. In fact there was no change for anybody countrywide; the position remained the same. One could still telephone Sligo, through a link, at the local call rate. Through our regional policy and localisation of our services it is hoped eventually that one will be able to establish contact with all of these offices from one's local region, benefiting all parts of the country, so that information will be available in one's local region and it will not be necessary to go back to Sligo, Letterkenny or wherever in order to obtain it.

I am sorry Senator Upton is not present. He was not happy with the carer's allowance. I would like to assure him how good it is. Senator Upton went on to say it was a tired, weary Bill that had emanated from a tired Department, doing nothing for anybody. I probably should not even bother to comment on that. That comment was so fatuous and ridiculous it does not serve the House well, being so removed from reality and truth. On any comparative basis the volume of work being undertaken by my Department is tremendous. I want to place on record that the planning and research section of my Department, a very small section, deals with all of this area. That section has been working flat out, especially over the past three to four years, doing tremendous work, and that is recognised internationally. Officials in that section of my Department are recognised as being top experts worldwide but not in this House.

——and here in this House.

By some people in the House but certainly not by Senator Upton. That is wrong and should not be the case. I know it is typically Irish — one could say we do it about everything — but it is wrong. Some of my officials there are very tired. They are practically run into the ground because we are changing so much so fast the system cannot keep apace with us; that is what is actually happening. I am not saying that as an idle boast. I have been provoked into saying so by such ridiculous statements. It is the reality and it is no harm to place it on the record of the House. Anyone who looks honestly at the degree, extent and volume of change would have to be impressed by it. People are coming to this country to learn more about computerisation because we have one of the best computer systems, with the largest network to be found worldwide. Canadians will be travelling over shortly to see our system. They have taken advice elsewhere which has not been so good. They are amazed at our functioning network on which we are rapidly building. Anyone who knows what is happening on the ground will know that to be the case, and will know that in all the other areas it is much the same.

Senator McGowan talked about the discrepancy vis-à-vis Northern Ireland. I know he is very close to the farming scenario and is very concerned about it, for example, short term work on the farm and the necessity of working closely with FÁS. He talked about education. I would say the vocational education committees should play a role here. The vocational education committees have an enormous contribution to make which is fully recognised. We should be working more with the vocational education committees. Certainly I intend to do so, particularly in terms of educational opportunities. They are providing many opportunities for our clientele.

Senator McGowan raised the matter of being allowed participate in the building of one's own house. I would have thought that one should be and that if a job opportunity arose one would have to be available for work. I will have that matter examined.

Senator Jackman welcomed the inclusion of part-time workers, the reduction in the threshold, the voluntary grants and what is happening in relation to them. There are many interesting things happening countrywide in that area. She mentioned the new developmental approach in the Department. As a matter of interest there is a completely new section within the Department dealing with the overall area of community development. The new area-based strategy of the social partners is based on the work this section has been doing. Of course, they are faceless civil servants; they are not running around the country saying we are a new section doing a great job. They are working up a charter for the voluntary bodies about which the voluntary bodies are delighted, it being the first time anybody has examined their overall position. All these things are happening. Yet I come in here and am told there is nothing happening. I do not want to delay Senators but I could tell them a lot more about what is happening; there is much more.

Senator Honan raised the case of a widow going down the road to a person in a wheelchair caring for another with multiple sclerosis. To date multiple sclerosis and wheelchair cases would not have qualified for help but they are now being included in the Disabled Person's Maintenance Allowance although much will depend on what are the circumstances thereafter. Of course I agree about the cost to the State. I do not disagree when Senators on either side of the House contend that one is saving the State money; of course, one is saving the State money but one must prove it. In the case of the carer's scheme we now have an opportunity to show that this can work in a reasonably controlled way, that it can save the State a good deal of money, can bring more care back into the community. We will certainly be trying to do that.

Senator Honan also contended that, when one looks at children and what is being done for them, one has to combine the family income supplement, the child related tax exemptions and child benefit. Indeed Senator Honan was concerned about the figures of families with two children, or four children. Tables get very big when one begins to include families with one to ten children; they are all intermediate.

There are no families of ten any longer.

We do pay families with up to 16 members. There are only a few at that level but we still do pay.

Of course changes involving cash are announced in the budget. The Disabled Person's Maintenance Allowance is announced in the budget — a social welfare measure — because it costs money. The figures have to be included in the budgetary arithmetic which is what happened there. I have noted particularly what Senator Honan had to say about the mentally handicapped and the need for flexibility in that area. We will certainly keep an eye on that.

Senator Norris, in his usual style, made a wide-ranging contribution. He mentioned certain pockets of real disadvantage. The area-based strategy is designed to deal with pockets of real disadvantage and high unemployment which are major problems. He did point out that, much earlier in the life of the State, there was 75 per cent disadvantaged and 25 per cent better off. The report from which he was quoting talked of 25 per cent disadvantaged and 75 per cent better off, so that these had been reversed. He was concerned about the commission's targets. I have mentioned those already.

He welcomed the extension to cover part-time employees. I want to make it clear — because he did not appear to be too clear about this — that that arose particularly from the provision for pensions. I have seen too many people without adequate pensions and I want to change that. That is what brought me into the area of part-time employees; it was not any directive from the EC. My desire was to get to the root of the problem. On the other hand I may be asked why it had not happened. The biggest stumbling block thrown up through the years when Fine Gael and Labour were in Government, and before, was: "It will cost too much in pensions, you could not undertake that, it is not on". Then we were into actuarial studies. It took some two years to complete the studies and be clear that the system could be introduced. Some of the short term benefits under £70 had to be related to the rates because otherwise they would be well above the part-time payment but the pensions were the biggest element.

The Senator asked about the household review. We expect that review to be available towards the middle or end of April and certainly, it will be discussed. It will go to the Government first and afterwards we will decide what to do. I have heard many statements about how simple it is to do various things. We got together the best available experts to work on this and it has taken them a long time to come up with solutions. These are not easy questions and we should not expect easy solutions when the review group produce their report because, unfortunately, it is a very complex issue.

Up to 1988 signing on was done each day or twice a week. In that year I changed it to once a week. As we develop our systems we will be able to reduce the signing on time and pay through orders to take the cash out of the system. That will have to be introduced gradually but that is the direction in which we will be going. It will mean that we will reduce the signing on requirement. The Senator followed the various lines of the Combat Poverty Agency and complained that the minimum levels of payment were not being reached. I dealt with that matter.

Senator Farrell talked about the facility to pay bills. Many people have come to me and said they would like to have this facility as an option. This Bill gives us the power to provide that facility. We are getting to the stage when our computer systems will be able to provide that facility for people if they want it. Senator Farrell referred to the question of trying to use more of the money that goes into social welfare for work. I am very keen to see work provided with an income and to surrender any of our expenditure in that cause. I will encourage other Departments to come up with schemes and projects. Senator McGowan said he has a scheme he wants to pursue along those lines and we would certainly be very interested in that. Fortunately, we allowed for a lot of the flexibility in our legislation.

Senator Cosgrave talked particularly about the black economy and about the rate of increases being fair enough but that prices increase and the VAT on various items would consume them. From the point of view of the Minister for Finance VAT was a giveaway. He gave away £37 million because he reduced VAT and he had to find that money elsewhere. That was the reality.

In relation to the items used by people generally I went into my own house a couple of weeks ago and got through the letterbox a list from the local supermarket group saying they had reduced the price of 5,000 items because of the VAT reductions. Perhaps the Minister for Finance has it right, that the net effect on the household budget and on the consumer price index is a reduction of 0.1 per cent. In that sense it is wrong to suggest that these items are having an extra impact on the consumer price index. The Senator was very concerned about the black economy and the importance of making it more attractive to be at work.

In regard to the disincentive to work Senator Cosgrave said that people in receipt of social welfare, or dole, and who work in the black economy are better off: there is no doubt about that. The reason we have a major campaign in progress at present to reduce the black economy. Senator Cosgrave asked me particularly if I will address that. We are addressing it. As I mentioned earlier we surveyed 2,400 employers last year, and 15,000 this year, so that employers will realise the game is up and they will not get away with it. They should use and benefit from the amnesty because the situation is going to get worse and the next step is jail or major fines. At present 600 people are in the process of going to court and the number of these cases is getting so big that it is becoming awkward for us in terms of staff and time; previously the number was 124 to 160. We are tackling the black economy and people should avail of the amnesty; in fact there are indications that they are doing this already.

Senator Fallon talked about the importance of part-time workers and highlighted the fact that in each of the years in 1980, 1981 and 1982 old age pensioners received increases of 25 per cent. That reflects what is happening today. Here we are trying to keep ahead of inflation while we improve the position of the lower paid.

Senator Ó Foighil was particularly concerned about the social employment scheme. That scheme is not operated by my Department, nevertheless I am very happy that it is there. He said there had been a cut-back in the amount of money provided but the opposite is the case, it increased from £50.2 million to £50.7 million. How and where that money is spent is a matter for the Minister for Labour and FÁS.

Senator Cassidy highlighted the sum of £3 billion which is going into social welfare at this stage, a very substantial amount of money. That figure also includes a substantial contribution from the self-employed. That is one of the changes that has taken place.

Senator Harte did not like the Programme for Economic and Social Progress in the first instance and cited the Conference of Major Religious Superiors. Many people on the opposite side of the House cited the Conference of Major Religious Superiors for a lot of things.

If that is what they want to hear they will——

Would the Minister like to abolish them?

I am quite happy to have them wander on and talk about the 1985 figures because the reality is that the Programme for National Recovery was a good programme and the Programme for Economic and Social Progress will build on that and will bring us much further.

We will quote the Minister on that.

Senator Harte talked about child benefit and about taxing it. We are back to this question now where both Fine Gael and Labour are saying, that, in effect, to tax child benefit would cause some problems in the short term. He then mentioned all the things we would be able to do if we abolished the PRSI income ceiling. He suggested we should exempt the first £3,000 of income. However, the latter would cost £357 million whereas it would cost £86 million to abolish the ceiling. If we take these two figures together we will see where the problem lies. This is not to suggest that in reviewing the system in the future various intermediate steps could not be taken. If we were to take such a step a substantial burden would be placed on the PRSI and income tax payers. For example, a person earning £30,000 would have to pay an extra £660 and the employer an extra £1,305. These would have to be included as part of a package covering taxes and other benefits.

The Senator also made reference to the extra cost associated with the increase in VAT but I have dealt with that matter.

Senator O'Keeffe referred to the IDA survey and congratulated the Department for putting a human face on social welfare. The staff will be encouraged by this and will try to keep it up. He regarded the initiative on third level education as important. A number of the people who have taken advantage of this initiative are doing computer studies.

Senator O'Reilly took us back to square one in arguing that the Bill will change nothing and went down through the list of amendments.

He suggested that no attempt was being made to improve the position of those living in poverty and referred to the 30 per cent living on less than £57 per week. He went back as far as 1985. It is like a long playing record and the needle has stuck in 1985. At least, it has not stuck in the fifties or sixties. I wish the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, and the Senators who have spoken today, would come back to 1991 and recognise what has been done in the meantime.

The Senator also raised the issue of rural poverty. I accept that a problem exists and I will look at it. The Senator regarded the Programme for Economic and Social Progress as a wage agreement. Needless to say I could not agree with him, nor do I think he has the experience which would allow him to understand just how valuable such a programme is to a Minister framing a budget. Perhaps he might in the future speak to those members of his party who have been in office and recognise how valuable the commitments in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress are.

The Senator suggested we should exempt the low paid from paying PRSI. We have proposed that all income under £60 per week should be exempt, and we will continue to look at that area. He referred to a chap who has a small farm and does not qualify for the medical card, the dole, FIS——

And who finished up with £85 and his own truck.

The Minister is biased.

No, I have my PhD, and my D.Sc in agriculture.

We have one academic anyway.

The Senator may as well brag about what the few Fianna Fáil have.

I would like to see a farm income supplement equivalent to the family income supplement. That has to be considered; it cannot be considered in isolation but in conjunction with what is being discussed in Brussels. I hope something will happen in this area soon.

The Senator referred to the absence of a provision on education but I have already dealt with that matter. He regarded the proposal to pay increased child benefit for the fourth child onwards as important. Some 400,000 children will benefit from this increase. He also wants us to tax child benefit. As I pointed out, Deputy Fennell does not want us to tax it. I suggest they meet to make up their minds.

She is not here.

I have dealt very briefly with——

The Minister quietened Senator Kennedy anyway. He would have some nerve to push his amendment after that.

I thank Senators for their contributions on what I consider to be a very good Bill which proposes many improvements. I look forward to it receiving a speedy passage so that we can get on with the task of implementing the measures.

I thank the Minister for his brief and comprehensive reply. Is Senator Kennedy pressing his amendment?

I thank the Minister for his very comprehensive reply. I am very glad that I and other Fine Gael Senators have touched a raw nerve. I am pressing my amendment.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 11.

  • Bennett, Olga.
  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Byrne, Seán.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Conroy, Richard.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Fallon, Seán.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Haughey, Seán F.
  • Honan, Tras.
  • Hussey, Thomas.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lanigan, Michael.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • McGowan, Paddy.
  • McKenna, Tony.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • Ormonde, Donal.
  • Ryan, Eoin David.
  • Wright, G. V.


  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Kennedy, Patrick.
  • McDonald, Charlie.
  • McMahon, Larry.
  • Manning, Maurice.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Neville, Daniel.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Upton, Pat.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Wright and S. Haughey; Níl, Senators Doyle and McMahon.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time", put and agreed to.