Increase in Social Welfare Benefits: Motion.

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Dáil Éireann is of opinion that following a general increase in wages, a proportionate increase (apart from Budget increases) should be granted immediately to all those in receipt of social welfare benefits, because a general increase in wages is usually followed by a general increase in the cost of living.—(Deputy Sherwin.)

When I reported progress on this motion the other evening, I was pointing out that wage increases, if they are justified by productivity, need not necessarily produce a rise in the cost of living and that even where an increase in the cost of living is influenced by a round of wage increases, there are usually other contributory factors as well and in fact it would not be possible to isolate the effect of the wage increase and grant proportionate increases in social welfare payments. Apart from that, there is the consideration that a general round of wage increases takes some considerable time to develop and, of course, all the increases gained are not of the same amount, so that it would take a considerable time to collect the necessary information on which to base a proportionate increase and Budget time, which is really the most appropriate time for considering increases in social welfare payments, might have come and gone in the meantime.

It is relevant to the consideration of the motion to look briefly at what has been happening in this regard. It is clear that under this Government increases in all social welfare rates have more than taken care of increases in the cost of living and that not alone have we taken care of any rises that took place during our own periods of office but we have also covered the periods of Coalition Governments when, generally speaking, social welfare rates remained stationary while the cost of living continued to increase. Contrary to what Deputy O'Higgins said, the figures for the cost-of-living index over the years show clearly that it rose at at least the same rate during the Coalition Government's periods in office. It was the social welfare rates that remained steady and not the cost of living during those periods.

To give some examples of what has been happening. Since 1947 the non-contributory old age pension has been increased from 15/- a week to 35/-, which represents 133? per cent increase over 1947 as against a 59 per cent increase in the index. The rate of the widows' non-contributory pension went from 11/6d. to 33/6d. now, representing a 191 per cent increase. In the case of a widow with a child, the position is similar and for a widow with four children, the non-contributory pension has gone up from 28/- a week in 1947 to 63/6d. now, an increase of 127 per cent as against 59 per cent rise in the cost of living index. The unemployment assistance man with a wife and two children living in an urban area received 28/- a week in 1947 as against 67/6d. a week now. That is an increase of 141 per cent again as against a 59 per cent rise in the cost of living index. In the case of a man living in a rural area, the position is even more favourable as the increase has been from 18/- to 59/6d. a week, or a 231 per cent increase.

What cost of living index is the Minister quoting?

The official one. I am taking from 1947 to the present moment.

The present day? As of this day?

That is right. The latest one available.

When was that?

I think it was August 1963.

Would the Minister clear up another point? He quoted increases for the old age pensions between 1947 and now. Does the figure he quoted include the food vouchers?

It does.

What was the figure?

15/- a week. If we go to the social insurance side, there is a similar trend. In 1952, the rate of unemployment benefit and disability benefit payable to a married man was 36/- and it will be 72/6d. from January, 1964 which is an increase of 101.4 per cent over the 1952 rate when there was an increase in the cost of living index of 30 per cent. It is obvious that the increases in social welfare rates more than compensate for the rise in the cost of living and, in addition, for any possible increase there may be due to the turnover tax.

Since Deputies opposite seem to be concentrating on the position which they forecast will arise after the turnover tax, I can give examples which will show that even in that short-term view, the position has in fact already been taken care of and that the Government have effected an improvement in the position of every social welfare recipient. The rise in the official cost of living index since August 1962 when the last increases were granted was 1.3 per cent and even if the full effect of the turnover tax is to be felt, an increase of less than four per cent would suffice to compensate for the maximum possible rise in the consumer price index.

At one halfpenny on a pint of milk costing 6d.

The maximum weekly rate——

Do not embarrass him.

——of non-contributory and old age pensions has been raised from 32/6d. to 35/-, that is, an increase of approximately eight per cent. In the case of non-contributory widows' pensions, the increase again is eight per cent for a widow with no dependent child. In the case of a widow with one child, the increase, taking the children's allowances increase into account, is 11.6 per cent. For a widow with two children, the increase is 8.7 per cent and if she has four children, it is nine per cent. In the case of unemployment assistance, the increase for a single urban recipient is 2/6d., that is, a 10.4 per cent increase, while for a married man, the increase is 5/-a week which is an 11.8 per cent increase.If you take children's allowances into account, for a man with one child, the increase is 7/3d. a week which is approximately 14 per cent.

Of course in rural areas again, the rates and the percentage increase would be higher. The same applies to an even greater degree on the insurance side because there the increases which will be granted from January next are greater and the percentage increases are also greater. With regard to unemployment benefit and disability benefit, the increase for a single person goes from 37/6d. to 42/6d., a 13? per cent increase as against an increase of less than four per cent in the consumer price index. For a married man, the increase is from 62/6d. to 67/6d., an increase of 16 per cent and for a married man with one child, there is an increase of 12/3d. on the current rate to 75/6d., again an increase of 16 per cent. For a married man with four children, taking the children's allowances into account, there is an increase of 14/3d. on 104/6d., which is an increase of 14 per cent. The same thing applies on the contributory widows' side. The increase as from January 1964 for a widow with no dependent children is to 42/6d. as against 37/6d., an increase of 13? per cent. For a widow with one child, the increase is from 53/- to 58/-, plus 2/3d. children's allowance, which is an increase of 14 per cent. If she has two children, the increase is 11 per cent and if she has three children or four children, the percentage is similar. The same thing applies with regard to contributory old age pensions. They will have risen from 45/- to 50/- a week from January, 1964, that is, an increase of 11 per cent.

In all these cases, not only can we show that over a long period the cost of living increase has been more than taken care of, but, even in the short-term view which some Deputies opposite seem to take, they have been more than taken care of. As a result of these increases, social welfare recipients will have had diverted to them £6.38 million out of the national income, £4 million in increases in social assistance and £2.38 million in increases in social insurance. The total cost to the Exchequer is in the region of £4.66 million a year so that I do not think anybody can say the present Government are neglecting their duty in this regard.

While the motion is not practicable to implement, it is obvious that we have been doing considerably more than adhering to the principle recommended in it. The present system of giving social welfare recipients their share of increased national income is more expeditious than that suggested in this motion. The process of working out the average wage increases and the date of the beginning and end of a round of wage increases, matters that are not always easily ascertainable, and applying the result to the social welfare recipients would be a laborious process.

This Government are committed in many statements made by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and myself not to the principle of giving increases in social welfare benefits proportionate to wage increases but to the much more important principle of ensuring that social welfare recipients get their due share of increased national income. Speaking on the Budget of 1960, the Taoiseach said: "The aim of Government policy is to keep expanding our social welfare services in accord with increases in national income as they are brought about."

It is only really practicable to do this at Budget time because while increased national income does result in buoyancy of revenue it is only in that fraction of the revenue which will in future be provided by the turnover tax that the increased national revenue will be truly proportionate to the increasing national income. It is also the practice at Budget time to assess the likely trend of the economy in the coming year so that as a general rule the buoyancy of revenue resulting from increased national income has to a large extent already been taken into account and fully committed.

Increases in social welfare rates can be dealt with only at Budget time, if we are to adhere to the principles of sound finance which have distinguished this Government from the Coalition Government and which have more than anything else been responsible for the upsurge of the economy of the country. It may be that one of the benefits of the introduction into our tax structure of an element which will truly reflect increasing prosperity will be that we can draft a formula under which it will be possible to provide automatically for social welfare recipients their share of that increased prosperity. I shall watch the position in this regard but I think it is more likely that it will always be necessary for the Government to take a positive decision to increase the social welfare rates and, when taking that decision, also to take the decision to finance them, either out of buoyant revenue or specific taxation.

So long as we have a Government committed to the improvement of social welfare standards, there is not much point in a motion like this. With wage increases, it is usually only a question of every group gaining roughly a similar percentage increase so that there is little prospect of any one group getting any significant improvement in comparison with another. I fully realise that in the case of some of our social welfare recipients, it is desirable to effect a relative improvement in their position relative to the general wage rates. There is also the danger that if a motion like this were adopted, the principle enshrined in it would come to be regarded as a sufficiently high target to aim at instead of the much higher objective which we have set ourselves.

Apart from the practical difficulties I have mentioned, there are considerations which make it impossible to comply with the terms of the motion which urges that following a general increase in wages, a proportionate increase should be made immediately to all social welfare recipients. Each increase in social welfare rates requires the drafting of a Bill which has to be passed by each House of the Oireachtas.It is only then that all the printing and other administrative arrangements can be put into operation. If this motion were to be adopted, it would be necessary to establish machinery to study the pattern of wage increases, to decide when a round has started and finished, not always an easy thing to decide, to collect the information necessary to calculate the average increase and to work out appropriate increases for all classes of beneficiaries, including allowances for adult and child dependants and to decide on appropriate increases in the contribution rates for the contributory schemes. It would then, when all this preliminary work had been done, be necessary to draft the Bill and put it through all Stages in both Houses of the Oireachtas before all the printing, posting and other arrangements could be put into operation. To give an increase after doing all this could hardly be described as doing it immediately.

If all that had to be done, it is hardly likely that the present process of examining the position in connection with the Budget would continue. The present process is a much more suitable one because the procedure for implementing increases granted in the Budget is now more or less automatic. The motion appears to visualise that there might be two increases in some years. A decision to give an increase takes a considerable time to implement. With increases granted in the Budget, which is usually about April, it is found possible to pay the increases for the assistance classes only in August and for the insurance classes in January. If there are to be two increases in some years, it would mean that arrangements for a second small increase would be put in hands before the first had actually been paid at all and we would have the position then of pension books and insurance stamps being out of date before they were issued. We would have the system of these gummed slips being affixed on top of others and overprints on top of overprints.

At present, then, we have a Government with a declared policy of effecting a relative improvement in the position of social welfare recipients generally and a Government with a record of eight Bills in six years effecting increases and improvements. It appears to me that the adoption of the principle as advocated here, attractive though it may seem at first sight, would only have the effect of hindering the present more comprehensive process of improvement with, as I have said, also the danger of the more narrow approach eventually prevailing. So, while I accept the principle that social welfare payments should not be allowed to lag behind wage rates, we have, in fact, got a higher objective than that.

Then there is the fact that it is just not possible to do what is proposed. A round of wage increases often takes a year or more fully to develop and then you have to examine it, collect the information as to increases gained by various sectors, work out an average, draft a Bill, put it through the Dáil and the Seanad and go through all the other arrangements. That would take some time.

So I think the motion would, in fact, only have the effect of delaying increases which might otherwise be given at Budget time and that would be attractive only to a Government that was anxious to save money at the expense of social welfare. We are not anxious to do that. We are always prepared, and it is our policy, to see that social welfare recipients get their due share of increasing national income.

And tighten their belts at the same time.

The Minister for Social Welfare seems to be getting ideas from some of his new-found friends. We were as wise when he sat down with regard to the Government's intentions relating to this motion as we were about Deputy Carroll's intentions last week when he sat down, having spoken on the motion in relation to the turnover tax. Would the Minister inform us even now whether the Government are accepting or rejecting Deputy Sherwin's motion? Will he say specifically, one way or another, what the Government propose to do? Are the Government accepting the motion? If they are, naturally, the contribution of every Deputy following the Minister will be influenced by the acceptance of the terms of the motion by the Government.If, on the other hand, the motion is being rejected, obviously, another type of argument will have to be advanced. We are like Mahomet's coffin, suspended in mid-air, not knowing what the intention of the Government is, that is, if the Government know their own mind.

I think I made it clear——

It is as clear as mud.

——that the motion is not possible of implementation and that we are, in fact, following a policy which aims even higher than what is suggested or advocated in the motion.

In other words, you are not accepting the motion?

I am accepting the principle that social welfare payments should not lag behind wage rates——

That is his cue.

——which I have said already.

The Government are not satisfied with the wording of this motion? They are not prepared to implement it—to accept it? Now we know.

The Minister said wage increases need not influence the cost of living. Is there any member of the House who can subscribe to this point of view? Surely the experience down through the years has been that wage increases have affected and influenced the cost of living? Is not the wage structure in our economy a predominant factor, at least, a noteworthy factor, in our costings? Did we not have at one time a proposal by the Government to introduce a wages standstill order, under extremely heavy penalties, so as to help the economy? That was the view of the Government then. There were documents left after the present Taoiseach in the Department of Industry and Commerce relative to his proposals to implement a very strong policy, to pursue a wages standstill order under pain of the heaviest punishment for those who would transgress the laws that he intended to implement relative to the control of the cost of living, expressly for that purpose, as part of the big plan he had in mind at that time—one of the plans that were not allowed to come to fruition because of the wisdom of the people in 1947 in ensuring that he would not be any longer in that Department to pursue that policy.

The terms of this motion presuppose that following a general increase in the cost of living, there will be a general increase in wages. It is also true that following a general increase in wages there would be an increase in the cost of living. That has been proved times out of number. It is not so long ago that the Taoiseach and the Government came before this House and asked the country to accept a pay pause, a pale version of the original grand plan to control wages and salaries. There were presented to us at that time in the House the dire effects that would fall upon the economy if wages and salaries were allowed to soar, with a consequential increase in the cost of living. Now, a member of the Government who advanced that case so strongly through the House to the country informs us coldly that, in fact, wage increases need not influence the cost of living.

Yes, provided they are justified by increased productivity.

By increased productivity?

On last Tuesday, I gave examples to show that that has happened.

Increased productivity in every instance would resolve this? Has it always resolved it? Is this not theory on the grand scale?

No, it is not. I quoted examples.

What we know is that the cost of living has gone up. That statement is incontrovertible. The Minister may talk until Doomsday about increased production and its effect but what the people know is that it costs £1 today to buy goods that they could purchase for 10/4d. pre-war——

I did not say there were not increases in the cost of living.

——even though they are producing more and working harder. Deputy Sherwin's motion comes at a very suitable time because the thing which Deputy Sherwin apprehends has come to pass. The Government have deliberately inspired a spiral of cost of living increases. They have invited people to compensate themselves for the impact of the turnover tax and any trouble that may be involved in its administration, by employing increases they may decide themselves. They are not limited to the terms of the 2½ per cent turnover tax in respect of which the Minister claims adequate compensation has been made to social welfare recipients.

The Minister must know as well as every one of his colleagues, as well as every consumer in the country, the increases that have taken place in essential commodities preparatory to the introduction of the turnover tax. For a month before the implementation of the turnover tax, was it not known to the housewives in the city of Dublin, in the city of Cork, going into every store and every shop, that the price of bacon, flour, tea, of every single commodity they have to purchase, has gone up?

The Minister tries to persuade the House that in effect the social welfare recipients are better off in consequence of the compensatory benefits for which arrangements have been made to make up for the impact of a 2½ per cent increase in the cost of the necessaries of life. I remember a time when another Minister for Finance, not a member of the Fianna Fáil Party, was discriminatory in his taxation when preparing his Budget Statement. He took care to relieve the impact of taxation on the simple luxuries of the social welfare classes. Plug tobacco, which is the main simple luxury of the old age pensioner, was excluded from the impact of taxation specifically to guarantee to the social welfare recipients that they could have their little luxuries.

Has that been done now? The Minister gave us a figure of £4.66 million in one year as being the charge this Government will have to meet in order to pay increased social welfare benefits. For weeks and weeks, they have been challenging us and asking: "Where can the money be got to pay the increases in social welfare benefits?"We must omit social insurance, because that is not met from the Exchequer. Despite all the talk, this is the amount involved in coming to the assistance of the social welfare recipients in the coming twelve months.

To meet that, would direct taxation on luxuries equal to the increases of the past fortnight not bring in sufficient revenue? I challenge the Minister to deny it. The increases announced on the bottle of stout, the pint, cigarettes, plug tobacco and petrol would bring in approximately £6 million. Somebody is now extracting this money from the pockets of the consumer. He is paying to the same extent as if the Minister had decided to impose specific taxation to do a particular job. The country are paying the piper, but who is calling the tune? If the amount being extracted from the consumer does not arrive in the coffers of the Minister for Finance, whose fault is that? We had been told that these goods could not bear any further taxation.

The Deputy is rambling from the motion.

We are discussing social welfare benefits. We were repeatedly challenged to prove where the money could be got to pay for them. I have proved it.

The Deputy ought to have satisfied himself now.

Very well, Sir. It was not a difficult task because it was so obvious. In view of its being so obvious, I am amazed that the Government could not accept the terms of the motion of their friend, Deputy Sherwin. He obviously is fearful of the consequences of the Government in precipitating this unheard of increase in the cost of living. People in organised labour and in State and semi-State employment are in the position to demand and secure their legitimate claims consequent on increases in the cost of living. But that does not take into account those in the community who are self-employed, who will also have to pay these increased living costs but will have no increased income. Those people who will legitimately secure increased incomes in order to maintain their ordinary level of living will cause the spiral to ascend still higher. It is obvious that the mover of the motion had this in mind. This is an urgent state of affairs and in the circumstances a request is made to the Government not to permit a worsening of the lot of the people in receipt of social welfare because of increases in the cost of living. However, that is not being done.

We had a flood of figures from the Minister of comparisons of cost of living figures, but until he was challenged he did not indicate that the last cost of living figure he used was in respect of August last. He specifically omitted the fact it was since August last we have had this leap upwards in the cost of living. This was not influenced by any external sources but was caused, simply and solely, by the policy pursued by the Minister and his colleagues in the Government. The demand could legitimately be made that no matter how an increase in the cost of living was actuated these people should be protected from it. But when it is deliberately caused by the calculated action of the Government themselves, surely it is impossible for the Government to withhold the necessary arrangements to compensate those affected so severely by the consequences of deliberate Government action?

In these circumstances, it is surprising that the Government could not see their way to accept the terms of this motion. It will be recalled that even when there were external circumstances affecting the cost of essential commodities—circumstances completely outside the control of any Government—deliberate action was taken to guarantee that the effect on these people would be minimised. The House will recall that at a time when the cost of tea was increased special arrangements were made by the Government then in office, through the Minister for Industry and Commerce, to ensure that the lot of these people would be eased by providing them with a special ration of tea at Christmas time to compensate for the increased price they would have to pay for tea throughout the remainder of the year. That is an example of where a Government were careful, even in the case of influences having their origin thousands of miles from this country, to play their part in guaranteeing that these people would not suffer monetary loss as a consequence of the increased cost of living.

Yet here we have the situation in which a Government are pursuing a policy of making it possible for people to be charged, as we know they are being charged today, in excess of the proposed figure of 2½ per cent. We have no indication from the Government, through the Minister for Social Welfare, that they intend to meet the situation relative to wage demands consequent on increases in the cost of living which will confront them in a short time, and as a consequence of which there may be a still further rise in the cost of living. They should be prepared to meet that situation by ensuring that social welfare recipients' incomes will not diminish and that the value of the amounts which are at a particularly low level in comparison with other countries and which, unfortunately, we have seen fit to pay these people, will not be further reduced by having the value of their benefits further dissipated by increased costs of necessaries of life and of the simple luxuries which are not taken into account in the cost of living figure.

The Minister was somewhat unfair to himself in that, in the 20 minutes I heard him speaking, he had been tying himself up in administrative knots. As regards this motion and as far as possible in regard to social welfare, he invoked every administrative difficulty in an effort to show why this particular motion could not be implemented. I do not know the reason for that. As far as I can understand Deputy Sherwin's motion, it is couched in such general terms that it should be acceptable to the Minister and to the Government. It reads:

That Dáil Éireann is of opinion that, following a general increase in wages, a proportionate increase (apart from budget increases) should be granted immediately to all those in receipt of social welfare benefits, because a general increase in wages is usually followed by a general increase in the cost of living.

We could have many academic arguments on the last phrase, whether the increase in wages comes because there has been an increase in the cost of living or whether the increased cost of living came because of an increase in wages. I think that is not what Deputy Sherwin was trying to get at but rather acceptance by the Government of some plan to provide against difficulties that may arise in regard to the standard of living and to provide that there would be some overall plan to ensure—to use a phrase well-worn by the Government in the past few months—that those in receipt of social welfare benefits will get a fair share of the national cake.

Deputy Sherwin said at the beginning of his motion: "following a general increase in wages." That may not be the appropriate time or opportune time but what I read into the motion is that the Deputy wants to ensure that there will be some regularity in the payment of social welfare increases.

Once a year is fairly regular.

If the Minister wants me to applaud him for anything he has done as Minister for Social Welfare for these people, I applaud him for it but I say the Government should accept this broadly worded motion, if they are to be consistent.

The Taoiseach has tried to represent the Government as a planning Government.They want to plan most things. This may be only lipservice to the idea of planning, an idea which he probably got through listening to Labour members here for the past 40 years. We always welcome a conversion in that respect or any respect but we want evidence of his sincerity in wanting to plan. He wants to plan production, to plan for wages, but neither he nor the Minister for Social Welfare seems to be willing to accept Deputy Sherwin's suggestion to plan for social welfare and there is no evidence, despite what the Minister has said and despite the increases he has listed, of any regularity or plan to provide for old age pensioners, widows and orphans, sick people or unemployed people and the like.

The Minister has talked about administrative difficulties in providing regular increases coinciding with an increase in the cost of living or an increase in wages or increased production.He is talking of the difficulty of getting books, of having to put on stamps for the extra amount, the difficulty of implementing legislation, the long delay in putting it through this House, the difficulty of getting a Bill through, then through the Seanad and then back here again and getting it signed by the President. We know these things may be difficult but if the will is there, I suggest all his difficulties will be surmounted.

You could get people to overcome them all right.

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——

We all support the general idea.

The Minister spent 20 minutes to-night trying to tell us how impossible it would be to implement this proposal.

As it appears on the Order Paper.

Yes, but the Minister said——

I said I accepted the idea that social welfare rates should not lag behind wage rates. I accept the general idea, of course, and we have been doing more.

The Minister wants to make a second speech.

I think social welfare recipients ought to be fortified with the knowledge that, if there is an increase in the cost of living, they will get a proportionate increase in their pensions or allowances. I know this is a new departure, but what I am trying to tell the Minister is that, if Government policy is to be consistent, if all other things are to be related to production—and production, the Taoiseach said, must have relation to wages—then Deputy Sherwin's motion should be certainly accepted by the Minister and by the Government.

If they want to relate wages to production, surely it is not unreasonable that they should plan social welfare benefits also to relate to wages and production. I would go for that idea, or, better still, for the idea propounded by a former Fianna Fáil Minister for Social Welfare, and certainly by Deputy Kennedy when he was Parliamentary Secretary, that increases in social benefits would be given as the money came in by way of tax revenue. I have shown tonight and on other occasions that, despite the fact that tax revenue has increased, the proportion devoted to social welfare recipients has decreased. We would support the idea that social welfare benefits should be related, as national prosperity is related, to wages, national production or tax revenue.

The Minister has stated, in effect, that this motion is unnecessary by reason of the fact that it is the declared policy of the Government to improve the relative position of social welfare beneficiaries one year with another. Deputy Corish made it very clear that there has been no relative improvement in the position of old age pensions since the Minister took office and that the latest increase of 2/6d., which he described as miserable, is not even compensation for the increases in the cost of living brought about by the turnover tax.

Indeed, as the proposer of the motion said last week, the real value of the 35/- a week old age pension at present paid is not very much more than the 5/- a week old age pension introduced by Lloyd George 50 years ago. The Minister seems to accept the proposition that it is sufficient to maintain the status quo, that it is sufficient to meet the increases in the cost of food and clothing brought about by the new tax. I am sure the Minister is as well aware as I am that there are 10,000 old age pensioners in this city living on the verge of starvation, that if it were not for the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and other such bodies, their situation would be very serious indeed.

Bread and scrape is the staple diet of many of them. I readily concede the Minister is administering one of the most expensive Departments of State, that social services are at present costing us about £20 million a year, of which approximately £10 million is going to non-contributory old age pensioners, on whom the emphasis in this debate so far has been laid. Approximately half the moneys allocated to social welfare is being devoted to old age pensions to which Deputy Sherwin, proposing this motion last week, attached considerable weight.

The old age pension problem is becoming more serious year by year by reason of the improvement in geriatrics. As the last speaker said, we do not appear to have any long-term plan or even short-term plan. We do not appear to have considered the principles on which our pension policy should be based. We do not appear to have had any regard to the improvement in geriatrics and to the fact that there are now a growing number of old people year by year depending on a declining population of workers and that the burden of providing for old age pensioners requires close examination, requires the implementation of a plan.

I have spoken about the old age pensioners in my constituency and in Deputy Sherwin's constituency, living in miserable accommodation, eking out a miserable existence on bread and scrape and tea. It seems to me the position of old age pensioners in Deputy Sherwin's constituency and in mine is much worse than that of old age pensioners in other parts of the country. The problem in Dublin is far greater than in rural Ireland and I have a certain amount of sympathy with the Minister who must be aware that in certain parts of the country it is the practice for a small farmer to sign over his land to a son or daughter so that he will qualify for the old age pension.

That person is not in as dire a plight as are Deputy Sherwin's constituents. I have been told by Deputies that in their constituencies, when an old person qualifies for the old age pension, there is considerable rivalry among the members of the family as to which of them should accommodate that person who has then a cash income. The old age pensioner in Dublin has an acute rent problem, an acute problem in relation to the provision of fuel, and in fairness to the Minister, it should be said that old age pensioners in rural parts do not appear to have these problems.

Every county home in Ireland is bulging with them.

It appears to me that the time has now come when the problem must be approached on a differential basis. In other countries, this is done, consideration being given to the higher cost of living in the city areas. I think that would be a constructive proposal. It is a matter of consequence to all of us that social services are costing this country £20 million, while the working population, the people providing the moneys, are declining and the number qualifying for social services is growing. A million pounds devoted to social welfare does not go a long way.

Having said that, I must make it clear that no one on this side of the House is satisfied with the Fianna Fáil policy of maintaining the status quo, giving a miserable increase of half-a-crown a week which purports to maintain the existing standard of living of social welfare beneficiaries. What Deputy Sherwin has in mind is an upgrading of social welfare benefits and that has not been done. Since Friday last, it has become very clear that the real increase in the cost of living brought about by the turnover tax on articles of staple diet and of clothing purchased by social welfare recipients is far more than the halfcrown a week provided in last year's Budget.

If it is the case, as Deputy Norton alleged, that all other needs are considered first and that for social welfare benefits, what is left over is availed of, that is a state of affairs which we must no longer condone. The motion may not be excellently drafted but the principle to which it attempts to give effect is a good one and is one which we are supporting.

It is not the wording of the motion but its intent which strikes me. A year ago, the proposer of the motion—I am sure, in all sincerity— stated that he would not be satisfied unless the old age pensioners got a "dollar".

That is not correct. I said they ought to get one.

I can quote from the Official Report any time Deputy Sherwin wishes.

I said "ought". I went to take an action against a gentleman to prove it and he got the wind up.

I have great respect for your position, Sir, and I never indulge in this type of interjection.

It is the Press that built that up. The word "ought" is in the Official Report.

I am in enough trouble without falling out with the Press.

It was a lie anyway, put over just to get one on me. The word "ought" is in it.

We know what the Deputy ought to have done.

Last year, I said that the ceiling was fixed in 1952 and has never been changed since, despite the increased cost of living and now the 2½ per cent I voted for. Indeed the ceiling fixed prevents a person from receiving an old age pension if he is in receipt of another pension after 30 or 35 years of work in some occupation. That is an important matter to which the Minister should give consideration as soon as he can.

Take the position of a worker in the Dublin Corporation who, after 30 or 40 years' service, gets £4 10s. He is an old age pensioner who has had to restrict himself and deny himself so much. I do not think the House will be divided on the question of increases to old age pensioners and I am sure the Minister will do his utmost to see that this section of our people are helped. If he does not, of course, he just makes it so much harder for me as a Deputy who supported this 2½ per cent on essential commodities which the old age pensioners have to face. As has been said by Deputy Byrne, commodities such as tea, bread and maybe an odd rasher are considered to be more or less the staple diet of the old age pensioner and there is now a 2½ per cent increase on those items.

On what items?

It is nearer 20, the point I am trying to bring out, and consequently I feel that possibly some of the contempt, ridicule and condemnation to which I have been subjected is in a way justified. The old age pensioners are a section who no longer can work for themselves or do anything for themselves. The younger section of the people can certainly work overtime or make some sacrifice. I trust, therefore, the Minister will see the justification for this motion and help the old age pensioners.

I do not want to be ruled out of order by adverting to anything other than what is within the terms of the motion but certainly I have nothing about which to condemn myself in regard to old age pensioners, or indeed recipients of social welfare benefits. I hope the Minister, as a result of this motion, will improve the amounts of benefit to old age pensioners and give special consideration to those who reach pensionable age but are debarred because of a ceiling imposed in 1952. I am not a very good mathematician and I do not know how much the cost of living has gone up since 1952, but certainly the ceiling has not gone up. It would be in the country's interest, in the old age pensioners' interest and indeed in the Minister's interest if that were remedied.

The House should be very cautious about accepting the statement of the Minister that the Government were prepared to accept in principle what is involved in this motion. Principles to this Government are as common and as cheap as pebbles on the beach. It is not so many years since the Government accepted a motion in this House to increase the school-leaving age. It was three years ago and we have never had a sign that it was being put into operation. It is very easy to accept things in principle when you are in Fianna Fáil but to put the principle into practice is a completely different thing.

I suggest that there is only one possible way for the idea behind this motion to be implemented, or to be brought home to the Government, that is, to show the volume of support for it by voting in favour of it. Otherwise, this motion is going to appear to the public as a bit of vote catching to save individuals in this House from the wrath of the old age pensioners and other social welfare recipients. There is only one way to show our sincerity for the social welfare beneficiaries, that is, by voting in this House to ensure that a planned approach is made by the Government to the social services generally. There is a golden opportunity here between now and tomorrow night to bring it home to this Government, who are teetering, that the members of this House are more concerned with the welfare of the old age pensioners than with the welfare of those people who are in the surtax bracket.

What can we think of a Government who says that there are too many people paying surtax and that they would reduce the figure from 10,000 people to 4,000, that it was a hardship on those in the income category which ranges from £15,000 to £20,000 a year to ask them to pay surtax? They could do nothing for the old age pensioner other than give him an increase of 2/6d which is swallowed up long before the amount is paid. A Government who put the welfare of the surtax class, the dance-hall proprietors and the other elements who have money to burn, before the welfare of the needy, the sick and the elderly, are not worthy of support. There is only one way to bring it home to these people, that is, to frighten them sufficiently to make them realise that unless they toe the line in this matter, their days are numbered. I hope the Deputies will realise that the Government will give nothing to the old age pensioners unless they are forced to do it.

What is the general approach in our community today to social welfare generally? Is it not a fact that we look upon it as a matter of charity? Is it not a fact that were it not for voluntary organisations and their efforts, a large portion of the old and the sick would be actually dying day by day from starvation and neglect? The Government have shelved their responsibility for the poorer and needier sections.I want to say this to the Government: fifty years ago, 5/- bought as much for the old age pensioner as the 35/- is buying for him today. If we look at the changes in society, the scientific marvels of the world, and the amenities which science has brought to the human race, can we accept that a purchasing power which is only the same as it was 50 years ago is a fair indication of the way we should treat those people who are not in a position to look after themselves?

The amenities available to the wealthier and more vigorous sections of the community, the improvements brought about by science and developments of all sorts, are not available to our old age pensioners. There are still no allowances made for them except in regard to the very fundamentals, just enough to keep them alive. There has been no change. For instance, a television set is looked upon today as an essential amenity in the city and it is becoming an essential amenity in the country. Has there been any attempt by the Government to consider that a television set or wireless set should be regarded as a right in social welfare benefits? We hand over matters like that to voluntary organisations. The Government had no time and no money. We have always been told there is no money. For the benefit of certain Deputies who are helping the Government to fill the kitty, let it be understood that if things go according to the Government's plan, they will have an extra £20 million or £21 million to play about with. The time is ripe to plan so that the more needy sections of the community are catered for before the greedier ones get their hands into the bag.

I do not know how long it will be before the Government plan a regulated increase in social benefits. The Taoiseach on numerous occasions within the past 12 months has sought to impress upon the old people, the workers and other sections of the community, that Fianna Fáil is a Party of the Left, that it is going left, or, in other words, becoming socialistminded.If that is true, the first people who should get priority in Government spending are those in the needy sections of the community. It is by their deeds you shall know them and if we accept the Taoiseach's remarks as being true, then we must expect that they would be followed by a practical gesture, so that in this particular instance the old age pensioners and other social welfare recipients would get what they are fully entitled to. There is no use at this stage talking about 2/6d. or 5/- a week. They must be given a sufficient allowance to enable them to enjoy meagre comforts of this life. They are not getting those at the moment and it is no use for the Government to pretend that the miserable increase which is being given is of any benefit whatever. I am very pleased that Deputy Sherwin has tabled this motion and as far as our small group is concerned, he will have our full support in pressing the Government to accept it.

Debate adjourned.