Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 27 Mar 1947

Vol. 105 No. 3

Estimates for Public Services. - Vote 66—Office of the Minister for Social Welfare.

I move:—

That a sum not exceeding £445,330 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1948, for the Salaries and Expenses of the office of the Minister for Social Welfare.

Two Bills have been introduced raising the insurability limit for non-manual workers under the National Health Insurance and the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Acts. I should like to refer to the scheme of supplementary allowances under the various social schemes. A preliminary investigation is being made into the whole scheme of social services, with a view to bringing in a comprehensive scheme as soon as possible.

I should like to remind Deputies that there is no ready-made solution available from any other country that could be applied here, because we find that our conditions are not exactly the same as they are in any other country. The problem here is more difficult, for one reason or another, because of the general upset with regard to distribution of population, distribution of employment and so on, and, in common with other countries, we have the aftermath of the war to deal with, so that I am not, therefore, in a position to make any detailed statement on future policy with regard to social services unless to say, as I said before, that I should like to see a unified scheme under which we could insure a person against sickness, unemployment, old age, widowhood of his wife and, perhaps, against a large family; I should like to see as many of these as possible being brought into one unified scheme which will be dealt with by one card and one stamp for each period of a week or whatever it might be, and dealt with by one official or agent at the field end and centrally through the one fund, and through the one system of filing, and so on.

That is the aim we have in view and, as I said already, I expect that we may be able to announce a scheme of that kind within 12 months. If we have not the legislation actually here, we should at least be in a position within 12 months to give something equivalent to a White Paper on a unified scheme of that kind. I am very much personally in favour of a contributory scheme for all these various items but again it would be a difficult problem to draw up a contributory scheme for the greater part of the population because a big part of the population, as Deputies know, are not working for wages. It is not easy to devise a contributory scheme where people are not wage-earners because it is not so easy to collect the contributions that would be due from week to week.

From the Votes that are before us. Deputies will learn that we are first of all dealing with the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare. Under that Vote we have collected together the staffs that were dealing with the various social services last year. Some of them come from the Revenue Commissioners, some from Finance, some from Local Government and some from Industry and Commerce. They are all now under the new Department and their salaries are being accounted for in this Vote. We are also dealing with Old Age Pensions, Vote No. 7; Widows' and Orphans' Pensions, Vote No. 17; National Health Insurance, Vote No. 44; Children's Allowances, Vote No. 57; Unemployment Insurance and Unemployment Assistance, Vote No. 59, and the new Vote, Miscellaneous Social Welfare Services, Vote No. 67. We have in that last Vote a number of small items, that so far were not given the dignity of a separate Vote. They are collected from a number of other Departments and put into this miscellaneous group. It perhaps would have been better and more convenient for Deputies and everybody else, if these Votes had been consecutive in the Book of Estimates, but there was no room for that. As a matter of fact, the Book of Estimates was largely prepared before the new Department was set up and we had therefore to make as little change as possible in the set-up of the Book of Estimates for the present year. Next year we may be able to do a little more in that regard.

Since this Book of Estimates was prepared, the Government decided to introduce a new list of supplements in substitution for those already in operation. That necessitated a reprinting of some of the Estimates in substitution for the Estimates set out in the book. Five of them have been reprinted in that way—National Health Insurance, Widows' and Orphans' Pensions, Old Age Pensions, Unemployment Insurance and Unemployment Assistance and the last group, Miscellaneous Social Welfare Services. Generally speaking, what we set out to do in these supplements was to give something substantially over and above what the various recipients were getting in 1939 and the total amounts as spent under each of these Votes are set out in each of these reprinted Estimates. When reprinted in that way, it is much more convenient from the legal point of view as well as from the accounting point of view, to carry out these services during the year. It is an advantage also in summarising, as it were, the total amounts spent on each of those services. Five of the Estimates withdrawn are substituted by the reprints. In addition, we are taking two Estimates from the book which it was found necessary to reprint, the Vote for Children's Allowances in which no change has to be made, and the Office of the Minister which is now under consideration.

There is another Estimate—Vote 68, Food and Supplementary Allowances— that will drop out because practically all the items under that Estimate will be substituted by cash. Where they are not substituted by cash, the amount to be spent in any particular service is going into the Vote concerned. For instance, we are carrying on the food allowances under old age pensions but that will go into the Old Age Pensions Vote. We have to carry on for a short time the food allowances for widows and orphans but that will be accounted for under the Vote for Widows and Orphans, so that it will not be necessary to move the Vote in the Book for Food and Supplementary Allowances. The difference between the total of these Estimates last year and the Estimate for the coming year is £2,250,000, even allowing for the saving by dropping Vote 68.

The aggregate provision made for these Estimates in 1947-48 is £11,359,620 as against a provision of £9,137,873 in 1946-47. Some Deputies have probably made out for themselves how these increases have arisen. In the case of old age pensions there is an increase of almost £1,000,000—an increase of £985,750; in widows' and orphans' pensions an increase of £212,500; in national health insurance, an increase of £475,400, and in children's allowances, an increase of £51,200. That increase is not due to the recent supplement; it is due to a natural increase. In unemployment insurance and assistance there is an increase of £466,700, and miscellaneous social welfare services have gone down by £28,100. The net result is that there is an increase of almost £2,250,000 over last year. Now that practically all goes to the recipients. In other words, so far as administration goes, administration is up by £58,000, £46,000 of which is due to the recent consolidation of Civil Service salaries generally.

The aggregate of the amount provided for the year 1947-48 in the Social Welfare Department will take over 20 per cent. of the total raised for all supply services during the year. To give an idea of how social services compare with income from particular sources, social welfare schemes, it is estimated, will cost £11,360,000. Customs revenue for 1946-47 will amount to about £17,000,000, excise revenue to about £10,000,000, and income-tax revenue to about £12,000,000, so that of these three big items, amounting to practically £40,000,000, we find that social welfare expenditure will account for almost one-third of the total.

I want to give a few details which perhaps I have given already, but which I think it is no harm to repeat with regard to these supplements. It is proposed to cut out the food allowances, except in the case of old age and blind pensioners, and to substitute them by cash. The food allowance is taken to be value for about 2/6, and the cash equivalent being given is 2/6. It amounts, as Deputies may be aware, to three pints of milk, ¼ lb. butter and 3 lbs. of bread. It is a weekly food allowance in all cases.

Does it include the allowance for fuel?

No, the fuel is not being touched. In the case of the old age pensioners, there will be an additional 2/6 per week in all cases and in all towns and cities the food allowance will continue. In the rural areas, where the local authority is giving, on application, additional sums of 2/6, they will also continue, if the local authority so agrees, and wherever the local authority continues to pay, or, indeed, if they should decide to pay even new applicants, they will be recouped to the extent of 75 per cent. from the Exchequer of what they pay out in that way.

There is one very serious difficulty we are up against in relation to old age pensioners. Old age pensioners are paid through the Post Office and there are 150,000 of them, so that the printing of the books is a very big task. When we thought of giving these additional allowances—I suppose, some six weeks ago—we were told by the people concerned with the supply of books that they could not possibly issue new books for about six months, the printing trade being as it is. We did not know how we might get over this very serious difficulty, and that was one of the reasons why we decided to leave the food allowances with the old age pensioners. We considered various other suggestions with regard to issuing stamps value for 2/6 each, but it is extremely difficult, and, in fact, impossible, to pay the old age pensioners from 1st April.

They are paid through the Post Office which is one very big difficulty. I suppose Deputies realise—perhaps better than I do, many of them—the very big amount of work which has to be done by Post Office assistants in practically every village and the various types of payments they have to make—old age pensions of different amounts, blind pensions, widows' and orphans' pensions of all sorts of amounts, children's allowances and other items under smaller schemes— and we are advised that it would not be possible for the Post Office to undertake to pay anything except what is actually set out on the book presented. In other words, we could not ask the Post Office to pay 12/6 where 10/- is set out on the book, because too many mistakes would probably be made.

Therefore, we must wait until we have these books either overprinted or reprinted, and the best we can do is to say to the old age pensioners: "You will get your increases from 1st April, but they may be in arrears for some time before you actually get the increase". We can only say to the old age pensioners: "Tell your grocer and the other people that this is coming to you and we will give you the amount as soon as we possibly can". I am afraid they will not get the increase until between two and three months from 1st April, but it cannot be helped. In the meantime, the food allowances will continue and possibly continue even beyond that, instead of being converted into cash.

Will they get the back amount?

They will, eventually. It will be credited to them from 1st April —that is all we can promise. To some extent, that applies also to the widows and orphans. The increases in respect of these pensioners vary very much—in fact, it is a frightfully involved table—but to take a simple case, in the case of a widow who was getting 8/- a week and a food voucher, that food voucher being worth 2/6, we replace that by cash, and bring the amount up by 50 per cent., making it 12/-, and give her another 1/6. The easiest thing we can do with the widows—it will be some time before we can get the books reprinted—is to continue the food vouchers until the new books are ready—probably in two or three months' time—and to give them the arrears of the extra amount in cash, whatever it may be—perhaps 1/6 a week—when the new book is ready. These are the two cases which will give so much trouble that we shall be unable to pay them from 1st April. We can only place it to their credit and let them draw it after two or three months.

Under national health insurance, as I announced already, a man is now entitled to 15/- sickness benefit. He will get 7/6 extra, or 22/6. A woman gets 12/- now and will get 6/- extra, and they both get 7/6 disablement benefit. In that case, the man will get 7/6 extra and a woman 6/- extra, and they can draw that from 1st April, because national health insurance is paid by the National Health Insurance Society who are able to make their own arrangements. They will be able to carry out the scheme from 1st April and it will not give us any further trouble. In the case of disablement benefit recipients who are now getting food vouchers, the food vouchers will cease. In the case of unemployment insurance, there will not be any great trouble. The increases will be paid from 1st April also. A man gets 7/6 extra, a woman 6/- extra, a boy 4/-extra and a girl 3/- extra. There are no food vouchers in these cases, so that all that happens is that 50 per cent. is added on from 1st April and paid in cash without any difficulty.

There are food vouchers in the case of recipients of unemployment assistance, which will be replaced by cash, and then the amount will be brought up, as nearly as possible, to 50 per cent. over 1939. When I say "as nearly as possible," I mean that we must keep to units of 6d., as we do not want to go into pennies and halfpence. Again, there is no difficulty about making these payments from 1st April.

I have dealt with widows' and orphans' pensions. I have told the House that food vouchers in the cities and towns will be continued until the new books are ready, whenever that may be, and where there is a cash supplement the arrears will be put aside and paid out as soon as the new books are ready. The total of all these is something over £2,100,000.

There is one other insurance scheme which was taken over by me when I took over this Department, that is, the wet time insurance scheme. There has been a demand for some time for an increase in the benefit under the Insurance (Intermittent Unemployment) Act, 1942, which provides benefits for manual workers employed in the building trade who lose wages through stoppage of work due to inclement weather. There was since the Act was passed a change in the contributions, which were reduced, but now it is possible to increase the payments. The present rate for skilled workers is 1/- per hour. That can be increased to 1/6 per hour. The present rate for unskilled workers is 7½d. per hour, which can be increased to 1/-, and for a young person, 3d. per hour which can be increased to 5d. per hour. These increases can be made and the fund can afford the new payments without any increase whatever in contributions and there will be no charge on the Exchequer for the change that is made in regard to this particular fund.

What is the amount in the fund at the moment, approximately?

I will give that to the Deputy later on. Any other point that Deputies may raise on this discussion I shall be able to deal with later on.

For the purpose of procedure, I move that Vote 66 (Office of the Minister for Social Welfare)—instead of Vote 67, which I have starred on the Order Paper—be referred back for reconsideration. The Minister mentioned increases in benefits under the wet time insurance scheme. Has he considered how he is able to effect these increases? There is, in my opinion, a most unfair and unjust method of getting a great many workers to contribute to that scheme who are not affected by the weather. The Minister is probably just as well aware of that as I am. There has been discussion on the social welfare schemes for a very long time and I suppose it started many years ago. That discussion was greatly increased on the introduction of the Beveridge Plan in Great Britain. I take it that most of these proposals had their genesis in an effort to see what this country could do along the lines of social welfare. In connection with the new headings represented in Votes 66, 67 and 71, we ought to begin as we intend to go on, and it is rather to the form of the Estimates than to the actual results that they may produce that I wish to direct attention.

When the question of social welfare and of public health was under discussion, there was a great deal of criticism on this side of the House as to administration. We complained that there was one compartment for old age pensions, another for home assistance, another for child welfare, another for medical attention in schools, and so on. These were all grouped under Local Government. The contention of the Government was that they should be under the separate care and attention of two Ministers. When we came to criticise this, the Minister for Local Government was most vague as to details. In moving the Vote to-night, the Minister for Social Welfare has told us of some of the difficulties in printing books for old age pensions and widows' and orphans' pensions. It is commonplace to remark that if they had started earlier they would have had the scheme ready sooner and we must suppose that they started rather late. As proof of that, the Estimates, as originally drawn up, provided for, in Vote 66—nil, in Vote 67, £400 and in Vote 71, £3,340, making a modest total of £3,740. Now they had apparently another "think" and came out with a Book of Estimates of close on £1,400,000. The difficulty the Government have in making up their minds has been proved since we came into the House yesterday when an additional Estimate—Vote 67— which amounts to £170,000 extra, was handed to us. It is going to be difficult to discuss these Estimates if they are to be raised or lowered in that way. The Minister will probably tell us that the £170,000 has been taken off the Estimate for the Local Government Department, so that one would really want to consider together Votes 66, 67 and 71.

The Minister seems to have taken to heart some of the criticisms made from this side of the House, because he mentioned that his Department was working towards the idea of one card and one stamp. We could entirely agree with that, especially where there are going to be increased social services. That seems to be likely, because the Minister adumbrated further schemes in his introductory speech. Whether that is to be so or not our great complaint is about the way in which these schemes are kept in water-tight compartments and distributed under separate Votes. Apparently, the revision of an old age pension will still be undertaken by one set of officials, the revision of widows' pensions by another set of officials and so on. I think somebody made the calculation that there are 14 or 15 separate grants, some of them for small sums of money, but each entailing an examination of family means. The Government should bear in mind that whether there are going to be increased social services or not, nothing but good can come from an amalgamation of the compartments dealing with all these sections of the community.

Some months ago I asked if the offices in which the officials were working in the Custom House were to be transferred to a separate building for social services and health. I got no answer, and the Minister did not mention the matter to-day. I really do not know what the address of the Minister for Social Welfare is. For all I know he may have moved out under one of the railway arches outside the Custom House. At any rate one would think that there ought to be some re-grouping and an effort made to have these various investigations carried out under one person. I am not suggesting that the person who investigates an old age pension claim could also make a medical inspection of a child.

I do suggest that the amalgamation. I have referred to should, as far as possible, be carried out. The British Government appear to have grouped all the departments dealing with children under one section. We appear to have taken the opposite course. During the emergency the Office of the Minister for Industry and Commerce was split and a new Ministery set up—that of Supplies. That created such frightful confusion that the scheme had to be abandoned and the two offices amalgamated. In this case the Government have, out of the bowels of the Department of Local Government, taken the Minister for Social Welfare under Vote 66, the grants under Vote 67, and the Minister for Health under Vote 71.

An examination of these Estimates reveals that if the whole body of a child was to be considered that that would happen under the Local Government head. In the case of grants to local authorities, where a member of a family is suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, that child's stomach would come under health because there are grants for the supply of milk to necessitous children. Supposing there was something wrong with the child's feet, or that it wanted footwear, that would come under social welfare and the grants for the supply of footwear for necessitous children. There are also grants under education for the provision of meals. We, on this side, do not want three or four Departments, each being divided into sub-heads, with the head of a child coming under one section, its stomach under another and its feet under a third section. Surely, something could be done in the way of having all these problems dealt with under one head.

I have already referred to the Departments, or compartments, dealing with these sections of social welfare. I have been looking for information as to whether the staffs have been regrouped in the Custom House or taken out of it. Have they taken their experience and their records with them so that some continuity of policy can be maintained? I am raising these matters because I feel that we are going to get the Estimates in future years in this form unless we make a vigorous protest against it now. I would like to make a very vigorous protest about the way these accounts have been presented to us. Other Deputies will, no doubt, come along and criticise the details of these grants. I merely wish to deal with the form and structure of the accounts as presented to us and I am sorry to say that I cannot conceive them presented to us in a worse or more complicated form.

The fact that the Minister appears in the House to-night as Minister for Social Welfare and that he has presented to us this limited but welcome improvement in the social code for the most deserving sections of the people is in great vindication of the action of another distinguished Irishman in the recent past, a distinguished member of the Irish hierarchy, Dr. Dignan, who paved the way for what has been done here this evening and whose report and recommendations aroused in the country perhaps more interest than anything that happened in recent years.

The first limited steps along the road that he indicated are being taken here this evening. It is true that what the Minister has put forward in this House is a very pale imitation of what was outlined by Dr. Dignan in his famous and, may I say, historic report, but at least it is a recognition now, in spite of many symptoms that appeared in the country at that time, that the line that he took on that occasion was the only one that could be taken in the circumstances if the obligations of the State in this connection were to be honoured and realised. The benefits indicated by the Minister to-night are welcomed so far as they go but very, very serious social problems of very many years' standing still remain untouched and one can only hope very sincerely that the Minister will take the earliest opportunity of bringing forward more courageous proposals along this road that he has set his steps on this evening. May I remind him that the important and, I think, to many people in this country, one of the most serious problems that still remain is the poor law system in its present form in this country? The poor law system is a penal relic of the old famine times in this country. It is a degrading relic of that time and it contains still out-wardly and right through its whole make-up many of the marks of deliberate degradation which it had when it was first imposed on the people of this country. I should like to remind the Minister this evening of the words of Dr. Dignan—that the poor law system, as we know it in this country, is something that should not alone be blotted out from the Statute Book of this country but also from the memory of the Irish people.

If the Minister will be given the privilege—I think it would be a great privilege for an Irish Minister to be given—of being able to set his hand to the removal of this poor law system in this country, then he will have done a great service to the country and he will have performed an act of tremendous advantage to many people in this country whose circumstances, whose difficulties and whose claims are very important and far-reaching ones. I should like to see an early move made in that direction. It seems to me that an opportunity of doing that—of making the first move in that direction— would be by the provision for the people of the country of medical benefits.

Many years ago when the national health insurance scheme was going through the British Parliament, it was intended to apply medical benefits to this country and for some reason or another that it is not necessary to go into now, even if we know what the reason was, that scheme was abandoned. In my judgment, the dispensary system in this country has reached a point where it must be completely overhauled. I believe that and I say that quite positively. It is entirely out of harmony with any progressive medical service which the country requires at the present time and I believe that the Minister's Department and the schemes that the Minister may have in mind afford a very fine opportunity of overhauling that service and affording to the people of the country a medical benefit scheme that will give them the widest choice in the matter of the selection of surgical medical assistance, advice and treatment when and as far as they need it. It is not only a desirable thing for many people but it is an absolute necessity for a very large number of deserving people throughout the country.

Let me take that very large and representative section of our population, the small farmers of the country. They are not entitled to the benefits, such benefits as there are, of the poor law system, of obtaining treatment in the local hospitals, at the local dispensaries or being sent to external hospitals by the local authority free of charge. The charges they have to meet for medical and surgical attendance and treatment are for many of them a very heavy burden and I venture to say that a great deal of illness could be prevented and perhaps lives could be saved which are lost because of the fear of the expense involved in treatment of this kind for many of those people. When I talk about this matter I am not talking on a matter of which I am entirely without knowledge. I am talking about a matter with which I have a fairly constant association as a member of a local authority. May I remind the Minister that there was another very important provision in the Dignan Report? That was that there should be, in a scheme of social security, some provision for allowances for people when they reach a certain age and are unable to continue their labours. I know of no more dreadful time in the life of an ordinary person without means than the period between 65 and 70 years. A large number of persons are beyond their labour at 65. That is not so in every case but we have a large number of those people in lonely and poverty-stricken circumstances who should be provided for within the ambit of a social security scheme until they are eligible for another scheme which will assist them in the evening of their lives.

This all involves a great deal of money. It would be a very unreal contribution to the discussion not to admit that and to face it. I entirely agree with the Minister's view, and I endorse his hope, that it may be possible to cover the main provisions of a social security scheme by one contribution. But I should like to remind him that it was proposed, when this scheme was originally outlined in the way I have already described, to bring within its scope 90 per cent. of the people. I trust that the ingenuity of the officers who will be working out and elaborating a scheme of this kind will be able to devise a means by which 90 per cent. of the people can be brought within its scope on a contributory basis. I realise that this may entail for many people substantial national health insurance and other contributions. Offering a personal opinion, I am prepared to face that, and I am prepared to say that it would be extremely good value for the people as a whole. If the poor law system is overhauled and many kindred schemes examined and explored, it should be possible to make substantial economies which could be applied to the building up of a comprehensive human, Christian and dignified scheme of this type.

I was glad to hear the Minister say that there has been a change of policy with regard to the food allowances and that it is proposed to substitute cash payments. That is a step in the right direction. While the difficulties of the present time may make food allowances and the granting of special types of food more attractive than cash payments, in my opinion a food allowance scheme propagated and operated by a scheme of vouchers is a degrading scheme.

I think that the beneficiaries should always be able to get the money and make their own purchases as they think fit. For that reason, I should be glad to see the food allowances scheme entirely altered in favour of this new method and I hope the full operation of that change will be made effective in the shortest possible time. One can appreciate the difficulty of the Minister in bringing this scheme into immediate operation by reason of inability to procure new payment-books or overprinted books for the additional benefits. I suggest one way of meeting the difficulty. I do so with some reluctance because there are objections to it. I suggest that the Minister should, in the intervening period, ask the county councils or the local authorities to pay these allowances and that, in two or three months, when he is in a position to do so, he should recoup these local authorities in full for the amounts so paid. A number of people who would be beneficiaries under this scheme may be beyond all earthly reward by the time payment comes to be made.

The Minister appreciates that the receipt of these extra payments is a matter of considerable urgency for a number of those people. I should prefer to see local authorities kept away completely from schemes of this kind. I regarded the additional payment of 2/6 to the old age pensioners through local authorities as a most unfortunate means of providing something extra for those pensioners. I make the suggestion that local authorities should pay these allowances in the interval because it is the only way I can think of of meeting the difficulty and because these payments are a matter of urgency for the people concerned.

On behalf of the Party with which I am associated, and personally, I welcome the steps the Minister has indicated in introducing these Estimates, and I welcome even more the hints he has given that there are other and, I hope, braver steps to follow. May I express the hope that the matters I have mentioned will have the sympathetic interest of the Minister and that he will be able at some future time to lay before this House for approval all the proposals originally outlined in the Dignan Report? I trust, too, that means will be provided for financing those schemes in a fair and proper way without imposing an undue burden on the country as a whole.

I do not think that Deputies ever dealt with any Estimates that were so involved, complicated and so difficult to follow as this set of Estimates. We have the Book of Estimates and we have the additional sheet just issued. When one studies the additional sheet, one finds that the figure which is sought refers to transferred sums, so that you have to go back and either add to or subtract from the parent book. I grant that a lot of that type of difficulty and complication is due to the fact that we have a new Minister just beginning to function over a new Department, which is, probably, only in process of being built up. I do not think that any Deputy will discuss this Estimate in a critical manner— critical in the sense of creating difficulties either for the Minister or the Administration. Whereas there was a definite necessity for a breaking-up inside the old Department of Local Government and Public Health—a divorce of the health side from the local government side—and while the association of all these social services with the health side was a move in the right direction, it is beginning to become apparent that we are taking too many steps in the right direction.

I venture to prophesy that, before this House is three years older, we will have an amalgamation of the Departments of Health and Social Welfare. Some of the difficulties are becoming painfully clear to those engaged in the administration of the various things covered in this group of Estimates, in the counties and, presumably, in the city. You are dealing, as Deputy Dockrell said, with the necessitous household, and you are supplying certain requirements in the way of food to a case in that house that happens to be tuberculous. These things have to be accounted for in the strictest modern manner. You are doing that under the Department of Health. You are ensuring that a little brother or sister is properly shod as a necessitous case, under the other Department, and managers and other administrators find that, whereas they were dealing with one Department which got too large for smooth running and they hoped for an improvement, they are now dealing with three and even four different Departments—as school premises, school children and the meals supplied come very closely into these schemes. The work and the accountancy is undoubtedly increasing and complexities are arising, not only by the rapidity of the change but by the multiple changes.

I was pleased to hear the Minister stating that his aim was the consolidation of all the various services into one comprehensive insurance scheme, whether contributory or otherwise. I think it is not sufficient to say that that is the aim. A new Department of this kind should start by saying that that is the intention and that it is its determination to reach that particular point at the earliest possible moment.

As an individual worker in one capacity, going from home to home and moving generally amongst the very poor people, all my professional life, long before this State was established and this Dáil brought into being, I could never understand why, in a tiny little country like this with just a handful of a population, we had all the various widely divergent services, schemes and standards. I could never understand why persons unemployed because of economic circumstances, of illness, through accident, old age, or blindness, were all in different classes. Why should all people depending on the State get different financial grants or allowances to maintain them? Surely there is a standard rate necessary to maintain a child, a juvenile and an adult? If a person is unemployed, whether through illness, accident or economic conditions, infirmity or old age, there should be a uniform standard of grant and one service to administer it. It is fantastic, in a little State like this, that if a man in receipt of £3 10s. 0d. a week wages meets with an accident and is disabled as a result for a definite length of time, he will get £3 10s. 0d. a week; a brother workman invalided because of illness will drop down to 14/- a week, and sometimes lower, dependent on the extent to which he is in benefit; another brother, who is unemployed because of economic circumstances and not through accident or illness, will get a different measure of financial assistance; and another who has the misfortune to be blind will be treated differently.

The growth of such an organisation may be quite easy to understand in a densely populated and highly industrialised country like the neighbouring one, but with us it is merely a legacy from the close association between the two countries and the common Parliament of the past. It is a legacy that we developed, and over-developed, by the wide divergence between various Government Departments and even between the various sections and subsections within the same Department. Be that as it may, at least it is the Minister's expressed aim to bring about a certain amount of order to replace the existing confusion, to bring about a certain amount of sanity to replace the type of lunacy that is clearly there at the moment and has been developing rapidly in recent years.

There is apparent a kind of pride in the amount of money spent on social services. We should speak of that amount of money with bated breath, because its measure is, in the main, the measure of the failure of the State as a whole—not the Government— within its own economic system to make ample provision for the people. The more people you have unemployed, naturally the greater the demand in the Vote for Social Services. The more people you have unemployed, the more the economy of the State has failed to cater for a tiny population. The more people you have who are in no position to make provision for the rainy day, the more necessitous cases that you have to introduce Votes for in order to supply boots or clothes or fuel under the label of being necessitous cases, the more the State machinery and the economy of the State have failed, in the task of making conditions such that each individual is able to make reasonable provision for his family.

Perhaps none of us may live to see it, but I would like to visualise the day when a Minister for social services would get up and say: "My demand this year is nil. Everybody in this country is working, earning good wages. Even where there happens to be illness, the economy of the State is so sound and the earnings so reasonable that provision can be made for those temporary upsets." The country which would have a Minister who could make such a statement nowadays to his Parliament would be in a unique position, a proud position, envied by every other country in the world. Our aim should be to bring about conditions in this country so that demands for social services would be reduced every year. That would be evidence of increasing strength in industry, in agriculture and in the general economy of the country. The more people we have drawing and dragging out of the pool available for social services, the less we have to give to each. The more we reduce the drag out of that pool, the more adequately we are able to deal with the smaller number drawing from it.

I see in this Vote a sum of approximately £750,000 per annum for administration, for supervision, for inspections, for the various clerical exercises and operations that have to take place in order to administer these services. It strikes me that that is an unduly high charge on the whole fund. When, in the past, Deputies were asking for something in the nature of a social services Ministry, the arguments always advanced were to have amalgamation of these services, that it would lead to greater efficiency, would cut out delays and would bring about substantial economies. The rake-off from those economies could, in turn, be utilised so as to give more benefits to the recipients. I may be incorrect in my examination of the Estimates before us, but in the way of administrative cost I do not see that there is any economy. I do not see any evidence even of a plan towards economy.

It appears to me that under a new title we are going to carry on in the same old way; that if a person is unemployed and an applicant for unemployment insurance or unemployment assistance, he will have to go through the same old procedure and then he will get whatever is coming to him; if a person is destitute, or a family is destitute, the home help representatives will investigate the circumstances and make a recommendation; if a person is suffering from tuberculosis, the domestic circumstances are closely examined and there is a grant as a result. Surely some one of the various organisations that are administering, each in its own way, a very small sum —surely some authority—should build up a domiciliary register so that that register could be the standard register, the test, and it could be kept up to date from year to year, and from it information could be procured with regard to the number of inmates, the economic circumstances, of the particular home.

I admit that in a city such a thing might be very difficult to carry out and keep up to date, but there should be some such machinery by which information would be available to the Departments interested as to the circumstances existing in whatever household required assistance. As things are at the moment, any of us could give an example where, in the same small house, because of different circumstances affecting different people, four or five different investigators would call independently of one another in the same week. They would all report the economic circumstances, they would all make a similar report and they would make it, perhaps, to different Government Departments; but, when all is said and done, to the same common administration. Based on those reports, the various machines would get functioning and four or five little streams of money would roll into that house.

I admit I am probably pushing an open door when I argue that particular point, because in the Minister's introductory remarks he said that his hope was to have a consultation on all those things and to produce a scheme, contributory if possible, but I think that the longer the machine operates, particularly under a new Ministry, along the old rotten lines, the more difficult it will be to operate it. Remember, you are creating, even under this new Ministry, new vested interests, vested interests of many kinds, and anybody must naturally be hesitant to interfere with vested interests. The plan should have been made, overhauled and perfected before the new Ministries were created.

I can look forward to 12 months' time or to two years or three years' time when the sheen of newness has gone off this Ministry, and I can see that aims will still be aims, hopes will still be hopes, but the Minister will be slowly but surely getting strangled and submerged by the multiplicity of tentacles inside his own new Ministry. That is as certain as I am standing here. One announcement of the Minister I certainly welcome and consider a sound decision. Of course, I do not know whether he was talking in the capacity of Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde but, more specifically, he spoke in the capacity of Minister for Social Welfare. I do not know if his remarks or decisions were equally applicable to his administration as Minister for Health, but I think his decision to replace the food vouchers by cash was sound.

I think the food voucher system, although it was a perfectly legitimate course to experiment with, was beginning to be impossible in a good many respects. A person might be entitled to three pints of milk in a certain district but you might not be able to get three pints of milk and you had no authority to give anything in lieu of that. Then an order might be given for three pints of milk for a certain house and when you made inquiries directly from the milkman you found that the orders of the milkman from other parties went down by three pints. You might avoid all that by giving a cash allowance straight away. I do not think, however, that as things stand at present the Minister can get away from the fuel issue. Small people and poor people might find it impossible to get fuel for cash if they were left to their own resources. I think for the time being it is wise to retain that particular scheme.

When the Minister referred to cash in lieu of food issues, I do not know whether that applied to the Ministry of Health or not. The food issues made in connection with the Ministry of Health, although a very welcome thing, would bear investigation; it would be sounder and more economic to issue cash there too.

The decision does not refer to that.

Perhaps the Minister in course of time will look into the advisability of applying the new method there also. I would not urge that nourishment in kind and food should be dropped without a very full and searching examination, but here and there a belief is growing up that a lot of these commodities are issued and then sold for half-price to somebody else. It would be better in such circumstances that they should get the full price. I think that is happening to a very great extent with regard to clothes. If the money were given, possibly some of it at least would be expended on clothes.

I desire to say to the Minister, with regard to the attitude and outlook of this Party, regarding his new Ministry and his new administration, that it will be given a fair and encouraging start. It will be given in its early months all the assistance and all the advice that it is possible to give to a Department that is created to do not only a work that is necessary but a very good and desirable type of work. Whatever criticism he will receive will be based on the idea of making the machine more efficient and more effective. There will be no tendency to criticise that Minister or his administration merely because his geographical position in this Chamber happens to be on the other side of the strip of carpet. At the same time I want to repeat the hope that the Minister expressed at the opening of his remarks, that he will steer the machine towards the comprehensive insurance scheme that would embrace all these particular channels covered by the multiplicity of Departments and sub-Departments that exist at the moment. I think that when that day is reached, you will be in a position without demanding extra money, without imposing extra taxes, to give considerably more assistance and more benefit to those who require these benefits. One way in which that can be done is by economy at the top. Another is by ensuring that "shysters" are not drawing out of the pool down below. There are more people down below, whose responsibility it is to certify or vouch in one way or another, for the genuineness of an applicant.

If you can get the whole-hearted support and co-operation of every individual dealing with social services, from the top down to the most remote parish in Ireland, and convince the people that the pool will remain fixed, that because there are fewer people drawing, the Vote will not be reduced from year to year, that if there are fewer people drawing it will mean that the smaller number of people will get greater benefits, you will develop a spirit that when men know that a colleague is malingering, and drawing something out of the common pool, his comrades will look on him as an unworthy type of citizen. If you get co-operation, and I think by asking for co-operation you will get it, there will be economy and sound administration not only at the bottom but in the middle and right up to the top.

We have now reached a point at which we are about to have placed before us a comprehensive scheme of social services. We hope that in the next 12 months the Minister, as he has said, will put that scheme in its entirety before the country. It is rather difficult at the moment to speak of social services because we do not know what will finally emerge, but, in connection with social services generally, I should like to mention particularly the position of the blind. We all have every sympathy with blind persons, which sympathy has been embodied from time to time in various Acts relating to blind persons. Blind persons receive a pension from the State, but I do not wish to go into the grants of money which are given to the blind as individuals. I wish to speak of the schemes which exist for the assistance of blind persons.

We have for a long time recognised the special position of the blind and the particular difficulties of the blind. One of these difficulties is their inability to live ordinary lives as citizens, but various philanthropic societies and institutions have played, and are playing, a very great part in helping blind persons, and I put it to the Minister, at what I might refer to as the dawn of a new epoch in the matter of social welfare, that he should do everything he can to assist these people to help themselves. There is a body, the National Council of the Blind, which exists mainly on voluntary subscriptions, and the very fine work of which has been recognised by the Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council. These authorities give small grants to that body and I suggest that the Minister should look into the matter with a view to giving this body a grant of money.

That council has home teachers who go into the homes of blind persons and teach them Braille and Moon and they also teach them how to get about. They bring to their notice any mechanical aids for the assistance of such people and teach them handicrafts in their homes. They also cheer them up and assist them in every way they can. They are specially trained for that purpose, and, in addition, they have lay people who assist the blind as a part of a voluntary social service. The council has branches in the provinces and the head organisation disseminates information for the general welfare of the blind through these branches. I suggest that any method which helps blind persons to help themselves is worthy of Governmental support.

When we think of blind persons, we usually think of persons who have been blind from birth. That is a very tragic condition, but in many cases such people go to institutions which do magnificent work in the provision of care and training for these blind persons. These institutions also are worthy of support, and, I think, get a good deal of support, but this National Council of the Blind very often has to deal with persons who become blind late in life.

Such people are not always able to go to institutions. It is not always possible for them to go there—they may be advanced in age or may not wish to leave their homes, so that this work in no way conflicts with the work done by institutions but, in a large measure, caters for a type of blind person with whom the institutions are not able to deal. The Minister has become head of a new Department, the work of which has, I suppose, been only vaguely planned, and I appeal to him to assist this body and any other similar body, though I do not know of any similar body which caters for the welfare of the blind in their own homes. It is very splendid work which is very worthy of the support of the State.

I welcome this new scheme of social services. It is rather complicated, and one has to add and subtract, with the result that arriving at an understanding of it is rather difficult. I take it that the increase of 2/6 a week to old age pensioners and blind pensioners will be deferred for a period of three months, until the books are ready, that in the meantime the food allowance is to continue, that when the books are ready the food allowances will disappear and that the arrears of allowances will be paid as and from the 1st April. I take it that will also apply to widows' and orphans' pensions. Am I to understand that the special emergency allowance, one-fourth of which is contributed by the local authorities and three-fourths by the Government, will continue in operation in addition to the new increase of 2/6?

The local authority will decide that.

If they agree to continue it, it will be in addition to this 2/6?

That is right.

I am to take it, then, that the food allowance will disappear when the 2/6 increase comes into operation?

No. I should have made that clear. Food allowances are payable in cities and towns. That will continue. They will get an extra 2/6, which will not be paid for two or three months. It will be accumulating to their benefit but they will not draw it for two months, so that when they do commence to draw it, on the 1st July, the old age pensioners will have 2/6 in cash and 2/6 worth of food as well.

It will mean that they will have 2/6 extra cash to draw?

That is right.

And a 2/6 food allowance, plus the contribution by the local bodies?

That is still in operation.

And the same will apply to the widow and orphan?

While that is a benefit, which is very much needed, to all these sections, I feel the Minister has not gone far enough to meet the case from a general point of view because the only person who will derive benefit is the person receiving the maximum old age pension of 10/-.

If he is drawing any pension, he will get 2/6 extra.

Let us be clear on it. Take the case of an old age pensioner who qualifies for 5/- a week.

He will get 2/6 extra.

And the same will apply to the widow and orphan?

Then I am satisfied that the scheme will be helpful in a general way. I want now to refer to the question of the means test. I am sure that every Deputy is being asked to make representations as far as the means test is concerned. I want to appeal especially on behalf of widows. If a widow has an income of £19 a year she will not qualify for a widow's pension or any portion of a widow's pension. That is a very small income to deprive a widow of the means of State assistance that is in operation. A widow may be living in a cottage and may have three, four or five children between the ages of five and 20 years of age. The eldest girl may leave the country to get employment or she may go into service. If she contributes £10 or £15 a year and that fact comes to the knowledge of the Department, it is taken into account for the purposes of the means test and there is a re-investigation, with the result that the woman is deprived of part or of the whole of the widow's pension. When she is deprived of a widow's pension, she is deprived of the supplementary allowance and the food allowance.

That woman may have a very limited means of existence and being deprived of the widow's pension makes it very difficult for her to continue to provide for herself and her family. The means test should be reviewed with the object of leaving wider scope for the assistance of a widow, a blind pensioner or an old age pensioner. The method at present in operation makes it difficult for persons to qualify for these pensions. In the case of the old age pension, a man may have two or three sons and, when he comes to the age of 70, he may transfer the place to one of his sons. When he does that, he makes application for an old age pension. The means test comes into operation and the case may be put that he transferred his property for the purpose of claiming the old age pension and his claim may be rejected. That is one of the wrong things that can happen and that has happened and that, according to this scheme, cannot be remedied.

I move to report progress.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 28th March.