Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 14 Mar 1979

Vol. 312 No. 9

Social Welfare Bill, 1979: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Before the adjournment, I was beginning to make the case that the response of successive Governments, but more particularly of the present Government, to the needs of social welfare recipients was in stark contrast to their response to the needs of all other sections of the community. I was making the case that this has applied down through the years but, because of the activities of this Government in other areas since they came into office, it stands out in greater relief this year. I was making the case that it is inappropriate to rely on percentages, whatever their magnitude might be, to redress the situation because we are talking about a percentage of what is a very small base indeed. £15.80 per week for an old age pensioner is, by any standards, totally inadequate. As I said earlier, these people to whom we donate £15.80 per week enjoy none of the conveniences that others regard as essential to their comfort and happiness in this life and, indeed, they are short of many of the necessities of life. This often results in undernourishment and the hypothermia to which Deputy Dr. O'Connell referred. It also results in a great deal of general hardship for these people.

Heating is a subject which is of very great relevance to the needs of old age pensioners. In particular I would say that all of us at local level, as members of health boards or advisory health boards, were made aware this year of the Minister's refusal to sanction a request by the Southern Health Board to increase the free fuel allowances to £12 per month. We were very disappointed indeed. The Minister chose instead to cut this allowance back to £7 per month. This is a gesture which was not at all worthy of the Minister and it indicated a penny-pinching attitude towards the members of the community who need help so much. I would appeal to the Minister even now to ensure that some greater relief is given, if not this year, next year to those who must rely on supplementary income of that kind to get the basic necessities of life.

It is estimated that some 4,000 elderly people are applying for supplementary welfare allowances and it is very difficult to qualify for this allowance. I do not quite know what the criteria are but cases have come to my notice which, in my estimation, were deserving cases indeed and yet they failed to qualify for the supplementary welfare allowance. I would like somebody to tell me what the criteria are. I believe that one would have to be absolutely destitute before one would qualify for this allowance. I understand that this is an area where a great deal of discretion is given. I would ask the Minister to impress on those to whom the discretion is given to be a little more lenient because obviously this allowance is not meeting at present the need for which it was intended.

People in that category rely to a great extent on supplementary benefits of that kind. They rely too on voluntary agencies to ease their discomfort. We have very good service run by people who are doing their utmost to bring relief to certain sections of the community by bring ing through schemes such as Meals on Wheels. But it is estimated that the reach only a very small proportion of the community who need that service. know that by providing the service and by giving their time they meet a need which otherwise would stand out as very great need indeed in this society and which probably would stand out a a greater indictment if the service was not available. But their service can only reach a very small proportion of the total need that exists. I was making a case for increasing the income of a these sections of the community.

To increase it by any percentage is not meeting the case. If the Minister said he was increasing the old age pension by 50 per cent it would sound very magnanimous but to increase the sum of £13.60 by 50 per cent would mean only £20.40. The rest of us would not regard that as sufficient to provide the necessities of life. If we take the £15.80 which this Bill will give to old age pensioners and if that were to be increased by 50 per cent it would still be only £23.70. Increasing by percentages might sound good but in terms of pounds and pence and of meeting the cost of living it is totally inadequate.

We must have a realistic assessment of the needs of the people to whom we pay social welfare benefits. We must relate it to the standard of living that applies to those in employment and which we consider appropriate for other sections of the community. As a previous speaker pointed out, it is not right that old age pensions and social welfare benefits should amount to at most about 20 per cent of the average male industrial wage.

There is a great lack of ancillary services for the aged. The major burden of caring for them falls on relatives. Possibly that would be a good thing if the relatives in question were supported by adequate State aids. This Bill proposes to increase the prescribed relative's allowance from £7.60 per week to £8.80 per week. A relative has to forego employment and all the benefits that go with it in order to look after an old person; yet we pay him or her less than we pay the unemployed. Usually it is a daughter who cares for the old person but in recent times I was glad to see that the allowance has been paid to a son. The least we can do is to pay such relatives the same rate as that paid in unemployment benefit.

In their post-budget submission in February 1979 the Society of St. Vincent de Paul expressed great concern about this and rightly so. They have great experience in these matters and they have a lot to do with the lower income families. They know their needs better than the rest of us. The society were primarily concerned with the position of low income families with children. They made the case that the income of such families goes on essentials only and there is nothing left for anything else. Of course, food is the first essential.

The society say that 75 per cent of the total income of low income families is spent on food and they call for an increase in children's allowances as the best way to sustain families against the increased cost of food. The Minister appreciated this and took their point in his speech today. In his contribution he talked about what he described as substantial increases in children's allowances, although many of us might differ from him in what he calls a substantial increase. He made the case that when the Government decided to remove food subsidies they recognised that the step would seriously affect the budgets of social welfare recipients. He said that the Government were anxious that the effect on this section of the community should be cushioned to the greatest extent possible and he referred to the EEC butter scheme and other matters. He told us that children's allowances offer the best mechanism to offset the effects of a reduction in subsidies for the majority of families with lower incomes.

In his statement the Minister pointed out the increases: £1.20 for the first child; £1.40 for the second child and 65p for the third child. This was to cushion families in receipt of social welfare benefits against the effects of the removal of food subsidies on 1 January. We can ask ourselves how the measure proposed by the Minister will help those families. On analysis we see that it does not compensate them for the increased food costs brought about by the removal of the food subsidies.

I suppose milk could be regarded as a primary and essential item in the diet of children and I do not think anyone would argue with me when I say that one pint of milk should be allotted to each child every day. As a result of the removal of the food subsidies milk was increased in price by 3½p per pint. If a person buys 30 pints of milk per month for a child he or she will pay an increased bill of £1.05 per month. Having regard to the increase allocated for the first child, there would be a balance of 15p to pay for the increased cost of bread and butter. In the case of the second child there would be 25p left to cover all the essentials but in the case of the third child the family is short 40p. I am not talking about the increased cost of bread or butter. In addition, there is a shortfall from January to April when none of the children gets any increase in respect of milk, bread and butter. This is not a compensation for the removal of food subsidies. We are not talking about cut-backs in the tax-free allowances because in the main they are not relevant in this context.

The attitude we have had towards children under the social welfare code does us no credit and this applies to successive Governments. I should like the Government to decide what it costs to keep a child. There is a plethora of rates in existence. We pay £4.65 if the parent or guardian is on disability benefit; we pay £4.25 in the case of an old age pensioner; we pay £5.20 to a non-contributory widow and we pay £5.70 to a contributory widow. I do not know how we arrived at these various rates of allowance in respect of dependent children but it strikes me as a ridiculous situation. They are a senseless set of figures worked out by somebody at some stage and increased by percentages from time to time. They have no relevance to what it costs to keep a child. It would cost much more than £4 or £5 to keep a child in elementary comfort.

This is the Year of the Child and there have been many groups set up to discuss the needs of children. Here we have a basic need. The Minister responsible for co-ordinating activities in the Year of the Child is present and I appeal to him to set out what it costs to maintain a child and to ask parents to realise that what his Government have done in removing the food subsidies is something that would set back the situation of children, particularly among the lower income groups.

That leads me to the position of widows who in the main in recent years have organised themselves so as to make known their plight. Once again most of their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. I concede that there have been marginal improvements for widows in this budget and others but we still have the situation where a widow with two children is asked to survive, sustain herself and the children on £26.50 a week. Widowhood brings about a very sudden drop in income but there is no drop in overheads or in the financial or other demands of running a home which might in fact be increased because there is now only one parent and only one adult perhaps in the house capable of doing things for which, if one were not able to do them, one has to pay.

This woman is asked to survive with her two children on perhaps half or very often one-third or a quarter of the income to which she was accustomed. Because of the means test, if this woman can find work—she has no facilities for child care; we have done nothing about providing child care facilities worth talking about except what voluntary organisations have tried to provide—despite lack of back-up facilities, perhaps by going out in unsocial hours and perhaps at great personal expense to get a job to buttress her income, if she earns more than about £20 a week, her pension ceases. If she is a widow of a husband who had stamps and if she goes out to work she is taxed on a very low margin.

As regards the special needs of widows there must be a realisation that all the overheads of running a home and maintaining a family are still there and very often increased. Many widows are trying to manage on an average of one third of the income available when both parents were living. We are doing grave injustice to widows at present and to their children for whom one must make a special plea.

Back in 1972 the Commission on the Status of Women recommended that the alleviate this problem of the sudden drop in income on the death of an earning partner the pension or allowance to the survivor should be doubled for six months after the death. The last Government went some way towards that in paying disability benefit if it was payable for six weeks after the death of the insured person. This at least tided the widow over the period between the death of her husband and the payment of widow's pension. It does not go all the way and it does not go at all towards meeting the particular needs of widowhood at that time. Therefore the recommendation of the commission on the Status of Women that the pension on allowance be doubled for a period of six months was a very good idea and one which I would appeal to some Government to implement in the very near future.

We measure in pennies what we give to social welfare recipients. There is an example of this in the present Social Welfare Bill where we increase the unemployment assistance rate. We have rounded it off for urban areas to the noble sum of £11, but we pay rural people £9.05. I do not know how we arrived at the 5p; perhaps it is now we have arrived at the 5p because there has been an increase of £1.05 in the rate of unemployment assistance payable to people in rural areas. The doling out of an additional 5p highlights the Government's whole attitude towards this section of the community. There is no question of rounding it off or reaching anything approximating the figures to which the rest of us aspire when we have wage adjustments to meet cost of living increases.

References have been made to the treatment of women under the social welfare code. I should like to begin with single women over 68 for whom a special allowance was introduced recently. That allowance still stands at £13.65 per week in 1979. We ask an adult who is getting on in years and who has given a life of service to either the home or the community or society generally to survive on that sum. If that woman has an income of between £1 and £2 we reduce her allowance to £12.35. We give her nothing at all if she has over £11. These figures give an idea of the standard of living to which we relegate these people and the complacency shown in the very minor adjustments in the rate of benefit, adjustments which have never kept pace with the cost of living.

In the context of women generally, there has been reference to the EEC directive giving the Government six years to eliminate remaining discrimination against women in the social welfare code. First, six years is far too long. I would point out that the directive did not say the Government must take six years but that it must be done in six years. I would appeal to them to do it in two years; I wish they could do it in one. Secondly, the terms are too restrictive as they apply only to women in the employment situation. We have here discrimination which will not be tolerated any longer and it should be eliminated as soon as possible. The Government should not bask in the knowledge that the EEC have given them six years. There will be a great deal of pressure within the country for earlier elimination of discrimination.

The decision to extend the period of payment for unemployment benefit from 156 to 212 days is a step in the right direction which I welcome. There are still many areas of discrimination against women which I hope will be eliminated on the next occasion that some Minister will get an opportunity to do so. For instance, a married woman in employment pays a full contribution but when unemployed, instead of getting the normal national rate of £16.05, she gets £14 because she is married. I say that £2.05 of such a person's entitlement is wrongfully kept by the State. If a case were brought—possibly it is the way of righting many wrongs nowadays—I cannot imagine the case of any woman whose £2.05 was kept by the State wrongfully would not succeed. We are dealing with a section of the community who are not likely to seek redress in that way.

Going very strongly through the whole welfare code there is the concept as a man as breadwinner and a woman as dependant. That thinking has resulted in a great deal of discrimination and a great deal of hardship for women. The demand for the elimination of what discrimination remains will grow very strongly in the near future. We have an outmoded and inadequate social welfare code generally.

In the areas of unemployment benefit and disability benefit there is bias against married women. By way of motion in the House not very long ago this party highlighted the situation in relation to married women obtaining unemployment benefit. Invariably, the argument was that a married woman was not available for work and that, consequently, she did not qualify for unemployment benefit. I know of many married women who live in the same homes as their mothers or mothers-in-law and these in the main are active middle-aged women who are quite prepared to look after their grandchildren while the mothers are at work. However, many married women have succeeded in their claims for unemployment benefit but in their efforts to this end they have been caused much inconvenience. Because the appeal's officers decision was final there was no redress for women who were refused benefit. That situation would not be tolerated today under any other code. From these benches we called for the setting up of an appeals tribunal and for the right of an applicant to know why she was being refused benefit. In any other circumstances this right would be considered as merely basic justice but the attitude is very different in respect of social welfare and its application to women. I am reiterating my plea to the Minister to rid our society as quickly as possible of these injustices.

I wish to make an appeal also on behalf of people in the voluntary contribution category and who up to recently appeared to have full health cover for themselves and their families. There is much concern among this group in relation to the scheme being introduced by the Minister. The situation is to be that if the income of a manual worker exceeds £5,500 his eligibility will cease. This is a step in the wrong direction and the people concerned will make known their resentment as strongly as possible.

There is a gap in the social welfare code in relation to the adult dependants of the people who have paid social insurance contributions in so far as dental and optical services are concerned. This is an old chestnut and one which is highlighted on each occasion on which either a Bill or an Estimate relating to the Department is before the House. From my 14 years experience of the needs of people I am aware that this is an area in which there is great hardship. Every adult, regardless of how healthy he may be, requires either dental or optical care at some stage in his life. Having regard to the large contributions made by workers and employers in respect of social welfare it is difficult to understand why the insured are not covered for these aspects of the health services. The same situation applies to children between the ages of 12 and 16. They are without cover for these benefits during this important period of their lives except in instances in which their families have medical cards. An entirely new approach to this whole question is required from the Department.

Basically what we should insist on is the provision for the sick, the aged and the unemployed of a standard of living which reflects the standard of living generally in the community. Up to now we have not been applying the same yardstick in this respect. Even allowing for the 12 per cent increase in social welfare payments this year, we are not providing an adequate standard of living for the people concerned. We must have regard to the question of what it costs to maintain a person, of what should be regarded as a minimum income and particularly in this Year of the Child we should pay special attention to the needs of children. Some children do not have enough to eat and there are many others who are deprived in other ways. For example, they are denied facilities that are available to other children in the form of extra-curricular activities which can only be availed of by children whose parents can afford them. We must do everything possible to provide the kind of environment that will enable our children to grow up to become healthy and balanced adults. There is need for immediate research in this area.

We need also a national pension scheme. For some time past there have been calls for a scheme for that 30 per cent of our population who are self-employed. While we continue to neglect this category there is no point in aspiring to the provision of adequate health and social welfare cover for all our people. The Minister has said that the provision of such a scheme is under active consideration.

A national pay-related pension scheme was not introduced by the Coalition.

Deputy Cluskey, as Parliamentary Secretary then, presented a blueprint and the present Minister could have proceeded on the basis of that document.

(Cavan-Monaghan): It was in the Department when the Minister went there.

If the Minister had had the interest of this section of the community at heart, he could have implemented that scheme.

An enormous amount of work has been done in this area in the past couple of years.

I am glad to hear that but I am making the case that this is an area in which an appropriate scheme should be implemented without delay.

I have accepted that. It will be the next major step forward.

Can the Minister put a time limit on that?

I am hoping that something will be done about it this year but the Deputy knows that it is a complex and complicated area.

I should hope, too, that it would take account also of the needs of women who work at home and of all other sections who are without cover in their own right.

Everybody who has spoken so far, and this includes the Minister by reason of his interjection, accepts the need for a new deal in this area. We must share our prosperity with the less well-off sections. There is growing pressure for improvement in this regard.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Two of the most overworked words in the English language in this country today are “chaos” and “shambles”. The word “chaos” is used daily by those in the media and by others to describe the state of the elementary public services to which a normal community are entitled and the word “shambles” is used frequently to describe the state of the Government's policies, for instance, the financial and budgetary policies. The cause of the chaos and the shambles is attributable in no small way to the Government's 1977 manifesto and to their approach to budgetary matters, to social welfare policies and to social welfare provisions of the kind we are discussing today.

This is the second Social Welfare Bill the present Minister has introduced. We are also dealing with the second budget this Government introduced since they were returned to office. The 1978 Budget, implemented by the Social Welfare Act, 1978, gave to what I referred to as the social welfare classes 10 per cent increase right across the board. The same budget gave enormous concessions, running into hundreds of pounds and sometimes a couple of thousand pounds, to well-heeled, articulate and hard working people. When I say "hard working people" I mean people who worked hard to put the Fianna Fáil Party into Government. They were given enormous benefits in the form of derating, abolition of car tax and large income tax concessions. The result of these two operations was to create a very unfavourable and unfair comparison as to how one section of the community were being treated by the Fianna Fáil Government compared with the other section.

I honestly believe the Fianna Fáil think-tank decided, when thinking about the last general election, that there were not as many votes in looking after the social welfare classes as there used to be. They decided that the votes were to be found in attracting young, hardy, healthy people who resented being taxed, who never thought they would be unemployed and who did not fear the day when they would get old. They were the people Fianna Fáil decided commanded voting strength and voting power. It is obvious that they set their aims at looking after those people, or at least attracting them into their party.

It was the well-off and well-heeled people who benefited from the 1978 Budget to the virtual neglect of the lower income classes. I said, by way of passing comment, that people with big houses, with two or three motor cars and in the upper band of income tax, did well; but the social welfare classes who live in houses with a £5-£7 valuation, in round figures £50-£70 rates, do not own motor cars and if they are married with one or two children are not involved in paying income tax. They benefited out of the 1978 Budget by £50 or £70. The people who primed the Fianna Fáil funds, provided the Fianna Fáil transport for the last election, benefited to the extent of a couple of thousand pounds.

The Deputy should deal with the Bill before the House. He has not touched on it in five minutes.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I am laying the foundation——

The Deputy cannot lay a foundation by being irrelevant to the Bill before the House for five minutes.

(Cavan-Monaghan): That is what is wrong with the present Government. It is built on a very bad foundation in the manifesto and the——

That has nothing to do with the Bill before the House.

(Cavan-Monaghan): That is what has the Government where they are today.

I have shown how the two classes fared in the 1978 Budget and in my opinion, why they fared that way. Since the 1978 Budget a number of things happened which affected more severely the lower income groups than anybody else. The most important was the removal of food subsidies to the tune of £22 million. This happened contrary to a solemn assurance given by the present Minister for Agriculture on 7 June 1978 in a radio programme on which himself and the former Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Clinton, spoke. He said then that food subsidies were not nearly high enough and that on return to power Fianna Fáil would increase food subsidies to cushion the underprivileged people. We know he did not do that. That was reported in the Evening Herald on 7 or 8 June 1978.

Food subsidies were removed between Christmas Day and New Year's Day when people were not thinking very much about these things. The result of that operation as Deputy E. Desmond said, was to completely neutralise and devour the increases in children's allowances given by the budget. The increase in milk alone did that.

Since this Government were returned to power they have been very busy in regard to health cards.

Health cards have nothing to do with the Social Welfare Bill.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I may be thick but it occurs to me that, if a person in a social welfare category has to pay a doctor and to pay for medicines, he needs more generous treatment from the Minister for Social Welfare. I may be stupid but——

The Deputy is not a bit stupid. He has top class intelligence and he knows he cannot discuss health cards or the withdrawal of health cards on a Social Welfare Bill.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I cannot quarrel with the Chair, but it sounds logical that, if a man has to pay for services in 1979 which he enjoyed free in 1978, he will need more generous treatment from the Minister for Social Welfare. I will not have a long discussion on health cards but I want to tell the House that 86,000 health cards were removed, cancelled or withdrawn between 1 July 1977 and the present day. That puts the people who lost them into a more needy category. Some people who were entitled to them had them withdrawn but you could have an argument about others.

I suppose one could say that food subsidies are not the responsibility of this Minister but of the Minister for Finance, but of course this Minister is concerned. The withdrawal of food subsidies and of health cards left the social welfare classes going into this budget under a handicap. They were given a heavier weight to carry. Perhaps that is a good way of putting it in these days of the Cheltenham meeting, although these people are far removed from Cheltenham.

The increases of 12 per cent and 16 per cent in social welfare benefits announced in the budget are entirely inadequate having regard to the normal increase in the cost of living which has occurred during the year and the statutory increase in the cost of living represented by the withdrawal of food subsidies and health cards. It was stated that under the former Government there was an increase in the cost of living, but it was not an increase due to Government action. The increase in the cost of milk for a child virtually accounts for the increase in the children's allowances. The cost of clothing and footwear has also risen and the cost of bread and cheese has gone up because of the removal of the subsidy. One could produce a long list of increases in the cost of foodstuffs since this Government came into power, but the increases as a result of the removal of food subsidies come most readily to mind.

There are several other items in this budget which strikes one very forcibly. The old age pension qualifying age still stands at 66. This administration have been in power for the greater part of the time since we became independent. The old age pension qualifying age in 1907 was 70 years of age. I always know when it was introduced because of a little play called "Spring" which dealt with it. When the National Coalition Government came into office in 1973 the age was still 70. We reduced it year by year to 66 years of age and Fianna Fáil have decided to leave it at that. This is the second budget since they returned to office and they have not reduced the age to 65, as the Coalition Government had promised to do.

As people near the age of 65 or 66, they feel more like retiring and doing less work than formerly. This Government pretend to be very anxious about job creation and I think they created that neat and attractive little phrase. One of the best ways of helping job creation would be by encouraging more people to retire. By reducing the non-contributory old age pension qualifying age to 65 they could encourage people to retire who might be in doubt about their fitness to continue working or their financial ability to retire. Retirement at 65 years of age is the practice in the State service and in most employments throughout the country. By encouraging people to retire jobs could be made available for young people. If I were keen on statistics I would be able to tell how many people would then be able to avail of the old age pension and retire, but the Minister has that information available in his Department. That would be a better system of job creation than knocking down a wall and building another and then rebuilding it when it falls, which has happened to my knowledge as part of the job creation activity of the Government.

The deserted wife's scheme is being too harshly operated by the Minister's Department. It should be relaxed. Desertion is not something that can be measured with a computer or an inch tape. When it is established beyond doubt that a marriage has broken down and that the couple have lived apart for years and when the woman has no source of income, she should get a deserted wife's allowance and should not be told that she left her husband of her own accord. Marriages do not break down of their own accord; they break down for a number of reasons. The husband could put his wife out of the house or things could be so unbearable that the wife must leave. The two people could be completely incompatible. A humane Minister and a humane Department should regard that as technical desertion and give the wife an allowance.

It is unreasonable to tell a wife who has no means at all, in a country where there is no free civil legal aid, that she should follow her husband and extract an allowance from him and to contact the Department again if she fails to obtain such an allowance. My experience leads me to believe that this scheme is not being operated on a realistic basis and is being operated too rigidly. The test should be: are they living apart and is the wife in want? That is a fair method of deciding whether the wife should get a deserted wife's allowance. Of course she could be so cranky that nobody could live with her but that is not her fault. She is as God made her. She entered into the state of matrimony and it did not work. She is then thrown out as an odd lot into an unsympathetic world. She may take up domestic service for as long as she can, or as long as anybody will employ her, but she is still an odd lot and is told to sue her husband for maintenance. If the Minister studied the matter he would come to the conclusion that the scheme is being operated on too harsh a basis.

In his capacity as Minister for Social Welfare the Minister co-operates with other Departments in providing facilities for elderly and disabled persons. For example, he co-operates with the Minister for Tourism and Transport in providing free transport for elderly persons and other categories. He co-operates with the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in providing a subsidised telephone service. So far, that scheme has not worked. First of all, the people had to have their phone installed which was an expensive job in many cases. As many of them could not afford to pay for the installation of telephones they did not qualify for free rental. Recently there has been some change——

It extends the living-alone allowance to include——

(Cavan-Monaghan): That made it a farce altogether. I came across an unfortunate woman with a badly retarded son who, to make matters worse, was suffering from epilepsy, and she did not qualify for a living-alone allowance.

She will now.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I am glad. I should like to think that I played some small part in bringing that about by writing to the Department. Under the scheme, as originally operated, an incapacitated wife or an incapacitated husband did not qualify for the allowance. I agree that the situation has been improved.

Another underprivileged category are those without homes and without relatives who either have accommodation for them or who are prepared to keep them. These people are housed by local authorities in prefab buildings. Many elderly people are housed in prefabs. Last week I heard of an old man who is partially paralysed and who had to leave his brother's house because his brother had nine children. He has now moved into a prefab provided by his local authority. In many of these cases the local authorities do not provide electric light. As a result, old people have to hobble around in the dark and cold and have to use open-flame lamps, candles and all sorts of dangerous heating and lighting appliances. As the guardian of these people, the Minister should try to get a subsidy from the Exchequer for the provision of electricity in prefab buildings. It is flying in the teeth of fire regulations to have a naked flame as a source of light in a wooden building. I suggest that the Minister should inquire into this matter. In the year 1979 there should be basic toilet facilities in these dwellings.

Surely the provision of such facilities is a matter for local authorities. I accept that, as far as the Deputy went, he was looking for a subvention from social welfare towards the provision of electricity. Surely the provision of toilets and other facilities is a matter for the people providing the accommodation.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister for Social Welfare does not run buses. He comes in here as Minister in charge of the poor and arranges to have these facilities provided for them.

If the Deputy carries that argument to its ultimate conclusion we could talk about everything under the sun. I cannot see how the provision of toilets and facilities of that kind in homes provided by local authorities has anything to do with the Bill before the House.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister should use his good offices and his good money to provide the facilities which I referred to. Some people have been burnt to cinders in prefab buildings provided by local authorities for people for whom the Minister has general responsibility, buildings that are fired and heated by open flames.

A week after the budget was introduced I found it necessary to draw attention to the fact that the budget debate was being conducted from the Labour and Fine Gael benches with the exception of some Fianna Fáil backbenchers who were persuaded to come in from city constituencies. I am not surprised that we are having the same type of debate today with not a word from Fianna Fáil Deputies from the city of Dublin or the provinces of Connacht and Ulster, or the underprivileged seaboard area. The budget proposes to take from thousands of smallholders the farmers' supplementary allowance or the small farmers' dole. It also proposes to reduce the allowances payable to thousands of others. I am surprised that Deputies like Deputy John Callanan, Deputy Mark Killilea, who has a good pair of lungs, and others from the West, are not in here to either approve or disapprove of it. Fair play to them, they did their best in the party room and they are ashamed to come in here to contribute to the debate.

I wonder if it has ever happened before that we have had a Social Welfare Bill before the House without a word of welcome from the Government benches. The usual formula has been for Deputies behind the Minister's bench to congratulate him and to welcome his innovations, one increase or another. This debate will be closed today without a chirp of welcome or congratulation from the Fianna Fáil benches. Somebody once called Fianna Fáil "the party of reality". Their backbenchers on this occasion are realists—they are letting the Minister carry the burden alone.

Since he became Minister for Health and for Social Welfare, Deputy Haughey has been starved of finance with which to do the things he would have liked to do. I congratulate him on being innovative in things that do not cost anything. Were it not for that he would be a sorry sight. He has worked hard jogging and in matters regarding smoking but he has been only setting up a smokescreen to get the people to forget that he has not got any money for anything. I congratulate him on his ability to weather the gimmicks of the Minister for Finance and his other Cabinet colleagues in regard to the so-called goodies in social welfare. The Minister for Social Welfare has been left with the dirty work today, particularly in regard to the cutting of the farmers' dole. He put the cat among the pigeons at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis in that regard.

This brings me to the small farmers and their unemployment benefits. Anyone who has had a farming background, who has been brought up on a farm, knows that farmers were extremely poor for far too long. It is true that since we joined the EEC those with farms of more than £35 valuation have done well, their standard of living has been improved. I do not begrudge them. I was reared on a farm and I am old enough to have experienced the thirties and the forties when things were extremely hard for farmers big and small.

Even now there is no question of the farmer with a holding of £10, £15 or even £20 valuation being well off. He is only beginning to get his head above water, to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I wonder how many of the Dublin Ministers—we heard a lot about them during the days of the National Coalition—the Dublin economists, know how these farmers live. Many of them are still in old houses built years ago. Occasionally we see applications for permission to provide private sewerage facilities in their houses. Many of them live at the end of old boreens badly in need of repair and in respect of which there is a five-year waiting list.

They are the people against whom this budget, this Bill, has been aimed. Call it dole or supplementary income or unemployment assistance, this benefit made all the difference to those people between living in semi-primitive conditions and enjoying a standard of living more in keeping with that of their big farmer brothers or their brothers and sisters in towns and cities.

We hear a lot about tax dodgers and tax evasion. When I hear about abuses of farmers' dole or of unemployment assistance I immediately think that any system of taxation or of social welfare depends on all concerned telling the truth and making a full declaration. I am sure some people abuse the unemployment assistance system. I am sure some self-employed people, whether professional or business, abuse the income tax code but you do not hear much about it. The abuse which a small farmer is accused of is not an abuse, because the guidelines have been laid down. Any few pounds he gets out of it are spent on improving his house, on making life a little more bearable for his wife and family. It does not go into a bank and it is not spent out of the country.

The abuse that the self-employed or better-off person is guilty of is that the money that he reaps out of that is spent either in expensive hotels—not always in this country—at various sun-drenched beaches or at places like Cheltenham racecourse. There is no comparison between the two types of abuse. The income that the small £10-£15 valuation farmer of Connacht or Ulster is getting—and I hasten to say that I am not a European candidate when I speak of Connacht and Ulster—finds its way into the village or small town till. The money from the other abuse is spent either out of the country altogether or on imported goods.

In 1977, our last year in office, we recognised that there were some people in the small farmers' social welfare scheme who should not be in it and we were brave enough—the Minister will probably say daft enough—to tidy up that in the 1977 Budget. The Minister now comes into office with a majority of 20 and he makes a savage attack—I cannot describe it as anything else—on the small farmers' dole. A small farmer with a £10 valuation is deemed now to have an income of £200 and from 1 April it will be £300. If his valuation is £15 now, his income is deemed to be £450; from 1 April it will be £750. If his valuation is £20, he is deemed to have an income of £600; from 1 April it will be £1,200. Those figures are altogether too high and it is no reply to me for the Minister to say that the yardstick for income tax for the better-off farmer is not a multiplier of 60 or 50 or 30 but of 125. If that is so the people who have a multiplier of 125 will put in accounts and we know what the result will be.

A small farmer can also go on factual assessment.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I appreciate that, but the small farmer is not at all in the same category as the bigger farmer. First of all, he will have worse land; secondly, he will not have the money to keep that land in good heart. He will not have the machinery and in many cases he will not have the know-how. The Minister tells me that the small farmer can have a factual valuation. I do not know whether the Minister remembers, as I do, when the social welfare officer used to come to the house and count the hens and the eggs and probe and make a general inquisition into the whole place. We do not want to go back to that.

The Deputy also knows that it was I who introduced that notional assessment in the first instance.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister is all right but he is not getting his head. If he has his way this is not the sort of thing we would have in the House today. But he is the Minister in charge of the Department and I have to talk to him because his colleague will not come in here and listen. That is the way the Government are run. The Minister did introduce the notional system back in 1966 I think.

(Cavan-Monaghan): He was a caring man then and I am not sure that he is not still, but he can dole out only what he gets. I am convinced that the Fianna Fáil philosophy on social welfare and on regard for the less well-off section and the poor has shifted. I believe that the backroom boys, who did surveys in the country and who found out where the votes were, tuned the party into the younger people who are in jobs. That is the only explanation of the way the present Government treat the social welfare classes as against the other classes. I believe that it is a dangerous philosophy and one which will lead to trouble. The Government have encouraged a system of protest that is also dangerous. If the Chair will bear with me for a minute or two, I am going to sit down.

He cannot resist that appeal.

The Chair bearing with the Deputy does not make it any more relevant.

(Cavan-Monaghan): It is very relevant because all we are dealing with here are priorities as between one section of the community and another. As a result of stupid advice the Government landed their present budget in a shambles. The result of this shambles has been to send people on to the streets. That is not in the interests of this country. There is a red danger light ahead. This is the first time that we have ever had a budget introduced, half of one important part of it thrown out a week afterwards as a result of pressure, and the other half thrown out about a week later, followed by an onslaught from another section of the community. I do not know where this country is going and I do not know where this Government think they are leading it. This is the Fianna Fáil Manifesto, and Deputy Leyden, sitting up in those benches a few months ago, described it as an historic document. I am afraid that the manifesto of 1977 and the budget of 1979 will certainly go down in history.

I intervene in the debate to make a few observations on certain anomalies and injustices which prevail in the social welfare code in this legislation. It is a system and a code of legislation very much outmoded and archaic. The Bill before us is remarkable not so much for what it contains but rather for what it omits; not so much for what it gives to the social welfare beneficiaries but rather for what it takes from them. In view of present high prices, which are spiralling virtually every day, and in a situation where we face another crisis of rampant inflation, resulting in particular from the increase in the price of oil particularly, a malady which afflicted this country a few years ago and seems likely to repeat itself, the increases contained in this Bill are totally inadequate from that standpoint to maintain standards or to improve the lot of the weakest, the poorest and the most afflicted section of the community.

When I look down at the table showing the increases which are being given from 1 April I see figures like £2.55 increase in the personal rate of retirement, old age contributory pension. Surely that is a miserly amount of money in these days? What will it purchase for these people? Men all over the country are not able to grasp the significance of increasing costs because we do not take shopping baskets to the various supermarkets all over the country. The increase in prices generally was brought home to me dramatically this week when I entered a certain hostelry to buy two pints for one of my colleagues and myself and I found to my consternation that I had to dip my hand into my pocket for the second pound in order to pay for those two pints of stout. The Government will probably find themselves in the Guinness book of records for making the pint cost over 50p in many establishments.

Perhaps the Minister for Health will take the view that this is all the better for our health's sake but the pint is a very welcome drink for the poor man. We also have to consider the price of a pound of meat and a pound of butter which was deliberately increased by the Government recently when they removed the food subsidies. When we consider all the price increases in recent times the increase of £2.55 in the old age pension and £4.20 for a husband and wife are totally inadequate. It is almost a year since those people received an increase in their pensions and they will have to wait until this time next year, apparently, until they get a further increase. There is no indication from the Minister in his speech that he will have a second look at the situation before the end of this year. It was the practice of the previous Government to review social welfare pensions in the autumn of each year and increase them proportionatley with the increase in the cost of living. This was a very humane thing to do.

We all know that this year we face massive inflation and a massive increase in costs apart from the increase in the price of oil over which the Government have no control. The working-class people of the country are entitled to substantial increases in wages and salaries to compensate them for those increases, which will be reflected in the cost of living and will affect the poor and all those other people in the social welfare code.

A lot of problems the Government are facing result from their inaction but the extra allowances which social welfare recipients are receiving this year are already outdated and must be improved. We have seen our people survive a very bad winter. The social welfare recipients suffered a lot and very little was done to help them. They face a worse summer and winter unless something positive is done and their allowances substantially increased in accordance with the wishes of all sectors of our society. The St. Vincent de Paul Society, who work very closely with the poor in every city and town in the country, have made their recommendations to the Minister. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the widows of the country, the handicapped and many other categories have made their appeals but so far they have fallen on barren ground. I ask the Minister to indicate that he realises that the increases given to those people are inadequate, that they need to be substantially increased, that he will review them in the autumn, as his predecessors have done, and will revise them upwards in accordance with the increase in inflation which by next autumn will be in double figures. Every economist knows that inflation cannot be contained in present circumstances.

The Minister must look again at the less well-off section in our society, those dependent on social assistance, the deserted wives, prisioners' wives, unmarried mothers and all the other unfortunate sections in our society. The increases given here are less than those given to the other classes to whom I referred. There is only an increase of £2.20 given to the old age non-contributory pensioner. We have to compare that increase with the price of butter, fuel, light and meat. I am afraid that meat is a luxury for the poor and something they can only afford on Sunday. An increase of £1.20 is given in the prescribed relatives' allowance. That is a niggardly amount by any standard. Unemployment assistance, the dole, goes up for the single person by £1.40 per week. One could cite other figures at random. The best one can find is an increase of £2.35 for a person who is over 80 years of age in the old age pension category, non-contributory.

Many of the allowances to which I refer are subject to income tax. I was astonished at a case which came to my notice recently, that of a working man with a young family whose wife is a chronic invalid, bed-ridden, who was in receipt of the appropriate allowance. That allowance was taken into account for income tax on the husband's earnings. I brought that case to the notice of the appropriate Minister but nothing positive was done about it. While it is not the direct responsibility of the Minister for Social Welfare, he has a moral obligation to ensure that the increases he provides for these unfortunate categories of persons are not removed by a colleague of his in the Cabinet, that what he does to improve the lot of the social welfare classes is not undone by the Minister for Finance or anybody else. However, that anomaly is only too evident as one goes down the list of categories of persons here. It is particularly true in respect of children's allowances which have been increased meagrely on this occasion by amounts of £1.20 for the first child, £1.40 for the second child and 65p for each subsequent child per month. Subject to correction I think it is true to say that the childern's allowances in Northern Ireland are about to be increased, if they have not already been, to £4 per child per week—an odious comparison. Despite the smallness of the amounts of these increases now being given in children's allowances here, of 30p per week for the first child, 35p per week for the second child and 16p per week for each subsequent child, for the first time in the history of the State they will be brought into the PAYE tax net. The mother of a family who looked forward so much to the receipt of these allowances on the first Monday of each month must now realise that a goodly amount is about to be deducted from her husband's earnings; the intrinsic worth, the real value of children's allowances has been done away with by this Government.

I shall deal further with some of these anomalies as I continue. It seems to me that the avowed policy of this Government is that the poorest must wait until the rich of this country are placated before receiving their fair share of the national cake. Unfortunately this reality is recognised by our poor, if not by the Government because, since this Government assumed office, we have seen the living standards of the poorest in our society—meagre though they were—fall further behind those of average earnings, not to mention all those who benefited from the abolition of the wealth tax. We know that the poor did not participate in last year's artificial consumer boom nor did they buy new imported cars or take holidays abroad. Neither did they share in the substantially increased spending on alcohol and entertainment. The truth is that not alone did they fall behind the rest of society in relative terms but many suffered cut-backs in their real living standards.

When one takes account of the fact that food prices have increased at a faster rate than did general consumer prices and that social welfare recipients devote a high percentage of their incomes to foodstuffs, it becomes abundantly clear to all of us that the cost of living has increased in the period to which I refer, and not decreased by 6 per cent, as has been suggested by several Government spokesmen. I am afraid the Government never had, and do not have now, a commitment to social welfare recipients. They know that the poor are without power and therefore do not need to be reckoned with or taken into account in any political calculations the party may make. The withdrawal of the food subsidies affected, in the main, the poorest of our people and that is positive proof of that non-commitment.

I heard the Minister comment on remarks made by my colleague, Deputy Eileen Desmond, that he was anxious to claim full credit for the income-related pensions scheme talked about. I believe the facts are that this document was published during the period of office of the last Government. Indeed it is the handiwork of the Leader of our party, Deputy Frank Cluskey. It was his intention to implement, in their entirety, the salient features of that income-related pensions scheme. But I am not here to score points in that regard. It is a matter of complete indifference to me whether it was Deputy Cluskey who was the author of this important income-related pensions scheme or the Minister, Deputy Haughey. We do consider it to be of very great importance and urgency and I appeal to the Minister to implement the scheme at the earliest possible date. I was pleased to hear the Minister say he hoped to do so this year. It is urgent and compelling when one considers the many thousands of industrial workers who face retirement without the possibility of any worth-while pension, save the contributory old age pension which is totally inadequate even to maintain existing living standards.

We look forward to the implementation of this scheme which will give our industrial workers and the self-employed the assurance that when it comes to the twilight of their lives, when they are no longer able to continue working, they will find solace and comfort in the knowledge that they will have a worthwhile pension which will be comprised of not less than two-thirds of their income at the time of retirement. Much as I respect some worth-while schemes being offered by life assurance companies and the like I hope these groups will not be permitted to skim off the cream but that this legislation will cater specifically for the categories of persons to whom I have referred and that no Deputy will be allowed to inhibit this scheme in any way or indeed to delay its implementation.

Social insurance for the self-employed is again vitally important and I would hope that the Minister will include this category in the income-related pension scheme.

What I said to Deputy Desmond was that I hoped to get some action on it this year.

I am sorry if there is any watering-down of what the Minister said. I took it from what he said that he was hopeful of its introduction and possible implementation. Is that not now the position?

I doubt if that would be possible. It is a very major and complicated operation, as the Deputy knows.

I appreciate that.

What I said to Deputy Desmond was that it was the next major step forward required and that I hoped to get something moving on it this year. I agree with the Deputy that it is next urgent problem to be dealt with.

We shall have to wait and see what the Minister really means by getting moving on this important legislation this year. I appreciate that it is a voluminous document and that it may be difficult to implement, but it has been in the Department now for a number of years. It is known to have been in existence during the term of office of the last Government. Many of my colleagues in industry who are in their late fifties and sixties are gravely perturbed that there is no provision made by their employers for a decent pension for them. This is greatly to be deplored. This lack of regard for the worth of their workers when they come to retirement is a niggardly attitude on the part of private employers. These workers look to the Government and the Minister to give them this guarantee of some semblance of security in old age. The implementation as quickly as possible of a really worth-while income-related pension scheme will receive the full backing of this party and, I am sure, of our colleagues in Fine Gael. I urge the Minister to advise his office staff to get cracking on this as a matter of top priority.

I have already talked about this pay-related pension scheme, which was initiated by the leader of this party, Deputy Cluskey, when he was in Government. Since comparisons are being made in respect of social welfare now and in the past, it is only right and proper that these records be compared properly. Let me indicate some of the initiatives undertaken between 1973 and 1977. The income limit for eligibility for social insurance was removed when pay-related benefits were introduced by the then Parliamentary Secretary, Deputy Cluskey. The pension age was reduced from 70 to 66 years and the means test for eligibility for non-contributory pensions was eased considerably. When does this Minister propose to reduce the age still further to 65? It was a consistent policy of the previous Government to reduce the age from the 70 years they found it at when they took office, to reduce it each year by one year until it was down to 66 years. It has not been lowered since 1976. So I would ask the Minister to continue the good work and bring the old age pension age down to 65 years of age. It is a matter of astonishment to many people that this was not done.

Children's allowances were dramatically increased. In the case of the second child, for example, the increase was 173 per cent and, in addition, these allowances were made payable to the mother. An October review of the payments was introduced. I have already harped on that and I repeat that, while there was reason for review in the past, there is more compelling reason today for a review in October next by reason of the spiralling costs and inflation of a kind which will be very difficult to contain this year.

Deserted wife's benefit was introduced for the first time. Similarly, an allowance for unmarried mothers was introduced. Single women's allowances and prisoners' wives' allowances were introduced and a Bill to consolidate all previous social welfare legislation was introduced. Free travel for invalided pensioners was inaugurated as well. A new scheme of supplementary allowances was instituted and a national committee on pilot schemes to combat poverty was launched. The rates of increases in payments during the period in question were of the order of 125 per cent. I believe that record compares more than favourably with the Government's, particularly when one remembers that it occurred during a serious recession. However, there is no room for self-congratulation in this matter, and I am not indulging in that, but I think it is important to put the record straight in regard to what was done and what was not done and by whom it was done.

The fact is that at present the poor are getting poorer and, given that reality, there can be no moral justification for the Government's declared policy that social welfare recipients must wait until their projected economic miracle has occurred. That miracle is not going to occur. That is evident now to all. For as long as we remember the poor have been asked to wait for some economic miracle and they are still waiting, and will continue to wait, as long as that philosophy remains.

I wish to refer again briefly to the unfortunate fact that children's allowances have been interfered with and that it is intended to have a clawback by including these allowances in the PAYE net. I do not know what can be done about it at this stage but it seems to me to be nothing short of trickery and deception to purport to increase children's allowances on the one hand and, on the other hand, to take it away from the husband's earnings. That kind of trickery and deception, by permitting the tentacles of PAYE to reach into the area of children's allowances, is another one of the things responsible for the many tens of thousands of marching feet in this city and in other towns and cities here at present. It is unfair and deceitful to give with one hand and take away with the other. It is not possible to "con" all the people all the time. The buck has stopped but unfortunately it has not stopped in this Parliament. It has reverted to the streets of our towns and cities and it is a bad day for the country and for democracy when people have to protest in such a way in order to secure social justice.

I am sorry that the dole for small farmers has been interfered with. This assistance has not been paid to a great extent in my constituency, not that we have not poor farmers also, but for some strange reason it has been difficult to obtain unemployment assistance. Invariably they have been refused the qualification certificate, even though they were not any better off than small farmers in the west of Ireland. I deplore the interference with this assistance to small farmers. Many of them depended on it and its loss will prove a great hardship to them and to their families. They had become used to it and it had become an integral part of their family income. To withdraw it now at a time of high prices and rising inflation is a severe blow.

There was no intimation of any kind in the famous Fianna Fáil Manifesto that the dole would be withdrawn or that children's allowances would be taxed. Many small farmers and their families voted this Government into power on the basis that they were best suited to serve the needs of the people. They have had a rude awakening and they will not forget the deception that is involved in legislation of this kind. There are many other points that I could raise but they would not be in order in this context. However, they can be referred to at another time. I have asked the Minister to think seriously about increasing the allowances and, if this is not possible, to give some crumb of comfort to our people and ensure that they will be reviewed in the autumn as heretofore and increased proportionately.

There are many facilities available to people in the cities and towns that are not available in rural areas. The free fuel scheme is a valuable concession to poor people, but is confined to the cities. I ask the Minister to consider extending the scheme to other parts where there is just as much poverty as in Dublin, Cork, Limerick or Galway. If the Minister does not take steps to cushion the impact of inflation and high prices he will be guilty of a dereliction of duty and of callous disregard for the most needy and helpless in our society.

There are some anomalies in the prescribed relative allowance to which I should like to draw the attention of the Minister. This is a valuable and much-appreciated help, but it could be much higher. The allowance is being increased by £1.20 to £8.80 per week. This allowance helps to keep an aged parent in the home. It inculcates a desire on the part of the family to keep the parent and to care for the old person. Any increase in this area is money well spent, especially when we consider the cost of maintaining such a person in a hospital or county home. Today I made inquiries as to the cost of maintaining a person in a country home and I was informed that the cost was estimated at £80 per week. Let us compare that cost against the pittance of £8.80 per week as set out in this Bill. There is a tremendous desparity in the amounts. The Minister is anxious to reduce the numbers in hospitals and institutions. I ask him to provide better allowances so that relatives will be encouraged to keep elderly people at home.

The allowance in respect of home help is desirable. Home help will care for an invalid, an old person or a mentally or physically retarded adult or chil, but the amount paid by way of allowance is miserly in the extreme. A sum of £2 or £3 per week is offered for home help and this is an insult in these times of high prices. It has reached a stage where people are not prepared to do this work of mercy for the pittance offered. I ask the Minister in his capacities as Minister for Social Welfare and Minister for Health to do something positive to increase the allowances in respect of a prescribed relative or home help so that fewer people will be sent to hospital and more maintained at home. That is good economics.

There is an anomaly here in that the prescribed relative allowance is paid to certain designated categories of persons and is not payable to a daughter if she is married. I appeal to the Minister to end that situation. Whether the daughter is single or married, if she is doing the work of mercy of caring for her aged father or mother she should be paid the allowance. There is no reason for a distinction between married and single in this instance and the Minister should do what I ask as an encouragement to people to maintain elderly relatives at home. Many of these married women have heavy responsibilities and find it very difficult to make ends meet without expecting them to bear the additional burden of caring for and maintaining an aged parent over a long time, doing the work of nurse and doctor, feeding, cleaning and caring for him or her without any recognition or recompense from the Minister's Department. The married daughter is discriminated against.

There is also an anomaly or injustice in respect of the administration of the free electricity allowances, free TV —radio licence and free travel schemes which are much availed of and much appreciated. Is it not wrong if an old couple are in receipt of these "perks"—to which they are entitled because the husband is an old age pensioner—that when the husband dies these "perks" are withdrawn if his widow is under 66? To my mind, that is a serious injustice. They enjoy these important facilities when the husband is alive and they have double the income. On the death of the husband the income is reduced by half and these important facilities are withdrawn, worsening out of all proportion the situation of the widow. This is something the Minister should consider with sympathy and understanding and have it rectified. Where these "perks" are being given the Minister and the Department should be very slow to withdraw them except for most compelling reasons. It is certainly wrong to do it in the case of an old age pensioner's widow. Perhaps the Minister can do what is required in this Bill or perhaps he can do it by ministerial order.

As regards free travel, which is very important, another anomaly arises because in certain areas recipients of free travel are unable to avail of it because no transport is provided on their roadway, public or private, or transport is provided by private enterprise but the proprietors are either unable or unwilling to participate in the scheme. I have areas in my constituency where private transport is operating, doing a very good job at reasonable cost for the public, but they will not take on free travel recipients. Some unfortunate people with free travel tickets in their hands are unable to obtain the free travel to which they are entitled by law. I do not know why these private transport operators are unwilling to co-operate in the Minister's scheme. There may be good and cogent reasons. It may be that the amount paid for such purposes are inadequate or that there is a good deal of red tape and delay concerning payment or the amounts accumulate or something of that kind. I ask the Minister to see what he can do to make free travel available to all who are entitled to it and try to come to some understanding or agreement with the private operators.

I think it important that I should designate the areas in question, although the Minister will perhaps know them since I have already been in touch with his Department and I have raised the matter by way of Dáil question. I realise the Minister's difficulty. People have a legitimate right not to participate in such a scheme if they wish, but the Minister also has the primary obligation of ensuring that free travel is available to those entitled to it. Along important stretches of roadway in my constituency where these people have no means of travel it is a great handicap and hardship resulting in much privation. Very strong representations have been made to me. I do not wish to reflect on the proprietors of private transport: they have their rights and obligations and they are giving an excellent service, but for some reason they are unable or unwilling to operate the Minister's scheme. The bus services involved are those from Thurles town serving the areas of Two-Mile-Borris, Gortnahoe, Glengoole, Killenaule and Clonmel. The same service operates from Clonmel to Fethard, Killenaule, Laffan's Bridge, Ballinure, Horse and Jockey and Thurles.

There are probably other areas where this is happening. I hope the Minister will interest himself in the matter and find some suitable arrangement to resolve the problem.

The means test applied to many categories of people involved in this legislation is still too rigid, too extreme in respect of claims for unemployment assistance. It is a matter of astonishment in these times when young men come to you and say "I have no stamps to qualify for unemployment benefit. I had to seek the dole or unemployment assistance. I have qualified for the appropriate certificate and in terms of the means test but all I have been granted is 50p per week." Sometimes the amount granted is £1 or £2 per week. Invariably when one queries a case such as the one I have outlined one finds that the income of the boy's father has been taken into account for the purpose of the means test. We are talking here of ordinary working-class families in which there are young men but where the father is the only person at work. In such circumstances the shelter of the house is taken into account in the application of the archaic and rigorous means test. This is a scandalous situation.

The situation is scandalous also in regard to non-contributory old age pensions in respect of which there are inordinate delays experienced by people who transfer property to a member of their family in the hope of qualifying for the maximum non-contributory old age pension. The transfer of the property involves legal proceedings that can be long and protracted, perhaps continuing for a number of years before the title deeds are presented and the matter cleared up legally. Although the Department know that this is the position and although legal evidence is presented to the Department to the effect that a property has been transferred to a member of a family, the Department will not act until such time as the title deeds are presented to them. Where a solicitor intimates to the Department that legal proceedings are in train in regard to the transfer of property with a view to the securing of a pension, the Department should accept that information in good faith and grant the pension. I have known of cases in which the applicants died before the legal proceedings were concluded.

The provision in respect of telephone rentals for old age pensioners has caused much confusion. Many people approached me seeking clarification of the situation. They were under the impression that they were being provided with a free telephone service in the strict sense and that this would include the cost of installation and also the cost of calls but they were very surprised on my explaining to them that the scheme provided only for rental remission. The vast majority of old age pensioners, especially those in the non-contributory category, could not possibly afford to have telephones installed and the Minister knew that when he was devising this scheme. It was wrong to give the impression that these people were being provided with a telephone service free of charge. Admittedly, the scheme has been of some benefit, but it is not the service that people were led to believe it would be. In my constituency many old age pensions were helped by their children in regard to the installation of telephones and generally the pensioners pay for the calls themselves. Even if the scheme provided for the free installation of telephones, it would be impossible in Clonmel, for example, to have the telephones installed because people there who are entitled to top priority, either because of their businesses or because of the service they are providing, are not able to have telephones installed because of the delays in this regard in the Department concerned. Taking all these matters into consideration I suggest that the Minister be somewhat more reticent in regard to this scheme until such time as it can be backed up more realistically.

Regarding the free electricity allowance, free travel and free television licence facilities, certain categories of persons are designated as being entitled to these facilities while others are not included, although they too would appear to be entitled to them. This situation may result from an omission on the part of the Department, or it may be that there is some intention to discriminate against some people. One case I have in mind and which has been turned down by the Department is that of the widow of an Old RIC man. This woman is more than 80 years old and qualifies for the electricity allowance, the television licence and the travel facility, but because her RIC pension is paid from Britain she is disallowed these facilities because the category to which she belongs is not designated as one in respect of which the allowances are conceded.

In respect of the various allowances, the qualifying categories are specified. For instance, in respect of the free electricity allowance the persons specified are those receiving old age pensions, blind or invalidity pensions from the Department of Social Welfare, persons aged 66 or over receiving contributory widow's pension or deserted wife's allowance and persons aged 66 or over receiving a Garda widow's pension. There is a similarity here. Why not include old RIC widows as well as Garda widows? Included also are persons aged 66 or over who are receiving retirement pensions from Britain and Northern Ireland and persons receiving disability allowances. There may be other categories of persons also receiving pensions from Britain, such as war pensions, who are not included but who are otherwise qualified and who, because their pensions are not specified here, are also disallowed. I ask the Minister to look at all these categories and have them included.

The men in the RIC served their country and did their duty as they saw it at that time. Few if any of them were motivated by malice towards their fellow Irishmen. Many sacrificed much to serve the cause of freedom in this country, threw in their lot with us and helped to achieve independence. Many of their sons and daughters distinguished themselves in all walks of life—in the professions, in the civil service, in business, in commercial life and in the church. There are very few RIC widows living and I would ask the Minister to include them. This will not cost the Exchequer very much and will remove the feeling that might be abroad that these people are being discriminated against. Let us rectify that. We should honour the reciprocal arrangement which exists between Ireland and the British Ministry of Social Security that all categories of British pensioners living here are given the same facilities as are given to our own people, such as free television licence, free electricity allowance and free travel.

I want to mention briefly the fact that we are unable to communicate with our constituents. This affects to a very high degree the categories which we are concerned with in this Bill, the social welfare beneficiaries.

That does not come under the Social Welfare Bill.

I understand there are many hundreds of pension books delayed in the post and this is relevant. These pensionsers cannot get their pension books and are suffering hardship because they cannot get the money to which they are entitled. That is a matter of concern for this Minister and everybody in this House. We have all been inundated with requests from people who are entitled to receive disability and other benefits. Their cheques are not coming through the post; they are bereft of their income and have had to resort to supplementary welfare allowances, or home assistance as it was called.

There are countless thousands depending on the Department. Their cheques, old age pensions books, widows' and orphans' pensions, invalidity allowances and so on have been held up. I appeal to the Minister to intercede personally, to do the big thing, to help initiate talks to resolve this problem. Talks can, should and must take place. Too many people are enduring too much hardship, especially the poorest in our society. Those responsible for labour relations in the Department directly concerned have a lot to answer for. They are obviously trying to solve the problems of 1979 with the methods of 1930. Surely they do not think they can starve people into submission with these archaic tactics? The strictures laid down by the Department must be removed and there must be a meeting of minds.

I would prefer the Deputy not to go into details on a matter which is irrelevant, except in so far as he has related it to social welfare beneficiaries.

I am asking the Minister to have regard to the categories for whom he is responsible and to try to resolve this problem with his colleague, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. If the Minister for Health and Social Welfare takes the initiative in this matter, I believe he will find a fund of goodwill and co-operation in bringing this dispute to a speedy and honourable settlement. I ask in the name of the poor, the weak and the underprivileged for which he is particularly responsible to do something positive in this area.

The supplementary allowance scheme was passed by the previous Government to replace the old home assistance scheme which was most degrading and humiliating to all who were obliged to avail of it. I am sorry to say that this supplementary welfare allowance scheme has solved nothing. It is still being administered in the same old way by the same people. Despite the scales laid down in legislation, the same old odious means test still applies. It seems that the spirit and intention of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Act is not being implemented. Nothing has changed but the name. The old poor law system still prevails. The system is still intimidating. It offends, it humiliates and it still degrades. There is no such thing as a strict entitlement to benefit.

Means tests are applied rigidly and there is, to my personal knowledge, interrogation in depth of the applicant. It is astonishing that this should be the case because in the majority of cases the provision of a supplementary welfare allowance can only be regarded as tantamount to a loan. It is recouped especially in respect of all those who are entitled to social welfare benefits. When social welfare is to be paid, the amount already paid out in supplementary welfare allowance is deducted at source in Aras Mhic Dhiarmada. Many of the people to whom I refer would be better off going to their friendly grocer and getting a loan rather than going through this ordeal of getting something which will be taken from them anyway when their social welfare benefit comes to be paid.

If it were not so serious for the unfortunate people concerned, the appeals system involved in the administration of the supplementary welfare allowances scheme could be regarded as huge joke. People have to face the harrowing experience of interrogation in depth into all aspects of their lives. There is no provision made for these people to be represented by a friend or an agent, nor are there any facilities provided in respect of travel, meals and so on. The system is a farce. I have brought this to the notice of the Minister. He says he is doing something about it, but so far nothing has been done. There are cases to back up my argument in this regard and urgent action is required.

The spirit and intention of the Act passed by this House is not being implemented. I believe it is being baulked and stymied. We are still left with the odious system and people are still in fear and trepidation of availing of it. I have always maintained that the problem is the attitude of mind of those who administer the system. Even under the old Home Assistance Act the administrators had wide powers to give. Some gave generously, others did not. I believe that still prevails. The Minister should insist that the spirit of the Act is evident, that there is a proper appeals system where people are entitled to put their case and be represented and where justice is seen to be done. It seems to be the essence of hypocrisy to purport to hold an appeal and invite a person bereft of income or with only a minimal income to travel a distance of, perhaps, 20 miles, provide food and return home without any recompense. Let us have a decent system.

My colleague, Deputy Eileen Desmond, referred to the appeals system in respect of the social welfare code generally where decisions are made by deciding officers and conveyed to us as final and binding. Many of us felt that some of these decisions were wrong and unjust and could be proved to be so if we were only afforded the opportunity. One individual decided the issue and his word was law. Neither the Minister nor this House could interfere or intercede on behalf of the aggrieved person. Let us change that system. Let the supplementary welfare allowance system be seen to operate justly. The attitude of many of the people who administer the scheme seems to be at fault. Scales are laid down and in the majority of cases the money is paid out. There is no reason why there could not be generosity and the money paid with good grace. It is easy to be nice to people and that is all we ask. Many of these officers are kind and humane but the attitude of others leaves a lot to be desired. It is difficult to understand whether this is due to lack of training or ingrained arrogance. It is alleged that some are influenced by political motives. If this is true, it should be a matter of grave concern to all Members of this House. Some of these people are known to participate actively in politics. Fair play to them, as long as they do not bring this into their job. The system must be seen to work fairly.

I do not mind anybody taking me on politically in any arena, as long as he is out in the open, but I am entitled to resent the cowardly act of discriminating against the poorest and weakest in our society in order to try to get at me politically. That is totally reprehensible and whenever it rears its ugly head I will challenge it.

These are some of the matters I wish to raise on this Bill. There will be scope for greater and enlarged debate when the Minister's Estimate comes before the House. I hope that the Bill before us will be changed radically in respect of the amounts mentioned therein and that the Minister will see to it that they are increased at the earliest opportunity, certainly not later than the autumn as was the practice heretofore. Never were increases more justified than at present and we all know that the situation will get progressively worse. The greatest sufferers will be those against whom the winds of adversity blow hardest.

This is an exceptional and important Bill for many people, especially the lower income group, the aged, the incapacitated and those needing special attention. During the months ahead, from now until 7 June, I am sure that a great deal will be heard about these people. Why have there been no contributions from Fianna Fáil? Is it because Fianna Fáil, who over-bid for votes and succeeded in getting 84 members elected, are now in a position to silence them? Am I right in assuming that that is the attitude of the Government? Did Deputy Haughey as Minister for Social Welfare say to them, "You must not contribute." If he did not, am I to assume that the Fianna Fáil Deputies are satisfied with the Bill? The Minister is a lonesome figure with no help or assistance of any kind. Presumably that lack of help and assistance is at his own bidding.

Having read the Bill and the Minister's statement, I noticed a discrepancy between the contents of the statement and the contents of the explanatory memorandum. This discrepancy mainly relates to section 4 of the Bill, the section relating to unemployment assistance for smallholders. Three classifications are listed in the explanatory memorandum—one, up to £10 valuation; two, from £10 to £15: three, from £15 to £20. We are told that the present system of assessment is £20 per £1 land valuation for those within the first group, that is, up to £10; £30 for the second classification, that is, from £10 to £15; £40 for the third classification, that is, from £15 to £20. The Minister said that there were only two classifications at present and I think he is correct. The explanatory memorandum which we received with the Bill is misleading. If it is not misleading, then the Minister's statement is. I am satisfied that the Minister's statement is correct.

All aspects of our social welfare system are being covered during the debate. However, it is only right for me, as a Deputy from a rural constituency, to comment on section 4. Section 4 deals with the reduction of allowances for farmers who qualify under the notional system of assessment. All such farmers are within the £20 valuation limit. The proposals in section 4 should not have been included in this measure and the section should be withdrawn. In recent years there has been a great deal of criticism of the payment of unemployment assistance to farmers. In some cases the criticism was justified. The situation was rectified by the introduction of the factual assessment for farmers with valuations of more than £20 who sought unemployment assistance. Whether we like it or not, the position now is that many farmers who qualify for assistance under the notional system are in poor circumstances. The payment of this assistance has been of great advantage to them.

I know as much about farming as any other member of this House as I was born and reared on a small farm. Recently we have heard a great deal about increases in farm incomes but those increases in incomes have not been given to the small farmers. There is a big difference between a big farmer and a small farmer. The majority of farmers in the Berehaven Peninsula, the Mizen Head Peninsula and the Sheep's Head Peninsula qualify for assistance. It has helped them to improve their living standards, to clothe themselves and their families and to provide educational facilities for their children. It is all very well to say that education is free but we all know that there are many incidental expenses involved in keeping children at school. There is no doubt that that type of farmer benefited from the scheme. Without that benefit it would not be easy for them to make ends meet. Therefore, I plead with the Minister to remove section 4.

Surely a party who said to the people in April, May and June 1977: "We believe we can do certain things if we are elected", a party who said to the wealthy: "We believe that it is unfair for you to have to pay £10 million in wealth tax in 1977, vote for us and we will remove that tax", who said to householders, big and small, some with valuations of up to £150 in Dublin, Cork and other urban areas, "We will not ask you to pay rates. We are in a position to wipe out rates if we are elected"——

We are on the Social Welfare Bill.

This is all related to the Social Welfare Bill, section 4. They said to motor vehicle owners: "Give us an opportunity and we will not ask you to pay tax". That is how they bought votes in the last general election. That is how they have got the country into its present mess. Is it not completely out of place 18 months afterwards to say to small farmers that they must accept substantial reductions in their incomes?

I will illustrate how small farmers are affected. A farmer with a valuation of £19 will have his income reduced by £570; a farmer whose valuation is £12 will have £360 less; a farmer with £10 valuation will have £300 less; and a farmer with £9 valuation will have £90 less. Is that justice? This money was paid out in parts of west Cork, in Kerry, Galway, Mayo and the other poorer parts where the land is indifferent and the yield low, where it is hard to get production without feeding the land with fertilisers at very high cost. Not only was this money used to help production but it also helped the grocers, the drapers, the publicans and other business people in those localities.

As I have said often since I was first elected to this House in 1951, I do not agree that people should be given money who are not entitled to it. I have more knowledge of the problems, financial and otherwise, of those people than most people in the streets. I know their backgrounds, I have shared confidences with them, and I say it is completely unfair that this should have been done to them at a time when Fianna Fáil said to the well-to-do: "Keep the wealth tax except the part of it you give to us for the election campaign". That is what they said, and 18 months afterwards they have asked small farmers with £10 valuations to accept a reduction of £300 a year and those with £16 valuations to accept reductions of £490.

I recognise the Minister as a reasonable man. I have more faith and confidence in him than in any other member of the Government, and I am asking him to reconsider section 4 in the circumstances of this year. Perhaps it could be considered again in future years. I would not be taking up the time of the House if I did not feel strongly about this. These benefits have been criticised by people who have no knowledge of the recipients. I agree that a small percentage were getting these benefits who should not have been getting them, but the system was good.

The old and the disabled are my next concern. I suggest that the old age pension system should be restructured, to use a word now in general use. The only restructuring we have had was in relation to the two-tier system, one concerning those older than 80 years and the other those between 70 and 80 years. The Minister should have a good look at the entire system.

By virtue of the National Coalition reducing the age limit to 66 years, many old age pensioners are now reasonably active, enjoying good health. Perhaps they have assigned their businesses or farms to members of their families and this has entitled them to free maintenance, with some pocket money to boot. Such pensioners are entitled to the maximum rate and some people might think they are doing well. They are living with close relatives who are reasonably well off and in some cases the pensions might be described as pocket money.

On the other side are the incapacitated, the feeble, the bedridden, those suffering from mental deficiencies. They are still entitled to only £13.60 per week unless they are older than 80 years. There is a wide difference between their circumstances and the others I have mentioned. I had thought health boards would make up for this difference because even with the extra £2 being given to them they still need special consideration.

Deputy Treacy spoke about places in South Tipperary and about payments under the supplementary health scheme. Everything he said about South Tipperary applies also to other places. I am told that in West Cork, no matter how incapacitated a person is, once he or she is getting the maximum rate of old age pension that person will not qualify for a supplementary allowance. At one time such people used to get home assistance. Whatever it is called, there should be some variation in this system so that those people get increases over and above other classifications of pensioners. In West Cork—and I suppose this applies all over the country—it costs £100 a week to maintain an old person in the district hospital. District hospitals all over the country are now catering for geriatric patients. Deputy Treacy said it costs £80 in South Tipperary.

People prefer to stay in their surroundings and do not like having to go to those geriatric hospitals. I have been visiting hospitals and institutions for many years and I have never found a person, no matter what care or attention that person got in the hospital, who did not prefer to remain at home. Health boards are no good as far as those people are concerned. I made an application for a supplementary allowance for two cases in West Cork and both of them were rejected. The Minister may say that we provide home help allowances for people living alone. In limited cases the highest allowance of £10 a week is paid; in other cases it is £3 or £4 a week. While I maintain that it is the obligation of children to care for their parents, nevertheless we meet difficult cases. There are many families with limited means, where the mother or father is bedridden and needs constant care and attention. Some person must be in the house at all times to attend to a person like that. The home help allowance or the disabled person's maintenance allowance should be paid to such people.

When I was a member of the Cork health authority I tried, as hard as I could, to get this scheme applied to old age pensioners. We were told at that time that legislation gave local authorities power to pay a disabled person's allowances to certain classes of incapacitated pensioners. I believe the Minister for Health will take a special interest in the people I am speaking for: those who have lost their physical capabilities, who suffer from arthritis or who are physically or mentally incapacitated. Those people should be given financial assistance. Our hospitals are full of old people at the moment. If we were more liberal in making welfare allowances available under a means test, many of those old people could remain at home. It is not a good idea to send our incapacitated people to hospital if they can remain at home. I ask the Minister to try to bring in some legislation to make this allowance available to incapacitated people.

People over 80 years of age qualify for some additional allowance. This should be paid to people much younger than that. I was amazed on one occasion to hear a person say that he knew some of those old people who bought drink with the money they got from a State allowance. Who wants a half pint of stout, a drink of punch, rum or brandy more than those old people? Who needed it more during the severe weather we had in the first few months of this year? Punch is not available free of charge.

There is nothing in the Bill about punch.

I could do with some punch at the moment.

The Minister should not be advocating intoxication.

I am referring to the condition of the House.

I am sure the Minister will take cognisance of the great variation in old age allowances. I am sure he will be active when he reaches old age, but there are many people who are not very active. He should take a leaf out of the Coalition book, although I am sure he does not like reading that book. It is no harm to be boastful at times. If we had been more boastful in 1977 perhaps there would be more of us here now than there are. Perhaps we were too bashful and allowed the people over there to make the running.

It was a tremendous innovation that in the period from 1973 to 1977 we reduced the qualifying age for old age pensions by four years. When the British Government established old age pensions in 1908 they laid down 70 years as the qualifying age. In the 65-year period between 1908 and 1973 how often did I pose questions to various Ministers about a reduction in the qualifying age for old age pensions, maintaining that everything had changed since 1908? However, the qualifying age obtained. It was contended that it would be too costly to implement a reduction, that it would be out of place. But what happened then? How did we address ourselves to Bills such as this one? Not alone did the Coalition Government reduce the qualifying age for men, but they included wives irrespective of age and eased the means test beyond measure. That did not happen so long ago. Perhaps it could be said that eaten bread is soon forgotten. Apparently some of that bread was forgotten on the 16 or 17 June, on whatever was the date of the election. It must be kept on the plate now and the Minister must sustain the reduction we initiated.

We were all out in our guesses because we thought that, with the European and local elections this year, the Government might reduce the old age pension limit to 65. But I suppose, having paid so much in 1977 for office—if I may use that term—they got fed-up. Perhaps the Minister for Economic Planning and Development thought it would be unwise to go into the auction mart again, particularly on social welfare. I would appeal to the Minister, if not this year, then next year, to consider a further reduction in the age limit and the advisability of following the example of the National Coalition when they effected two reductions in the one year—one on 1 April and another on 1 October. With food prices increasing so much on essential commodities like butter, tea, sugar, that kind of injection is warranted for the benefit of old people and can well be justified.

I want now to refer to the system of determining claims. I know that the means test has changed completely and that the vast majority of pensioners now qualify without question. Nevertheless, there are some who qualify, but who do not receive the pension. The system is completely different from what it used to be in the old days. For example, when I first came into this House one could go along to the Department of Social Welfare, sit down with an appeals officer, discuss the position of a particular applicant with him and he would make a decision. He would listen to all the points one would advance and then arrive at a decision. It was an excellent system. At that time the appeals officers were the right type of people for the job. They were approachable, understanding and had the attributes and qualifications needed by such people. They were only too willing to listen, to discuss the pros and cons of different cases. But that system was abolished by Fianna Fáil, because the Minister handed over all of his powers. As I understand it now, theoretically, the Minister is almost naked of power. That is not a good idea. Regardless of what Government is in power, I believe that any Government Minister should have the final authority. I do not think it should be farmed out to anybody.

That was done under the Supplementary Welfare Act by which the Coalition Minister divested himself of the power.

It was gone before then, and it should not have been the case. Since the Management Act was enacted here some years ago it has been the practice of parties to divest themselves of power, to hand over to enterprises of one kind or another, even to hand over to State boards and bodies. The country is swarming with commissions, boards and so on. I have always been a firm believer in the Minister of the day having the final say in his Department. That is what democracy is all about. The Minister and his Government must go to the country to seek approval or otherwise of their policies, whereas other people can remain under shelter. They are not at fault; rather is it the fault of this House which divests itself of almost all its authority and hands it over to other people.

Oral hearings are seldom held in non-contributory old age pension cases. I would ask the Minister to inform whoever is in charge of that section that oral hearings, when requested, should be allowed. I applied for an oral hearing on behalf of two applicants quite recently, a husband and wife. If what those applicants told me repeatedly was factual, then they were being denied the maximum rate of pension to which they were entitled. The decision of the appeals officer was that they were not entitled to a pension of any kind. I asked for an oral hearing. These people, in the winter of their lives, were prepared to come along, take the Bible in their hands, swear to their means, but that was denied them. That type of practice, this high-handed manner of determining such cases, is completely out of place. I want the Minister to take cognisance of the position of applicants who seek oral hearings and who, additionally, are prepared to swear to their testimony.

Debate adjourned.