Tairgim go léitear an Bille an Tarna hUair.
Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1965: Second Stage.
I understand we are taking the Social Welfare Estimates also.
With 12, we are taking Vote 47.
Tógfaidh mé an Tarna Léamh den Bhille i dtosach.
Sea— an Bille ar dtús.
Céim mhór ar aghaidh i gcúrsai Leasa Shóisialaigh sa tír seo is eadh an Bille gur cúis áthais dom a chur ós bhúr gcomhair anois. Mar is léir do Theachtaí ón mheamram míniúcháin a cuireadh ar fáil dóibh séard atá ann sa chéad áit na forálacha is gá chun feidhm reachtach a thabhairt do na méadaithe tathagacha a fógraíodh sa Cháinfhaisnéis i rátaí sochar agus pinsean árachais shóisialaigh agus freisin i rátaí pinsean seanaoise, daille agus baintrí neamh-ranníocach agus cúnamh dífhostaíochta. Sa dara háit tá foráil ann leis an dteorainn ioncaim chun árachais éigintigh faoi na hAchtanna Leasa Shóisialaigh a árdú ó £800 go £1,200 i n-aghaidh na bliana. Sa triú áit tá forálacha tábhachtacha ann a bhaineann le módh nua chun acmhainn sealbhóirí feirmeacha beaga i gceantair cúnga d'áireamh i gcomhair cúnaimh dífhostaíochta. Ina dteannta sin tá roinnt feabhsanna éagsúla ann ar na scéimeanna árachais shóisialaigh agus chúnaimh.
Forálann an Bille go bhfaighidh na pinsinéirí neamh-ranníocacha uilig sean-aoise, daille nó baintrí, nach mó ná £26-5-0 a n-acmhainn bliaintiúil, 10/- breise i n-aghaidh na seachtaine agus go bhfaighidh an chuid eile de na pinsinéirí 5/- i n-aghaidh na seachtaine. Tá uas-ráta pinsean neamh-ranníocach dilleachta dá mhéadú freisin do réir 5/- i n-aghaidh na seachtaine. De thoradh na méadaithe seo pinsean is féidir arís leathnú ar na teorainneacha bliantiúla acmhainne agus na rátaí pinsean i dtreo 's go mbeidh ráta breise ag an bpointe is ísle de gach scála iníoctha le daoine nach raibh ach díreach taobh amuigh den teorainn acmhainne d'aon phinsin go nuige seo.
Táthar ag méadú ar na rátaí cúnaimh dífhostaíochta do réir 5/- i n-aghaidh na seachtaine don fhaighteoir féin. Beidh 5/- breise iníoctha i leith cleithiúaí aosaithe nuair is ann dó. De thoradh an mhéadaithe seo i rátaí cúnaimh dífhostaíochta leathnófar go huathoibritheach ar an dteorainn acmhainne i gcomhair cáilithe chun cúnaimh dífhostaíochta do réir an mhéid céanna.
Beidh na méadaithe ar shochair leasa shóisialaigh i bhfeidhm ó thosach Mí Eanáir seo chugainn agus dá réir soláthrófar 10/- breise i n-aghaidh na seachtaine d'fhaighteoirí sochar mí-chumais, sochair dífhostaíochta, sochar máithreachais, pinsean ranníocach baintrí, liúntas ranníocach dilleachta agus pinsean seanaoise (ranníocach) maille le 10/- breise i n-aghaidh na seachtaine i leith cleithiúnaí aosaithe más ann dó.
Tá rátaí nua ranníoca fostaíochta soláthraithe sa Bhille freisin. Is é an méadú ar ráta gnáthach an ranníoca do fhear oibre ná 2s. 10d. i n-aghaidh na seachtaine i dtreo 's gurab ionann is 14s. 8d. i n-aghaidh na seachtaine an ráta sin agus é roinnte go comthrom idir an fostóir agus an fostaí.
Toisc an ardú atá tagaithe ar rátaí pá le roinnt blianta anois, tá beartaithe ag an Rialtas an teorainn pá is cuí chun árachais éiginntigh faoi na hAchtanna Leasa Shóisialaigh a árdú ó £800 bpunt i naghaidh na bliana go £1,200. Ní bhaineann an teorainn seo ar ndóigh ach le daoine atá i bhfostaíocht seachas i mbun obair láimhe. Forálann an Bille go dtiocfaidh an t-athrú seo i bhfeidhm ar dáta a sochrófar trí bhíthin Órdaithe chun go mbeidh rabhadh sásúil ag fostsóirí agus lucht fostaithe.
Gné nua agus tábhachtach sa Bhille a cabhróidh go mór le mílte sealbhóirí feirmeacha beaga i gceantair chúnga is ea an t-athrú a thiocfaidh i bhfeidhm ar an 3ú Eanáir, 1966, maidir le módh áirmhithe ioncaim ó thalamh faoi na hAchtanna Um Cúnamh Dífhostaíochta. Is ar éifeacht táirgiúil na feirme do réir mar a thaisbeánann luacháil measaithe na talún é agus ní ar an líon stoc agus barraí, & rl. a bunófar áireamh na hacmhainne feasta. Is é cuspóir na hatharithe seo go mbeidh ar a gcumas d'fheirmeóirí beaga ins na ceantair cúnga an toradh is mó is féidir a fháisceadh as a bhfeirmeacha agus páirt a ghlacadh go pras ins na scéimeanna uilig atá ceapaithe chun méadú ar thoradh talmhaíochta ach gan bheith imníoch faoi chúnamh dífhostaíochta a chailliúint de bhárr a saothair.
Mar is minic dom ag cur i niúl don Dáil, tá mar pholasaí agam na scéimeanna leasa shóisialaigh a aithbhreithniú gan staonadh agus nuair feictear dom easnamh, aimhrialtachta, nó lochta eile bheith ann pé leasaithe is féidir a dhéanamh le feabhas a chur i bhfeidhm. Do réir an pholasaí sin forálann an Bille seo go leasófar agus go leathnófar ar na scéimeanna atá againne ar mórán slí. Le cuid de na leasaithe seo a lua go hachomair: Tá cúig athraithe sna forálacha a bhaineann le h-áireamh acmhainne i gcomhair pinsean neamh-ranníocach seanaoise, daille, baintrí nó dilleachta a leighfidh do roinnt mhaith daoine cáiliú chun pinsean, nó chun rátaí níos aoirde, feasta.
Tá feabhsanna beartaithe ar na hAchtanna Um Liúntais Leanaí freisin. Faoi cheann díobh íochfar liúntais leanaí le h-oifigigh Airm le linn bheith i gcéin dóibh, agus faoin cheann eile íocfar liúntas faoi dhó i leith gach linbh a mhaireann i gcás breithe iolraí seachas cúpla.
Maidir le costas na bhforálacha éagsúla: ar an dtaobh cúnamh shóisialaigh de, is é an costas iomlán ná£4,337,900 i mbliain iomlán agus £2,484,100 sa bhliain reatha. Ar an dtaobh árachais shóisialaigh de, is é costas iomlán na moltaí ná £5,190,000 i mbliain iomlán. Is é an chuid de sin a íocfar as an Stát-Chiste ná £1,290,000 i mbliain iomlán agus £668,000 sa bhliain reatha.
The Bill which it is now my pleasure to put before the House marks an important step forward in the field of social welfare in this country. As Deputies will have seen from the explanatory memorandum circulated with the text of the Bill, it includes, in the first place, the provisions necessary to give legislative effect to the decision announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget speech on 11th May last to give substantial increases in rates of social insurance benefits and pensions, and also in rates of non-contributory old age, blind and widows' pensions and unemployment assistance. Secondly, it includes provision for implementing the decision announced some time ago to increase the income limit for compulsory insurance under the Social Welfare Acts from £800 to £1,200 a year. Thirdly, it contains important provisions concerning a new method of assessing means for purposes of unemployment assistance in the case of smallholders in congested areas, and, finally, it provides for a number of miscellaneous improvements in existing social insurance and assistance schemes. The result of all these provisions will be an increase of £9.53 million in the gross expenditure on Social Welfare in a full year and this represents an increase of 19.3 per cent on the gross expenditure on Social Welfare—exclusive of administration costs—provided for in the Estimate for my Department which was passed prior to the General Election and is now before the Dáil again.
The Bill is a lengthy one and Deputies will note that the explanatory memorandum issued with it is much more detailed than has previously been the case. I have had this done in an attempt to meet the complaints of Deputies during the course of the debate on last year's Bill that they had difficulty in understanding and following amending legislation of this nature which necessarily must be by reference to the existing Acts. My aim has been to make clear, as far as possible, what each amendment really does, where the text itself is not self-explanatory. I trust, therefore, that Deputies will find the memorandum useful in that respect.
The Budget increases on the social assistance side, which it is proposed to bring into operation as from the beginning of August next, will provide an extra 10/- a week for all existing non-contributory old age, blind or widow pensioners whose yearly means do not exceed £26 5s. 0d. while all the remaining pensioners will get an increase of 5/- a week. It is estimated that some 71,000 persons who are old age or blind pensioners will qualify for the 10/- increase and 41,000 for the 5/- increase. There are at present just under 99,000 persons in receipt of the maximum rate of non-contributory old age or blind pension so that almost 72 per cent of these will qualify for the new maximum. The remainder, of course, will get the 5/- increase.
It is estimated that some 11,000 widows will obtain the 10/- increase, that is, 63 per cent of those at present getting the maximum, the remainder getting the 5/- increase. The maximum rate of orphan's non-contributory pension is also being increased by 5/- a week. As a result of these increases in pension, it is possible again to extend the scales of means and rates of pension in each case so as to add an additional rate at the minimum of each scale which will be payable to persons previously just outside the means limit for any pension. This means that the scale for an old age pensioner without child dependants will be extended to £156 15s. 0d. and therefore a married claimant without child dependants can have means of £313 10s. 0d. and still qualify for the minimum rate of old age pension. The means limit, of course, increases for each child dependant.
The rates of unemployment assisance for persons in urban and rural areas are being increased by 5/- a week for the recipient himself. A further 5/- will be payable where there is an adult dependant. This increase in rates of unemployment assistance will have the effect of automatically extending the means limit for qualification for unemployment assistance by equivalent amounts.
These are substantial increases in social assistance payments both relatively and in the absolute. They have the added virtue that the greater increase goes to persons in the greatest need as measured by the existing means test. In addition, of course, the policy of extending the schemes to cover people who were previously just outside the means limit, which has been carried on over the years, is continued.
The increase in payments in social insurance benefits will become operative at the beginning of January next, and will provide an extra 10/-a week for recipients of disability benefit, unemployment benefit, maternity benefit, widow's contributory pension, orphan's contributory allowance and old age (contributory) pension, with an additional 10/- a week where an adult dependant's allowance is payable with the pension or benefit. These again are substantial increases and represent a major improvement in the scheme. The extra cost will be paid for, as are all insurance benefits, by contributions from employers, insured employees and the Exchequer. The increase in the rates of social insurance contributions necessary to meet the employer's and employee's share of the extra cost of these increases, together with the cost of an increase in maternity grant from £2 to £4 provided for elsewhere in the Bill, will be 2/10d. a week in the ordinary rate of contribution for male workers. This will make that rate 14/8d. a week, which amount will be shared equally by the employer and worker. Increases in the rates of contribution for other classes will be 2/10d. where all the insurance benefits are insured against, the appropriately lesser amounts where some only of the benefits of the scheme are insured against.
The effects of increased levels of remuneration generally arising from successive rounds of pay increases over the past few years, on the social insurance scheme have been evident for some time. Increasing numbers of persons who are employed otherwise than by way of manual labour were reaching levels of pay which were in excess of the limit which made them compulsorily insurable under the Social Welfare Acts. It has been increasingly evident too that many people so affected were anxious to remain in the classes compulsorily insured under the Social Welfare Acts and as they were persons in the classes for whom that scheme was originally devised there were strong arguments in favour of extending the income limit to meet the need of such persons. The Government have, therefore, decided to increase the remuneration limit which, of course, only applies to persons employed otherwise than by way of manual labour, from the existing level of £800, which was fixed in 1958, to £1,200 a year. The Bill provides that this increase will take effect from a date to be determined by Order and this is necessary in order to give employers and persons likely to be affected, reasonable notice of the change after the relevant provision becomes law.
In addition, it is necessary to make regulations for the purpose of awarding credited contributions to persons brought back into compulsory insurance by reason of the raising of the limit and the number of these credits will depend on the date fixed for the raising of the limit. These credited contributions will enable a person brought back into compulsory insurance to qualify at once for disability benefit or unemployment benefit, for example, if he becomes unemployed or unable to work due to illness and otherwise satisfies the conditions for benefit. They will not, however, count for the purposes of old age or widows' (contributory) pensions as any person going out of insurance by reason of going over the remuneration limit could have maintained his insurance for pension purposes by becoming a voluntary contributor. There are at present some 6,000 voluntary contributors and it is a surprising thing that more people do not avail of the opportunity to become voluntary contributors when they cease to be compulsorily insurable, in view of the fact that the contributions they pay cover only 2/3rds of the cost of the benefits available.
Deputies will note that there is provision in the Bill to enable future variations in the remuneration limit to be made by Government Order and in such a case it will be necessary that the Draft of the Order be placed before each House of the Oireachtas and approved by resolution of each House before the Order can be made.
A new and important feature in the Bill which will benefit many thousands of smallholders in the congested areas is the change, which will come into effect on 3rd January, 1966, in the method of assessing income from land under the Unemployment Assistance Acts. Under the change now proposed means derived from their land by smallholders in congested districts will, in general, no longer be established by reference to the actual number of stock, area and type of crops, etc. on a holding, but by reference to the productive capacity of the holding as indicated by the rateable valuation of the land. Deputies on all sides of the House will, I am sure, welcome this radical change. Under this new system all holdings bearing the same land valuation will normally be deemed to produce the same fixed rate of means irrespective of the extent to which the occupiers are in fact working the lands. The object of the change is to make small farmers in the Congested Areas free to work their holdings to maximum capacity, and to participate readily in all schemes designed to increase agricultural output, without being concerned about losing some or all of their unemployment assistance as a result of expanding farm incomes arising from greater effort and enterprise on their part. Thus under the liberalising effects of the new system smallholders will be able to take full advantage of the many schemes that have been devised for the benefit of the Western areas.
The Bill proposes to confer power on the Government to specify by Order the areas in which the new system will operate. It is proposed to apply it in the 11 full counties of Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway, Cavan, Monaghan, Longford, Clare and Kerry, together with the congested portions of West Cork and West Limerick. Thus the scheme will embrace the congested areas in the widest sense of that term. The areas I have mentioned are substantially the same as the areas which have been selected by the Minister for Agriculture for the purposes of measures he has recently introduced for the development of the West such, for example, as the County Development Teams and Pilot Area Schemes. Smallholders in these areas will, therefore, find in the new freer system of assessing means from land the necessary incentive to enable them to take full advantage of these measures in the knowledge that their doing so will have no adverse effects on their title to unemployment assistance. Moreover the change will facilitate the Department of Agriculture in their efforts to raise the output of the holdings in these areas.
The essential features of the Unemployment Assistance Scheme will be unaltered, but in the congested areas income from a holding will be calculated on the basis of £20 a year for each £1 of net land valuation. The present disregard of 5/- per week in respect of a married smallholder will, of course, continue to operate so that, in effect, the means assessed in his case for a £3 land valuation farm will be £47 per year and £67 for a £4 land valuation farm, and so on. The means figure thus calculated will stay unchanged irrespective of changes in the output of the farm. In this way, a person who neglects his holding will lose any advantage in the scale of unemployment assistance payments which he enjoys at present over his more industrious neighbour with a similar valuation.
Special transitional arrangements are included in the Bill to enable existing smallholder recipients of unemployment assistance in the selected areas to adapt themselves gradually to the amended scheme. In any case where it would be to their advantage these recipients will for a period of five years continue to have their means assessed as at present on the basis of current values for stock, crops etc., but in no case will the assessment exceed the figure which would be arrived at by calculating their means by reference to land valuation. In the absence of actual experience it is not possible to say with any firmness how many smallholders will benefit from the proposed change or what the additional cost will be. We have, however, estimated, on the basis of the 1961 Census returns, that the change will affect some 24,000 smallholders in the selected areas including about 8,000 smallholders who are already recipients of unemployment assistance and that the additional cost of the change, on the basis of these numbers, will be in the region of £1 million a year.
I think I am justified in saying that when these changes come into force in January next there will be no reason why a smallholder in the congested areas in receipt of unemployment assistance should not make an all-out effort to increase the production from his holding by making the maximum use of his skill and energy and of whatever financial and technical aids and advice are available to him and by enthusiastic co-operation with his neighbours and full participation in Government schemes designed to raise income levels in these areas.
As I have made clear to the Dáil on more than one occasion it has been my policy as Minister to keep the various social welfare schemes constantly under review and where shortcomings, anomalies or other defects become evident to make whatever amendments and modifications are possible to improve matters. Each Social Welfare Bill introduced over the past few years has, as Deputies will be aware, included provision for a number of such changes, some big and some of lesser importance, but each of them of considerable benefit to the person or persons affected. In the pursuance of that policy the present Bill includes provision for a number of improvements or extensions of existing schemes. Section 15, for instance, deals with five modifications of the means test as applied for the purposes of non-contributory old age, blind, widows' or orphans' pensions and will undoubtedly enable a considerable number of persons to qualify for such pensions or to qualify for a higher rate of pension.
For example, the amount which may at present be disregarded from the earnings of a blind person in assessing his means for the purposes of pension under the Old Age Pensions Acts will be increased by £13 for himself, his wife and each qualified child, that is, a child qualified for the receipt of children's allowances. Again, the present concession in the assessment of means for the purposes of non-contributory old age, blind and widows' pensions whereby income by way of voluntary and gratuitous payments is ignored up to a limit of £52 5s. is being extended so as to disregard all payments from charitable organisations in the assessment of means.
Another concession is consequential on the provision in the Land Act, 1965, enabling an annuity to be paid to an elderly or blind person who surrenders a holding to the Land Commission. It is proposed to ignore up to £3 a week of such annuity in assessing means for old age or blind pension.
A further concession proposed in the case of applicants for a widow's non-contributory pension is the extension of the present disregard of £39 from earnings from insurable employment in respect of each qualified child so that it will apply also to a widow's earnings from any form of employment or self-employment involving personal exertions.
Finally, in this group of improvements, comes another concession in regard to the assessment of means for the purposes of widows' non-contributory pension. It is proposed to limit the amount of a qualified child's means which can be assessed against a widow to £26 where she has one such child and to £52 where she has more than one.
In agreement with the Minister for Health, it has been decided to improve the position of non-contributory old age pensioners detained in mental hospitals. At present their pensions are appropriated by the hospital authorities towards the cost of their maintenance and treatment but if the RMS in charge of the hospital feels that the pensioner is capable of using money properly the pensioner may be allowed up to 10/- a week out of his pension as pocket money. Section 11 of the Bill will increase that allowance to a maximum of £1 a week and will also permit the RMS in charge of the hospital to pay, over and above any payment he makes to the pensioner or even where he makes no such payment to the pensioner, on behalf of the pensioner portion of the pension towards whatever liabilities the pensioner may have for rent, mortgages, insurance, etc.
Two improvements in the children's allowances scheme, are also proposed. One will enable allowances to be paid to State servants, including Army officers, who go abroad in the service of the State or Government, or of the United Nations or other affiliated or similar international body and who bring their children to live with them. The second improvement of the children's allowances scheme while not of very wide application, will be of considerable value to those who do benefit from it. It will enable double the appropriate rate of children's allowance to be paid, in respect of the survivors of multiple births, other than twins, while there are at least three such survivors.
Finally there is an amendment of the unemployment assistance scheme which will allow a qualification certificate to be granted with retrospective effect to the date of application thus enabling unemployment assistance to be paid for a period of unemployment prior to the grant of the qualification certificate. At present unemployment assistance cannot be paid unless and until the person is the holder of a qualification certificate even though he is unemployed and his application for a qualification certificate is under investigation and awaiting decision. This amendment is in line with that made last year in relation to a revised decision affecting the grant of qualification certificates.
I do not think that I need go into any greater detail at this stage as I feel that the explanatory memorandum will have given Deputies a very good picture of the proposals in the Bill and of their effects. It will no doubt be helpful to Deputies, however, if I summarise the cost of the various proposals in the Bill. On the social assistance side, the total cost will be £4,337,900 in a full year, of which £3,165,000 arises from the Budget proposals, £1,084,000 from the concessions for smallholders in congested districts, and £88,900 from the remaining provisions. All of this cost will fall on the Exchequer, but the amount to be met in the current year will total only £2,484,100 that is £2,076,000 in respect of the Budget proposals, £350,000 in respect of the smallholders' concession and £58,100 in respect of the remaining provisions.
The gross annual cost of the improvements on the social insurance scheme will be £5,190,000 of which £5,120,000 arises from the Budget proposals. Allowing for an increased annual income of £3,900,000 to be raised from the increases in rates of contribution, the cost to be met by the Exchequer will be £1,290,000 in a full year and £668,000 in the current year.
These are very substantial amounts but I think it will be appreciated that worthwhile improvements cannot be effected in social welfare schemes without correspondingly substantial increases in the contributions of employers, insured workers and of the Exchequer. I am satisfied that this increased expenditure on social welfare is fully justified and that it is a measure of a further big development in the evolution of a satisfactory social welfare system in this country. I have much pleasure, therefore, in recommending this Bill to Dáil Éireann and I would ask for a speedy and favourable consideration for it.
An ceart dom an Meastachán a thairiscint anois?
Ní cheart an Meastacháin a thairiscint anois. Beidh tairiscint faoin Meastacháin ag an deireadh.
I understand the Minister will now move his Estimate.
It would be out of order for the Minister to move it at this stage. There is already one motion before the House: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." We can deal with only one motion at a time. The Minister may speak on the Estimate, and at the conclusion of the debate on both the Bill and the Estimate, he may move his Estimate.
May Deputies speak on the Estimate while discussing the Bill?
Both are being discussed together but there can be only one motion before the House at a time. There is already a motion before the House: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
It means the Minister is confined to one speech in replying.
He will formally move his Estimate at the end.
The Bill and the Estimate are being discussed together.
We should like to know what the Minister has to say on his Estimate.
The Minister has just asked me about this. He has made a speech on the motion before the House and he may now speak on the Estimate.
Mar is eol do Theachtaí, aontaíodh Meastachán mo Roinnse i mí Márta seo caite, ach de bhrí nár críochnaíodh na ceimeanna go léir sul ar lán-scoireadh an Dáil, ní foláir an Meastachán a thabhairt ós comhair na Dála arís.
Do réir Leabhar na Meastachán sé £35,508,000 an t-suim ghlan atá ag teastáil do'n bhliain 1965-66 le h-aghaidh na seirbhísí as a bhfuilim-se freagrach. Méadú de £1,608,000 é sin ar an mbun-soláthar a rinneadh don bhliain 1964-65. Tuigfidh Teachtaí, áfach, go mbeidh breis caiteachais ar sheirbhísí mo Roinne i mbliana de bhárr na méadaithe ins na rátaí a forgraíodh sa Cháinaisnéis. Tabharfar Meastachán Forlíontach ós comhair na Dála níos déanaí chun an t-airgead breise a chur ar fáil.
Deputies will recall that the Estimate for my Department was before the House on 11th March last and was agreed. Because of the dissolution of the Dáil before the Estimate was reported, it is now necessary to bring it before the House again for approval.
According to the Estimates Volume, the total net provision being sought for Social Welfare for the current financial year is £35,508,000. This represents a net increase of £1,608,000 on the original provision made for the previous year. Subsequent to the preparation of the Estimates Volume, however, the Dáil agreed to a Supplementary Estimate of £1,136,000 for my Department for 1964-65, so that the real increase is £472,000. It will, of course, be appreciated that the figures in the published Estimate are based on present rates of payment, and take no account of the increases announced in the Budget statement. The additional cost to be met in the current year arising from these increases will be covered by a Supplementary Estimate later in the year.
A comparison of the published figures for the current year and for the year 1964-65 shows that increased provision of £450,000 is being made under Subheads A to D which relate to administration costs. This increase is due mainly to ninth round and other salary revisions and to increased postal, telegraph and telephone charges. The increase of £434,000 in respect of social insurance—Subhead E—represents the Exchequer proportion of the total estimated increase of £1,267,000 in expenditure from the Social Insurance Fund, the balance of £833,000 being mainly attributable to anticipated increased income from contributions. Details of the estimated income and expenditure of the fund are shown this year for the first time by way of an appendix to the Estimate.
Under the heading Social Assistance —Subheads G to K—provision is made for an increase of £989,500. This is due to the increased rates of payment and other improvements in the assistance services effective from the beginning of August, 1964.
In introducing this Estimate in March last, I gave a review of the main developments in social welfare matters over the preceding 12 months. I do not think it is necessary for me to go over that ground again, as the information is available in the Dáil Debates for 11th March. Of course if Deputies wish to obtain more detail on these matters, or on any aspect of the Estimate, I will readily provide it.
I now commend this Estimate to the House.
In discussing this Estimate and in discussing the legislation before the House, I think it would be as well if we put it in its proper perspective. This country, with the exception of one other country, Portugal, spends the lowest percentage of its national output on social welfare in all the OECD countries. Of our total national output, we in Ireland spend only 5.8 per cent on social welfare payments. Portugal has a worse record than us, at 2.8 per cent. Countries such as Austria with similar standards of wealth as we have spend as much as ten per cent of their national output on social welfare payments. Countries such as Italy with a similar incomeper capita as this country spend approximately 9.7 per cent of their national output on social welfare payments. It is against this background that we come to discuss the increases announced in the Budget and that have been brought forward in legislation.
We can point out that not only have we in this country this unenviable record of expenditure on our national income and transfer payments, but that, in fact, there has been a decline in the proportion of our national output on transfer payments under the First Economic Programme and that under the Second Economic Programme the percentage of our national output, it is proposed, will decline further.
I want to make it clear that I am speaking now about transfer payments according to the Irish definitions which include the cost of maintenance and clothing in institutions, items which are not included in the figures given in the OECD statistics. On the Irish statistics the percentage of our national output devoted to transfer payments was 6.5 in 1957 and it declined to 6.4 in 1963. It is projected to decline to 6.2 per cent in 1970 under the Government's Second Economic Programme.
We endeavoured in the course of the recent general election campaign to bring these facts to the notice of the electorate and to alert the public to the fact that although this country was, like other countries, benefiting from increases in national output and because we were like other countries in Europe, getting a four per cent growth rate approximately each year in our national output, we were not fairly distributing it. We pointed out in the course of the election campaign that it was necessary for us to engage in what we believed to be necessary radical reforms in our social welfare code in order to ensure a more equitable distribution of our wealth. We do not accept the figures set out in the Government's Second Economic Programme and we do not think it was right that the percentage of our wealth devoted to transfer payments declined under the First Economic Programme. For these reasons, we put forward radical suggestions for improvement of our social welfare code.
The Government, I think it is true to say without exaggeration, have been bankrupt of ideas for reforms in our social welfare framework. They have of course, with the increase in the cost of living, increased the weekly payments of social assistance and social welfare but that is not reform in social welfare. That is trying to make good to recipients of social assistance and social insurance some of the effects of rising living costs. Only in one area has there been any sign and idea of reform from this Government. Three years after the Commission on Workmen's Compensation reported, the Minister announced more than 18 months ago in Irish in answer to a question in the Dáil that it was proposed to make changes in the scheme of workmen's compensation. Then nothing was done for over 18 months and, finally, after the general election, as part of the great campaign for social reform this Government were alleged to be wedded to, the only one idea that came before the country was that the Government were going to change workmen's compensation. On the other hand, we believe it is necessary to see that reforms are made in our social welfare code. In putting forward the reforms we did, we bore in mind certain characteristics of our Irish society, characteristics which must be considered in working out a proper scheme of social welfare in this country.
By and large, this country is a country of large families. It is a country with a high proportion of single people. As a result there are very wide inequalities of standards of living between people with the same income because those who are single enjoy a higher standard of living than does a man with a similar income and a large family. It has also to be borne in mind that a large proportion of our population is in institutions. It has also to be borne in mind that there is a big disproportion between rural and urban incomes. A further factor to be taken into account is the fact that we have a flat rate system of contributions to social insurance, irrespective of the income of the contributor.
Examining our social structure, it can be said that the statutory welfare services at the present time are divided roughly into two kinds: financial assistance and institutional care. We have, in fact, no service for people in need in their own homes. Up to now the State has been regarded as fulfilling its obligations if it gives financial assistance to those who require it and institutional care to those in need of it. We believe we must go further. We believe that the great gap in our social welfare services at the moment is the fact that we have no domiciliary welfare service available to people in need in their own homes. The service which we believe to be necessary is one that could be operated from welfare community centres. It should be staffed by trained social workers, working in co-ordination with the local clergy, the local doctor, the local home assistance officer and the local charitable organisations. It would help people to cope with the innumerable social problems facing so many in our midst.
May I give some examples? One of the things we need is organised home help for the old and infirm in their own homes. It would be the task of the domiciliary welfare service we propose to organise such a home help service. Let me say in this regard, and in regard to the other matters to which I have referred, that these ideas are not something we thought up out of our own heads. These are schemes which operate across the Border in Northern Ireland; these are schemes which operate in Britain and on the Continent. We think these countries operate schemes which are worthwhile, schemes which should be incorporated here. As anybody knows, who is conversant with social conditions here, what is needed in the majority of cases is home help for the old and infirm in their own homes. Such a service could be organised without too great difficulty, because neighbours are always willing and charitable, but there is no system under which properly to organise the help. In Northern Ireland the home help service operates through the medium of the social worker, who finds out needy cases, and neighbours who are prepared to help. The modest payment made is certainly recouped to the full in the benefits that are obtained.
Another aspect of our social problems which is not catered for here and which, in fact, could be catered for by the domiciliary service we propose is the problem of children in care, that is, children who are separated from their natural parents. At the moment there are too many agencies responsible for the problem of children in care—local authorities, Government Departments, very frequently a variety of charitable organisations. Because nobody is mainly responsible for the problem of the child in care, it not infrequently happens that children are left in care either in institutions or under foster parents for longer than is necessary.
In March of last year the figures were 3,405 children in care in institutions. There were only 2,150 in foster care. I do not know if the Minister has more up-to-date figures, but I doubt if the numbers have changed very much. It is much better obviously to have children in care under foster parents than in institutions. One of the ways in which the former could be achieved is by means of trained social workers who would have the task of bringing this desired result about. We do not, of course, pay enough to our foster parents. It would be very desirable to increase the payment to foster parents. Looked at purely in the crude financial light, it would be much better to pay foster parents more and have fewer children in institutions.
The domiciliary welfare service we propose would also cover an area which is in gross neglect in this country. I refer to the problem of mental health. In 1961, we had seven persons per 1,000 in mental institutions as against 4.51 in Northern Ireland and 2.12 in Denmark. Why is this? Are our people on this side of the Border more mentally afflicted than their brothers and sisters on the other side? It is because we have not got our services properly organised? I believe the answer is obvious.
We have in the Twenty Six Counties two trained psychiatric social welfare workers as against 14 in Northern Ireland. We suggest as part of the domiciliary welfare service that we should have a scheme of trained psychiatric social workers who would deal with the problem of persons mentally ill. This would work in two ways: first, in preventing breakdown resulting in persons having to enter mental hospitals and, secondly, in enabling persons discharged from these hospitals to keep from breaking down again. Only yesterday I was talking to someone conversant with the sort of case to which I refer. A patient discharged from a mental hospital was returning to the exact same conditions which caused the original breakdown. This person is almost certain to go back again to hospital in a very short time. Trained psychiatric social workers would not, of course, get 100 per cent results but they would ensure we did not have seven per 1,000 of our population in mental hospitals when there are only 4.5 in such institutions in Northern Ireland.
This service is necessary for other reasons. People are ignorant of their rights and a great deal of the time of Deputies is taken up with telling people what their rights are and trying to get for people the rights they have and should get anyway without the intervention of either Deputies or county councillors. It is pitiable to meet people who are ignorant of their rights, people who should have some service available to them to inform them of their rights. As things are, they have to come to Deputies or county councillors and these have to fulfil this role, probably not at all as adequately as the trained social worker would fulfil it. We have all come across cases of the kind to which I refer, cases of people who just do not know what institutions there are for the mentally handicapped, people who just do not know what their rights are under the School Medical Attendance Acts, people who do not know what their rights are with regard to housing.
This is a great need and it is one which the service we have suggested would cater for. There is of course also great need for co-ordination of the voluntary charitable bodies that are doing such excellent work in this country. It is not unusual for a distressed family to be visited by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, perhaps by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, perhaps by the probation officer and the home assistance officer. There is vast overlapping of our services in some areas, and in other areas there is no service at all. The scheme of domiciliary welfare services, such as I have proposed, would in fact ensure that this overlapping would not occur and that there would be regular consultation and co-operation between the different agencies dealing with families in need of care. It would also ensure that those in need of care in places where services were not available would know of them and could get them.
I have referred to one of the particular facts of this country that has to be taken into account in discussing our welfare legislation, namely, the large size of Irish families. For this reason children's allowances are something of very great importance in the field of social legislation. I am very strongly opposed to means tests of any sort. I am not suggesting we should have a means test in our children's allowances legislation. But it is, one could almost say, an anomaly that in the field of children's allowances, there is no means test. The richest person can get children's allowances for his children, whereas in many other spheres of social welfare legislation, rigid and strong means tests are applied.
I do not think we should bring in a means test but I would suggest for the Minister's consideration that increases in children's allowances are desirable, and it is desirable that the poorer sections of the community should get the benefit of such an increase rather than that it should be given to people more well off. It seems to me a simple way of doing this would be that, in cases where persons are paying income tax and getting an allowance in respect of children for income tax purposes, these allowances could be reduced by the same amount as the increase in children's allowances. This would have the effect of ensuring that the people in the position of paying income tax would not get any higher payments, and it would mean there would be more money available for the poorer sections not paying income tax. This is not a means test, but it would be a way of ensuring that the money goes to those most in need of it.
One further matter to which I referred briefly was the system we have in this country, copied from the British, of a flat rate insurance contribution. The effect of that is to limit the amount of contribution to the level of the lowest-paid worker, to limit the size of the Social Insurance Fund and so limit the amount of benefits that can be paid out of it. Of course, it has certain advantages as well. The cost of administration is small. Only about seven per cent of the total amount goes in administration costs. But it has certain serious disadvantages.
We have a large range of wage levels in this country. Of the 145,000 adult male employees in industry, there are 107,000 with £7 per week or less and 20,000 with £16 per week or more. The disadvantage of course is that the fund is being kept at the level of the lowest-paid worker. I would like the Minister to consider the possibility of linking contributions to earnings. This is in fact what is done in the EEC countries. We and Britain are different. We have copied the British system of a flat rate contribution.
In his introductory remarks on the Second Reading the Minister expressed surprise at the low number of voluntary contributions to the Social Insurance Fund—only £9,000. I do not think any surprise need be expressed at this. If a worker, be he manual or non-manual, gets over the limit, the amount of benefit he will obtain will in fact constitute an absolutely disastrous decline in his standard of living. We are now increasing the income level to £1,250 per year. Take the case of a clerical worker with £20 a week. If he is a single man, under the present scheme, he is now going to get £2 12s. 6d. I would imagine most such contributors would think it was not worth their while contributing to such a scheme if their standard of living was going to be so disastrously reduced. They would probably rather face emigration than try to maintain themselves at the level they would get under the social welfare code.
I believe it would be possible to have a graded scheme in this country linking contributions to earnings and so ensuring there need be no increase in contributions for the lower wage group. I believe it would be possible to ensure that the middle income group increase would be small and that those with larger wages and salaries, who will have to contribute a larger weekly payment, will in fact get commensurately larger benefits if the necessity for benefit arises through unemployment or sickness.
This of course will also involve increased contributions from employers. Again, we have to put this question into perspective. We are inclined to concern ourselves very much with conditions in this country and lose sight of how we really stand. The contributions in this country by employers as a percentage related to wages is in fact one of the lowest, if not the lowest, in all the EEC countries. The employers' contribution related to earnings is 2.3 per cent. In Northern Ireland, it is 5.6 per cent; in the United Kingdom, 4.6 per cent; and in the Netherlands, 6.5 per cent. We are in this position of maintaining a flat rate system, which of course gives a certain level to people in the event of sickness or unemployment, but which results in a disastrous decline in the living standards of many insured persons on whom misfortune may fall. I should like to see a change and I think it would be advisable for the Minister to consider if it would be possible.
Before turning to the provisions of the Bill, there is one other matter to which I want to refer and which has been referred to quite frequently in the House in recent times on different Estimates, that is, the problem of the mentally handicapped. We raise it on the Department of Education; we raise it on the Department of Health; and we can raise it on the Department of Social Welfare because in fact no one Department has taken responsibility for it. In the White Paper published by the Minister for Health when setting up the Commission some time ago, he made the point that it was very difficult to know exactly what Department is responsible. I know before you try to stop me, Sir, that the Minister has not taken responsibility for this and that you will not find it in the Estimate, but I am going to be very brief. The Minister has power to provide workshops for blind people and there is special legislation for that purpose. Therefore, in respect of one category of disabled people, there is a scheme which is working fairly well, of workshops for blind people.
I want to inform the Minister, in case he does not know, that, as far as I am aware, the health authorities throughout the country have taken the line that they will not provide sheltered workshops for the mentally handicapped. The Department of Health in their memorandum to the Committee set up under the last Dáil stated in very expressed terms that they did not regard it as a function of the health authority to provide these workshops. The voluntary organisations have been struggling for years to set them up and under great difficulty one or two have been set up. Let us face the fact that the voluntary organisations themselves cannot provide the sheltered workshops we need. Here is an opportunity for the Minister for Social Welfare, if he wants to take the power. This has been done in the case of blind persons and I believe it could be done by the Minister if he wanted to do it. As I say, the Department of Health will not do it, the health authorities washed their hands of it and it is not an educational problem and it could fall under the aegis of the Minister for Social Welfare.
We, of course, put forward an answer to that problem which I hoped the Government might accept. We suggested that a separate statutory body should be established which would have responsibility for the mentally handicapped and this body would provide the workshops where they are needed. In default of such statutory authority, nobody has taken the responsibility and the voluntary organisations cannot take it. I suggest the Minister should consider whether he might take it up. It is something which is very urgently needed and something we should try to provide.
I do not think we should be self-congratulatory about the provisions of the new Bill. A single, non-contributory old age pensioner is going to get £2 7s. 6d. a week to live on. This is not a princely sum. I doubt if anybody can live on £2 7s. 6d. a week at present. Of course a great number of people are in receipt of home assistance and this in itself is an admission that the rate of pensions we pay is inadequate. Studies have been carried out of the dietary requirements of people and the amount of money to be spent on the diet to keep up a proper level of health and it is quite clear that £2 7s. 6d. a week is inadequate for a single person to try to maintain a proper standard of living.
I am sure Deputies are as familiar as I am with cases of people who are trying to live on 50/- a week. I know of one case and this man told me that he is not able to afford dinner any day. He just has not got the money. He has to pay rent, an ESB bill and various other bills and while he can buy tea and bread and butter, he cannot get dinner. As I say, we have made some progress and we are glad that the Government have taken the step, for which I think the Opposition are entitled to take some credit, of bringing about these increases in social welfare payments, but I do not think we should be complacent. The unemployed man in urban areas is going to get £1.14.0 and the married man with three children in an urban area will get £4.7.6 a week to live on. That does not seem to be a very high sum and in fact to me it seems to be a very inadequate sum and I hope we will be able to improve on this in the near future.
It has been announced that this 10/-a week is not to apply to all old age pensioners who are now in receipt of the maximum. A new means test is to be introduced in this Bill. It is to be regretted that this new means test is being introduced into legislation again. The further away we can get from this sort of thing the better. It is a retrograde step that the Government decided to re-introduce this differential between old people, such as between one who may have £25 a year and another £27 a year. Obviously, it would not have cost very much to have given the increase to all the old age pensioners, and I do not think that any great injustice would have been done because one old age pensioner happened to have a little bit more out of his income than another. The increases in the remuneration limit are to be welcomed, but again I would make the point that bringing into benefit people with £1,250 a year is not going to be something they are going to regard with any great favour in view of the low amount of benefit they will get in relation to their income. This bears out the point that the higher we bring the rate of wage earnings by the contributors, the greater the necessity will be for a graded system.
There is one other matter which is of very great importance. It does happen and has happened in the past that where we have increased social assistance or social welfare payments of one sort or another, the persons in receipt of social assistance or social insurance who are also in receipt of another payment out of public funds, be it home assistance or some form of pension, have the other payment reduced. We should ensure that nobody in receipt of home assistance will have that home assistance reduced. For example, in the case of the old age pensioner whose old age pension is going up by 10/- a week, as surely as we are sitting here, that is going to happen. The Minister says that this can be left to the local authorities themselves. I do not agree with that. We should put it in the Bill. This does not apply merely to home assistance. There are various other schemes administered by the local health authorities where rigid means tests are applied. There are disability payments and various other schemes, such as, for example, the special allowance pensions paid to Old IRA pensioners who have to meet a means test. I know of one case where an old age pensioner got a special allowance pension of £66 10s. This will be reduced because his old age pension has gone up.
We could stop that very simply by a three-line or four-line clause in this Bill. I shall try to draft such a clause. I might not make a very good hand of it and I should be glad if the Minister, with the assistance of his expert advisers, would do it properly. The position is that with one hand we are giving 10/- a week to old age pensioners and with the other deducting it from home assistance. It will happen in other areas of our social services as well.
There are special clauses in the Bill which deal with special cases of applications by smallholders for unemployment assistance. Of course the general idea is a good one—ensuring there will be equality of treatment for these applicants. I should like to know why the Minister is to restrict this benefit to areas he will define by order and why this new scheme should not be operated throughout the country as a whole.
I imagine there are many smallholders in many parts of County Dublin, County Meath and other parts of Leinster who should get benefits from this and I can see very great objections to doing what the Minister proposes—giving this benefit to one part of West Limerick, for instance, and not to another part.
There are votes there.
I am coming to that. This legislation will leave it open to the allegation, whether true or not, that political influence will be used as to which parts of the country this will apply, and under section 9, it will be left open to that criticism in a much more violent form. Would the Minister tell the House if any estimate has been made as to what the cost would be to have this applied to the whole country? He proposes to apply it to 11 counties, among them the congested district areas and other parts of the country not usually regarded as congested districts. I do not think it would cost a great deal to extend it to the rest of the country. That would get rid of the criticism of political influence which surely will be made if the Bill remains in its present form.
That brings me to section 9. The Minister said nothing about this section in his introductory remarks. Here we are proposing to do away with a scheme which was very unfair and which worked very unfairly. We are proposing now to introduce a system by which the means of a smallholder will be determined by the poor law valuation of his holding. Power is given in section 9 for the Minister, in a specific case, after consultation with the Minister for Agriculture, to go into all the circumstances. Why? We are told the reason is to prevent inequalities and injustices of one sort or another. Under section 4, as drafted, there is no appeal from the Minister. Under present legislation if a person gets a decision from a home assistance officer, there is an appeal. There will be no appeal under this legislation and the Minister will do what in fact is being provided, in so far as it is being provided in our social welfare code: he is taking power to intervene in individual cases. He can say to a farmer in West Cork, for instance: "You will go back to the old system," while to his neighbour, he will say: "You will come under the new system." The neighbour will have no appeal.
Can the Minister tell us what injustices and inequalities he will get rid of by section 9? If the Minister wants to keep it, there should be some means of appeal from his decision such as exists under the code generally. There are a number of other matters to which reference was made by the Minister, such as tidying up and minor reforms of the social welfare code. I do not know what the reason is for requiring, for instance, a residence qualification for people who get unemployment assistance. It is by no means unusual for persons to leave county areas and go into towns of more than 7,000 population and have to wait six months before they get unemployment assistance. I do not understand why it is necessary to have this condition because it certainly causes inequalities.
There is one other matter to which I should like to refer very briefly. The Minister has in fact power to make, and does in fact make, the employment period orders each year which affect the applications of smallholders for unemployment benefit. This year, as is obvious even to a city-bred person, is a very difficult year for the smallholder—the hay has been late; there is not a great deal of work available —and it seems to me consideration should be given to the question of whether the order should be brought into effect in circumstances in which there are people unable to get work and who are cut off from unemployment assistance because account is not taken of variations in weather with resulting variations in employment conditions.
If the recent general election did nothing else, it at least focussed attention on the very inadequate social welfare benefits obtaining in this country. At first this seemed to have been appreciated only by the Labour Party who made it the principal plank in their platform. Fine Gael subsequently took it up and very belatedly the Government Party, a few days before the election, suddenly felt something had to be done to change the system. Then the Taoiseach made his earth-shaking statement to the effect that Fianna Fáil, too, were interested in social welfare and that something would be done in that respect if Fianna Fáil were returned to office.
Something, of course, had to be done after the election and we must admit that a small attempt was made to try to right the very bad position in which social welfare recipients found themselves. We made it clear at all times that if the Government imposed specific taxes for the purpose of improving social welfare benefits, we would support them. The Government put on the taxes. Some of them were taxes with which ordinarily we would disagree violently but because most of the money was being applied to social welfare benefits, the Labour Party supported the Government.
All of us must appreciate that even at present the proposed taxes do very little to remedy the position. We have the situation in which people are still trying to live on a much smaller amount than the ordinary Member of this House will spend on meals during two days in the city. I do not know whether the Minister has ever had the good fortune, or misfortune according to the way you look at it, to have had to go to see some person who has not enough money to live on. What would he say if he met one of those people and it was explained to him that the amount of money the Minister spent on a meal would keep that person for two days, if living alone? The Government are living very high in the clouds if they do not appreciate that. I think it should be evident now that the cost of one meal in some of the middle-class hotels in this city is one-third of what an old age pensioner will get to keep himself over the whole week. These are facts which too many people seem to gloss over, seem to forget or to try to forget. It is about time they were looked at in the fact.
We know that the Minister has proposed certain increases. Of course, in the usual way, the increases will operate for assistance sections from August and for benefit sections from next January, despite the fact that the taxes to pay for these increases came into operation on the day after the Budget. The very least that could be expected would be that the benefits which are to be paid in August would have effect from the date of the Budget.
I am sure it would not be beyond the capabilities of the Government to find the few pounds necessary to give those unfortunate people the difference between what they will get in August and what they were getting a month ago. But, of course, that was glossed over: that could not be done: there were too many things which would prevent it from being done. As a result, the Government took the easy way out and said: "We will do it in August."
I am a trade union official. When I am negotiating for my members, I usually try if at all possible to get whatever agreement on wages is made apply to the date the demand was made and, if that is not possible, at least payable from the date the agreement is made. I think that is only fair. The fact that it is fair has been recognised by the Government because again and again we have had evidence of increases to people who are relatively well paid dated back for six months, 12 months and in some cases for two years. Yet, the old age pensioners must wait until next August before they get anything if they are non-contributory and, if they are contributory, they must wait until January next.
I believe that this is a matter which has to be dealt with by the Government in a different way from the way in which they have been used to dealing with it and that this should be the last time any Government would do something like that. There is no point in saying that other Governments did this before, that this is the pattern. If a pattern is a bad pattern it should be changed. I know that the Minister himself has accepted numerous suggestions from this side of the House and I will give him all the credit possible for it. He acceded to a suggestion some time ago that children's allowances should be put on to old age pensions. He acceded to a suggestion, and he has it in this Bill, that in future people who apply for a qualification certificate for unemployment assistance should have it paid from the date on which the application is made rather than from the date the certificate is granted. That being so, is there any reason why the Minister cannot break with tradition in cases such as those I have just mentioned where people are being granted a few shillings extra? Why should he have to do what was done before? Why must those people wait for several months before they get any extra payment?
I have noted in the Bill, as we all knew, the suggestion that those who live in the congested areas will be allowed to earn a certain amount of money and that, at the same time, they can use their small holdings. Why should this be confined to certain areas? Are we again building up barriers between different people in this country? In fact, a value is laid on valuation—£1 poor law valuation is to equal £20. Why should it be necessary, in addition to that, to say that it will apply only to certain counties designated as being in the congested areas? People in Cavan who live on reasonably good land and on the Meath-Cavan border will be entitled to qualify and people in Meath who live across the county border, and may be living in the worst land in Ireland, as portion of it is, particularly in North Meath, will not qualify. Does the Minister not realise that this will set labour against labour? Why have more barriers set up? Why can we not have one set of qualifications to cover the whole country?
I am surprised the Minister has lent his name to the introduction of such legislation, because he must know that it is wrong. There is no reason at all why he should have allowed it to be introduced. Even at this stage, he should do something to have it taken out. When the qualification is there, the safeguard is there. If the man is living on a valuation which is too big to let him qualify in Meath as well as in Cavan, Mayo and Galway, surely there should not be anything else necessary? We have the other situation where the man in one of the congested areas can in fact draw his unemployment assistance and work his farm under certain circumstances. Because of the introduction of the qualification certificate, quite a number of people all over the country will be disqualified from drawing unemployment assistance for the duration of the employment period. Surely the Minister is aware that anybody who can get work will get work and that he will not depend on his employment period to look for that work? Does he not know that this is a device by which some unfortunate people who are unable to get anything except the dole are in fact thrown on the charity of their neighbours or on the charity of the local authority? This is the most scandalous thing that has ever been included in social welfare legislation and why it should be allowed to continue is a mystery to me.
The Minister will also know that if somebody in Cavan can work his small holding and draw the dole and somebody across the border in Meath is found doing it and prosecuted, as he very well may be, then if the prosecution is proven, he is disqualified for six months. Why should this extra——
There could not be a prosecution in this case for working on the land. There can only be a reassessment of means.
The Minister is well aware that if somebody in an area which is not a congested area is found signing for the dole and at the same time works a piece of land, he will be prosecuted by his Department. The Minister need not tell me that he will not. I can give him evidence, if he wants it, of cases where this has happened.
His own land?
Working his own land. He is accused of defrauding the Department of Social Welfare when in fact he is doing what is perfectly legal or will be perfectly legal a few miles away in another county and, if the prosecution is proven, he is disqualified for six months. I think the penalty imposed by the court should be quite sufficient. When somebody is brought before the court, and a penalty is imposed, why should the Department of Social Welfare take it upon itself to add the additional penalty of disqualification from assistance for six months? That is something that should not be allowed. I am sure the Minister considers there is good reason for it, but, on reflection, I think he will agree that this question of dual punishment is unfair. It is like the case last week of the man who was discharged on a customs charge and who had £600 worth of butter taken from him. It is another example of bungling by Government Departments who believe they are above the law which was carried out in this case.
Reference was made last week to anonymous letters and the Minister seemed to be rather proud that people who sent in such letters usually told the truth. He said that if somebody reported a labourer as having been working when drawing unemployment benefit or assistance, it was usually found that the letters contained a true statement and for that reason use of the letter was justified. There has been a recognised code in the civilised world that anonymous letters deserve only to be put in the fire and no Department of State should stoop to using evidence by people who have not the courage to sign their names.
I questioned the Minister last week following a debate on the Adjournment about dental benefits. I want to make it clear that on the whole dentists are a decent lot of people, doing their job properly, but I still believe when somebody tries to cash in on the miseries of anybody suffering from toothache by trying to collect more from that person than he can collect from the Department of Social Welfare, he should be stopped by the Minister from doing so when he has the power to do it. Without going further into it, I believe it should be dealt with in the only way in which it can be dealt with.
Deputy Costello referred to workmen's compensation. The Commission which investigated the type of payment of compensation to workmen was set up by Deputy Corish when he was Minister for Social Welfare many years ago. I understand the report was submitted about four years ago and 18 months ago, in reply to a question in Irish by the then Deputy Colley, the Minister said it was proposed to introduce a State scheme to cover workmen's compensation, but from that day to this all we can get from the Minister is a statement that it is a very complicated Bill and that it is in course of preparation. It is still in course of preparation and it appears it will be in that state for many months to come. While this goes on, persons suffering from the results of industrial accidents are getting £4 10s. a week on which they must attempt to live. Worse still, if they have a big family, they receive a supplement from the Department of Social Welfare to enable them to exist and the Minister tells me the Department are not supplementing the private insurance companies. What are the payments made by his Department to insured workers if not part of the money which should be paid by insurance companies?
Since the decision to change the system to the Department of Social Welfare was taken, I cannot understand why it should take so long to draft the necessary legislation. Legislation which was not so important was rushed into the House. We had three different Succession Bills. One was found to be unpopular and it was withdrawn; a second was brought in and taken out; and now the third is almost through the House. Yet, the Minister finds he cannot get the draft of a very important Workmen's Compensation Bill or Industrial Accidents Bill—whatever he would call it— introduced. This codology should stop. The Minister has gone as far as he should be allowed to go and the House should insist that this legislation on workmen's compensation be produced without further delay. While he is dithering, people who should be benefiting must make do with very inadequate compensation under the existing legislation.
There are some extraordinary anomalies in the cost of stamps. It seems to be accepted by the State that if there is an increase in the cost of stamps, the increase must be the same for the workman who may have only £7 or £8 a week as for the employer who may have an income of £10,000 a year from the same job. Could the Minister not see his way to put the major portion of the cost of the present or proposed stamp increase on the employer? Even at the present late stage, it may not be too late to consider that possibility.
For quite a long time, the Minister has been using a system whereby boys and girls over 16 who are entitled to stamp cards must pay the same money for their stamps as if they were adults and yet if they seek benefit, they are only paid benefit at very much reduced rates. Widows drawing a widow's pension on their late husband's insurance while stamping cards in their own right, if they fall ill, even though they are getting a contributory widow's pension from the Department of Social Welfare, have their benefits reduced by half because of the fact that they have another payment, notwithstanding that the qualification for the original benefit, the widow's pension, has been supplied by the husband over the years and has nothing to do with present payments. In addition, they must pay the same amount for stamps as those who get full benefit.
I cannot understand also why agricultural workers who, for many years were prevented from drawing unemployment benefit until eventually a more enlightened legislation changed the picture, have been for some years entitled to draw unemployment benefit as well as disability benefit but a domestic servant we find is still apparently the Cinderella of the country. She can draw sickness benefit but cannot draw unemployment benefit. Can the Minister say straight out—he did not say in answer to the question—is the object not to starve her into going back to work for somebody not prepared to pay her properly? Is that not why it is being done? Why not face the facts? Why not give the same benefits to her and for which she is paying, as her sisters in industry are getting? Over the years we have been allowing things to happen which we would be ashamed to see out in the open and which it is the right of Deputies to bring to the notice of the Minister so that he will not believe that by sweeping them under the carpet, they can conveniently be forgotten.
Another question discussed on many occasions and to which the Minister seemed to have pat answers is the question of appeals. Somebody is sick and is examined by somebody from the Department who states that he is not unfit for work. They do not say he is fit for work, whatever is the importance of the phraseology. If that person continues to be sick and has certificates from the dispensary doctor, the appeal is put back and when eventually held, if the original inspector's decision is upheld, the Minister's office sees to it that the matter will not be further dealt with until the person who is ill either dies or gets back to work. When I asked the Minister why this was done, I am sure he will recall that he told me that, briefly, it was that when there were two decisions by a Department inspector, it was felt there was no urgency in the matter; in other words, that the second appeal which the insured person was entitled to make was only a "blind", that the Minister and the Department had already made up their minds that they were not going to do very much and would leave the unfortunate person as long as they possibly could in the hope that he would either die or resume work.
In a Christian country, that is a shocking situation and it is something the Minister cannot say he is not aware of because he gave me that reply a few weeks ago. It appears to be the accepted practice of the State to do this sort of thing. The Minister's predecessor dealt very severely with dispensary doctors who were issuing certificates to persons if it was considered that they were not sick and very few dispensary doctors will issue a certificate to a person who is not sick. The fact that a certificate is issued should be sufficient evidence. There must be some reason why a person persists in submitting certificates.
I know of a case where a person was sick for a couple of years and eventually one of the bright boys in the Department of Social Welfare decided that he was no longer sick. The man, who had a wife and young family, almost finished up in a mental home as a result of illness and worry before a more humane person decided that, in fact, he was sick. When payment was made, there were two weeks from the time the first inspector had examined him to the time he was subsequently declared fit which would not be paid for until a deciding officer examined the case. I know of another case where a man was ill for a considerable time and was declared fit for work by one of the Department's inspectors and on that same evening the County MOH had the man X-rayed and sent him to a TB hospital where he has since been seriously ill.
Accidents can happen and people can make mistakes but there should be a more humane approach to these matters. It is most unfair that our people who are ill and require benefit should be deprived of benefit because of—I almost said red tape—green tape, which is used by the Department now.
I notice that in the Bill the Minister proposes to allow something more to persons who are in mental hospitals and who are drawing a contributory old age pension. Again, possibly the Minister does not know but, if he does not, he should be told that there are instances of people going into mental hospitals and leaving behind them, sometimes, a wife and family. It is highly irregular that the old age pension book of such a person should be taken by the mental hospital authorities. The Minister now says that the RMS has the right to decide to give back £1 to people who can spend it, 10/-, which they were formerly getting, or more if there is rent and ground rent and such things to be paid. I do not think that the RMS is the person who should have that right. The right should be left with the Department and the appeal should be to the Minister. I do not see any reason why this could not be done. As a matter of fact, I do not see why a person who is ill and who goes into a mental hospital certified as ill should have to pay anything at all if he is in the category which is normally covered by a medical card. There must be a reason for introducing this special provision for people who are drawing contributory old age pensions.
On a number of occasions I asked the Minister to consider increasing the period of qualification for contributory old age pension to what is laid down in the Act—the insured life of the person. The Minister did, very fairly, increase the period from between 10 to 15 years and from 15 to 20 years if that was more favourable to the person concerned. I see no reason why these cases cannot be traced back to the point where the Department have evidence. I understand there are photostat copies of stamps put on by persons back to the early twenties and a fairly comprehensive record from 1932.
I will say this for the Minister's Department, that both he and his officials, with one exception, have been most courteous on every occasion on which I approached them. Most people who deal with the Minister and the Department have the same story to tell. Within the law as they are allowed to interpret it, there is no Department of State which will give more courtesy to the general public, and particularly to public representatives, than the Minister's Department and the Minister himself. There is one exception. That exception is the type of person known as an investigating officer. I do not know where the Department get those people. They are not the same type as the persons working in the Department at any other level. I have received numerous complaints from people who have claimed that they have been "third degreed"—that is the phrase used—by people whose only job, as far as I know, is to find out from them whether or not they qualify for a certain type of pension. Occasionally we find these people being most unco-operative.
There is one case where an itinerant—some years ago he was a tinker but he is an itinerant now—was employed by a farmer for many years. He knows where he was born and that he lived in a certain district for a number of years but there are no records available. Two or three old people over 70 years of age were prepared to say that they knew this man was over 70 years of age. I thought that in the circumstances, as he had been stamping an insurance card for between 25 and 30 years and as he appeared to be the type of person who was entitled to consideration from the State, he should have got an old age pension. When I took the matter up with the Department they were not very co-operative. My impression is that the gentleman who investigated the case first at local level did not like to have his word doubted, did not like to be asked to go back to ask people he had not asked before if they knew the man. The result is that I got a curt note saying that there is no evidence that this man is over 70 years of age.
Th extraordinary thing about it is that the Department queried the payment of unemployment benefit to this man because, they said, it appeared as if he was over 70 years of age, even though there is a record in the Department to prove, as far as they were concerned, and which they were using for old age pension purposes, that he was not, in fact, over 70 years of age.
A little common sense and a great deal of courtesy on the part of these local officers——
——and, of course, logic—should be forthcoming. I regret the necessity to have to pick these people out so as to have the matter investigated but they should be investigated fully. By the use of common sense and logic it could have been proved that this man was over 70 years of age.
It may be said that that is only one case. There are others. I know of a case where a person had been a herd for many years. He applied for the old age pension. When his application came before the old age pension committee, there was a report from an appeals officer to the effect that this man's income for the previous year was £1,000. The man was 72 years of age. When the appeals officer was asked how he discovered that the man had made £1,000 the previous year, he produced a long list of cattle which the man had bought and sold at a local auction mart in the local town. He had done this for his neighbours and got a few drinks for it. The value of all the cattle was assessed and his profit was estimated. A profit of £1,000 was put down against him. This is the sort of nonsense displayed by some of the Department's investigation officers. It is rather a pity it should be so, because, as I said earlier, the record of the Department is so good, apart from them.
I get complaints, as does every other Deputy, about delay in payment of social welfare in the normal course. In most cases the delay is caused by the fact that people do not fill their certificates properly. They do not sign them or they do not put the correct date on them. When a person is ill and is applying for benefit it is understandable that he may find difficulty in filling forms correctly. In spite of that, a short inquiry usually has the effect that payment will be made. The investigating officers are the one section of the Minister's Department who seem to try to justify their existence by acting the tough guy on some poor old person who is unable to defend himself. It is just too bad that that should be so.
With reference to the new means test, I notice the Minister has altered it to the tune of 5/-. In the Budget it was mentioned as £26. It is now £26 5s. 0d. That is a small thing but it does have its uses. It means that the aristocrat who has 10/- a week will escape. If a person has slightly over 10/- a week he is caught and will not get the 10/- increase. The extraordinary thing about all this is that when the old age pension was introduced in this country by the British Government, in 1909, the old age pension then for a man who was 70 years of age was 5/- per week and if his wife was 70 she got 5/-also—a total of 10/-. The means test was £26, and the farm labourer's wage was between 8/- and 10/- a week.
So, in fact, a farm worker of 70 years of age, whose wife was also 70 years of age, could get 1/- or 2/- a week more by way of a non-contributory pension than he would get for a full week's work. Now, in 1965, the Minister has discovered that £26 5s. per year is a big enough amount to disqualify a pensioner from getting the full benefit of the recent increase which had banner headlines in some of the papers reading: "10/-A Week For Old Age Pensioners". It now appears that it is 10/- for some, but not for those who have got £26 5s. a year. The trouble is that the old people in the country still cannot be convinced that they will not all get the extra 10/-. When we try to explain that there is a little catch in it, they think they are not being told the truth, and are inclined to get angry. They will be still more angry when they find that we were telling the truth, and that they will not all get the full amount.
A rather extraordinary thing is that while it is agreed that the old age pensioners will get this 10/- a week— even the people who will get it in January next, having paid for increased stamps—and that a dependent adult will also get this 10/- a week, if there are one, two or three or up to a dozen children, there is nothing extra. I do not know how the people who drew up this scheme live. I do not know whether they appreciate the fact that boys or girls of 12, 13 or 14 years of age in a working man's house will eat as much as their parents. Their clothing probably costs more, and their parents would, therefore, require something extra to compensate them for the extra expense. Unfortunately, the Minister and the Department of Finance do not seem to agree with this idea, and they decided that there would be nothing for dependent children, no matter how many of them there are.
The Minister is aware that on numerous occasions I threw bouquets to his Department because of the introduction of contributory old age pensions. Again I should like to say that I consider that one of the finest things that could have been done. The regrettable thing about it is that having granted contributory old age pensions to certain people with a certain number of stamps, the Department seemed to consider that the non-contributory pensioners were not terribly important. A typical example of this is the man who is employed by a farmer. If he gets board and lodging, a deduction is made from his wages of something under £3 a week for his food and lodgings. About £2 7s. 6d. of that sum is for food alone. Yet the old age pensioners have to buy their food, pay their rent, pay for their clothing—they do not use very much—pay for their shoes, and pay for all the things which wealthy people require, and they are supposed to do all that on less than that amount.
If they happen to be ill, they are in the unfortunate position that they have no option but to apply to the local authority for a supplement by way of home assistance. I do not really know what the situation is in the cities, but I do know what it is in the country districts. A person living in a country district most certainly does not want his neighbours to know that he has had to apply for home assistance, and if he can possibly do without it, he will not apply for it. There are many of them who do apply because, if they did not apply, they would have to go to the county home. If they went into the county home the extraordinary thing is that the cost of their maintenance is put at somewhere around £4 per week. Yet if they stay at home, they are expected to live on between 37/6 and £2 10s. or £3 a week.
I do not know whether the Minister has any views on these matters. I do not know whether he believes that the old age pensioner is supposed to live on what the State gives him. I do not know whether he believes that the local authorities are supposed to pay a supplement to the old age pensioner, but I do know what has to be done. If the Minister thinks it right that the local authorities should do this, he should then inform the local authorities that as a result of the increases, such as they are, they are not to cut off whatever home assistance they are giving to those old people.
One of the tragedies of modern life is that when people who are members of a trade union or a trade association of one kind or another, succeed in getting a decent increase in wages for themselves, those people who are not in the same position are usually left much worse off. The biggest tragedy of the ninth round wage increase was the fact that the general increase in prices which preceded, and succeeded it, left the unfortunate pensioners much worse off than they were two years ago.
I know the Minister can rightly say that the percentage increase granted to the old age pensioners and social welfare recipients was more than that which was granted to workers in full employment, but I do not think that percentage increase can be counted as adequate in those cases. I think the Minister will agree with me that 12 per cent of 37/6 is a very small sum when compared with 12 per cent of £1,200. I think he will also agree that the person with £1,200 pays the same price for bread, butter, tea and sugar, as the unfortunate person who gets only 12 per cent of 37/6. There possibly might be some validity in the argument about the percentage increase if those people we are talking about received an adequate amount at the start but even then I do not think that is the way in which their increases should be adjusted.
I want the Minister to assure us that so far as possible, so long as he is Minister, he will ensure that when there are future wage adjustments, similar adjustments—not similar percentage adjustments but similar adjustments—will be made by the Department for those who are dependent on the Department for their existence. One of the things which really annoy me is the fact that we in this country seem to be so terribly anxious to forget that the 70 year olds of today are the people who kept the wheels turning in this country for the past 30 to 40 years and that it will be only a few short years until the people who are now in the prime of life will be in the same position unless something is done to improve their position. It is all right for the people who have big salaries, an assured living and plenty of money stacked away. Their future is safe, but the majority of the workers of this country who have been living, not in luxury, not even in frugal comfort but who, for years, have been trying to rear a family and keep themselves in decency, know that when the time of their retirement comes, they will have nothing left except what the state gives them. The realisation of that by everybody might force us to have a different outlook on this whole question of social welfare benefits.
I repeat what I said last year on a motion which came before this House, that in the case of a national emergency on previous occasions, the State had no difficulty in a few short days, when money was money, in changing a Defence Estimate of £6 million to an Estimate of almost £26 million because of that emergency. There is an emergency now for those old people who are not going to live for ever and whatever they are to get must be given to them now.
The increases, such as they are, which have been given, are very welcome but the Minister should do everything he possibly can to ease the lot of those people. He should try to ensure as time goes on that further increases in benefits will be given to those people. He should try to ensure that the present increases will be granted to those people with effect from the date the Budget came into operation.
I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to what I consider to be a very important section of the community, the people who have been insured in the past and who are now voluntary contributors. Many of those people, due to the fact that their salaries increased, were forced, not of their own volition, but due to circumstances over which they had no control, to relinquish their status under the social welfare scheme. Many of those people wisely maintained a link with the Department by remaining on as voluntary contributors. I feel many more would have done so if they could have been assured that after some reasonable period of time as voluntary contributors, say, a period of five to ten years, they would qualify for the same benefits as the more active members in the social welfare classes.
There is a great deal of scope for liaison between the Department and the public in this matter. Few of the voluntary contributors are aware that, under existing legislation, they would qualify, depending on the local authority, for the middle income group. This applies to practically every local authority voluntary contributor. This can be a tremendous boon to anyone who just passes over the income limits set by that local authority and which would preclude him from being included as a middle income beneficiary.
One aspect of the Minister's Estimate which gave me profound pleasure was the fact that he has increased the benefits to parents in respect of multiple births. This, I feel, is a great step forward and it is proof positive that the Minister has at heart the best interests of those who may be hardest hit, due to various circumstances. We have had, in my constituency, at least two cases of triplets. In each case the parents were hard pressed economically to maintain the same standard of living after the arrival of the triplets. It was a pity that the benefits were awarded to them only on the same basis as that for a single birth. The Minister has, in this new Estimate, made provision whereby these exceptional cases will be treated on a much better and fairer scale.
As regards criticism levelled at various people in the Department, I reject much of it, as indeed do all of us, because I have had experience with the officials of the Department of Social Welfare. I found them at all times to be the epitome of courtesy and sympathetically inclined in regard to all reasonable cases. There are certain circumstances in which they cannot—nor, indeed, would it be prudent for any Minister to interfere in the internal workings of the Department—endeavour to adjust regulations for specific cases. That would be a retrograde step by the Department. The majority of its officials have been most fair to all those people who have had contact with them in regard to their claims. It must be conceded that the complaints which come to hand do not measure up at all in any sizeable proportion to the volume of traffic and business which is done by this Department, which must be one of the biggest within the framework of the State.
The fact that the Minister has increased his Vote by over £1 million is a very healthy sign of this country's economy and of the thinking of the Minister and the Cabinet. The treatment for institutional patients who are recipients of social welfare benefits is again a very welcome innovation. We all appreciate that the pound today will only suffice to buy the modest comforts of many persons who may be institutionally cared for. I consider that with a lot of co-operation between the local authorities and the Department, much can be done to help out those people who, through adverse circumstances, probably ill health, have been forced to seek a home in institutions in our State.
Particular reference must here be made to the mentally ill. They are a section of the community who I feel have, for far too long, been kicked about and have not received the consideration they are entitled to as citizens of this State. I hope and trust this will be more actively pursued in the future.
It is very easy for people to criticise any Minister but I have heard very little constructive criticism forthcoming so far in this debate. I trust those who criticise the Minister or the Department will remember that the Minister is charged with a serious responsibility in so far as he must get for us and for the people the best possible value for money spent. Indeed a sum in the region of £36 million for social welfare benefits is quite a sizeable sum when viewed against our national expenditure.
One other point that might be made is that the time penalty clause which is operating impressively in the claim for disability benefit might be deleted. I think it is unfair and unreasonable to penalise anyone by two or three days in the payment of benefits. These people who claim disability benefit do not send for the illness. Indeed it comes to many of them at a time when they are least able to afford it, and certainly when the income of the household is depleted to a considerable extent, they cannot afford any further diminution of their income. I would ask the Minister to consider favourably the abolition altogether of this time penalty clause.
Ba mhaith liom comh-gáirdeachais a thabhairt do Aire agus sé mo thuairim láidir go ndéinfaí sé a dhicheall agus go ndéanfaí lucht oibre na Roinne a ndicheall dos na daoine atá as oibre faoi láthair.
I draw attention to a peculiar situation which I can see arising as a result of these increases. You can have a contributory old age pensioner getting less from 1st August to 1st January next than a non-contributory old age pensioner. I was always under the impression, in my ignorance, that you either qualified for a contributory pension or you did not. There was no such thing as partially qualifying, or qualifying for a smaller pension than the full amount.
I came across a case lately in which representation was made to the Minister. He wrote back as follows:
With reference to your representation on behalf of ——, I am directed by the Minister for Social Welfare to state that the rate of old age contributory pension in payment to —— is 38/- a week, which is the rate appropriate to the case of a person whose yearly average number of contributions paid or credited is 24 or more, but less than 30.
This is the case of a contributory old age pensioner who now has 38/-. When the non-contributory pensioner gets the increase, he will have 47/6d. and this position apparently will remain unaltered until next January. The contributory pensioner in this case will have something in the region of 9/-less between August and January than the non-contributory old age pensioner. That is something which should be rectified. It is something which to me sounds all wrong.
Another matter which I think this year, for some reason more than any other year, is causing extreme hardship is the unemployment period situation. Two people came to me within the last week and they said: "You would not believe it but I have met hungry people in rural Ireland." It is not possible to get employment and these people are out of employment and they have been cut off for unemployment assistance. I think this benefit is so small that there is no man able to work who would not work and be glad to get it if there were a possibility of his getting it. There is something totally wrong about the fact that because a man lives one side of a border he does get it and if he lives at the other side, he does not get it.
There is something wrong with the social welfare code that allows that sort of thing to happen in a country like this.
I represent an area which the Minister represents and I have occasion to visit that area fairly frequently and hear about the difficulties of the people. What invariably amazes me is the amount of hardship suffered through ignorance of the benefits that are available for people. Somebody else here referred to the need for some sort of way of informing these people of their rights and of the various benefits available to them if they only know where to look for them. I know that in England there is a voluntary organisation called the Citizens Advice Bureau. This Citizens Advice Bureau fulfils the need there. I think there is great need for something on similar lines in this country. In areas such as Ballyfermot, it is simply amazing the number of people who are suffering severe hardship and who do not know where to turn to get the benefit of these various services which could at least alleviate to a considerable extent the suffering and hardship they are enduring. This Citizens Advice Bureau is a voluntary organisation and is recognised by the local authorities and the State bodies, and works in conjunction with the various charitable organisations.
I think it was Deputy D. Costello who referred to this as some sort of domiciliary service or, at least, something worked in conjunction with a domiciliary service. I feel many people in this country, because we have not such a service, are forced into hospitals, and into institutions of all sorts, and because of the inadequacy of their benefits and the smallness of their pensions. In the long run, I think the State would gain considerably by making more adequate provision by way of pension or social welfare benefit of one sort or another. I know considerable improvements have been introduced on this occasion and they are very welcome. One provision which is particularly welcome is that which allows smallholders in certain parts of the country to go on working their holding without any danger of losing their social welfare assistance.
I am in entire agreement with those Deputies who have expressed the view that it is all wrong that this benefit is not general throughout the country. It is quite right to say there are small farmers in every part of Ireland who have excellent land but who have also areas of extremely bad land. It seems completely wrong to restrict this to selected areas. There is something completely unfair and inequitable about
It is a very admirable provision that people should be allowed to go on working and take an interest in their business and in their small farms without the fear of an investigation officer coming along to seize on the fact that they are helping in a small way or, indeed, in some cases passing the time by giving assistance, to reduce their benefits.
I drew the Minister's attention some months ago to a case in the west of Ireland. It was the case of a woman who owned a very small rural licensed premises and a small bit of land. The business was so small they could not afford to pay anyone to help run it, and it and the farm were given over to a married son who had some small children. The mother got the pension. One day, while her son was out milking the cow, the investigation officer called and found her doing something in the shop. Her pension was reduced by £1 per week. That sort of undesirable situation should not arise. It is a practice the Minister should discourage. When I raised this case on a previous occasion, the Minister promised to look into it. I have not heard since what happened. If the idea is to prevent people from taking some interest in life simply because we give them something in the nature of an old age pension, then there is something radically wrong with our social welfare code.
With regard to children's allowances, every time there is an addition to the family, a new book is issued and, in some cases, there may be as many as half a dozen books presented at the post office for children's allowances. Again, if a child will be 16 in August, a book is issued with all the pages except one for July. That seems to me quite extraordinary. What they do in Britain is simply call in the book and change the allowance. There is no series of books. The Minister might look into the position. At the moment it seems to me both cumbersome and wasteful.
If the position Deputy Clinton has detailed is, in fact, the position that will develop between August and January, then it will be a wholly undesirable development. It is desirable that people should be encouraged to insure against old age and other disabilities from which mortals suffer. It seems to be entirely wrong that some classes of social welfare recipients should benefit in August whilst other classes must wait until January. I should like to hear the Minister's justification for that particular position. It does not seem to me to be tenable and it is certainly one the Minister should not allow to develop in any circumstances.
The Minister may argue that those in receipt of the contributory pension may, in fact, be earning an income far in excess of what a person would get who is entitled to the maximum non-contributory pension, but that does not provide an answer to offending against the principle that the contributory pensioner should receive more because he has paid for it as against the non-contributory pensioner who has not paid anything. One could argue for equal benefits for both because those who did not contribute cannot be blamed for that: they simply had not the means to do so. To put those who contributed at a disadvantage is, in my opinion, an entirely undesirable development. I shall be interested to hear the Minister try to justify the discrimination.
I drew the Minister's attention to-day to a problem which exists in Dublin suburbs. As a man and as a public representative, the Minister is, I feel, well aware of the problem. It is the problem facing people in Dublin local authority housing estates who are dependent on allowances paid by way of unemployment assistance or benefit, because of disability or for some other reason. The Minister is well aware that all these benefits are paid on the same day and from an early hour large queues form at suburban post offices, very often long before the opening hour. Even though extra staff are brought in to pay the allowances, many recipients have to wait an hour or more, sometimes longer, before they get their benefits. Many of the beneficiaries, because of the inconvenience and the long delays, elect to take payment at some post office far removed from where they live. They find the expense of a long bus journey and the inconvenience preferable to the hardship endured waiting for hours at local post offices.
It must be a tremendous strain on the Department having to issue benefits for all the various categories involved on a particular day. It seems to me these allowances could be paid on different days. I do not know exactly how the Minister could apportion days; he could do it alphabetically perhaps. If that were done, there would be a constant stream of applicants daily at local post offices and there would not be the present queueing up of applicants on a particular day, causing hardship to both the applicants and the staff of the post office.
The Minister may say that there is no obligation on any recipient to apply for payment of the benefit on the day on which it is due. Most of these recipients live from day to day, fighting against the stresses and strains of modern life, and it is inevitable that they must apply for the benefits on the first day on which they become payable. The problem may not be as great in rural areas where postmasters and postmistresses probably welcome an influx of social welfare recipients. On most days they would probably have only one or two callers at the post office. But there is a real problem in Dublin and I do not think the Minister should wash his hands of it. He should be man enough to admit that the problem exists and should take steps to alleviate it. The steps are simple. All that is required is the courage and determination not to allow precedent to prevent improvement. If that is done, there will be an end to the long agonising queues of human misery which form weekly and, in some cases, monthly, at post offices in the Dublin suburbs.