Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 3 Mar 1937

Vol. 65 No. 8

Public Business. - Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Bill, 1936—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. Deputies will remember that we had a debate on the subject of widows' and orphans' pensions on the 12th November last arising out of a motion by Deputy Peadar Doyle and an amendment proposed, I think, by Deputy Davin or Deputy Norton. I told the House, in the course of the discussion on that occasion, that a Bill to amend the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act of 1935 was then practically prepared, and I told the House what, roughly, that Bill, when introduced, would contain and what it proposed to do. All Parties in the House were interested in the discussion, and Deputies of all sides took part in it, and there was a view expressed on all sides that it would be more satisfactory if a new Bill would propose to make pensions available for all necessitous widows and orphans.

After I had outlined the Bill, the following week I was met by a lot of the Deputies of my own Party who expressed that view to me pretty forcibly, and I took note of the statements made by Deputy Dillon in the same direction, urging me and urging the Government to provide, if possible, the necessary finances to cover, in the proposed amending Bill, pensions for all necessitous widows and orphans, as I have already said. The same claim was put forward and strongly stressed by the Deputies who spoke from the Labour Benches and, I think, the Independent Benches as well. Accordingly, having heard such a strong volume of opinion expressed, and feeling it was the right thing to do if the money could be found, I took the matter up again with the Minister for Finance and with the Executive Council, and I am happy to say that the money has been found and the Government has agreed to withdraw the Bill that was practically ready for introduction, and to substitute for it the Bill that has now been circulated, which does make provision for pensions for all necessitous widows and orphans.

This is a Bill to amend the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Acts, 1935 and 1936, and is in fulfilment of a promise I have made several times in this House that the earliest opportunity would be taken to extend the number of necessitous widows and orphans who would benefit under the non-contributory scheme of pensions established by the Act of 1935.

It will be remembered that the Act of 1935 provided two classes of pension, contributory and non-contributory, and was framed on the principle that in dealing with the question of necessity arising amongst the widows and orphans of the wage-earning classes, through the premature death of the breadwinner, the best results would be obtained by adhering to the principle of compulsory contributory insurance. Such a scheme of contributory insurance would ensure that, for the future at any rate, the classes for whom protection was in the main desired, would be adequately covered. The system would provide for the payment during working life of contributions to a fund, which with the aid of a subvention from the State would guarantee pensions to the widows and orphans of wage-earners, without the imposition of a means test. The type of scheme established corresponds to similar schemes established in other countries, where the experience has been that they are of very great benefit indeed in meeting the hardships which arise through the death of employed husbands and fathers of families. We have now had something over a year's experience of the working of the contributory scheme in this country and I can say emphatically that, even in that short time, it has proved of very great benefit.

It was estimated that, in the first year of its operation, an average of 700 widows whose husbands would die during that year, would become entitled to contributory pensions at a cost of £30,000 for the year. The position as at 31st December last was, that there were 702 widows and 1,174 children (including orphans) in receipt of contributory pensions, the pensions amounting to £554 8s. 0d. per week, i.e., at the rate of £28,829 per annum. Since the 31st December these figures have increased as follows:—

Number of widows, 795.

Number of children and orphans, 1,370.

Weekly cost, £636 6s. 6d.

Annual cost, £33,089.

The cost of the contributory scheme will increase rapidly from year to year until the ultimate stage is reached, when it is estimated that there will be 23,000 widows and 18,500 children, including orphans, in receipt of contributary pensions.

Where the employment of the late husband or father was not agricultural employment, these pensions are at the rate of 10/- per week for the widow, 5/- per week for the first dependent child, 3/- per week for each other dependent child and 7/6 per week for each orphan child. The lowest pension in this group is 10/- per week and the highest is 42/- per week. In cases where the late husband or father was employed in agricultural employment, the pensions are at the rate of 8/- per week for the widow, 4/- a week for the first dependent child, 2/6 for each other dependent child and 6/- a week for each orphan child. The lowest pension in this group is 8/- per week and the highest, 32/- per week.

Though the Bill now before the Dáil does not make any important or radical alterations in the contributory scheme, I think it desirable to impress on Deputies that the system of pensions to widows and orphans is, in the main, a scheme of compulsory contributory insurance, which is relied on to meet, as far as possible, all cases of necessity arising in the future amongst the widows and orphans of the insured class, that is the great majority of wage-earners. The adoption of the contributory principle does not, however, deal with the case of the existing population of necessitous widows and orphans whose husbands or parents were already dead when the contributory system began, nor does it deal adequately with cases which might arise in the future where a man who was insured under the contributory plan failed to have sufficient qualifying contributions to his credit at the date of death. In order to meet that position (which to some extent is transitional, since the number of cases should begin to decline as soon as the contributory scheme is well established) the original Act provided for a scheme of non-contributory pensions in addition to the contributory scheme.

The non-contributory scheme of pensions set up by the Act of 1935 provided pensions under certain conditions to the widows and orphans of certain classes. These classes are, firstly, persons who would have been insured under the contributory scheme if it had been in force when they died and, secondly, small working farmers to whom schemes of compulsory contributory insurance cannot be applied. The first class referred to is defined by the test of insurance under the National Health Insurance Acts, i.e., a non-contributory pension is payable to a widow of a man who, when he died, was insured under these Acts. The second class referred to is defined by reference to the valuation of the holding occupied at date of death and comprised only small-holders whose valuation did not exceed £8. Further, in both classes, payment of pension is limited to widows who have dependent children and to widows aged 60 and over who have no dependent children. The pensions are smaller in amount than the contributory rates and, subject to the other conditions, are paid only to necessitous widows; that is to say, all non-contributory pensions are payable subject to a means test.

The experience of the working of the non-contributory scheme has disclosed certain anomalies and inequities which have already been referred to in this House. For instance, many widows who are in fact necessitous have failed to qualify for pension because their husbands were not insured under the National Health Insurance Acts. These include the widows of independent tradesmen such as blacksmiths, bootmakers, jobbing carpenters, painters, carters, slaters, etc., etc. Another type of case under which hardship arose was where the husband, when employed, was normally insured under the National Health Insurance Acts, but where prolonged unemployment before death resulted in the termination of his insurance. Among small holders instances of a similar nature occurred as, for example, where the holding was just over the valuation limit of £8 or where the holding had been assigned to a son before death, or where, after death, the widow had ceased to reside on the holding.

The whole question has now been reconsidered in the light of the experience which has been gained in the operation of the Act since January, 1936, and the Government has arrived at the decision that, so far as non-contributory pensions are concerned, the most logical and equitable course is to remove all the tests regarding the nature of the occupation of the deceased husband or parents. The Bill accordingly provides for the repeal of those sections of the 1935 Act which limited the classes of deceased persons to whose widows and orphans non-contributory pensions would be payable. Further, under the existing statute, a non-contributory pension cannot be paid to a widow who has no dependent child, unless she is aged 60 years or over. The Bill proposes to reduce this to the age of 55. The effect of the new proposals is, therefore, that non-contributory pensions will be payable to all necessitous widows who have dependent children, to all necessitous widows who have no dependent children but who are 55 years of age or over and to all necessitous orphans, irrespective altogether of the nature of the occupation of the deceased husband or parents. These are the main proposals in the Bill now before you and they are of farreaching importance. As I will explain later on, these proposals will considerably increase the number of beneficiaries under the non-contributory scheme.

The next most important change which is proposed, is to modify the means test in favour of claimants. In assessing income under the Act of 1935 special exemptions from earned income were allowed to widows who had dependent children. These exemptions were at the rate of 2/6 for each child in the case of a resident in a county borough, 2/3 in the case of a resident in an urban area and 2/- in the case of a resident in a rural area, with a maximum exemption of 7/6, 6/9 and 6/- respectively. The Bill proposes to apply these exemptions also to cases where the income is unearned. Consequently, the necessity for distinguishing between earned and unearned income disappears and provision is made for the necessary amendment in the First Schedule to the Act of 1935.

Furthermore, it is proposed to exempt up to an amount not exceeding £6 10s. 0d. a year or 2/6 a week, any charitable donations or voluntary payments made by organisations or institutions or by relatives or other persons not contributing towards their own board and lodging. In addition, it is proposed to exempt income received by way of bonus or grants made to persons residing in Gaeltacht areas by the Department of Education, in cases where Irish is used as the language of the home. In order to remove doubts, provision is also made that home assistance, if received, will not be taken into account.

The effect of these proposals will be that, in the first instance, in assessing income, no account will be taken of home assistance, Gaeltacht grant or the first 2/6 per week of charitable payments. Any income still remaining after these deductions have been made will further be reduced as follows: in county boroughs, by amounts varying from 5/- in the case of a widow with no children to 12/6 in the case of a widow with three or more children; in urban areas, by amounts varying from 4/- in the case of a widow with no children to 10/9 in the case of a widow with three or more children; in rural areas, by amounts varying from 3/- in the case of a widow with no children to 9/- in the case of a widow with three or more children

The only income which will be taken into account for the purpose of calculating the pension payable will be any income remaining after all these deductions have been made. It follows that a widow with three children residing in a county borough might have a total income, apart from home assistance, of 15/- a week and still get the maximum pension, applicable in her case, of 14/- a week.

Criticisms have been directed against the payment of low rates of pension in certain cases. It will be obvious that, in such cases, the widow is in receipt of other income. The fact that a low rate of pension is payable is very often an indication that the widow concerned is better off than the widow to whom the maximum rate of pension is payable.

Further minor alterations are also proposed, of which the following may be mentioned:—Under the existing statute, a dependent child is a child who is under the age of 14 years, or a child who is under 16, but who, on attaining the age of 14, was under full-time instruction in a day-school and continues thereafter under such full-time instruction. Some doubt has arisen as to whether, under this provision, a child whose period of instruction is interrupted after the age of 14 qualifies for an allowance. In order to remove this doubt, it is now proposed to treat a child as dependent during any periods between the age of 14 and 16 while he is attending school. Power is also taken to make regulations to include certain periods as periods of attendance at school, as, for example, periods of recognised school holidays or periods during which the school is closed on account of an epidemic, etc.

Cases have also arisen where orphans' pensions claimed in respect of illegitimate children had to be refused because the death of both parents could not be proved. In such cases it is proposed that a pension will be payable if the mother is dead and if the father is unknown. Under the existing provisions, a claimant is given one month after the death of her husband in which to make a claim. If the claim is made within the period of a month, the pension is payable as from date of death. If the claim is made after the expiration of a month, the pension is paid from date of claim. Experience has shown that this period of a month is too short, and it is proposed to extend it to three months.

Contributory pensions are payable at present outside Saorstát Eireann in cases where the pensioner is resident in an appointed country. An appointed country is a country with a similar scheme of contributory pensions under which payments of pension are made in the Saorstát. Great Britain and Northern Ireland are appointed countries, because they have schemes of pensions to widows and orphans which are substantially the same as the contributory scheme in force here, and under these schemes pensions are payable in the Saorstát. Accordingly, the existing statute provides for the payment of contributory pensions to persons going to reside in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, subject always, of course, to the conditions regarding insurance in the Saorstát having been satisfied.

It will be remembered that when a widow, who is in receipt of a contributory pension, reaches the age of 70, she becomes entitled to an old age pension of 10/- a week under the Old Age Pensions Acts without any test as to means. A difficulty arose here, because old age pensions are not payable outside the Saorstát. It is accordingly proposed in the Bill that where a woman becomes entitled to an old age pension under the Old Age Pensions Acts because she was in receipt of a contributory widow's pension, then the old age pension to which she becomes entitled may be paid to her if she becomes resident in an appointed country. Under similar conditions an old age pension payable under the British or Northern Ireland Old Age Pensions Acts is payable in the Saorstát.

There are, in addition, certain minor amendments which are of an administrative character, or are intended to clarify the provisions of the 1935 Act. It will be observed also that the principal amendments will not come into force until a day which is to be appointed. It will be appreciated that some time will be required to reexamine all the claims which have been rejected under the Act of 1935 and also the large number of new claims to be expected as a result of this Bill. Every effort will be made to deal expeditiously with these cases, and it is hoped to have the new pensions paid within a few months after the passing of the Act.

As I have already stated, the effect of the proposals will be to increase considerably the number of persons entitled to non-contributory pensions and, as a consequence, the annual cost of these pensions. Under the present scheme the number of persons in receipt of pensions, the weekly cost of these pensions and the corresponding annual cost are as follows—the figures relate to the 31st January of this year:—

Contributory scheme—Number of widows, 795; number of dependent children (including orphans), 1,370; weekly cost, £636 6s. 6d.; corresponding annual cost, £33,089.

Non-contributory scheme—Number of widows, 13,797; number of dependent children (including orphans), 13,065; weekly cost, £4,567 19s. 0d.; corresponding annual cost, £237,533.

The figures for both classes combined are:—Widows, 14,592; dependent children and orphans, 14,435; weekly cost, £5,204 5s. 6d.; corresponding annual cost, £270,622.

The new proposals will not affect the cost of the contributory scheme, which, as I have already mentioned, will increase steadily from year to year. When the Act of 1935 was before the Dáil, I stated that in making estimates of cost considerable difficulty was experienced, as full material was not always available on which to base calculations. Although considerable experience has been gained, the extension to include all necessitous widows makes it very difficult to make firm estimates. Taking all the facts known to us into consideration, the best estimate, so far as the non-contributory scheme is concerned, is that under the new proposals the number of beneficiaries in the first year will be 41,500 widows and 29,000 children (including orphans). These numbers will be subject to reduction in future years as the number of persons entitled to contributory pensions increases.

The principle adopted in financing the scheme under the Act of 1935 was to estimate the income and expenditure over a period of ten years and to set off the surplus arising in the early years against the deficiencies which will normally occur in the later years. The resulting excess of total expenditure over total income for the ten years was then met by an equal annual subvention from the State in each of these years. The 1935 Act accordingly provided for an annual State subvention of £250,000 for each of the first ten years. Of this ten-year period, two years have elapsed, and two annual payments of £250,000 each have been made. It is now estimated that the new proposals will require an additional subvention of £200,000 for each of the remaining eight years of the period, and in arriving at this amount regard was had to the surplus already in hand as a result of the first year's working of the scheme. The Bill accordingly proves that for the remaining eight financial years of the ten-year period the State subvention is to be at the rate of £450,000 instead of £250,000 as originally provided.

We welcome the Bill, which, I must say, is certainly a very generous measure. The class to which it is applied are the most deserving of all the classes we have in this State and the most hard-working. From experience we have had all over the country, it can be said that no other class were really as worried or as hard wrought as widows to try and find some means of subsistence for themselves and their families. The Minister has certainly met their cases very fairly and very well, and, as he has referred to the criticisms offered in the House on previous occasions, I may say that he has gone into every one of them, as far as my recollection takes me. It certainly is a great relief to know that the cases of all necessitous widows and all necessitous orphans are now about to be met. It has been with local authorities, particularly boards of health, a cause of constant worry as to how these people's claims could be met. The decision of the Minister not to take into calculation under this Bill whatever local authorities are prepared to give to widows by way of home assistance is a right step, and particularly is that true of what they might receive by way of assistance from friends and charitable institutions and bodies.

On the whole, I think that the situation has been very well met indeed, and I compliment the Minister on meeting it in this particular way. While the estimate the Minister has given of £450,000 is in itself a large sum of money to provide annually, it is, at the same time, a consolation to know that the State is doing the right thing by the most necessitous people in the country. I do not know exactly whether the widow with one child is being treated just as fairly as she might be, as distinct from the others. However, I think the Minister, as far as we can gather from his statement, has dealt very fairly with all the classes. I am particularly gratified that the Minister has taken note of the criticism offered from, I think, every Party in the House with regard to the cases of orphans between 14 and 16 years of age. After all, a child between 14 and 16 years is often a greater worry and a greater load to a widow than younger children, and the Minister certainly has done the right thing in deciding that those children between 14 and 16, if they are still going to school, will be entitled to receive benefit. That will not alone be a help to the widow, but it will ensure that the education of the children will be looked after so that they will be better fitted for the battle of life than they otherwise would. On the whole, we welcome the Bill, and I take the opportunity of congratulating the Minister in meeting, I think, all the points of criticism offered in the House.

I think the Minister is to be congratulated not only on the very substantial amendments of the main Act, but on the very comprehensive speech which he has delivered in explanation of the provisions of this new Bill which, when dovetailed into the main Act, will become an extremely complicated piece of social legislation. I am glad that many of the provisions of the new Bill will remove some obvious cases of hardship which manifested themselves under the main Bill. The removal, in particular, of the insurance qualification represents a very distinct advance, because many of the claimants for widows' and orphans' pensions were persons whose husbands died many years ago, at a time when national health insurance was in its infancy, and when it was not possible to obtain the reliable information about national health insurance membership that can be obtained to-day. The removal of that requisite from the main Act will enable many deserving persons to obtain widows' and orphans' pensions which were denied them because of the rather rigid provisions of the main Act in that respect. Similarly, I think deletion of the provision that a person must be a small holder and must continue to reside on the holding removes another rather irksome provision, with which it was found extremely difficult to comply. In the course of my handling of widows' and orphans' pensions claims, I came across one case where a widow lived on an island off the Donegal coast. She was compelled to evacuate the island one night by reason of a high Atlantic tide, and next morning when she went to the mainland to see if it was safe to go back to the island, she had considerable difficulty in locating it. The Atlantic had often come in and gone out but did not do so on this particular occasion. The widow made application for a widows' and orphans' pension, and was refused on the grounds that she had not continued to reside on the holding. I am glad, in that particular case, that that very obvious anomaly will be removed, and that widows in such circumstances will not be accountable for the misconduct of the Atlantic.

There are some features of this legislation upon which I should like the Minister to ponder. One is the limitation of the scope of the legislation to persons in receipt of an income at a rate not exceeding £250 per annum. In interpreting that £250 per annum, it must not be assumed that it relates to the entire income of £250. Persons receiving less than £250 may be excluded from the scope of the Act, because there are periods when they are earning in excess of £250. It is desirable that the legislature should make provision for widows with dependent children where the father was in receipt of an income not exceeding £250, but it is also desirable that it should make provision for widows and children where the income is more than that, because it is often extremely difficult in these cases to determine the degree of distress among the families. A person with an income of £300 might, having regard to family responsibilities, be in a really worse position than a person with an income of £200 or £250. I know that it may be said that a line must be drawn somewhere, but I wonder if we are right in drawing the line at £250, seeing that in other respects such as under the Workmen's Compensation Act we extended the provisions to persons in receipt of an income not exceeding £350 per annum. Of course, the rates under the Workmen's Compensation Act can be much higher than £350 per annum where the person was engaged in manual work. I should like to know if it is possible, under the amending Bill, for the Minister to consider, in respect of contributory pensions, an extension of the scope of the Bill to bring in persons who are in receipt of an income in excess of £250. It may be necessary under the Bill to draw the line somewhere, but I suggest to the Minister that in these days, when £250 per annum goes relatively such a short distance, it is a rather low figure at which to draw the line for purposes of widows' and orphans' pensions. If it is not possible to meet the matter in that way it might be possible to consider it from the standpoint of allowing such persons as so desire to become voluntary contributors under the Act where the income exceeds £250 per annum.

The Minister pointed out that in assessing the claims of applicants for pensions under the amending Bill the home assistance received by them would not be taken into consideration. That is a wise and a reasonable provision, and indicates that the Minister does not desire that the rights of applicants under the Bill should be refused merely because they are drawing income from the local authorities. But I am sorry to say that the Minister's generosity in this respect is not reciprocated by the local authorities, and I know dozens of cases where persons who are in receipt of widows' and orphans' pensions, even at non-contributory rates, find it almost impossible to get local authorities to give them any home assistance. Formerly these persons were entitled to home assistance, and in fact actually received it, from the local authorities. This Legislature passed the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act, and the local authorities promptly seized upon the enactment of that legislation to deprive necessitous widows and children of the amount of home assistance they formerly required. I have no hesitation in telling the Minister that, on quite a large scale, local authorities are now refusing to discharge their responsibilities to necessitous people because they are in receipt of non-contributory pensions under the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act. The Minister who introduced that Act was the present Minister for Local Government and Public Health, and he objected to have to ask local authorities to do anything in that matter. I suggest to the Minister that it is not unreasonable, and not even undemocratic, to direct local authorities to do the right thing where it is obvious they have been doing the wrong thing. The Minister does not desire in this amending Bill that they should take into consideration what persons receive in the way of home assistance, but his generosity will be rendered nugatory by reason of the fact that the local authorities take into consideration the widows' and orphans' pensions which these people received, and consequently deprived them of home assistance. If the Minister believes it his right to leave the persons concerned with home assistance, and with the widows' and orphans' pensions, then, as the Minister charged with the administration of local government, he should ensure that the generosity under this measure is not set at nought by the action of local authorities who may refuse home assistance in such cases.

There is another feature of this legislation to which I wish to direct the Minister's attention. It is possible under the main Act for a person who ceases to be insurable under the widows' and orphans' pensions scheme to pass into employment of an insurable kind but yet not be of a kind to come within the scope of the Act to continue as a voluntary contributor. For instance, a person with an income of £240 per annum is eligible to come within the scope of the main Act. If that person received £260 he is excluded from the scope of the main Act but could within 12 months exercise the right to become a voluntary contributor provided he remains in insurable occupation in the meantime. There are cases where persons who may have an income of £240 per annum may be compelled to relinquish their employment through ill-health. By reason of the fact that they did not continue in insurable employment these persons are completely outside the scope of the main Act and lose any contributions that may have been standing to their credit. A person might not be able to continue in insurable employment because his health becomes impaired and it might not be possible to obtain any kind of employment, insurable or otherwise. I wonder if the Minister would look into that aspect of the matter, with a view to allowing such persons, if they so desire, to continue under the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act as voluntary contributors in cases where, owing to ill-health, they are unable to continue in insurable employment, but yet out of such resources as they have they desire to cover their widows and children under the main Act. I cannot imagine that an option of that kind would throw any particular burden on the State, because I presume it is calculated that voluntary contributors will not become a liability on the State, since they are required to pay the entire contributions as actuarially obtained in order to maintain the solvency of the contributory side of the fund.

The only other matter to which I desire to refer is the rates paid to non-contributory beneficiaries under the main Act. The Minister has improved the provision somewhat by deleting certain sources of income which were formerly taken into consideration in calculating the means of an applicant for the purpose of a non-contributory pension, but there are cases and there will continue to be cases where widows are unable to obtain any sort of income as a result of their own efforts, either because of their family circumstances or because of physical or mental disabilities of one kind or another. In those cases the widows are not likely to have any source of income as a result of their own exertions, and may find it extremely difficult to secure an income from any charitable source. In those cases the rates of benefits provided under the non-contributory scheme are small. I think the Minister will willingly admit that fact. I should have liked, therefore, if the Minister had found it possible to increase the non-contributory rates, particularly in the cases of persons who have no income whatever, because in those cases the benefits are extremely small and purchase very little nowadays in view of the rising cost of living. If it is not possible to meet a plea of this kind on this Bill I certainly should like to stake a claim with the Minister that any further expenditure in respect of widows' and orphans' pensions should be in the direction of improving the non-contributory rates, particularly in respect of persons who have no income whatever, and consequently cannot avail of the beneficial amendments to the main Act which have been made in this Bill.

On the whole, Sir, taking the lean with the fat, I think this is a generous measure. It removes many anomalies which existed in the main Act, and it brings in new classes of benefit in what I have always considered to be a very valuable piece of social legislation. I think that the minimum the State can do is to look after the nation's widows, and to look after the nation's fatherless children. Social legislation of this kind is one of the best means by which the State can show the individual citizen that, while he or she has responsibilities to the State, the State on the other hand recognises and will meet to the limit of its capacity its responsibilities towards the individual citizens of the nation.

This Bill has been received with considerable congratulation. I am always a bit sceptical when I hear this flow of congratulation for a measure in this House. I remember when the original measure was introduced, it sort of terrified everybody in the House; they were so delighted with it that they would not open their mouths about it. While this Bill goes a considerable distance to improve on the parent measure, Deputies will come back here before very long to find that this Bill does not go quite so far as they thought, more particularly when you come to the overwhelming number of widows who will come under the non-contributory part of the Bill. They are situated in the rural parts of this State, and the provision with regard to cash allowances will be nil in the main. There may be an exceptional case where a widow gets a small sum of money from somebody; I am not talking about money from public assistance or from charitable organisations. There is an allowance of 15/- a week which a widow can receive with regard to the contributory part. What is the experience of Deputies who have handled a large portion of those claims with regard to the non-contributory part of the parent measure? I stated it here before, and I am going to repeat it to-day. In practically every case where a widow is living in a cottage you will find attached to that cottage a very small piece of ground. It is probably less than a rood; it is not more than a rood in any case and much less than a rood in many cases. There are a few heads of cabbage stuck in some part of this piece of ground at the back of the cottage, and the assessment on that is such as to bring her down 5/-, 3/-, or 2/- A widow in a cottage is generally brought down to about 3/-.

If this Bill is going to be applied in that manner I have no welcome for it —none whatever. It is useless to deceive ourselves that, with the increased cost of living to which Deputy Norton has referred, 3/- a week is of any use to a woman in that position. The Minister, of course, has very humanely made provision here that certain moneys will not be taken into consideration in assessing the means. What is the practice, and what is going to be the practice in those cases? There are a lot of widows now getting perhaps 6/- or 7/- a week in the way of public assistance, or from the St. Vincent de Paul Society or some other organisation. The moment she applies for a pension under this Act and is awarded any sum, irrespective of the amount, she will be immediately told that she is getting the widows' and orphans' pension, and will cease to receive any assistance from public funds. For her, it would have been much better if this Bill were never passed, because if she is otherwise qualified the local authority will cut off whatever money they have been giving to her, and ask her to apply for a pension under this Act. We get that sort of situation under various Acts. A case was brought to my notice the other day where a man was receiving public assistance because he was blind and unable to work. The local authority intimated to him that they would no longer pay him that sum because he was entitled to get a blind pension. The curious anomaly was that he applied for a blind pension and did not get it. Between the Blind Pensions Act and the Home Assistance Act the man is now destitute.

I should like to appeal to the Minister with regard to the administration of this Act. It is not fair to apply the means test in every case on the same basis as if you were awarding 10/-; there should be a proportionate reduction in the assessment of means when you are only giving a 5/- pension. I would suggest to the Minister that instructions should be given that in the case of a woman living in a cottage, where there is only a plot of ground less than a rood, most of which is utilised as a run for a few chickens, with a few heads of cabbage in some corner of it, there should be no means test applied. In the rural parts of the State my experience is that an enormous number of those widows are placed in those circumstances. This allowance provision, of course, looks very humane on paper. Again I repeat that in practice it is nugatory. Deputy Norton has referred to the practice of the local authority the moment they find that a woman is entitled to get a widows' and orphans' pension. Of course, if she is getting more from the local authority than she knows she can get under this Act she will not want to apply, but they will make her apply or she goes without anything. I am glad that the Minister has seen his way with regard to the extension of the allowance to children from 14 to 16, and also that he has included—though he did not refer to it here in explaining the Bill—orphans between the ages of 14 and 16 who are in any way, by reason of mental or physical disability, incapable of working. They are a problem not only up to 16, but ever afterwards, and some machinery will have to be devised to deal with that problem, because they are generally a burden on the State.

I am glad that the provision with regard to the widow of a small holder has been amended. As the original Bill stood, it should have been obvious that the thing was completely anomalous, because the widow who was able to remain on the small holding was able to eke out some sort of existence out of the land, but the widow who did not reside on the holding was the widow, in most cases who, through ill-health and utter incapacity to tackle the job of working a small farm, had to depend on the charity of a married brother, sister or other relation. She and her children had to be maintained by some of these persons and, under this part of the Act, this class of persons was completely prohibited from getting a pension. The thing was unreasonable and illogical, and I am glad that it is amended here because it caused serious hardship to a class of widow that should have benefited. The widow who was fit to remain on the farm was in the position that her children were growing up and were coming to an age at which they were capable of doing something on the land, but in the other case, the poor widow was unable to remain because she was incapable of doing anything in regard to working the land. In some cases in rural Ireland we know that neighbours are very helpful and very charitable, but in other districts that does not prevail. You get different types of people with a different spirit of neighbourliness and where a widow was unable to do any farm work she got into such a state economically that she had to clear out and live with some relation. In many cases, they lived under very miserable conditions. I am glad that will disappear when this Bill becomes law.

As to more generous treatment under this Bill, the financial aspect of any matter is a big problem. It is quite easy to be generous if you have the money, but I am not at all satisfied that this State could not do more than give 5/- to a widow and her orphans. I ask the House to consider what that 5/- is worth to a widow with one, two or three children and no other income in respect of produce from a small farm or anything like that. What is its purchasing power? It is practically worthless. I ask any Deputy if he could provide coal, clothing and food for himself and two or three children if the weekly amount he received was 5/-. The thing is really fantastic. Can the finances of this State bear any more generous provision in this regard? I submit they can if the Government really applied itself to the problem. Facts are blunt things and it is as well always to face them. There is no use in asking the Minister to do something which one could not do if one were in the Minister's position, but I have been looking for some means by which money could be got to make more generous provision with regard to the non-contributory part of this Bill, and I notice that last year England collected in penal tariffs £250,000 over and above what was due. I have examined the British accounts for the current year and I find that the estimate there is for a surplus of £750,000. In justice, I think that some machinery should be arranged by which a wealthy nation like England would not take that amount over and above the amount due to her from us.

There are also enormous sums being spent in making it possible for England to collect that money and, considering the enormous increase in the cost of living, arising from these facts, we should be more generous than we are being in respect of the non-contributory side of this Bill. I think the Minister, when approaching this matter, should have kept that in view and should have been stern when the arrangements—and they are now definite arrangements—were being made between this State and Great Britain in regard to the moneys she is collecting and more rigid machinery should have been created whereby, when England had received the amount due, the balance would be returned.

The question of the economic dispute, sometimes called the economic war, frequently arises. This is one of the occasions on which it is not relevant.

I am only pointing a way. As far as it goes, however, I welcome the Bill. I do submit that it will be found when it is put into practice that the Deputies will not have quite as big a welcome for it as they have to-day. Deputies and the country will find that when the machinery is set going and the means test applied, the Bill will not have gone very far at all. It may give 1/- or 2/- a week to help the old people to pay for the bus going to church or chapel on Sunday, but in the main it will be found that what they will get in the way of additional payments will not very much increase their purchasing power.

Like Deputy McMenamin, I welcome the Bill, and I welcome it despite what may happen later. We all know that when a Bill is put into operation complaints will arise in its working, but these drawbacks will only encourage the Minister to improve the Bill. I have one particular complaint to make, and I do not think that any remedy is being provided for that in this Bill. That complaint is in connection with the proving of the death of the husband in certain cases. To get a declaration of presumption of death by the court is a very expensive proceeding. I have in mind one case where a man suffering from a nervous breakdown got away from the hospital. His body was never found, but the Guards were of opinion that the man had been drowned. The widow made an application for a pension, and the reply to that was that she would have to prove the death of the husband. I quite appreciate there may be a doubt in some cases of that kind where people, in the belief that the husband may have died, may make a claim for pension. But in this particular case the Guards were satisfied that the man had been drowned. There was no inquest because they could not find the body; the woman was without resources sufficient to bring the case to court asking the judge to presume death. We all have heard of a case recently where, though the body was not found, a relative of the missing person was found guilty. In the case to which I am referring there is a widow with seven children, and the board of health are making a weekly allowance to them. All the evidence in the possession of the Guards was submitted to the pension authorities. This evidence showed that the man was seen within a few yards of the sea front, and the presumption now is that he was drowned. I submit that is the sort of case in which the State should provide some machinery for proving death. It should not be necessary to compel the widow or children to go to the expense of an action in the courts. I appeal also to the Minister to increase the amount payable in the case of the non-contributory section. The Wicklow Board of Health find it costs 10/- to maintain patients in the county home. Now in the county home all the necessaries are purchased in bulk by contract. Still it costs 10/- to maintain one person. In the face of that, how can a woman in the non-contributory class maintain herself and her three children on 9/- a week? I know that the board of health in Wicklow is not of the type that I have heard described in this House. They granted an allowance of 5/- a week to maintain the widow and children even where the woman is getting 9/- a week pension for herself and the children. I am referring now to a case where the husband died in 1933. That man was not insured and he never drew one penny from the National Health Insurance. There are a number of cases of that kind, and I appeal to the Minister to take a note of them with a view to increasing the allowances. I again appeal for some machinery so that the pension people would be in a position to presume death in a case like that to which I have referred—that is, say, a case where the Gárda authorities would be in a position to give very convincing evidence. Without any concession at all the Bill is very welcome to those poor people who are looking forward to it, even though the Minister has not seen his way to bring in a Pension Bill of a non-contributory class the same as is being operated in the North of Ireland. I do submit that we here in the South should give similar benefit to the widows and orphans. That would be great encouragement to these people, who would then be able to say that they are not treated in a less generous fashion than their comrades in the North of Ireland.

I could not help thinking, while listening to Deputy McMenamin, that if the Minister brought in the most generous measure in the world, the Deputy and the Opposition would still say that he should have gone much further. The people of this country have been looking forward for ten or 15 years for a measure of this kind. Deputies opposite, and the Government for which they stood, made no move and no effort to meet the wishes of the widows and orphans of the country in this regard. I welcome this measure, for not alone will it be appreciated by the Deputies, but it will be appreciated by the community generally. The people recognise the helpful action of the Government in introducing this measure, amending the Bill previously brought in.

I would like now to draw the attention of the Minister to the question of the means test. Some anomalies have been removed, and in view of that I would appeal that a liberal interpretation be put on this question of means. In my experience, the assessment of the values of the applicants' assets is entirely too rigid. That has been shown by the decisions arrived at. In other words, the values put on the commodities and on the applicants' holdings are rather too high. I suggest to the Minister that these calculations should be made by the investigation officers on a more liberal basis than that on which they are being made at present. In rural areas, especially, the values placed on these things by the investigation officers would seem to indicate that a very rigid means test is applied.

That, I think, is the only matter to which I need refer. I am making this appeal to the Minister in the hope that he will give some intimation to the investigation officers that the assessment of means will not in future be as rigid and drastic as it has been heretofore.

I am grateful to Deputy Dillon, Deputy Norton, and the other Deputies who received this Bill so well. Deputies have offered congratulations to the Minister and the Government for the excellence of this measure. That is a very unusual thing, but, in this instance, it is true. From the very start, we were anxious to make the provisions of this measure as liberal as possible. The first Bill was introduced in 1935. My own Party, as a whole, and the Government itself, were very keen on seeing that the Bill should, if possible, include every necessitous widow and orphan in the country. Not having at our disposal statistics which would give us an exact idea of what the cost of such legislation was likely to be, we had to move slowly and carefully. The Bill introduced by me in 1935 on behalf of the Government did not go as far as the Government would have wished. We have had a year's experience of the working of that measure, and, as a result of that experience, we have been able to introduce this Bill. As I have already said, from now on a total sum of at least £450,000 will be devoted to this purpose. That estimate may be exceeded. The Department of Finance will have to see that we keep, as far as possible, within our estimate, but I am inclined to think that we shall have to go beyond the limit fixed. The sum of £450,000 is a large sum, but, as Deputy Brennan said, it is by no means too large when we consider the people who are to be the beneficiaries. The amendments contained in this Bill alter the terms of the original Act in a fundamental way, but the alterations are in the right direction, as all the Deputies, with the possible exception of Deputy McMenamin, are agreed. I do not think that Deputy McMenamin would, notwithstanding his criticism, refuse the Bill. I should not expect Deputy Norton or Deputy Everett, or their colleagues, to say that they were entirely satisfied with the Bill. It would be unnatural to expect them to take up that position where social legislation is concerned. On these matters they have to take up an Oliver Twist attitude. Taking what they can get, they have to ask for something more, in order to let the people know that they are the guardians—they would like us to believe the only guardians—of the poor and working classes.

Well they know it.

It is not very obvious.

We could not expect these Deputies to adopt any other attitude. It would not be in their own interest, from the point of view of Party politics, or any other standpoint. To give credit where credit is due, Deputy Norton did join with Deputy Brennan in congratulating the Government on the measure now before the House. I am sure he was sincere when he made these remarks. Deputy Everett and every other Deputy who examines this Bill must admit that the Government have gone a long way to meet—to use a hackneyed expression—a long felt want. We are not as wealthy as the people of Great Britain. There is no comparison between our resources and their resources. It is very hard for us to enter into competition with them on matters such as this. Generally speaking, however, I think that the Government have done well. I would not attempt to say that it has made up its mind that it has done all that is necessary or that it would like to do. As I stated when introducing the original measure, I knew that the provisions of that Bill did not satisfy a great many people. They did not fully satisfy myself or other members of the Government, but I knew that, at frequent intervals, amending legislation would have to be introduced so as to improve the provisions of that measure. We have the first evidence of that here now and it is quite on the cards that, in another year or two, I or some other Deputy representing the present Government, will be bringing in a measure to improve still further this piece of social legislation and other pieces of social legislation for which this Government and, perhaps, its predecessor were originally responsible.

Deputy Norton raised a few points as to certain aspects of the Bill. One point was as to making the original Act applicable to the widows of persons who were in receipt of incomes of over £250 a year. I do not think that that can be done. One of the difficulties is that that limit of income also applies in the case of national health insurance, unemployment insurance and, perhaps, to other pieces of social legislation. Therefore, amendments would be required in all these Acts if the maximum of £250, as fixed by the existing law, were to be altered. I do not think that there is any tremendous demand for such an amendment at the present time. If there is, I have not had any evidence of it. Even if the demand were there, it is one that would require very serious consideration because of the reactions it would have on other pieces of social legislation. So far as I know, there is no great demand for such an amendment at the present time. There will always be cases where widows, whose husbands had an income of £250 a year or over, become necessitous. I know cases of that type myself. Irrespective of what the husband's income had been, these necessitous widows will come within the ambit of existing legislation, same as any other necessitous widows. That will be the case no matter what the social standing of the widows and their families may be.

Deputy Norton referred to local authorities who, in some cases, reduced the allowances which they had been in the habit of giving to widows and orphans before the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act came into operation. There are such local authorities that have taken advantage of the moneys received from the Widows' and Orphans' Fund by these beneficiaries to reduce their own liabilities, or at any rate to reduce the sums that they had been paying to these poor people. I think that is a mean advantage to take, and that local authorities ought not to do that. This measure was introduced for the purpose of benefiting a most deserving class in the community. If widows had been getting allowances from boards of public assistance they got them because they needed them. Therefore, I think that a local authority ought not to take away from them any benefit that they have been in the habit of giving them up to the present. The Act was not intended primarily to relieve local authorities of their obligations. I would like to repeat to Deputy Norton the words that I used to Deputy Hogan to-day: that my personal attitude towards local authorities is that I would like to see the elected body functioning, and functioning properly. I would like to see it do its work well and accepting its own responsibilities. If I were a member of a local authority I would not like to have directions sent down to it maybe every week from the Minister. I would resent it, and I am surprised at Deputy Norton and Deputy Hogan, and at other members, calling as often as they do on the Minister to order a local authority to do this and to direct a local authority to do something else.

I have never asked the Minister to do that.

I do not think Deputy Corish has ever done that, so far as I am aware. That certainly is not my attitude towards local authorities. I would like certainly to give them my opinion. I have said what, in my opinion, local authorities should do on this question of the allowances that they have been in the habit of making to widows and orphans. But, while expressing my opinion on that, I personally would not think it proper to send down orders or directions to any of these local authorities. Even though it would be distasteful to me to have to do it, I would rather wipe out a local authority than be constantly sending down directions, orders and instructions to it on matters entirely within its own province to deal with.

I will look into the matter that was mentioned by Deputy Norton about voluntary contributors. I do not think that there is much that can be done in that way, but I will have the matters that he referred to examined. Of course, the non-contributory rates are necessarily lower than the contributory rates. It may be true that they are, perhaps, not over-generous, but within the limits of our resources here, I think it will be admitted that we have done well. I think the House will recognise that. I know, judging by the correspondence that I have received since the Act came into operation, that the widows recognise it. I am talking now particularly of the non-contributory part of the scheme. That, I know, has meant a very big change in the lives of many poor people whose resources were very modest indeed. The 6/-, the 8/- and, in certain cases, the 10/- and 12/- additional going into many homes all over the country, by reason of the non-contributory pensions, has meant a very much improved standard of living for those poor people. It was long wished for, and it has now been realised. I have received, I will not say from all parts of the country, but I have received many letters from poor widows telling me of the great advantage these pensions have been to them, and of how grateful they are to those who were responsible for introducing and putting into operation this pension scheme.

The Labour Party.

I do not think that the Labour Party had any more to do with it than the Government.

Mr. Hogan

It is so bad that we are not taking any credit for it.

The Dáil here has been responsible. The people are responsible, and the people knew when they put this Government in what it would do. I would not have raised this matter at all if Deputy Everett had not introduced it. I do not think there is any other point that needs to be referred to. Deputy Everett raised a point about a woman who found it difficult to prove the death of her husband. There is a difficulty there. It is unfortunate for the woman that she is unable to prove the death. Death could be presumed in that case; but if that were done in one case you would have other cases arising, thereby establishing a precedent that it might be difficult for you not to follow, although you might not be satisfied with the evidence forthcoming that in some particular case the husband was dead. In dealing with social legislation of this kind you will always find these extraordinary cases arising. It is unfortunate for the individual unquestionably, but at the moment I cannot see any way of meeting the case referred to by the Deputy.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 10th March.