I should like to advise the House that an agreement has been reached on the allocation of time to speakers acceptable to the Whips. I understand that both sides are aware of that agreement. In accordance with that agreement I am calling on Deputy Woods who will be in possession until 7.10 p.m. Following that I will call on the Minister of State, Deputy Pattison, who, I understand, will be giving ten minutes of his time to Deputy Barnes.
Private Members' Business. - EC Equality Directive: Motion (Resumed).
I should like to support the motion tabled by our spokesman, Deputy McCarthy, who has been successful in smoking out the Minister for Social Welfare and bringing him to the House to account for his proposals. It is clear from the proposals outlined in the Government's document, Building on Reality, that they have forgotten about a large sector of the unemployed. Those people would have suffered badly, and may still, if the Minister was not forced to take them into account in his calculations.
It is clear that the unemployed are the forgotten people as far as the Government are concerned, particularly those on unemployment assistance. Those people are on the lowest income and are suffering the greatest hardship at this time. I have many of them in my constituency. I resent the Minister's suggestion last night that these measures will only fall adversely on a small number of people, a few thousand. If that is the case then they all live in my constituency because many thousands on the north side of Dublin will be affected by the Minister's proposals. Our motion is vital for such people who have been forgotten by the Government, the Minister for Social Welfare and in the proposals in Building on Reality. As far as such people are concerned there is nothing in those proposals that will give them hope of obtaining employment but, to add to that, the Minister regards such people as an anomaly in the calculations on the equal treatment proposals. The Minister's omission, corrected by our motion, is regarded by him as an anomaly. He has shown a grudging acceptance of their poverty. His amendment does not protect them. I warn members of the Labour Party to be careful about that amendment because it simply asks us to note that the Government have legislative proposals at an advanced stage for the implementation of the Directive in a fair and equitable manner, which will involve substantial net additional social welfare expenditure. We all knew it would involve additional expenditure but there is nothing in the amendment to say that the people I have referred to will be protected or given fair and equitable treatment. They will not get much comfort from the Minister's statement last night.
The reality is that many families will lose between £20 and £40 per week. The Minister resented descriptions such as penny-pinching but it is worth recalling that he had to be shamed into giving the double week payment for Christmas last year. The same applied this year but he has still excluded the unemployed from that double payment. I object, in the strongest terms possible, to the decision to exclude the unemployed this year from the double week payment. They are forgotten people. They are forgotten in all regards because the Government are not concerned or interested in them and then the Government wonder why we say they are taking the Thatcher line. The double of the dependant's portion which was given by us has been denied to the unemployed this Christmas. Members on the Government side are aware of that. By this action the Minister is saving something less than £3 million but he should have considered the comfort such a payment would mean for those people. Is it not penny-pinching to take such a small amount back although it would have meant so much to them? Food subsidies were halved at a most inopportune time and the unemployed did not get anything to compensate them for that loss.
There has not been any increase in the amount for fuel vouchers since I was in charge of the Department. In 1982 we raised the value of the voucher to £4 but no increase has been granted for two years. It must be remembered that the price of a cylinder of gas, one of the most frequently used forms of heat, has almost doubled in price in that time. A cylinder of gas now costs about £8. The Minister has not granted any increase to cover that. Those on unemployment benefit have been excluded from that fuel scheme. The Minister, in his directive, stated that it was not the intention that persons on short-term social welfare payments, for example, unemployment assistance, should be included in the scheme. He deliberately excluded them from that scheme. In the scheme that operated before the Government took office such people were included. Clothing vouchers were cut and health boards were asked to apply the cuts. Voluntary agencies, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, are inundated with demands following those cutbacks. I appeal to people to support such groups this winter because of the predicament the poor face. Members on the Government side are aware of this but are not doing anything about it. In fact, they are making the matter worse. Like the Brussels milk debacle, the unemployed have been left out of the Minister's calculations.
I understand that a difficulty is being experienced by some people in regard to the payment of the double week because of a strike. I should like to call on the ASTMS to take the necessary steps to ensure that widows, old age pensioners and other beneficiaries receive their double week payment for Christmas. It has always been the spirit of the trade union movement to show care and compassion for the elderly and those in need, particularly at Christmas time. I hope the union will take the steps necessary to ensure those people get their benefit.
The Minister has said that only men will lose out but in my view families will lose. A man on unemployment assistance whose wife earns £50 per week to supplement their income and feed their four children told me last week that they will have their income reduced from £133 per week to £96 as a result of the Minister's proposals. That is making poverty worse and is not acceptable. The Minister should go back and do his homework. He has got it wrong. The proposals in Building on Reality are wrong and the Minister has forgotten these people. His primary duty as Minister is to protect the most deprived in our society. The Minister should stop blustering and putting up smokescreens. Fianna Fáil always protect the unemployed and deprived. The record of Deputy Haughey in this respect speaks for itself. His achievements over the years in the area of health and social welfare compare favourably with those of any other Minister. They know that very well. There is no point in the Minister trying to denigrate our party leader.
The Minister took selective quotations from the bottom of the barrel but they will do no good at this stage. The people are fed up with the Minister's sleight of hand. When I was Minister I got 25 per cent increases in three successive years for old age pensioners and widows, but this Minister has consistently eroded their positions. He has taken money from them in real terms. He has given increases which were less than the cost of living and in addition he has taken away their food subsidies but he has not increased their fuel vouchers. The Minister has taken a series of measures which have put these people in the poverty group. He should not add insult to that particular injury but he should take the advice given in this motion.
The Minister of State, Deputy Pattison, has until 7.30 p.m. but by agreement he is allocating ten minutes of his time to Deputy Barnes.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. The implementation of the principle of equal treatment as set out in the terms of the EC Directive will, when introduced into our social welfare code in the Bill which Deputies will have on Friday, effect one of the most fundamental changes in the social welfare system for some considerable time. It is vitally important therefore that Deputies and the public generally should have a clear understanding of what is involved.
In his speech yesterday evening the Minister outlined in a clear and concise way the issues underlying the principle of equal treatment and the equitable and balanced approach the Government have adopted in the matter. The contributions including Deputy Woods's contribution, from the other side of the House in return have however clearly demonstrated that the Opposition simply do not know what they want or even what the implementation of equality of treatment should involve. The same lack of purposefulness has of course characterised their performance on this issue in the past. As far as I can see, the former Minister for Social Welfare implemented one change and that was the result of a High Court action. I would hope that as a result of this debate the Opposition will take the opportunity to acquaint themselves with what is involved so that when a fuller debate takes place on the provisions of the Bill they will be in a position to make a more positive contribution based on some understanding of the social welfare code as it stands and which recognises what the principle of equal treatment entails.
The Minister in his speech dealt at length with the difficulties in applying the principle of equal treatment and the various options that are possible. I fully support the approach being adopted as I think any right-thinking person must. In the limited time available to me therefore I do not propose to speak about the full range of equality proposals. There are some aspects of the proposals which I think we should dwell on particularly in view of the contributions made by some Opposition speakers and more so because of the text of the motion now before the House.
The difficult area in regard to equal treatment is clearly recognisable as the revision that is necessary in the conditions governing the payment of dependency increases. Under present legislation any married woman living with her husband is regarded as his dependant. As the Minister explained last evening, the principle of equality is a neutral concept which must be applied unconditionally to all. Similar conditions must apply to men and women. I should repeat that because that is the essence of the EC Directive. Similar conditions must apply to men and women. If no one is to lose out as a result of the revision of the present conditions, which is what the motion now before the House asks, then clearly the only way to achieve that is to allow all married women who claim a social welfare payment to qualify for increases of benefit in respect of husbands who are living with them and who are gainfully employed.
As the Minister pointed out in his speech yesterday evening, even in its present application the condition governing adult dependency is inequitable in that it enables wives receiving substantial earnings from employment or on benefit in their own right to be regarded as their husbands' dependants. Clearly to extend this equitable provision to married women beneficiaries could not be justified as it would involve totally unnecessary payments to many families where the husband is in employment. In other words, as I said, similar conditions must apply to men and women. At the moment an unemployed man can claim for himself, his wife who is in employment — and it could be well paid employment — and all his dependent children. If we were to have equality, an unemployed woman could claim for her employed husband and all the dependent children. If both husband and wife were unemployed, both could claim for themselves and each other and both could claim for all the children. In other words, in a family of four dependent children the husband and the wife could claim separately for all the children thus getting eight child dependant allowances. That is clearly an indefensible solution to the problem of equality. One could not accept that kind of situation but that appears to be what the Opposition want. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot have equality of treatment without facing up to the difficulties in a courageous manner and trying to bring in measures which would enable the Minister to do something about the people who are hardest hit.
There are only two ways to implement the EC Directive, the way we are implementing it in the proposed Bill and the other way is to give married women, unemployed or on sick benefit, the right to claim for their husbands who are employed and all the children. That approach would cost over £100 million to implement and no Minister for Social Welfare could stand over such unwarranted expenditure. In terms of the PRSI contribution rate it would take an increase of the order of 2 per cent on the rate to raise this revenue. Is this really what the Opposition have in mind? If so, they should come out from the vague rhetoric and tired old clichés they have been issuing and tell the people clearly what their notion of equal treatment, with all its consequences, really is.
The approach being adopted by the Government is, as I have said, a fair and balanced one. Some married men beneficiaries will suffer a reduction in their entitlements. All married women will have improved entitlements. In the case of married men beneficiaries I think it necessary to again emphasise the point made by the Minister that in 75 per cent of such cases no reductions will occur because the wife is engaged on domestic duties. These proposals make no difference to the entitlements of the husband. She will still be regarded as an adult dependant and the husband will continue to receive an increase of his benefit in respect of her. In very many of the remaining cases the wife will either be on benefit or in employment with substantial earnings. In only a small proportion of cases, numbering no more than a few thousand, will the earnings of the wife be so low that the reduction in the benefit entitlement of the husband would seriously affect the income of the household. In this area the Government and the Minister have shown their concern because options — such as the possibility of an earnings floor below which a spouse in employment would continue to be regarded as an adult dependant — are being considered to mitigate the effects of the proposals in this type of case.
Consideration is also being given to special mitigating measures which would cushion to some extent the income drop which implementation of equal treatment will involve for families where both spouses are separately in receipt of social welfare payments. The Bill as published will contain general provisions enabling the Minister to make regulations providing for such alleviating measures to the extent that resources permit and to the extent that it is operationally possible. This is an extremely complex matter which still needs further examination but it can and will be fully debated during the passage of the Bill by the Oireachtas.
In his contribution yesterday evening Deputy Connolly raised a question as to the timing of the measure and whether its provisions would be back-dated. When the provisions have been fully debated and approved by this House and whatever procedural arrangements necessary to implement them have been taken they will be brought into effect. There will be no question whatsoever of back-dating the changes or of implementing the measures in any other way.
In moving the motion yesterday evening Deputy McCarthy spoke of the living standards of the less well off being worsened by the equal treatment proposals and other recent Government measures. Such statements fail altogether to recognise that the proposed approach to equal treatment will in fact have a substantial net cost resulting in a further £17 million per year being added to social welfare expenditure. Quite clearly it cannot be said, therefore, that the Government are approaching equal treatment in a mean or cost-conscious way.
The Deputy is also wrong in his criticism of the performance of the Government in the social welfare area. Significant progress has been made by this Government since coming into office and in the context of the national plan this will be built on in the coming years.
Despite the very severe shortage of Exchequer resources this Government have increased the real level of social welfare payments. In 1983-84 ordinary social welfare rates were increased by 18 per cent, long-term rates for pensioners etc. by 20 per cent and the long term unemployed rates by 25 per cent. The general increases in social welfare payments from last July will, despite the effects of the changes in the food subsidies to which the Deputy referred, generally protect the purchasing power of those payments. In addition, children's allowances have been increased from 1 August by 7 per cent. The total annual costs of these increases alone amounted to £172 million in 1983 and £140 million in 1984.
As regards future adjustments in rates of payment, the intentions of the Government are quite specific and the national plan provides that long term payments will be adjusted in line with price rises, while short term payments will be adjusted in line with movements in take-home pay.
In view of the concern which this Government have clearly demonstrated for the less well off it is very difficult to understand the Deputy's criticism of the Government's performance.
Obviously time would not permit me to go over other aspects of the Government's performance to show how totally unfounded is the Deputy's criticism but I must take him up on one issue when he states that the unemployed were excluded from the Christmas double payment for the first time this year. In fact the payment this year followed the pattern of previous years and the Deputy is quite wrong to suggest that a departure was made this year. With regard to the unemployed, this Government have shown a particular concern for their plight. In addition to a special 5 per cent increase in unemployment assistance rates to the long term unemployed in October 1983, their rates of payment were increased by 1 per cent more than the general increase in benefits this year. The combined effect of those special increases is the equivalent of three extra weekly payments a year.
It is to areas such as this that financial resources that become available should be devoted. The motion now before the House, however, in the name of the Oopposition would instead have us devoting vast sums of money to the tune of £100 million in a wasteful and unjustified way in an obsessive chase of their vague and undefined concept of equality. Clearly no socially conscious Government could follow such policies.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. When one notes the many discriminations contained in our social welfare code, one feels somewhat ashamed that these discriminations have been tolerated for so many years. It does not do our cause any good to have to say that equality comes now as a result of an EC directive that has been in existence for over six years. The complete lack of attention to eliminating the discriminatory aspects of our social welfare code and the lack of attention by the previous Government is lamentable.
I welcome the contributions of the Minister and the Minister of State on this matter which deeply concerns us all. Where the earnings of a wife are very low and where the reduction in the benefit entitlement of the husband would represent a substantial loss of income to that household, I welcome the fact that the Minister will seek ways and means of making sure that people on this low level of income will not suffer.
I am very concerned about the plight of low income households and the level of breadline poverty on which people live. The Commission on the Status of Women reported in 1972 on one of the most obvious and overt discriminations concerning social welfare, particularly concerning the married woman working outside the home. That happened 12 years ago. Consistently, each report of the commission would just come out and be referred to the House. The Second Process Report on the Implementation of the Recommendations in the Report of the Commission on the Status of Women of December 1978 is worth quoting.
In working towards the elimination of discrimination between men and women in the field of social welfare, the Committee——
They mean the Women's Representative Committee——
——considers that the ultimate objective should be to grant social werlare benefits on a basis involving no discrimination based on sex and founded on the principle of true equality between men and women in the home and in employment.
I viewed with concern during this debate the total obscuring of the basic rights of women who up to now have been discriminated against to the extent of being defrauded of their rightful benefits from contributions just because they were married. It has been pointed out here and it is part of the traditional role of women in the home that the great majority of our married women are based in the home with only domestic responsibilities. They, therefore, will not be affected, nor will the household incomes be affected by this legislation.
There is another group of women who will not be affected by this. This is the group who are working part-time. Up to 90 per cent of our part time workers are women who because of their ineligibility on account of the hours worked to claim any social welfare will not be part of this equality. Poor consolation, but it is some consolation, that their household incomes will not be affected.
What I would like this House to consider is that one of the most dismaying and distressing features is that one of the main reasons for the very problems with which Deputies on each side of the House are concerned with regard to reduction of the household income because of granting equality rights in social welfare is the very low earnings of women who are exploited on the labour market. They are definitely and consistently kept beneath the social welfare line of benefit, to themselves anyway, or find themselves working at such low rates—some at one-sixth of a man's wage — that their very earnings are so dismal as to affect the household income.
Members of this House would do well in the debate on this Bill to pay some attention to the little progress which we have made here regarding working conditions and pay for women and to examine their consciences with regard to the opposition and hysteria concerning the granting of equality, which is long overdue.
As a mark of the extent of the discrimination against married women — and remember that we still have the lowest number of married women working outside the home within the whole EC, with perhaps the exception of Greece — even within that small number of married women who have gainful employment outside the home it will take £17 million to make up for what they were being denied in true equality up to now. I would like this debate to be concentrated first on the fact that although we had six years in which to bring about the equalising of social welfare benefits for married women workers compared with the rest of the workforce, we are now here against a deadline because successive Governments did not do that. They did not even attempt to modify the effects or bring in, even in an evolved way, the removal of the discrimination. The very low earnings of women today highlight the problems we are now discussing, and rightly so, with regard to low income households.
It was not until we were up against the deadline of having to bring in this legislation that we began to think seriously about it. Many other women and I believe that the tradition in this country of lack of political will towards granting equality for women in equal pay, equal opportunities and now in social welfare benefits is such that it has taken a European directive on each occasion to get us seriously to think about it. As members of the Community, each time we have had to obey such a directive we have done so, not at the beginning of the time given but at the very end. We have done it against a background of allegations that women in some way are taking away the rights of men. Much of this debate has had a colouring of this. This can only bring about a backlash against women along with all their other difficulties.
Another point on which we must take care is that in introducing this legislation we do not force women through a backlash, psychologically or otherwise, to give up the low paid jobs, bad as they are, and go back inside the home, or drive them into the black economy, where not alone would they continue to be badly paid but they and the nation would lose out.
I am using this opportunity to focus the minds of the Members of the House on what this legislation is all about. It is about righting great wrongs. It is about giving some justice against great injustices down the years. It is about honouring the place of the woman in the home as the breadwinner. Even in our changing times when men, because their traditional work has gone or because of the results of the recession, have become the parent in the home, having been made redundant and becoming unemployed, regardless of the wife becoming the breadwinner, because she is seen totally as a dependant of her husband, even though she pays her full social welfare contribution, she does not have the right to be seen as a worker in her own right and to claim on behalf of her family and her husband the rights which that social welfare contribution gave to her husband when he was earning, unless he is an invalid. That does something dreadful to both men and women. We are talking about a concept of sharing equality and responsibility at work and in the home. Surely we must first remove the legal obstacle against allowing either husband or wife to act as breadwinner.
I welcome the concern of the Minister and everybody who has spoken in this House for the protection of low income households. I ask the Members to accept that a commitment has been given that that area will be looked at. They should see this legislation as something positive and overdue, which we all, as legislators, should welcome and work positively upon. Above all, they should not see it in some way as punishing women further or pushing them back along the small distance which they have come in progress with regard to employment outside the home. They should see it as a sharing of responsibilities and the ensuring of equal opportunities for women at work. It is pointless to talk about equal treatment for women at work when under the law and through the social welfare system we did not give them the same rights as other workers even though they were paying the same contributions.
I welcome this, overdue as it is. I ask all Members to welcome it. The areas of concern can be worked on, but we must not allow the debate to obscure the removal of one of the greatest injustices and resentments women have had up to now because of the way married women were treated when they worked outside the home.
I agree with a lot of what Deputy Barnes has said. We must be concerned to ensure that there is equality in social legislation. There is no need to repeat what Deputy McCarthy said that we are committed to the principle of equality and ensuring that women get equal treatment in legislation. What we are concerned about is the manner in which the Government are going about it.
If we look at the speech made by the Minister of State and some of the comments made by the Minister last night, it will demonstrate that no one will be satisfied with the way the Government are approaching this very serious issue. The Minister of State referred to the contributions made from this side of the House and said the Opposition did not know what they wanted. It should be very clear to everyone that the social policy of Fianna Fáil has not changed over the years. We want a social policy which will ensure that those dependent on social welfare — the old, handicapped and unemployed — will be able to have for themselves and their families a decent standard of living. They have not had that for the last few years. We have an unprecedented level of poverty at present and no one can challenge that.
The Minister of State referred to increases which were made and how proud the Government were of their achievements in the area of social welfare. He said that in 1983-84 social welfare rates were increased by 18 per cent. That was over two years. In their last two years in office Fianna Fáil gave increases of 50 per cent. That is the difference in policy between the two Governments when in office. He referred to the fact that children's allowances had been increased by 7 per cent since 1 August this year. That was one increase they gave while in power and they celebrated their second anniversary in office yesterday. In their last two years in office Fianna Fáil gave an increase of 25 per cent each year. Yet the Minister of State said that the Opposition do not know what they want. People will judge the concern this Government have demonstrated. From what the Minister of State told us, it is obvious they have not got the concern of the unfortunate people who are depending on social welfare at heart. Recently an unemployed person came to see me looking for tranquilisers for his wife. He had received a bill for building materials. He lost his job through no fault of his own. I would say it was through the fault of the economic policies of this Government. He told me he gets £83 a week for himself, his wife and four children. He pays £6 a week for a bag of coal which lasts three days. That is all he can afford. For the rest of the week, in the middle of winter, they have no coal or fuel and therefore, no fire.
Where do the Government stand in relation to the national fuel scheme? Up to 1983 it was stated in a circular issued to the health boards that where there was hardship the community welfare officers were at liberty to interpret the position and grant free fuel under that scheme to those on short time and other benefit. Since this Government came to office, with a Labour Minister for Health and Social Welfare, a new paragraph was inserted in that circular which states that those on unemployment benefit, unemployment assistance and disability benefit are excluded from the free scheme. Yet the Minister of State tells us we can see the concern the Government have demonstrated. The circulars are there for anyone who wants to check the record.
If the Minister of State thinks the Opposition do not know what they want or are wrong because they believe the community welfare officers should still have discretion to give vouchers for free fuel to people who are unable to meet their commitments, he and the Government should look again at their social policy.
With regard to the equality legislation has the Minister consulted the Council for the Status of Women or the Irish Congress of Trade Unions? They are not happy about his legislation. When the Minister told us it would cost £17 million he did not say he would be saving £15 million by virtue of removing the dependants allowance from men whose wives are working or are in receipt of benefit or assistance. Neither did he say that he would take half the children's allowance away from them. That will represent a major saving for the State.
The Council for the Status of Women have expressed reservations about this legislation as have the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. They are concerned that people will be victimised and that the incomes going into the houses of low earners will be considerably reduced. This will put them further into the poverty bracket. We cannot be sure about the Minister's figures. Great hardship will be caused to many people as a result of the fact that the dependants allowance will be reduced. A married man with four children whose wife is working, perhaps only part time and getting £30 a week, will lose £41.72 as a result of this legislation. Then we are told the Opposition do not know what they want.
We were told that 35,000 families would be eligible for the family income supplement, but the reality is that only 4,700 families have applied for it. That is an indication of how the Minister puts his figures into perspective. Not even one-seventh of the number of people we were told were going to apply have applied and the reason they have not applied is that it does not take account of the fact that people who are on unemployment assistance, doing part-time work or even small farmers on very low income are not eligible to apply for that scheme. We were told that the number would be about 35,000. I doubt if the scheme proposed to be introduced will cost £17 million. It would appear that there would be a major saving to the Government in many areas, particularly in relation to the children's allowance and the removal of the dependant's allowance.
The Minister last night in proposing his amendment noted that the EC directive on equality of treatment for men and women in social welfare matters came into effect in December 1978 when Fianna Fáil were in office and that no real attempt was made by that Government to implement the directive. That is incorrect. The Minister knows that, because Fianna Fáil in office set up an interdepartmental committee at the time of that directive to study what the effects of that legislation would be and to bring forward recommendations. The Minister in his speech last night made reference to what Deputy Haughey, then Minister for Health, said at the time. He must criticise Deputy Haughey in this House. No Member of the House is in the position to stand up and criticise Deputy Haughey, the leader of our party, in relation to social welfare and social policy, because in his capacity as Minister for Finance, Minister for Social Welfare, Minister for Justice and Taoiseach he has been responsible for implementing some of the most far-reaching and radical social legislation not alone in this country but in Europe, for the sake of those people who are least well able to look after themselves. He introduced the free electricity scheme, free travel and free telephones, very important and much appreciated at present when so many people are in fear of their lives because of the number of break ins and robberies going on. That enlightened social approach has always been the hallmark of Fianna Fáil. That free telephone rental scheme is very much appreciated.
If the Minister of State, Deputy Donnellan, is coming in later he might tell us why this Government after two years——
I came in to listen to the Deputy.
I appreciate that. I would like to know why after two years, seeing that in this week we were able to introduce two bits of emergency legislation and have one passed this morning and one passed in the afternoon, we are not in a position to see this legislation, to debate it here and have it implemented. By 22 December if the Dáil adjourns for the Christmas recess we will be in breach of the EC directive. I fail to understand why that should be. The Government are two years in office, and much of the homework had been done for them by Fianna Fáil before we left office. Fianna Fáil in office wanted the philosophy that runs through the way in which this Government intend to implement this legislation, but I would like to know why it is not being implemented in effect this week. Is it because of a dispute with the employees? Is it because of the embargo applying in the Department of Social Welfare under which two out of the three vacancies will be left unfilled? Under the Government's policy unemployment has risen by 60,000 since they came into office. Is it because the officers in the Department of Social Welfare are unable to cope because of the Government's disastrous policies? Is the reason as stated in The Sunday Tribune on Sunday, that the unions are not prepared to implement it? The Government should come clean and tell us what they intend to do, and not come in here and act the socialist when the record is there of not being fully behind legislation that will do justice to women but will not cause hardship and not increase the unprecedented level of poverty which we have seen over the last two years.
I am calling Deputy Michael Ahern, who has agreed to subdivide his time with Deputy Foley, and they have seven and a half minutes each.
I am glad to get an opportunity to say a few words on this legislation. Deputy O'Hanlon has made the case very well for anyone who wanted to listen. He spelt out how over the years Fianna Fáil have been the one party who have been to the fore in bringing forward and making progress in legislation giving social justice and equality to persons of all persuasions, of all means and to both sexes. The records are there in the Official Report and in legislation over the years.
However, it must be accepted that discrimination exists in the social welfare system between men and women. This form of discrimination must be abolished. We on this side support this concept totally. Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome states that equal pay means not only equal wages or salaries but also equality for any other considerations whether in cash or kind which the worker receives directly or indirectly in the course of his or her employment. Last evening the Minister inclined to cloud the issue, as he does always, by implying that Fianna Fáil had not implemented the directive immediately in 1978, but he is aware that this type of legislation is complicated and that it is time to bring it into effect. He has been a number of years in the post and what has he done? We have been waiting for a Bill for some time, and when he was questioned as to when it would be introduced we were told time and time again that it would be very soon. The deadline for the directive is 19 December, and that is coming up in seven days' time and still we have no Bill before us. I believe the reason for that is that the Minister is afraid and does not want the Bill to be introduced here in this House because it will once again show the people of the nation the skulduggery and indecision that he has towards this type of legislation. It does not surprise me that it does not come forward while we are sitting and can debate it. If I were the Minister I would choose Christmastime when the spotlight is some place else to keep down the defenceless, the hungry and the less well off members of society and push them further into the gutter. That is what the Minister is doing with his refusal to bring legislation before the House. A great fear among those on social welfare is that because of the manner in which the Government delay to implement the directive, families already on low incomes will have these incomes further reduced, and the Minister in his speech last evening confirmed that. Over the last year many decisions of the Government have hit hardest at the least well off members of our society. Early on we had the imposition of school bus fares. We have had cutbacks on food subsidies, on bread, milk and butter, and those affected all members of society but most of all those on the breadline. We heard much talk about the family income supplement, but it has not lived up to the publicity that the Minister and the Government displayed about it. Then the fuel scheme was tampered with. I am sure every Deputy could relate examples of people who, because they may be in receipt of as little as £1 per week in addition to their old age pension, were cut off summarily from receiving free fuel this year though they had received it in the past couple of years. This shows the lack of knowledge on the part of the Government of the difficulties being experienced by many of our old people.
Again, on 24 October there was a Government decision to exclude specifically unemployed persons and their dependants from a double social welfare payment at Christmas. The practice of the double payment was introduced by Fianna Fáil. Last year the Coalition indicated that they did not intend paying it but under pressure from us they relented. This year they have not given in fully with the result that those who are most in need of a double payment will not receive it.
According to what is known as the national plan, all food subsidies are to be abolished by 1986. We are told that there will be a new child benefit scheme, but when one examines the small print one finds that the payments will be taxable. This is another example of the sleight of hand attitude of the Government. It is another example of the continuing attacks by the Government on our people.
I believe that there should be equality between men and women in regard to pay and social benefits, but this equality should not be at the expense of the family. I fear that under the legislation we are discussing the family will suffer and that there will be further breakdowns in family life with a consequent deterioration in society. What concerns me about the present administration is their mishandling of the totality of social justice. The country is crying out for a return to power of Fianna Fáil so that we may continue the progress that was being made in this most important field. I am confident that at the next general election the people will realise who they must return to power.
I thank Deputy Ahern for agreeing to let me use some of his time. This enables me to contribute to this very important debate on equal treatment for men and women especially in the matter of social security.
The effects of the proposals, particularly in regard to the definition of dependency, could be very serious for low income families. Thousands will be affected by the legislation. As I understand it, a husband who is head of the household and is in receipt of social welfare benefit for himself, his wife and children, will lose the benefit for his wife and 50 per cent of the benefit for his children if, as is the position in many such cases, his wife is working. This puts him in a catch-22 situation. In many of these cases a wife goes to work to preserve the marriage and to supplement the social welfare income. What we are proposing here would create great hardship for such families.
I welcome the principle of equal treatment for men and women in the area of social welfare benefit. The principle of the EC directive is to eliminate from certain social security schemes all discrimination based on sex, either directly or indirectly, by reference particularly to family status but it is clear that the greatest impact of this directive will be on the larger families who are dependent on social welfare, because they may lose up to £40 per week as a result. The net loss in the case of a husband, wife and six children where he is in receipt of unemployment benefit and the wife is working will be in the region of £48.60.
I should like to remind the House of some promises that were made in the Coalition's programme for Government. I quote:
Unemployment and disability benefits will be kept in line with take home wages and salaries. Expenditure on other social benefits will be maintained in the light of inflation so that, even if a drop occurs in the immediate future in the purchasing power of better off groups in the community, the living standards of the section of the community dependant on social welfare payments will be maintained. Additional help over and above the standard increases will be provided for specially disadvantaged groups.
I appeal to the Minister and to the Government to show concern for the weaker sections who have been affected already as a result of the withdrawal of food subsidies. Many such people in my constituency approached me at the weekend to express the fear that as a result of this legislation their living standards will be eroded further.
In December 1978 the Council of Ministers adopted a directive regarding the gradual introduction of the equal treatment of men and women in social security schemes, covering especially illness, invalidity, old age, accident benefits as well as family allowances. I submit that it was never intended that families depending on social welfare payments would lose financially as a result of that directive.
I should like to comment first on Deputy O'Hanlon's remark that the Minister was incorrect in saying that equal treatment would cost £17 million in a full year. The Deputy said that £15 million would be saved as a result of the change in the dependency conditions. That is incorrect. The amount set aside by the Government in respect of the net cost of equal treatment is £17 million. That takes account of any savings that may arise as a result of any dependency condition.
How much will be saved?
The Deputy said also that Fianna Fáil are not responsible for the underlying philosophy of the way the directive is being implemented, but the legislation that will be before the House will be based squarely on the report of the departmental committee who were set up by and reported to a Fianna Fáil Government.
Yet the Minister tells us that Fianna Fáil have done nothing in this area.
I believe that the implementation of this directive represents an important milestone for many women who currently find themselves accorded less than equal treatment as regards entitlements under the social welfare code. The practical substance underlying the principle of equal treatement is recognition that the concept of a husband as the sole or invariable breadwinner in a family is no longer one that applies universally in our society. Equal treatment in statutory social welfare schemes is, therefore, particularly welcome as a coming to terms with what is anyway a fact of life as well as constituting an important step in the attainment of equal opportunities generally for women.
For many years now, married women have identified as key areas of discrimination their unequal treatment when claiming, for example, sickness benefit, as old age pensioners unable to claim for their husbands, except in very exceptional circumstances, and particularly in the area of unemployment where they receive unemployment benefit for less duration than men and, in the case of unemployment assistance, are effectively debarred from the scheme. With the implementation of the directive, some 40,000 married women will receive increases in their weekly entitlements and will be entitled to claim for 78 days longer than previously was the case. Married women will also be given entitlement to apply for unemployment assistance in the same way as other unemployed persons. All of these changes are changes which have been fought for long and hard by women over the years. Indeed, much of the correspondence I have received since assuming the office of Minister of State for Women's Affairs has concerned these very areas, and I therefore welcome the fact that they are now being effected.
It is not surprising that the most complex area in regard to equality of treatment is that relating to increases in respect of dependants. Hitherto, as the underlying assumption was that the husband was always the breadwinner, only he could generally receive increases of benefit in respect of his wife and children, exceptions arising only where he was incapable of self support through mental or physical infirmity, in which case the wife could claim him as a dependant. There are now, however, about 128,000 married women in the labour force, a growth of almost 90,000 in the period 1971-1983. Many thousands of married men are being paid adult dependant allowances in respect of wives who are either in employment or receiving a social welfare payment in their own right. It is clear, therefore, that it is necessary to apply genuine and uniform criteria of dependency in all cases even if unfortunately in some instances there will be certain people losing out. Under the new system a spouse who is in employment or who is receiving social welfare payments in their own right will not in general be regarded as an adult dependant. I know that as a result of this there will be some cases — for instance, where the wife is in low paid employment — where family income will suffer a loss. However, the Minister could not, in an attempt to meet this situation, continue to allow a husband to claim the adult dependant allowance for his wife and at the same time be seen to implement equality of treatment. Clearly, equal treatment could not result in an over-generous dependency condition being applied in this way.
I welcome the fact that there will be provisions in the Bill which will allow the Minister to bring in, on a limited basis, measures to alleviate hardship cases. This combined with the new family income supplement scheme should ensure a mitigation of some of the losses involved. Overall, then, we are talking about an important equalising measure for women which will involve a sizeable Exchequer cost and will benefit many homes. When the Minister's legislation goes through, the Irish social security code will for the first time treat married working women as economically independent in their own right rather than seeing them as dependent on their husbands or, indeed, as some form of secondary labour force who somehow happen to be there but are seen and treated as different to other workers. It will, I hope, as a result be more difficult in future for people to disparage and reduce the role of married women in the labour force as their full contribution and right to both work and claim benefit in the same way as others will be fully validated with the implementation of the directive.
I support the motion tabled by Deputy McCarthy. I would emphasise, as did Deputy McCarthy last night, Fianna Fáil's commitment to the principle of equality for women. Our party are totally opposed to any form of discrimination against women. I was very disappointed with the Minister's speech last night, as he devoted the greater part of his speech to criticising Fianna Fáil and blaming Deputy Haughey for not doing anything when he was Minister for Health and Social Welfare. Since this Government assumed office in November 1982 they have been blaming Fianna Fáil for everything that has happened. The result of the recent by-elections and European election should indicate to the Government that the people no longer accept this. The time has come for the Government to act in accordance with the principles enunciated by them before the last general election. To date they have failed to implement their policies.
As a Deputy representing the constituency of Dublin south-west which includes Tallaght and Clondalkin I am representing one of the constituencies worst hit by Government policies. We heard a lot about the family income supplement, which was one of the key issues for the Labour Party prior to the last general election. It fell far short of what was promised. In relation to this Bill one must have some doubts about it, having regard to the way the Minister for Social Welfare spoke about it last night. The Minister said that the Government had provided £17 million to implement the provisions of this legislation. They may have provided this money on paper, but the money is not there. That is one of the reasons why the introuduction of this Bill was delayed. The general consensus about this Bill is that the gains will be very small by comparison with the losses. It is also clear that the greatest impact will be on larger families depending on social welfare with one spouse on very low earnings.
If the Minister would answer this query I would be only too willing to afford her the opportunity. This morning I received a telephone call from a constituent suffering from a heart ailment and who has been in receipt of disability benefit for the last five years. This man has a wife and one child. He is now in receipt of £70 disability benefit. His wife works and her earnings are approximately £70. Having checked it with the officials this man claims that he will now lose anything from £30 to £35 of his disability benefit. Is this what the Minister was talking about when she was speaking here tonight?
She effectively is not financially dependent on her husband. That is the reality.
Does the Minister agree with that man losing £40?
The unfortunate wife and child will be £35 less well off.
It is the principle involved.
Will Deputy Walsh continue, without interruptions?
It is a sorry day for this House and it is a sorry day for the Irish people when a member of the Labour Party introduces this type of legislation. All the Minister could do last night was blame Fianna Fáil.
When Deputy O'Hanlon was speaking tonight he outlined the situation as far as Fianna Fáil are concerned. We do not have to worry about our record on social welfare. Now that Deputy Fennell has confirmed what I was told in the phone call this morning I am very disappointed with this legislation. Coming back to the point about Fianna Fáil being blamed for not having done various things, the present Government are in office for two years and nine months——
We are clearing up a lot of the work you did not do.
I listened to the Minister without interruption. Even if the Government cannot perform I would at least expect some manners from a representative of the Government. I have been a long time in this House and when I come in here I listen to speakers without interruption. It is no wonder the Government are in disarray. The Government have been in office for more than two years and they have blamed Fianna Fáil for not introducing legislation to implement the EC Directive. That job is the responsibility of the Minister of the day. Great play was made last night about the Government making a provision of £17 million for this but we must wait to see if the money will be available next year. Is the lack of money the reason for delaying the legislation? We have been told that the legislation will be introduced over the Christmas period so that we will have an opportunity to discuss it in our constituencies. I hope this will be the case.
I again support the motion of Deputy McCarthy and I am glad to be a member of the same party and to have an opportunity to speak on it. When it is put tonight I hope we will have the support of the Labour and Independent Deputies. At the beginning of their period of office the Government made great play of the amount of legislation they would introduce. Are we the only country in the EC to have delayed the introduction of this legislation?
The Government will celebrate their two-year period in office by reneging on the poor, the unemployed. If the two Ministers concerned here, Deputies B. Desmond and Fennell, would care to come to Tallaght or Clondalkin in my constituency they would see that seven out of ten households have not got a member working and they will find that eight families out of ten have not got a breadwinner. Then they will see the cruelty they are imposing by not granting a second week of unemployment benefit at Christmas. Of course they have reneged on the poor for years. They have reneged on all their general election promises in 1982. They got themselves elected on those promises but they will see the people's reaction when they are next called on to go to the ballot box. They showed their contempt for the Government in by-elections and in the European elections.
Fianna Fáil were the first Government to introduce double benefits for the poor at Christmas. Of course the present Government do not think of the unemployed, or is their problem that they have not got the money? At Christmas the old and the needy require a little extra money. It is a time when we all should think of our neighbours. A double week benefit, particularly in Dublin, would have relieved enormous hardship. When we walk into the division lobbies later I hope the Labour Party will be on this side——
Where are the Labour Party? Look at the empty seats. They are in their rabbit burrows.
Deputy Woods referred to the free fuel scheme. It is a great pity the Minister did not see his way to do something about it before Christmas. He would have given a little comfort to needy people living alone. I am disappointed that we should have to complain like this during the week in which the Dáil will go into recess, but I am pleased to support the motion and I hope it will receive the necessary support.
- Allen, Bernard.
- Barnes, Monica.
- Barrett, Seán.
- Barry, Myra.
- Begley, Michael.
- Bell, Michael.
- Connaughton, Paul.
- Coogan, Fintan.
- Cooney, Patrick Mark.
- Cosgrave, Liam T.
- Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
- Coveney, Hugh.
- Creed, Donal.
- Crotty, Kieran.
- Crowley, Frank.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Deasy, Martin Austin.
- Desmond, Barry.
- Desmond, Eileen.
- Donnellan, John.
- Dowling, Dick.
- Doyle, Avril.
- Doyle, Joe.
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- Durkan, Bernard J.
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- Farrelly, John V.
- Fennell, Nuala.
- FitzGerald, Garret.
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- Noonan, Michael.
- (Limerick East)
- O'Brien, Willie.
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- Barrett, Michael.
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- Daly, Brendan.
- De Rossa, Proinsias.
- Doherty, Seán.
- Fahey, Francis.
- Fahey, Jackie.
- Faulkner, Pádraig.
- Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
- Foley, Denis.
- Gallagher, Denis.
- Gallagher, Pat Cope.
- Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Walsh, Joe.
- Walsh, Seán.
- Gregory-Independent, Tony.
- Harney, Mary.
- Haughey, Charles J.
- Hilliard, Colm.
- Hyland, Liam.
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- Kitt, Michael.
- Lenihan, Brian.
- Leonard, Jimmy.
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- McCarthy, Seán.
- McEllistrim, Tom.
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- Molloy, Robert.
- Morley, P.J.
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- Noonan, Michael J.
- (Limerick West)
- O'Connell, John.
- O'Dea, William.
- O'Hanlon, Rory.
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- O'Kennedy, Michael.
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- Wyse, Pearse.