Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 3 Feb 1937

Vol. 65 No. 1

Public Business. - Unemployment Assistance Acts—Motion

Debate resumed on the following motion:—
Having regard to the wholly inadequate rates of benefit originally provided for unemployed persons under the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1933, and to the fact that during the last two years the retail prices of commodities normally used in working-class homes have been raised substantially, this House requests the Executive Council to introduce proposals for amending the Unemployment Assistance Acts, 1933 and 1935, with a view to providing from State Funds adequate maintenance for all persons unable to obtain remunerative employment.—(Deputies Norton, Corish, Davin and Keyes.)

The motion before the House is, to my mind, one that should be dealt with very seriously by every member of this House. Anyone who has taken the pains or had the interest to try to find out what is going on in the country with regard to unemployment must be horrified at the present state of affairs. From Government Ministers and Government Deputies we hear wonderful stories of all that has been done to help the unemployed in the time during which they have been in office, and often there have been hurled against this side of the House accusations of all sorts of things that we neglected or never tried to do. But to my mind it is of very little importance to discuss what one side of the House did or what the other side of the House did not do. What we really want to face up to is the present position of the country, and, in trying to find out what is the position, one comes up against every possible obstacle. I had the other day a pamphlet issued by the Ministery of Industry and Commerce on this whole question of unemployment. While trying to take a perfectly fair view of this document it seemed to me that the whole essence of the document was to try to prove that there was less unemployment, but there was no facing up to the fact of the unemployment that existed. Wherever one goes, one sees that there is unemployment, and a very grave amount of unemployment, in this country at the present time. One hears a tremendous lot at various times about Communism and all that sort of thing. To my mind, there is only one way to get rid of Communism or prevent the start of Communism in this country, and that is by providing work for those who are willing and able to work. I hold no brief for those who do not want to work; I am speaking for those who are able and willing to work. Unfortunately, there are also people who are willing to work but are not able to work, and they should be looked after.

Last week I was requested to go to Bray and attend a meeting of the unemployed in the Town Hall. I went to that meeting and on my way from my home to Bray, a distance of about 50 miles, I had a considerable time to think over what I was going to say at the meeting. I could not help being struck by one very outstanding fact and that was that what it actually cost me to go from my home to Bray and back again would have been of more benefit if I could have given it to some unemployed person than my actually going to the meeting. That was the feeling I had. What could I do at a meeting of that kind? Of course I could speak—that is what they asked me to go for—but what help could I give them by speaking? That was not going to feed them or put clothes on their backs, and that is what worried me. The march from Bray to Rathdrum was previous to this meeting.

I have heard all sorts of stories about those people. Some said they were Communists; others said they were riff-raff, and so on. I studied the men who attended that meeting; I studied them very carefully and I was very impressed by the type of person I saw there. I was very much more impressed later on when I heard some of those persons speaking. I should like to mention one of the remarks I made at that meeting. To be quite candid, I made the remark with a great deal of trepidation; I did not know how it was going to be received. I said to myself "If you are going to do any good, speak out what you think." The remark I made at the meeting was "I do not want to see you getting what they got in England by being out of work for a long time; I do not want to see you getting the dole mind." One man in the audience said "We are getting it already" and later on when one of the unemployed got up to speak he said "We have got the dole mind all right." The whole tenor of the speeches made by those men at that meeting was "We do not want charity; we do not want doles; we want work for those who are able to do it, but for those who cannot work, and if there is no work coming, we want decent maintenance."

I am very sorry that Deputy Moore is not here to-night. Whenever I quote anybody I always like to see him in front of me, if possible. Anyhow, in the Wicklow People of Saturday, January 30th last, Deputy Moore is reported as having said “The non-payment of annuities resulting in the loss to the county council of £40,000 affected their rates and every service that benefited the working man.” When I was speaking I never mentioned anything about land annuities, but I quite agree with Deputy Moore that a loss of £40,000 to the Wicklow County Council must affect the unemployed and possibly create more unemployed in County Wicklow. Whose fault is it if there is a loss of £40,000? The members on the Government side say that the people responsible are those who will not pay their land annuities, and some of them go so far as to say that there was a campaign against paying land annuities. I can only speak from my own knowledge and I will say that as regards the County Wicklow I never saw any campaign against the paying of land annuities. All that the farmers there want is to be put into a position to be able to pay them. Undoubtedly it has had a very bad effect on the question of employment in County Wicklow.

Later in Deputy Moore's speech this remark was made: "No one will deny that the Government had done much to provide decent homes for the working people, and they were urging the public bodies to do more." Later on one of the unemployed spoke, and he alluded to the reference to housing. He was reported as follows: "Speaking of the new houses, he said that they were such a disgrace that if Wolfe Tone could see these named after him in the biggest housing scheme of any provincial town, he would turn in his grave."

I am sorry that the Minister for Local Government is not here now. If my memory is not at fault, he was down for the opening of these houses, some 288 in number. I cannot remember whether he had a golden key or not. I think he has had a good many golden keys. However, he opened the houses, and when I listened to the description given to me at that meeting of the condition of these houses, I could hardly believe that what was said was true; I felt that it was an exaggeration and could not believe that new houses passed by the Local Government Department could be in such a condition, or that the remark I have just quoted could have been made about a new housing scheme of this kind. I made up my mind that at the first opportunity I would go and have a look at the houses.

On Monday I received a letter from the unemployed in Bray stating they had made a request to the Minister for Industry and Commerce to receive a deputation to hear their complaints and that this had been refused. They had no alternative but to march from Bray to the Dáil for the opening to-day, to protest against the whole conditions under which they had to exist. When I received this letter I thought to myself that the best thing I could do was to go down, see them and explain to them for a start off that they would not be allowed near the Dáil. I did not want to see those unfortunate men coming up here on, probably, a wet day, getting drenched to the skin and then, perhaps, somebody making a remark or other and a row being started. Then how were they to get back? These were the matters that influenced me. So I went down and had a talk over with them to see what could be done. When I got down there I found that their leaders, together with Father Gleeson, had already managed to persuade them not to come. That march to Dublin, to the Dáil, was put off, but the leaders and Father Gleeson had the greatest difficulty in persuading the men to give up the idea.

These men are desperate. They feel that unless they can do something to draw attention to their conditions there is no hope for them. I knew that there had been terrible privations in that march to Rathdrum, and I knew it was going to be no holiday, their march here, not to speak of their march back again. I was very glad to hear that they were not coming. It showed the good sense of their leaders. As I say, Father Gleeson told me that the leaders had the greatest difficulty in persuading them not to march to Dublin. I am very sorry that Deputy Everett is not here this evening, because shortly after I arrived in Bray he arrived on exactly the same mission. If he were here he would bear out what I am saying. A great deal of credit is due to those men for not coming.

After we discussed the matter for some time I said to the men: "I am down here now and I would like to have a look at these Wolfe Tone houses." I said I would come along with them and have a look at the houses, and they said "Certainly." It was a very bad night. It was a considerable distance to the houses, but off we started. They had no coats or hats, but they cared nothing for that. They went out in that rain. They did not mind it a bit so long as they could get me to see for myself the condition of the settlement. I went along and went into any number of these houses. I went into some in the middle of the rows and into houses at the end of the rows, and the latter were really the worst. When I came to look at the houses I found that what was being said about them was nothing to what I saw. I saw the beds pulled out into the middle of the room and children sleeping in those beds in order to keep them clear of the wet that was falling on these beds in the position where they had first been. The walls were saturated in wet, and if ever I saw a breeding ground of consumption I saw it in that great big settlement, that Wolfe Tone settlement in Bray.

Where did the wet come from?

As far as I can make out, it came through a course of brick at a point in the wall about six feet high.

Deputy Kelly wants to blame it on the wall.

Mr. Kelly

Did the wet come through the roof or through the wall?

In some cases it came through the roof. I know in most of the houses the wet came through the wall. I also saw the down pipes pouring out water. At the time it was raining and that water had nowhere to go but around the house. The whole place was simply a sodden mass.

Perhaps the Deputy will allow me. All this is very interesting, but I cannot understand how it comes within the scope of this motion. I have allowed the Deputy a good deal of latitude but I must ask him now to address himself to the motion.

On a point of order, surely in considering this motion we are considering providing from State funds adequate maintenance for these people and their families. The maintenance of these homes falls on the unemployed people, and out of the unemployment assistance they get they have to maintain these houses, and I submit, particularly in view of the fact that every single item for the maintenance of these houses and for the maintenance of these families has been taxed that Deputy The O'Mahony is in order.

The Deputy has not said one word about the rents or the cost of maintaining the houses.

On wallpaper and on paint for keeping those houses maintained there is a heavy tax——

Deputy Mulcahy is very much concerned about these people.

The Deputy laughs; it is easy for Deputies to laugh.

Would not the point raised by Deputy Mulcahy be more in order on the Estimates?

That matter can be raised at the proper time—in its own time.

What is under discussion is the expense that falls upon the people in maintaining themselves, their homes and their families under present conditions.

What is under consideration is the wholly inadequate rates of benefits to be provided. The motion asks that the Unemployment Assistance Acts should be amended with a view to providing from State funds adequate maintenance for all persons unable to obtain remunerative employment. I allowed Deputy The O'Mahony a good deal of latitude, but now I think really that he should address himself to the motion.

If I have overstepped the limits with regard to this debate I can only just repeat that what I saw last night would make anybody overstep the limits of the discussion. Anyhow, I have not overstated the facts. If anything, I have understated them. Now with regard to the inadequate rates of benefit provided for the unemployed persons, I want just to mention that when I was down there last night I saw 30 or 40 writs that had been issued by the urban council against the occupiers of the Wolfe Tone houses. These writs were for non-payment of rent. How is it possible that these people who are unemployed and who are barely able to keep themselves and their children alive on what they get, can pay rents as well? The whole thing seems to me to be a complete and impossible task. It is a task for the Dáil to solve and not for those unfortunate poor people. I think it is time that this House really faced up to this whole question of unemployment. I think up to now everything has very often been done to try to hide that question of unemployment. That is probably because it is a most difficult question to solve. Of course, before the present Government came into power we heard all sorts of things and all sorts of statements as to how they were to solve the problem. The very moment they came into office the question of unemployment was to be solved straight away. They told us they had a plan. Facts are facts, and the position with regard to unemployment is getting worse.

We talk about the prosperity of this country. We hear it said what a wonderful country this is going to be. As to that, a good deal will depend on how we deal with this question of the unemployed. If we can tackle that successfully then we will definitely have made progress. If our Party were in power to-morrow it would be our task to try to find a solution for this unemployment problem. At the moment, that is the job of the Government in power. I doubt if there is one member of the House who, if he were asked, could say straight off what sum of money was spent last year on unemployment. I do not think that even the Minister himself could give us the figure. All the urban and county councils in the country are spending money on the relief of unemployment. Then there is the National Health Insurance and other classes of insurance. If all the money paid out for the relief of unemployment under those various heads were totted up, the total would make Deputies gasp. I know it is very easy for me to get up and speak. It is easy to spout forth words, but I did not get up to do that. I did get up to say that we have this terrible disease of unemployment facing the country, and that the country cannot go ahead until it is solved. I am not scoffing at the Government for not solving it, but I am scoffing at them for having said that the problem was an easy one to solve and that they would find a solution for it. I would be happy indeed if I could help them towards solving it. If I had a solution for it I would be only too glad to give it to the Government. The problem is a gigantic one and is not going to be solved in five minutes or in one year. What I do believe is required is the goodwill of every member of the House to join together and see if they can find some solution for this terrible disease which, unless it is cured, will destroy the country.

I just want to make one or two remarks on this motion which draws attention to the wholly inadequate rates of benefit originally provided for unemployed persons and points out that the situation has been worsened by reason of the fact that during the last two years the retail prices of commodities normally used in working-class homes have been raised substantially. The motion suggests that there should be an amendment of the Unemployment Assistance Acts with a view to making the situation more satisfactory for those people who have to maintain themselves and their families and who are dependent upon such State assistance as they can get under the Unemployment Assistance Acts. One of the things that I suggest ought to be done is that those who are at present getting unemployment assistance should not be liable, as they are to-day, to pay income tax, as it were, on the amount of unemployment assistance that they get. Those people are having income tax taken off them every time that they make a purchase across the counter of the ordinary necessaries of life. The tax-gatherer dips his hand in and takes money from them that in reality is income tax. The Minister is well aware that, when his Party came into office first, he and his fellow-Ministers went throughout the country claiming that the additional taxation to be imposed was required to maintain the increased services that were being brought about and to maintain the uneconomic war, would all fall on the shoulders of the rich. The last two Budgets have taken every halfpenny of that taxation and put it on the shoulders of the poor. There always has been the theory that taxation should not fall on a person whose income was below a particular level, the level necessary to maintain bare subsistence.

The income-tax laws have recognised that principle. They declare that a person with an income of £125 or £150 shall not be chargeable with income tax. That is the law at present. The Ministers of the present Government claim that they had given substantial concessions to the earners of small wages under the changes which they have made in the income-tax laws. But during the last three years they have completely set aside the principle that the first £125 or £150 of a man's income shall not be taxed. There is hardly a halfpenny spent on the ordinary necessaries of life for which that £125 or £150 is supposed to be reserved, that is not now subjected to a tax. It is done in such a way as to put income tax at the rate of about 4/9 in the £ on every halfpenny of expenditure in the case of a working person.

When an unemployed man gets a nominal 20/- from the Labour Exchange under the Unemployment Assistance Acts and proceeds to spend that on bread and butter, or if he can ever touch such a thing as bacon, or on the ordinary things that go to patch up the kind of house that Deputy The O'Mahony has been speaking of, every time that he puts 1/- across the counter to meet his needs either as regards food, clothing or maintenance, the tax-gatherer dips his hand in and says that he has to take income tax off that 1/-. The direct subsidies that are being paid are, in fact, taxes. Originally, the subsidy for wheat was paid from the Central Fund, and the charge fell on income-tax payers. Now the charge falls on every loaf of bread, on every half-stone of flour sold over the counter, as well as on the bacon, butter and other necessaries that the workman buys. One of the reasons, therefore, why there should be an amendment of the scales originally laid down in the Unemployment Assistance Act of 1933 is that by a deliberate plan of the Government these scales and payments have, since then, been subjected to income tax which amounts to 4/6 or 4/9 in the £. It is only a small item, if you like, in the difficulty that exists and that this motion draws attention to. The real difficulty that exists is that unemployment in this country is increasing in spite of the fact that people are flying from this country to Great Britain in bigger numbers than ever went in former years to the United States. Emigration is bigger at the present time than it ever was since the setting up of this State.


The Minister says it is nonsense.

Certainly. The figures are published and the Deputy can get them and read them for himself, if he wants to do so.

It will be remembered that figures were also published recently in regard to the population of this country, and we have had very serious reflection on the accuracy of these figures since.

The revised one is out now.

But in spite of the fact that people are flying in such numbers from this country to Great Britain, and from districts in this country that never sent people to Great Britain before, our unemployment is greater.

The total number of people who left this country in the past five years was less than the number who left in one year when the Deputy was a Minister.

They are going in greater numbers than ever.


The Minister does not know what he is talking about.

I do not know what we are publishing these books for if the Deputies will not or cannot read them.

You do not have to look at the books. Go down to the railway stations and you can see for yourself the numbers that are going every day.

It is a serious matter, as I say, that that tax should be there, but it is small compared with the problem that this motion draws attention to, and that is the growing seriousness of unemployment in this country, and the thing that is at the bottom of that is the most serious of all.

Why does the Deputy say "growing"?

Because it is growing day by day.

Does the Deputy study the figures he gets from my Department?

And they were considerably less last year than in 1935. They were 18 per cent. less for the whole year.

The Minister should go and study the figures himself and he should also study his emigration figures.

I have them here.

If he would get closer down to the type of person Deputy The O'Mahony speaks about and with the type of people who are trying to get in touch with the Minister for Defence in order to explain their difficulties, he would understand a lot more of the situation that exists and he and his colleagues would be better able to interpret their own figures. The real thing, however, is the problem there and what is causing the problem, and that is the complete destruction of the agricultural resources of this country. Accordingly, there are very strong reasons why the Minister should go more deeply into the matter than, apparently, he has gone, and why he should examine what exactly the payments that are made under the Unemployment Assistance Act are worth to-day as compared with the time they were originally fixed, and perhaps he might tell us how long he thinks that even the present payments can be made by the unfortunate people who are concerned while the present policy is being pursued by his Executive.

At the outset I should like to congratulate Deputy The O'Mahony for the very reasoned and unimpassioned presentation he made of the case, and I think that anybody who lives in the country will recognise that there was not anything in the case as presented by him to which exception could be taken. To refer to one item alone, I think everybody will agree that it is quite clear, as he said, that the people of this country do not want doles but work. To that, I think, everybody here will subscribe.

In connection with the particular motion we are dealing with, however, the payments concerned are only applicable to persons who are willing and able to work. That is the intention of the Act, and it is not intended to cover people who are incapable of working because of physical or other disabilities. How that has worked out in practice is another matter, because it is notorious that plenty of people, in the misguided idea, when this Act first came along, that they would be better off under the State charity than under the local bodies, did come along and mark themselves down as eligible for State aid and were given qualification certificates, only to be struck off later by the Court of Referees, at the instigation of investigation officers, as not being genuinely seeking work, whereas the actual fact was that they could not get work. I hold that that was a double fraud on the local authorities and on the individuals concerned themselves, because they were thrown back on to us then.

Does the Deputy suggest that the Courts of Referees do not decide these cases fairly.

No. That is not my point. What I am suggesting is that qualification certificates were given to people who obviously were not able to work, and these people had not any reasonable chance of getting work, and I say that it was a double fraud on the local authorities and the individuals themselves, because we were contributing 1/6 in the £ on the assumption that these were able-bodied people. They got the card and then, when it was found that they could not work, they came before the courts and were struck off, and then they came back to us again. We were paying the 1/6 and keeping them from starving as well. Dealing with the question of the motion and the inadequacy of the present rates, I do not think that the Government, at the time of the passing of the Act, themselves held that the rates were adequate at the time. In fact, it is my recollection that they stated at the time that they considered the rates inadequate and that they were only to be for the relief of temporary periods of unemployment between one period of employment and another. Various rates were fixed at the time to suit the various conditions of eligibility, such as rates for married men and single men, as well as country and city rates. Among the classes of persons to whom the rates of unemployment assistance were applicable were 6/- for a single man with no dependents in the country districts, £1 for a man with dependent wife and five or more other dependents in city districts, and 12/6 for a man with a similar number of dependents in the country districts, and so on. Those were the figures at the time the Act was introduced, and there has already been considerable stress laid on the increase in the prices of practically all commodities since that time. In view of that increase, one would think that anybody would concede that if the rates were not even adequate at that time, they surely would want to be revised now. I am sure that nobody would contend that 12/6 would be enough at the present time to maintain a man and his wife and five children in the country districts, even if it were ever considered adequate.

If there is anything to be said for the Department of Industry in this regard it is their vigilance in investigating the means at the disposal of the unfortunate applicants for unemployment assistance. Sometimes I begin to think that the idea in the minds of the Department officials is that these unfortunate people can live on a different basis from individuals who cannot be so classed. On a previous occasion I gave the case of a young man who was disqualified from receiving assistance because it was held that his means precluded him from receiving it. I quoted the case of this man's case having failed to get any satisfaction in Dublin Castle, and I then brought it to the Minister's notice, but that man is in the same position to-day. His father and himself and three sisters are living in Limerick in a slum as bad as any of those that got publicity in the Irish Press some time ago, or worse if anything. This man was unable to get work, and he wanted the unemployment assistance, because, as he said, he felt mean because he was eating his sister's food. Yet he was disqualified because 4/- or 5/- a week were coming in. He considered that he was very harshly treated and he appealed, and they told him that he had 10/- a week coming in, and hence he got nothing. He is struck off under the Unemployment Assistance Act. He has written personally to the Minister. That is just one of the cases showing the way they arrive at the means of these people, and I want to say that where there is 12/6 or £1 it can be definitely taken that there are no other hidden means, because that is thoroughly looked after by the investigation officers of the Department.

Figures have been quoted by Deputy Norton as to what British medical authorities think is the minimum necessary for the provision of food for an adult or an adult with a family. Figures have also been quoted of what amounts are provided by public institutions such as prisons, mental hospitals, and so on. Figures have been given as to the amount necessary to provide goods and provisions for a soldier, and it must be remembered that these goods and provisions are bought in better conditions than any unemployed person could buy them. If the Minister would only himself calmly consider, without any pressure from these benches, how the figures he is paying to an unemployed man and his family square with the cost of maintenance of an individual in these institutions, it would be readily apparent that, apart from rent costs and other expenses, they are not getting sufficient to purchase food alone. There are other necessaries of life besides food, and it would be clearly shown to the Minister's satisfaction, if he would look into the figures, that these people are getting, allowing for these other expenses, a sum that is totally inadequate to provide themselves with food.

I have a case in mind of a man who had a distinguished record in the I.R.A. He is paying a rent of 5/6 per week. He is rather lucky in that respect, because he has been transferred to one of our uneconomic houses, the rents of which have been subsidised. Yet he has to pay 5/6 per week for his house. He has a wife and five children, and the maximum amount he receives is £1 per week. Out of that he must pay 5/6 to the rent collector, leaving him with 14/6 to maintain seven persons for seven days. There are even worse cases than that, because there are people with larger families. Viewing the matter perfectly dispassionately, I would urge the Minister to consider calmly whether or not he thinks a sufficient allowance is being given to the unemployed to maintain them in ordinary health while they cannot get employment.

If it were merely a question of giving them some allowance while they were passing from one job to another, say for a period of a couple of weeks, one would naturally conclude that if there was any thriftiness on their part they would be able to husband a few shillings which, with unemployment assistance, would tide them over the rainy day, but that is not the position. You are dealing here with long-drawn out, protracted periods of unemployment when these men can get no work whatsoever. Even when they do get work on relief schemes in the country districts, the new rates are so miserably low that they are not likely to make any saving out of their wages. They are getting 16/- per week, that is four days at 4/-. Then when a man has broken time during spells of wet weather, such as we have experienced recently, he will not save very much while working on relief schemes.

The pernicious headline as regards wages set by the authorities on these schemes is being followed by private employers and there is no hope that a man will be able during the time he is working to save sufficient to enable him to carry on, with the allowance at present given him under the Unemployment Assistance Act, during periods of unemployment. I think if the Minister would calmly consider this matter it would not be necessary for hunger-marchers to come to the gates of Leinster House or to go to the various boards to present their cases. The representations of Deputies coming from various parts of the country would be quite sufficient. I am quite sure Deputies on the Fianna Fáil Benches have no different experience in this respect from Deputies on the Opposition or Labour Benches because the same story will be unfolded in any part of the country. I suggest to the Minister that it is a matter of absolute and dire necessity, until that happier time arives when we can provide employment for all our people, that we should give them an allowance adequate to their needs. If we are providing them with unemployment assistance we ought to mean what we say. We may talk about the menace of communism and of other "isms," but there is only one way to curb the development of Communistic tendencies and that is to provide our people with either work or maintenance. Luckily there is very little Communism in this country, and I think it is a tribute to the spirit of these poor people that they are bearing their privations with so much patience. No section of the community should be allowed to grouse against the making of adequate provision to enable that unfortunate section of the people who are unemployed to keep body and soul together until we can provide sufficient work for them. The Minister maintained in reply to Deputy Mulcahy that unemployment had been reduced. If that is so, it is all the more reason for increasing the amount of unemployment assistance, because you have a smaller number to provide for. Again, if you have more people in employment, the Unemployment Assistance Fund will benefit from increased contributions. The fact that you have a lesser number of unemployed to deal with, and a larger fund at your disposal, is an argument for increasing the amount of assistance which you allow to those who are unfortunate enough to remain unemployed at present.

I, too, was glad to hear the kindly and sympathetic statement that has been made by Deputy The O'Mahony. I am very glad that he has recognised what many of us have known for a very long time, that the overwhelming majority of our unemployed people want employment rather than help in any other form. We have been accustomed, more especially in recent years, to hear the usual cheap sneers about wasters and idlers and people who want to live eternally on the dole, accompanied by the not very Christian observations about free beef and free milk. In face of that, it is refreshing to hear a statement such as we have listened to this evening. I am sure that contributions of that kind in this House would do a good deal to set a good example in the matter of utterances and observations when dealing with the misery of the people who are unemployed in this country. When the Unemployment Assistance Act was introduced, it was introduced in response to a general acceptance in this House of the principle of work or maintenance, and I hope I shall be able to show in a short time, though I shall have to cover ground that has already been covered in this debate, that neither one principle nor the other has been honoured in any subsequent action that has taken place.

Reference has been made to the fact that the rates of benefit provided under the Act are entirely inadequate. When one thinks of an allowance of 12/6 in the rural areas for seven persons—a man, his wife and five children—there is no need to stress that point. The truth and accuracy of the statement are obvious. The fact that no provision is made for a larger number of dependents than five, if a family is larger than the number provided for at the generous figure of 1/- per child under the Act, is worthy of some comment. I think it is unworthy of any Christian State that there should not be provision made for each dependent member of the family, no matter how large the family may be. I think it is unfortunate in this particular connection that hardships should be imposed on the unemployed people. On the other hand, where there are dependent children of people who pay income tax, so far as I know there are certain allowances made in respect to the dependent children.

I believe the allowances in such cases cover all members of the family. In the case of unemployed people, I submit that, if the family number more than five, provision should be made for them while, at the same time, I submit that the present provision for the others is miserably inadequate. Examination of the position reveals that the original provision has been reduced considerably in some cases and, in most cases, to some extent. Formerly, the first two shillings of the alleged means—I use the word "alleged" deliberately—were not calculated for the purpose of assessment in the means entered in the qualification certificate. Later, in response to the desire of the Minister for Finance to make substantial savings on the Unemployment Assistance Vote, the means assessment was based on everything supposed to be possessed by the unemployed person over and above the first shilling, so that, in many cases, the maximum paid to a man, his wife and five children in a rural area is now fixed at 11/6 per week. Taking my own area—West Cork—I find that the cost of maintaining a patient in the county hospital is 6/4. If Deputies deduct 6/4 from 11/6, they will see how much has been allowed under this scheme for the remaining members of the family of an unemployed person. Perhaps it could be said that 6/4 represents the cost of treatment at a standard higher than would be necessary for people in normal health. Again, I can quote the figure for the maintenance of a patient in the county home in the same area. The figure is 4/6¾. That is the cost of maintaining an inmate in the county home. That figure is based on the purchase in very large quantities of the commodities that go to sustain life. Large supplies are purchased in bulk through the operations of the Combined Purchasing Scheme of the Local Government Department. This scheme enables the local authority to purchase at a much smaller price than an ordinary person, buying small quantities in the local shops, would pay. With such facilities for purchase, 4/6¾ is the figure arrived at as the cost of one individual. One can see how utterly impossible it is to support a family on the figure allowed to the unemployed in the rural areas, even taking the maximum under the Act. I understand that this matter was brought to the personal knowledge of the President in Cork City, by members of the local working-class organisations, one and a half or two years ago. While the President agreed that the amounts provided were inadequate, he indicated that there was trouble in providing more by reason of the difficulty in obtaining money for that purpose. I am reliably informed that, on the very same day, the President, at a later stage, speaking in the city, said there was plenty of money and unlimited resources to afford everybody a plentiful living in the country. If that is so, it seems to me that the President had at hand an opportunity for immediate revision of the unhappy position of people who have to depend on the provisions of the Unemployment Assistance Act.

There was a further inroad on the position of a large section of unemployed persons by the adoption of the Employment Period Order. The Employment Period Order covers three classes of people—single men, widowers without dependents, and small holders the valuation of whose land does not exceed £4. It seems to me that there was never any justification for the enactment of this Order except as a device for saving the payment of unemployment assistance. The employment which is supposed to be available during this period is entirely imaginary and fictitious so far as my knowledge—and it is fairly extensive—of rural areas in County Cork goes. This Order cannot be defended, and it has had a very serious effect on the position of numbers of unemployed people who had to go to the local authority to be relieved immediately the operation of the Order was notified.

Further, there have been grave complaints about the means assessment in connection with claims for unemployment assistance. I believe that a great many of these complaints are well founded. I have had a fairly wide experience in dealing with complaints of the kind. One finds it impossible to reconcile the assessment with the facts in a number of cases of which I have personal knowledge. I think it is true in the country generally that the assessment in many cases bears no relation to the realities of the position. I have mentioned a certain worsening of what was really a poor and rather miserable scheme of unemployment assistance. The claim is made in the motion that that position has been substantially worsened by the change in the prices of commodities necessary for the maintenance of families. There is no doubt that that contention is true. On August 25th, 1935, household flour was selling at 28/- or 29/- per sack. The price is very much more to-day. Under a recent regulation made by the Minister, the price of bread was fixed for rural areas at 10½d., when sold across the counter, and 11d. otherwise. These are, I think, the prices applicable in that portion of the rural area of which I have knowledge. In that commodity alone, there has been a substantial increase. I think that it is also true that the price of tea, sugar, milk, butter, coal and other things has increased. In that way alone, the position of the unemployed person has considerably worsened. I read in some publication—whether the trade journal or a newspaper, I do not know —that 31,000 persons were put into employment on public works. Is not that somewhat misleading? To a person who did not know the facts, it would seem as if those 31,000 persons were in fairly continuous employment.

I would not complain if the period of employment was any way reasonable, but the position is that the maximum period of employment for the bulk of these people is four days, for others only three days, for a very considerable number two days, and for some, one day. If that position was made clear, I suggest it would militate against the happy picture that was drawn of 31,000 people being put into employment. I consider the position caused by the rotation of labour as it affects people in receipt of unemployment assistance, is rapidly becoming a serious menace, and nothing short of a public scandal. When these people go to work for three days they are unable to get unemployment assistance for some time afterwards, as their claim, as they term it, is broken. When working for local authorities sometimes they cannot get wages for a month, and during that time they are unable for a considerable period to get unemployment assistance, so that their last stage is worse than the first. I admit that the Minister is not responsible for that, but I think he should interest himself in the matter. I suggest that the period of rotation on public work schemes should be at least a fortnight, or, if it had to be narrowed down, when a man is sent from the Labour Exchange, the least period he should be employed on public works should be one week. Picture the position of people in receipt of unemployment assistance who were directed to report for work on such schemes during the last couple of months, and particularly during the last five or six weeks. There was hardly a week this year during which men could be continuously employed. There were several days where they had to give up work after one hour, and their whole earnings in a month would not represent anything like a full week's wages. Because of the weather conditions they had not an opportunity of getting the full measure of employment provided. That position is extremely bad. The Minister will recognise that on close examination.

As to the rates paid to unemployed people, he will see that there is a pressing need for revising the whole arrangement and also in connection with the rotation of labour on public work schemes. There was an example last week at a meeting of Cork County Council when he had an appeal on behalf of 40 men from Bandon area who were working at a stone-breaking job a month ago but got no wages up to last Thursday. I brought that question to the notice of the House shortly before the Adjournment some months ago, so that the Department would arrange in schemes of this kind for the weekly payment of wages. County surveyors and officials of local authorities indicate difficulties about doing so, but if they were informed by the Ministry that no such difficulty should be allowed to stand in the way, I think an effort would be made to meet them, and, in that respect, I can promise the full co-operation of local authorities. People in receipt of unemployment assistance suffer other hardships, and not the least is the hardship created by complaints, very often unfounded, that are made against them.

I had experience recently of the case of a man who was unemployed whose payment was suspended following a report that he had been engaged picking carrageen moss. I understand that if he was picking carrageen moss every hour of the day for a fortnight he would not earn 10/-. As a matter of fact, it was ascertained that the process of picking carrageen moss for a long period must have brought that man about 2/6, but because of the complaint his claim to unemployment assistance was suspended and a most prolonged inquisition took place. It seems to me that when a local officer of the Department gets such a complaint, and when he has some knowledge of the district, he might easily know that it was impossible for any serious infringement of the Act to take place in such a case, even if the charge was well founded, because the opportunity was not there for any substantial earnings.

Amongst other cases I remember one where the complaint was that a man had gone to work for a neighbouring farmer who was pressed for help to make hay during inclement weather. The farmer enlisted the voluntary services of the man for two hours one afternoon. The matter was solemnly and seriously reported to the Department and after eight or nine months it was decided that the man should be prosecuted. There was a prosecution but the case was very properly scouted out of court. Nearly three months after that decision the man received unemployment assistance, but he had to hand over a very large proportion of the amount to the home assistance officer who had given him relief during that period. I appreciate the fact that it is impossible to deal with every individual case but I think cases such as I have mentioned should not occur. It seems to me that not alone is there a very strong case for raising substantially the rates of unemployment benefit, but there is also a case for seeing that in the administration of the Act a more humane and considerate system of inquiry is adopted. The position is terribly serious as regards the rotation of labour. I can assure the Minister that there is a very strong feeling amongst people who have had experience of the system and its revolting injustice. Men are asked to go four and five miles to work on minor relief schemes. In some cases I am reminded that the distance is longer.

The decision of the Court of Referees in the West Cork area was that it was unreasonable to ask men to travel more than three miles to such work, and that decision was confirmed by the Department. Many are not aware that such a decision was held to be correct by the Department. In the meantime these unfortunate men continue to struggle to accept such offers of employment. Something might be said for it if there was some reasonable period of employment in view, but, for the few days provided under the present arrangement, it seems to me to be an entirely unfair arrangement. I feel that the justice of the claims made in the motion are perfectly obvious, and as the facts are all in its favour, no further arguments are needed to press it. I think the Minister made a statement in a moment of extraordinary patriotic fervour, either in this House or outside it, in which he referred to some members of this Party who were pressing for public work to relieve unemployment, as political mendicants. I want to tell the Minister that someone is making mendicants of the unemployed people, and that the unemployed people are beginning bitterly to resent it, and while I do not think there is any purpose in talking about Communism and other things of the kind that are talked about so glibly by many people at present, I think it is a very serious position. These unfortunate people who are unemployed ought to be guaranteed some reasonable prospect of work when public works are opened, and in the absence of such works, they ought to be guaranteed some reasonable measure of maintenance by this State.

Debate adjourned until Friday, February 5th.