I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. There were two objects in establishing the Department of Social Welfare, over five years ago: firstly, to secure the co-ordination of the various existing insurance schemes and of the several assistance schemes which had developed more or less independently under several Departments of State; and, secondly, thus to provide effective frameworks for the rational development of those insurance and assistance services from time to time, having regard, of course, to contemporary social needs and the nation's economic resources. Although in those five years there have been some appreciable improvements, progress towards integration has been negligible.
There is no need to give the House an historical account of the growth of the social welfare schemes, as this has been done satisfactorily in the Department's first report, which is still readily available. That report not alone describes the Department's activities in its first three years (1947-1949), but it also traces the history of each scheme since its origin. It was designed to be a compendium of all that had gone before, and as such it will remain a useful work of reference for all who are interested in the development of our social services. It shows that in 1931-32, after a decade of government by the dominant Party opposite, Exchequer expenditure on the social services now administered by my Department totalled about £3,250,000—the same as, or in fact a little less than it was at the commencement of that régime ten years earlier. They could be described as ten years of inactivity were it not for the fact that the old age pensioner for part of the time had his pension reduced by 1/- per week. At the close of that administration, there were no widows' and orphans' pensions (contributory or non-contributory), no unemployment assistance and no children's allowances, in fact, nothing more that the three schemes —old age pensions and schemes of unemployment and health insurance which had been in operation before 1922.
The following 16 years (from 1932 to 1947, inclusive) present a more satisfying picture, although it is not all that some of us might desire. Exchequer subventions rose from £3,250,000 to £11,250,000—an advance which averaged out at more than £500,000 each year—and we saw the introduction of unemployment assistance in 1933; of widows' and orphans' pensions in 1935; of wet-time insurance in 1942; of children's allowances in 1944; of miscellaneous social welfare schemes, such as those to provide footwear for necessitous school children and cheap fuel for necessitous households; and of many improvements in the scope and standard of the services which were formerly available. I might mention, too, that during that period time and energy were devoted to the unification of approved societies under the National Health Insurance Acts as a first step towards the co-ordination of the social services.
I have, on an earlier occasion, complimented my predecessor, Deputy Norton (who became my successor as Minister for Social Welfare in 1948), on his success in maintaining through his three years of office the rate of progress which characterised the 16 years preceding his term. When I say "the rate of progress", I mean progress in so far as it can be measured by Exchequer contributions. State expenditure increased from the £11,250,000 in the financial years 1947-48 to £12,750,000 in 1950-51—and so he maintained the Fianna Fáil advance at the rate of £500,000 a year.
No doubt we shall hear again of all that it was intended to do over and above what was actually done by the Coalition. We are almost bound to hear about the intentions enshrined in the belated White Paper and of the proposals embodied in the abortive Bill of 1950.
The first task of the new Department in 1947 was to effect the actual physical transfers of services from the Departments of Local Government, Industry and Commerce and the Revenue Commissioners, and to commence their integration. The future organisation of the Department was worked out and the plan was progressively implemented as opportunity offered, every possible effort being made, in the process, to effect administrative economies. It was decided that the main legislative programme would be taken in two stages: the first to embrace all the insurance schemes and to provide for their unification and such extensions as might be feasible; the second to deal with the assistance schemes, which also contained many anomalies and shortcomings which needed remedy. This was considered to be the logical approach because changes in the insurance services would affect the scope and standards of the assistance schemes, which are designed to provide for the needs of persons not covered by insurance.
So we set to work at once on the planning of a comprehensive insurance scheme and the preparation of a White Paper which would present to the public a review of the services and an outline of Government proposals for their reform and development. I shall deal later with the progress made on this task.
In 1941, the Government decided to do what they could for those sections of the community who were most seriously affected by the increased cost and scarcity of food and other commodities arising out of the emergency. Accordingly, they made additional allowances of milk, butter and bread to recipients, in urbanised areas, of unemployment assistance, old age and blind pensions, widows' and orphans' pensions and disablement benefit. Similarly, they increased the weekly cash allowances payable to recipients of unemployment benefit in respect of adult and child dependents, and they undertook to recoup to local authorities the cost of supplementary food allowances for persons in receipt of home assistance. The following year (1942) and again in 1944 saw substantial extensions of these measures.
My first act as Minister was to decide to discontinue these food vouchers and supplementary cash payments, and to substitute cash supplements in all the insurance and assistance schemes affected by them, at a cost to the Exchequer of over £2,000,000. The broad principle observed was to give by way of cash the equivalent of the former food voucher or supplement, subject to the condition that, with one exception, the addition should not be less than 50 per cent. of the basic benefit. Many of the increases, particularly in the case of widows' and orphans' pensions, exceeded 50 per cent. The exception I mentioned was that of rural old age pensioners. There was no increase in the insurance contributions, the Exchequer undertaking full responsibility for the additional expenditure involved. All this was done—without fuss or trumpet-blowing—and was brought into operation on April 1st—during that first year when our main task was to bring the Department into being and to prepare a comprehensive insurance scheme for publication in a White Paper and then for legislation.
The preparation of a comprehensive scheme was the major undertaking of 1947. Most people are only too familiar with my predecessor's (Deputy Norton's) oft-repeated allegation that nothing was done until he came along in February, 1948. In this House—at the hustings—in the High Court—in the newspapers—somewhere in Kildare —wherever and whenever opportunity offered—he made the completely baseless, and unscrupulous charge that practically no progress had been made on this scheme. He found what he described on one occasion as "a scrap of paper". On another occasion when he was under oath and careful of his words, asked if the scheme had been in course of preparation when he took office, Mr. Norton replied: "There were some notes there." That, it should be remembered, was in June, 1949, almost a year-and-a-half after taking office as Minister for Social Welfare.
Lest any Deputy may think that Deputy Norton, as Minister, was left unaware of the progress made before his arrival, may I add this further extract from the same day's newspaper report:—
"Mr. Norton said that when he went to the Department he asked what the position was in connection with the matter. He was told orally, and he asked to have all the relevant data sent to him and he closely examined it. He got that data, so far as it existed, from the Department within a few weeks of going there."
I could give much more to remind Deputies of the impressions which Deputy Norton, during three years of office, strove so assiduously to create in the public mind: on the one hand, a dilatory and ineffective predecessor who grossly neglected his work in the Department; on the other hand, a hustling, energetic, productive Coalition successor worthy of the description applied by a colleague—"the strongest man on social security."