The Minister has said that they have taken care of the various increases in the cost of living index figure. Conceding that without examination over the past five or six years since he became Minister for Social Welfare—it may well be—I think we should be much more ambitious as far as old age pensioners are concerned than merely keeping them in step with the cost of living. We are not concerned with the past but with the future and to some extent with the present.
The Minister in his arguments about social welfare always seems to say what was not done by what he terms the Coalition Governments of 1948-51 and 1954-57. I do not want to go back to those periods nor do I want to go back to the period during which Fianna Fáil were in office from 1932 to 1948, for 16 years when the old age pension stood at 10/-. Let that be the last comment on that. Our ambition for the old age pensioners and the like should be not merely to keep them in step with increases in the cost of living which would mean that they would never have a decent standard but I think our first task, perhaps even before Deputy Sherwin's idea is implemented, is to establish a good standard.Then you could give increases in step with the cost of living or increased production or increased wages.
The Minister does not want any of these methods but he wants his Minister for Finance to have a free hand in every Budget to decide there and then what will be given and the usual thing—I do not say this in respect of the last Budget or the one before it— is for a Fianna Fáil Minister for Finance to take care of everybody else first and if there is anything left, devote it to the old age pensions. We must get away from that.
One gets the impression from the Minister for Social Welfare that this Government are the champions of the social welfare classes. They try to imply that this turnover tax was introduced to meet the demands of the Minister for Social Welfare but Deputy O'Sullivan has shown, as was shown last week, that the turnover tax was not necessary to pay for the social welfare increases. One gets the impression from various Ministers and from the Minister for Social Welfare that now that the turnover tax is introduced, a tax that will take in £11 million per annum, the old age pensioners are going to be better off. Surely it is a shabby trick, deceitful and fraudulent, that in any year in which we expect to get £11 million from the turnover tax and £5 million extra from other taxation, all we still give to the old age pensioner is 2/6d. a week.
They may talk about the 2/6d. I gave as Minister for Social Welfare in 1955 but we did not attempt to extract money from the pockets of these poor people by increasing the price of essential foodstuffs. If they got an extra 2/6d. then, they were not being fed their own tail but got it as a result of taxes that did not affect them and, therefore, it was a real increase, and not just the miserable halfcrown, and I say "miserable" deliberately in relation to circumstances in which we raise taxation to the extent of £16, £17 or £20 millions through the turnover tax, the corporation profits tax, et cetera. The Minister for Social Welfare should, I think, hear these figures again because he tries to give the impression that, as they get in more money, the old age pensioners and all other social welfare recipients get more.
For the financial year 1961-62, of total Government revenue, social welfare got 16.9 per cent. In 1963-64, when we are taxing tea, bread, butter, sugar, flour, milk and all other foodstuffs, it is still 16.9 per cent. Who can say, therefore, that old age pensioners, and the like, are receiving their share of the national cake? One would imagine that in a year in which we expect to get so many millions by way of turnover tax, we would have departed from this miserable increase of 2/6d. per week. I suggest that there must be and should be some yardstick by which we could measure increases to social welfare recipients. Whether it should be, as Deputy Sherwin suggests, a wage increase or not, or whether it should be related to tax revenue, which would possibly be a good idea, or not, we still do not know from the Minister. Whether we should relate it, as the Taoiseach wants to relate wages, to national production, we still have not heard from the Minister.He still wants a free hand to be able to keep the old age pensioners on tenterhooks until each Budget day so that the poor creatures will go on worrying as to whether or not, depending on the whims of the Minister for Finance, they will get an increase.
As far as the Labour Party are concerned—the Minister or some Deputy in his Party may ask where will they get the money; "when you people will not vote the money to us"—I want to tell the Minister now that, if there is a direct tax proposal in this House, which the Minister for Finance states is to be devoted to social welfare recipients, the Labour Party will vote for it, provided it is not money taken out of the pockets of the recipients. That is the main reason we refuse to give our support to a turnover tax which means taxing food and the necessaries of life for these people. One or two years ago, we were criticised by the Fianna Fáil Party when we voted against their Budget proposals, but these, again, were proposals that included an increase to social welfare recipients, plus proposals for the raising of a relatively big sum of money, of which a very small proportion was to be devoted to old age pensioners and social welfare recipients; that was the reason we voted against those Budget proposals on that occasion.
As far as social welfare recipients are concerned, this is a slap in the face to them by Fianna Fáil. On the one hand, they have to pay tax on foodstuffs, whilst, on the other hand, tremendous relief is given to those in the surtax group. The Minister for Finance was asked a specific question here last week and we were glibly told, in reply, that within a period of five years, the number required to pay surtax was reduced from 10,000 to 4,000. That, of course, is consistent with Fianna Fáil policy because they wish to place the emphasis on indirect, or hidden, taxation as against what we, in the Labour Party, believe in, namely, the taxation of wealth and high incomes. Fianna Fáil do not believe in that policy. We believe in it because we believe social welfare should and must be sustained to some degree, in any case, by those who can afford to give by way of extra taxation.
The Minister was talking a lot of nonsense, I think, when he said that the old age pensioners, those in receipt of unemployment assistance and sickness benefit have been, or will be, compensated by the increase which the Minister for Finance announced in his Budget. The old age pensioners get an increase of 2/6 on 32/6 which, as far as I can calculate, is an increase of about seven or eight per cent. Now there is no use in the Minister talking to me about the cost-of-living index figure when we are talking about old age pensioners because the cost-of-living index figure has no relation in the wide earthly world to the type of things these people buy. They are concerned with the purchase of food. They are concerned with the purchase of the bare necessaries and these have increased in the past three, four or five years much more than the cost-of-living index figure itself.
I trust I have made myself clear on that point. I have examined these figures in relation to the prices of foodstuffs, in relation to rents, fuel, and such different items, items on which these people are depending, and they have all increased to some extent beyond the overall cost-of-living index figure. The Minister ought to know that the old age pensioner now who buys a loaf must pay another halfpenny.That is much more than four per cent; it is certainly much more than 2½ per cent. As far as I can gather from Deputies, milk has gone up by one halfpenny per pint. That is an increase of 8½ per cent. As far as I know, butter has gone up by 2d. per lb. That will certainly mean extra expenditure on the part of those in receipt of social welfare. I am informed by the people in my home town that meat has increased by a few pence per lb. Soap has gone up. So have cigarettes and tobacco. I am sure they do not indulge in these to a very great extent, but they have gone up. Coal has gone up by £2 per ton. All these increases in the cost of these essentials are far beyond the liberal figure of four per cent the Minister has just quoted as representing the possible increase in the cost of living with the introduction of the turnover tax.
As far as I am concerned, I support the general idea behind Deputy Sherwin's motion. That is not for any political motive because I have spoken in similar strain before. We all know, and it has often been said to us by various Ministers on the Front Bench, that the motion may be badly drafted or badly worded; indeed, they pick out certain words to show how silly or how stupid it may be. After the speeches we have heard from the various members on this side, I think the Minister ought to know exactly what is in our minds: social welfare increases ought to be related to something——