Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 20 Mar 1991

Vol. 406 No. 7

Social Welfare Bill, 1991: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

This Bill is positive evidence of the foresight of the Government and the Minister with relation to social welfare recipients. It is a continuation of the enlightened approach of the Government since 1987 and of the improvements in benefits since then.

There has been a general increase of 4 per cent in all short-term payments and in health board payments. This increase is in excess of the increase in the rate of inflation. In the past four years there have been special increases of up to 11 per cent for those on the lowest level of payments. In 1986, for example, the personal rate of long-term unemployment assistance was £36.70 a week. From July next it will be £55 a week, an increase of just under 50 per cent. If in 1982 somebody said that by 1986 there would be a 50 per cent increase in unemployment assistance nobody would have believed it. It did not happen. Since 1987 we have increased benefits by up to 50 per cent and at the same time kept inflation to single figures. Therefore, there has been a real increase for the recipients of benefit.

I congratulate the Minister and the Government not only on giving these increases but on their continual support of the family. There is a new minimum allowance of £12 per week for child dependants and there will be a higher rate of child benefit from the fourth child onwards. The Government have also streamlined the child dependant rates, reducing the number of rates from 36 four years ago to four rates now. This means that claims can be processed more quickly.

The carer's allowance seems to have caused some concern in recent months. The introduction of this allowance was a most progressive step and up to 4,000 people now benefit from it. It was introduced only in November 1990 and many people on the other side of the House have described it as a fiasco. It is plain that they do not understand what they are talking about. The allowance is meant to cover people who were not in receipt of any social welfare benefit. Many women left their employment to look after aged parents and when their entitlement to unemployment assistance expired they did not qualify for any other payments because they were not available for work. The Minister introduced the carer's allowance in recognition of the need. Some commentators misrepresented the allowance and caused great confusion. The fact that 4,000 people are benefiting from this allowance is clear evidence that its introduction was a wise decision. As time goes on many more will benefit.

Many people were at a disadvantage because of the lack of social insurance for part-time workers. We have been given figures by the Department which say that up to 21,000 long term part-time workers were not in a position to receive any social welfare benefits whatsoever, that they were outside the social welfare system. Under this new scheme they will be eligible for social welfare pension and unemployment benefit etc. However, it is quite clear that there are unscrupulous employers who will try everything to circumvent the legislation. I note that there is to be an income threshold of £40 per week in order to qualify but I would ask the Minister to reduce this to £30 or perhaps less, as a maximum. That would prevent unscrupulous employers from circumventing the legislation.

Will you vote for our amendment?

I am sure the Minister will know what to do. We have had to wait for Fianna Fáil to introduce this legislation. The provision of social insurance for part-time workers and the introduction of a carer's allowance go to show that Fianna Fáil have been the party to see the need, as always, in the community and to respond to that need.

It took them a long time.

We listened from 1982 to 1986 to your party's rhetoric Deputy Stagg, but you were doing nothing.


I listened to Deputy Stagg this morning and heard him say that people on £40 have to pay PRSI. They do not. That just shows the Deputy's ignorance of the facts. If he comes in here and makes statements, he should know what he is talking about.

The Minister was not accurate in what he said in reply to me.

Another welcome element of the Bill is the introduction of an adult dependant and child dependant allowance for six weeks after the death of a spouse or a child. The weeks after the death of a loved one are very traumatic. It is also a time when people do not take account of what they spend and it can be a time of great expense. Many people get into great debt at such times so I am glad that the Minister and the Government saw fit to introduce this allowance. I am confident that it will be of great benefit to people in the years ahead.

Another headline over the past number of weeks is that some people are better off in receipt of social welfare as opposed to being at work. This may have been true in the past but, with the introduction of the family income supplement and family tax exemptions over the past year or two, it is no longer the case. With exemptions on income up to £8,000 and family income supplement payments of anything up to £25 per week it is definitely, and this has been proved in figures given by the Department of Social Welfare and the tax office, that people are better off at work than depending on social welfare. Besides the financial aspect, the psychological impact of not working is not beneficial. Various social welfare schemes have enabled people to go back to work and to provide psychologically and financially for their families.

Another scaremongering tactic from the Opposition benches was that people in receipt of the family income supplement would not qualify for a medical card. Of course this is not true. Any such notion should be put to bed. A person may hold a medical card as well as receiving a family income supplement payment.

An important innovation in the Bill is that people on long-term unemployment payments will be allowed to take up jobs for up to a year without adversely affecting their benefit. One of the problems facing those on long-term unemployment was that if they were offered short-term jobs they would lose out on their extra entitlements. I am glad the Minister has seen fit to change this regulation. A person who has the offer of a job for a couple of months will be in a position to accept it while retaining the right to go back on long-term unemployment assistance or benefit and receive the extra entitlements. This is very important for the individual concerned.

I am glad to see the change in the payment of pensions to the payment of a pro rata pension to people with mixed insurance, an area I have been concerned about for a long time. Many people fail to qualify for old age contributory and retirement pensions because of their mixed insurance record. However, with the changes in this Bill they will now qualify for a pro rata pension. This is most welcome.

The new appeals procedure should be of great benefit to those appealing decisions in the years ahead. A problem I have had in dealing with the Department of Social Welfare over the years, especially in regard to appeals, is that I was unable to get any information. I hope this new system will allow people to get information as to why their appeal was turned down, and that they will get more information than was ever the case before.

I am concerned also about the means testing of relatives, whether they be sons, daughters, or brothers and sisters, for example, where a boy is living with his sister and brother-in-law, the means of the brother-in-law and his wife are taken into account when assessing the means of the boy. I request the Minister to examine this position. I have had cases where young men of 17 or 18 years were living with a married sister and husband and did not qualify for assistance because their means were taken into consideration. This question should be examined seriously.

Referring social welfare cases to referees has caused great concern down through the years. There have been improvements in this area but it should be carefully monitored. Anyone appearing before the referee should be treated with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, people report that this is not always the case so I request the Minister to ensure that the matter is kept under close scrutiny.

I am glad to say that social welfare premises and facilities have been improved throughout the country. However, there is room for further improvement. I know the Minister and the Government are doing their best in that respect and I wish them well.

I had been dealing with the Department of Social Welfare for many years before coming into this House. The improvements that have been made in the past number of years must be commended. These improvements are due to the excellent work being done by the Government, the Minister and the staff in the Department. Social welfare is a complicated area and without the hard work and excellent effort of all we would not have achieved results. The number of queries I have received in the last year or so has reduced compared with that of four years ago. Information from the Department shows that the number of queries from Deputies has gone down over the years. This improvement is due to computerisation and a better awareness on the part of the general public.

Since 1987 the lot of those dependent on the State has improved because the Minister has fought hard at Cabinet level to get the necessary finances to give greater funding to those in need. Thanks is due also to the Government for recognising the need to give support to the less well off in our society.

In conclusion, I wish the Minister well and congratulate him on introducing such an excellent Bill.

I am very pleased to be able to contribute to this debate. Time is so short that all those people who wanted to contribute to this debate will not be able to do so. This is regrettable in the case of such important legislation affecting so many people. I would also like to ask the Minister — and perhaps other Ministers will take note of this as well — to circulate his speech to Deputies. We are still waiting for the Official Report to come through and when one is not in the Chamber for the main speech it is difficult to contribute a few days later.

The Deputy can send somebody to pick up a copy.

As a procedure it might be useful to assist Deputies in having that information when they are contributing to a debate a few days after the opening Second Stage speech is made.

This Bill is to give effect to social welfare provisions in the budget. It is an annual exercise to change, and increase in some instances, amounts to people on social welfare payments. It should also be an opportunity for Ministers to initiate new policies or structures, to amend the system of social welfare, to improve it as proposed, for instance, in the report of the Commission on Social Welfare in 1986. This Bill has not done this and is one more lost opportunity.

Let us look at some of the recommendations of the commission. Their recommendation on child welfare, or children's allowance as it was called, is worthwhile. It proposes that children's allowances now at £15.80 per child for the first three children, with higher amounts for subsequent children, should be amended to give a higher rate to children age 12 and over because the cost of clothing, feeding and looking after older children is substantially higher than that for small children. It is certainly more expensive and should be mirrored in the payments.

The commission also recommended changes in the family income supplement. They say it should be discontinued in the long term in favour of higher children's allowances and realistic marginal tax rates on low paid employees. It is a most difficult scheme. It is almost impossible to interpret and apply. Only a proportion of those who need it or who could qualify for it are getting it. Maybe it is time to consider the commission's proposals seriously and make the necessary amendments. There is no doubt of the need. The delivery of such a payment to people needs to be clarified and streamlined.

The commission are interesting on the supplementary welfare allowance. This has come up time and again. The allowance is at present administered by health boards on an ad hoc basis. The commission proposed it should be dealt with by the Department of Social Welfare directly and that there should be clear guidelines which should be reviewed every two years. Many speakers recount humiliating experiences of people seeking supplementary welfare allowances. All of these people are very vulnerable, very needy, very deserving. Yet at that time in their lives they can be treated quite abominably by some officials — I say some officials, not all, but some cases of very bad treatment have been reported to me. Some measures to make this scheme fair and seen to be fair are long overdue.

There are many other worthwhile proposals which the commission have made and on which action is needed. These would improve the general social welfare service but, unfortunately, they have been ignored. It is time we took the report of the Commission on Social Welfare more seriously.

I welcome the European Court decision that proved a victory for two women, Anne Cotter and Nora McDermott. This has enormous implications for the Government.

We have had a recurring problem in respect of this case in so far as it is still before our courts. We are not, here, going to argue the wisdom or otherwise of the prohibition that exists in the matter of not discussing such cases. A passing reference is acceptable.

Wish them well.

I wish them well, and all the other women, too, who I hope will benefit. This Bill will now recognise, for social welfare purposes, people living in non-marital relationships. Such couples will, in future, be treated as man and wife. When I heard this proposal I wondered what wonderful rush of blood to the head was now bringing official policy into line with reality. I wondered was it an awareness of the new social order that is here to stay, an acknowledgment that people are deciding not to marry, many of them from choice, others because they have had a legal marriage and cannot get a divorce and so have to make their own casual arrangements. However, I find the change is not due to any of those worthy motives but to the plain hard economics that too single people living together were getting higher benefits than a married couple. The Department were, in fact, losing out financially and, rather than increasing the allowances to married people as one would have thought more appropriate, it was decided to treat single people as married. Perhaps some good can come of that.

Now that we have this decision under social welfare legislation, can we hope for a similar bolt of enlightenment on the part of the Minister for Finance in his Bill? Will he now extend the same facility that the Minister for Social Welfare is extending to couples living together for tax purposes and for mortgage relief? Can we look even further ahead and get the Minister for Justice to take another lead and reflect on how Irish society has developed and how many non-marital families now exist with the same needs for protection, the same needs for recognition as families based on marriage and extend our family laws to protect all families, give them all the same rights and entitlements in the areas of maintenance, custody, family homes etc? This is a serious question. I certainly hope that the trend that has been started in this Bill will be continued in other legislation. Where our laws distinguish between families, depending on whether couples are married or are cohabiting, they are unjust and need to be reviewed and changed. I am surprised that somewhere along the way there has not been a constitutional challenge to these provisions because it would be difficult to imagine any such challenge failing.

I will turn now to the carer's allowance mentioned by almost all speakers in this debate. I welcomed its introduction. Over the years we had made submissions to various Ministers recommending that its structure be changed, so that the carer would benefit rather than the person who was handicapped, old or infirm. That has been done but, unfortunately, this long promised allowance has not proved to be as ideal as one might have expected. That is most regrettable. It is unhelpful to the main carers, mostly women, who care for our elderly, handicapped and ill, who are doing an extremely good job at tremendous cost to themselves with very little respite in the way of help, holidays or other relief. Many of them looked forward to receiving some small allowance or income that would not fully recognise the task they were undertaking but would go some way towards doing so.

As Deputy Connaughton pointed out, any family with an earned income in excess of £90 a week is debarred totally from receiving this allowance. That is most regrettable. Probably 99.9 per cent of those carers are comprised of women who provide a quality of care not to be found elsewhere. We must remember that they save the State a lot of money, for example, at least £300 per week if an old person in their care had to be accommodated in a nursing home. They also help to keep communities together, which is very important in a social sense, preventing the break-up of families and the awful loneliness and subsequent illness of many old people when removed from their homes. These women are doing an enormously important job. I would appeal to the Minister to listen to the very real concerns expressed inside and outside this House, to examine this allowance and, if necessary, to amend it.

I should like to refer now to the problems encountered by women who were compelled to give up their jobs on marriage prior to 1973 when the marriage bar obtained for women in public service jobs. They could not, by law, continue to work after marriage and left the labour force. Many have returned to work, others are still returning, and find they will be at a great loss when it comes to a pension being paid. They have been placed at a disadvantage for pension purposes because their work contribution to benefit will be calculated pro rata on their broken work record. That was not their fault; they were left no discretion in the matter. This is something that should be rectified by the Government. I know that these women's cases have been documented and presented to the Minister. I would ask him to look favourably at their claim and table an amendment referring to them specifically.

I have noted the amnesty for employers forming part of the PRSI-related fraud crackdown which will last for six months. It is very distressing to come across anybody who has been sacked or lost their job because their firm or business has gone into liquidation, closed down or whatever, when they discover they have no entitlement to anything because their PRSI contributions have been used by their employers as a type of long term loan. I feel very strongly about this practice by such employers. I would contend that stronger measures than an amnesty should be initiated to ensure that this practice cannot continue, which is anti-taxpayer and specifically anti-worker.

I should like to raise one other matter with the Minister of which he may not be aware. It has come to my notice that an unemployed man, anxious to be a candidate in the local elections — who has indicated his intention to the Department of Social Welfare — has been told that, if selected, will be deemed to be not available for work and will have his unemployment assistance payments terminated. It is good that somebody who has experienced first-hand the deprivations of being unemployed is attempting to represent a constituency and run as a candidate in the local elections. That decision of the Department is most regrettable. I am sure that our party will not be the only one that will have unemployed candidates running in the local elections. I am sure other parties will also. I would ask the Minister to examine this and ascertain whether something can be done——

We have them already.

It is unfair. We have not had local elections now for five years so we should be somewhat more enlightened about such matters. I would ask the Minister to examine the matter.

I want to commend the Minister on his information campaign, particularly on the very clear and helpful way his Departmental officials deal with queries. I want to commend him particularly on the series of information sheets produced which go a long way to helping people become aware of their entitlements. When I was Minister I did this kind of thing; I had a budget and was able to do so. The good aspect of it is that such information sheets are distributed free of charge, all helping to give people greater dignity, and making them more aware of their entitlements so that, hopefully, fewer of them will resort to public representatives to make representations on their behalf. Indeed, it would be my wish that this help on the part of his Department would percolate down the line nationwide to all their offices and so on which, unfortunately, is not the case.

I also welcome the fact that the HIV trust fund has been recognised in this Bill and that there will be an exemption limit for those people who at present suffer from AIDS, are HIV-positive or haemophiliacs.

I commend the Minister also on the scheme with regard to women's organisations whose provisions go a great deal further than its allocations. Women's organisations, by way of community support, are enormously cost effective in that they do not spend money on big cars, large offices or whatever; their money is spent in the most economical, advantageous way possible.

I might mention one group — called AIM — with which most people in the House will be familiar who appear to fall between all stools. They provide an advice centre, mainly for women experiencing problems vis-á-vis family breakdown. This group has been turned down by everybody, by the national lottery, and, as far as I am aware, by the Department. I am asking the Minister to look kindly on them because they are about to close having had such bad luck in endeavouring to get any funding. I am aware — as I am sure is the Minister — that their work is much appreciated. I hope that the Minister will indeed look favourably at the submission I will make to him in regard to this group.

I also hope that we will have longer to debate the Social Welfare Bill of next year when, hopefully, more of the recommendations of the Commission on Social Welfare will have been implemented because, in the long run, they constitute the most important aspect of our work with regard to social welfare in its entirety.

I should like to thank Deputies for their fairly lengthy contributions. I have noted the very large number of points made and I would like to assure Deputies that I will give them every consideration. In the time available to me I will be able to deal only with a number of them but I will try to cover as many as I can.

At the outset, I want to refer to a matter raised by Deputy Byrne. I was very glad that he raised, yet again, the matter of the poverty conference in Galway which I had the honour to host during Ireland's Presidency. I have already made the facts about the conference very clear but I will repeat them for the benefit of the House.

The theme of the conference was the role of voluntary organisations in the member states of the EC. It was held during the Irish Presidency and was partly funded by the EC. It was particularly appropriate that this conference should be held in Ireland in view of the exceptionally high level of our voluntary services. We are unique in Europe in the extent, commitment and calibre of our voluntary organisations and the people who run them and participate in them. The conference was attended by 150 representatives mainly from voluntary organisations from the various member states, as well as government representatives, representatives of the European Commission, the Council of Europe and other international organisations representing the voluntary sector. The conference was extremely valuable to me in the context of the development of policy in relation to the voluntary sector, with particular reference to the relationship between the State and voluntary organisations.

I have already announced plans to draw up a charter for voluntary social service activities in Ireland. The new Programme for Economic and Social Progress commits the Government to produce a White Paper outlining their proposals in this area. The conference was also extremely valuable at EC level and was recognised by the Commission as having put the issue of voluntary organisations and their role clearly on the EC agenda, the role of the nongovernmental organisations, as they are called in Europe.

For a sum of £20,000.

We suggested Galway as a suitable venue because many of the meetings were taking place here in Dublin. Obviously, holding the meeting in Galway would cost more — that is the nature of holding conferences outside Dublin. It is very important that a number of them should be held outside Dublin. Galway was a very suitable location for the conference which was held in the Great Southern Hotel. I was delighted to be able to have the conference in the west. In addition, it gave the delegates the opportunity to visit the Forum Project in Letterfrack, Connemara, which will receive a total of £1.7 million funding from the third EC poverty programme. It is one of the two major programmes covered in Ireland under this scheme. Over half of the overall costs involved related to organising the conference itself, including printing and interpretation facilities. In addition, as is normal for such conferences, the air and other travel costs of all delegates were met. That is normal for EC conferences and is normal when they are held in Ireland, although I know Deputy Byrne does not want it to be normal if it is a conference relating to social security, social welfare or the voluntary organisations.

The Minister thinks he got good value for £20,000. I think it was wasted.

The European Commission contributed about £77,000 towards the overall cost. Deputy Byrne has been critical of the cost of the meals provided for delegates. I should like to say the meals were the standard meals provided by the hotel and were what one would expect from a hotel run by CERT. I have copies of the menus to show exactly what was involved.

I have seen the menus.

The Deputy raised the matter. I will answer now for Members of the House. I will give the menu, which was the normal menu. The first menu in Galway was: Seafood Cocktail, Lobster Bisque, Connemara Salmon — what else would one expect in the west but Connemara salmon when all the voluntary organisations from around Europe and a number of Ministers are there to see them — and Fresh Fruit Salad and Tea or Coffee. That is the meal the Deputy is talking about——

The Minister should not make a meal out of it.

——and that should not apply to the voluntary organisations but, of course, it should apply to everybody else. That is typical of the hypocrisy of The Workers' Party. If you went around Dublin you would see that that menu would be small beer for members of The Workers' Party who sit beside the Deputy on that Front Bench. Let us have a little less of the kind of hypocrisy that comes from The Workers' Party.

What is the Minister saying? I would ask him to make up his mind.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I come now to the big dinner on the occasion when all these people were together for the final dinner. What did they have for the dinner? They had Corrib Salmon, brill and Killary scallops in a terrine. Are they not all lovely dishes, from the west of Ireland, all served up in a terrine by the members of CERT?

The Minister does not know what he is missing.

The second menu was shellfish consommé — this is a clear shell-fish soup — Connemara lamb and fresh fruit. A very special menu for——

One would think the Minister was responsible for Bord Fáilte.

——these people who had come and had spent four days working here in Ireland. Ireland was chosen as the venue and they spent four days here. What did the Deputy and his comrades have when they went to Romania? At the end of their four days here they got a choice of tea or a Gaelic coffee for the special dinner. That is the least we might have given those people.

What did the conference cost? It is a scandal.

Give up the hypocrisy Deputy Byrne. There is nobody with you on it. The second item I would like to refer to——

Deputy Byrne, I am sorry, but you cannot be scudding across the place during a debate such as this. The Deputy will have to contain himself while the Minister is replying.

You will appreciate that the Minister is being rather offensive in his allegations about The Workers' Party.

The Deputy is not entitled to rise on that point.

On a point of order, I am puzzled about what menus at a conference in Galway some time ago have to do with the Social Welfare Bill. I am anxious that the Minister should deal with the Bill.

Ask Deputy Byrne. He raised the matter and I am replying.

Come to more important things.

Last week I gave the House an undertaking that if employers attempted to reduce hours of work or wages to bring employees' weekly earnings down to exclude employees from full insurance cover, I would not hesitate to take action. Last Friday, strong representations were made to me by both the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, a joint delegation of SIPTU and representatives of the contract cleaning industry. Both delegations indicated that unscrupulous employers were prepared to reduce employees' earnings below the £40 threshold and that, in some cases, this process had already begun. As this will have the effect of excluding from cover part-time employees, who are particularly vulnerable, I have decided to take corrective action. Accordingly, I am reducing the threshold for insurability from £40 to £25 or more per week. I am satisfied that employers who attempt to do so will find it extremely difficult to reduce hours of employment or pay to bring their employees below this reduced level.

As a consequence of this development, the number of part-time employees who will benefit from the full insurance cover will increase from 21,000 to 27,000. I am confident that the £25 threshold will reduce the scope for evasion and the effect of the black economy. There is clear evidence that people are already making preparations to try to evade the £40 threshold which I had set. It is vital that families who live on low incomes and who rely heavily on income from part-time work are given the security of the social welfare system to fall back on at times when they are unable to work. I am satisfied that the £25 threshold will achieve this aim. As a consequence, the number of part-time employees who will benefit will go up to 27,000. For the first time these workers will have access to social security benefits when they are unable to work because of illness, maternity or unemployment. Furthermore, they will be entitled to pensions on retirement.

Part-time workers are the last group to be brought into the protection of the social insurance system. These workers are usually women who work in traditionally low paid and often insecure employment. I am satisfied that the new development in relation to the threshold will succeed in protecting these workers.

Reference was made to incentives to work. One cannot take in isolation the different items in relation to incentives to work. A number of elements in this Bill and the budget are designed specifically to increase the incentive to work on the one hand and, on the other, ensure that there is adequate support for those at work, particularly those on lower pay. The extension of the linking period of unemployment assistance from 20 to 52 weeks will be a major incentive for those on long-term unemployment assistance to seek out job opportunities. In addition, the full social insurance cover which will be extended from 6 April next to part-time workers will also facilitate those who avail of this 52 week break. Apart from directly assisting part-time employees this will also assist those who are unemployed in getting back into employment.

Various Deputies spoke about child benefit in isolation. However, child benefit and child-related tax exemptions have to be taken together. The strategy in the budget was to give the extra money to areas where it would have the greatest impact. It is clear that the increases in the family income supplement and the improvements in the child-related tax exemptions will have the greatest impact on people at work on low pay. The combination of the increased child-related tax incentives, family income supplement and child benefit will make a very significant contribution to the incentive to work. For example, a married person with four children earning £162 per week will get an extra £13.80 per week as a result of the combined effect of child benefit, family income supplement and child-related tax incentives.

The new area-based response to long-term employment set out in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress is a further initiative specifically designed to tackle the problem of long-term unemployment in black spot areas. It will ensure that a range of options will be available to the long-term unemployed resulting in a greater possibility of employment. We have been doing a number of things which fit in with this initiative. As regards the community development programme, Deputy Wallace referred to Knocknaheeney and Mayfield in Cork. There are some very good examples in these areas of how people have made use of this programme which is designed to help people get back into courses of different kinds and start up work projects. We are not confined solely to the new area-based response, details of which will be made available shortly. The community development programme has made a valuable contribution to local groups in helping them tackle their problems at local level. I am delighted that a total allocation of £750,000 has been made available this year for this programme.

A number of Deputies spoke about the need for a more personalised and localised service. That is the way in which we are developing the programme at present. For example, we are improving our buildings and offices and giving greater autonomy to regions and local managers. The increased autonomy which will be devolved to the regions and local managers will enable a number of the other initiatives referred to by Deputies to be introduced. We will continue to introduce one-stop-shops and to improve local information services. On the other side of the coin, we are tackling fraud and abuse, something we believe we must do.

Deputy Gerry Reynolds referred to the external control unit. He was very concerned about this unit and their activities. In this context, I took exception to some of the words he used in regard to public servants. He was not prepared to withdraw his remarks but I hope he will do so in due course. I want to put the record straight in regard to the activities of the external control unit.

The external control unit visit people who are receiving postal payments, who sign on at Garda stations and other signing offices. These people do not sign on weekly and some of them have not seen anyone for years, not to mention weeks or months. The external control unit arrange interviews locally and meet those people who are signing on for unemployment payments. They give these people a simple form to fill in. This was presented in a totally different light by Deputy Gerry Reynolds. I want to refer to the simplicity of the form and how it is related to the legislation. It states:

I understand that I must inform my local employment exchange or office if:

(1) I engage in any work, paid or unpaid, regardless of the duration,

(2) I am unable for any reason to take up employment,

(3) I am accepted on a training course given by FÁS, an Enterprise Allowance Scheme, the Social Employment Scheme, or any other Government sponsored training or work programme,

(4) I apply for any other benefit, assistance or allowance,

(5) I start a course of education,

(6) I am absent from the State for any period, and

(7) there are any changes in family circumstances which might affect my benefits, for example, a spouse taking up employment or dependants going to live elsewhere.

The form is then signed by the person. That is all that is in the form. Those who sign on weekly at employment exchanges or social welfare offices are very much aware of the requirements and from time to time are asked if they are still fulfilling them.

To give an example of how the external control unit operate, I will refer to their activities during 1990. Even though they are a very small unit, they interviewed 19,513 people during 1990. The number of people who, having either seen the form or filled it in, voluntarily signed off was 4,796. The number of people disallowed — the people referred to by Deputy Gerry Reynolds — was 292 out of a total of 19,513. I want to make it very clear that the allegations made by Deputy Reynolds are untrue, unfounded——

They are true.

Deputy Stagg should read what Deputy Reynolds said. He did not say what the Deputy thinks he said.

I did not agree with what the Deputy said——

Is the Minister satisfied with the way in which they carry out their work?

The picture the Minister paints is not true either.

I am giving the Deputy the facts. The people who left or voluntarily signed off was 24.5 per cent while the number who were disallowed was 1.5 per cent. To suggest that anyone is harassing people in that situation is beyond credulity——

They are.

That is the reality of the situation.

They are known as the hit gang.

They are known by all sorts of names. Where someone signs on each week and has not been asked questions for many years I can fully understand that people would regard them as someone who should not be asking questions. However, the legislation requires that these questions be asked.

Does the Minister agree that a hand and finger test should be allowed in full view of people?

In reply to the question, 1.5 per cent of the applications were disallowed. That is the reality——

The others were frightened out of existence.

There is no need to be frightened, Deputy.

The Minister does not have to go through the system.

We should also be concerned about the level of fraud and abuse. As has been pointed out by a number of Deputies, the amnesty has been introduced. I hope people will come forward, come clean, make arrangements with officers of my Department to have their affairs brought up-to-date and pay what they owe to avoid prosecution.

I wish to make it very clear that the number of investigations into employers will increase very significantly. Last year, 2,400 employers were visited but, by the end of this year, 15,000 employers will have been visited. We are doing no more than Deputies have asked. They have asked us to redirect our efforts away from cases where very small sums are involved, a matter of a few pounds, to areas where there is sizeable evasion. As well as this, additional staff have been appointed.

A number of Deputies referred to the carer's allowance. I want us to be clear about one thing. That was the first time a carer's allowance was introduced. We made it very clear both in this House and in advertisements that only those on low incomes could avail of the allowance.

It was not sold in that way.

I will show the Deputy the advertisements on Committee Stage.

It has come home to haunt the Minister.

The Deputy dealt with agriculture then.

Exactly, the Deputy was more familiar with agriculture at that stage. We made it very clear that only social welfare pensioners——

It is the only thing that really hurts.

——and those on low incomes could avail of the allowance. My first and primary function, as Minister for Social Welfare, was to cater for them. The many women who had left employment or had never taken a job to mind elderly parents at home could not qualify for unemployment assistance and had no income. We catered for these first and I make no apology for this. We are moving towards——

Were they not availing of the prescribed relative allowance all the time?

Deputy, I have only a few minutes in which to reply to the many points raised. The Deputy was not present for a large part of the debate——

I was listening to it.

——and he is not being fair in barracking at this stage, not that I mind since I am quite used to it. We are increasing the allowance from £45 to £50 and intend to extend the scheme to cover those in receipt of the DPMA, disabled person's maintenance allowance. What is the first priority of the Labour Party, The Workers' Party or the Fine Gael Party? When the Deputy spoke honestly he suggested that our next priority must be an extension of the scheme to cover those in receipt of the disabled persons maintenance allowance. We are now doing that and in the future, will improve the means test. Reading from a prepared script — this was not allowed at one stage here; one could only refer to one's notes but this practice seems to have gone by the board — Deputy Moynihan raised the question of this allowance——

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Ministers have that privilege.

Ministers gave us that bad habit.

Ministers normally prepare a script and make it available.

The Minister is nitpicking.

During the break I had to clear a number of parliamentary questions put down for answer today. One of those was a question put down by Deputy Moynihan, Question No. 159 which reads:

To ask the Minister for Social Welfare if he will outline the grounds on which a person (details supplied) in County Kerry was refused a transfer from a prescribed relative allowance to a carer's allowance.

I stated in reply that the carer's allowance is only payable to carers on low income who are living with and looking after a social welfare pensioner who needs full time care and attention. In this instance, the prescribed relative allowance of the person concerned was transferred to her son in the form of a carer's allowance with effect from 8 November 1990 — at the very beginning of the scheme. The person who is receiving full-time care and attention is not entitled to a carer's allowance in her own right. Most Deputies realise this, yet a parliamentary question on the matter was put down by Deputy Moynihan who berated me earlier today for not giving the carer's allowance to a person whom he felt was due this allowance. As I said, the person got the allowance on 8 November last and, as the Deputy is aware, is not due a second allowance.

When the Minister gets the chance he rubs it in.

He is good at it.

He made a meal out of that one. I do not believe he found it himself but rather that his gurus dug it up for him.


That parliamentary question was put down for answer to day. It would be very silly——

Whatever about the legislation, the debate will never be accused of having been very social.

We are very tolerant.

They have been very helpful.

Could we proceed in a social fashion to the welfare of the people? The Minister without interruption.

We are used to dealing with a certain amount of abuse——

And praise.

——and dealing with payments.

The one figure the Minister has not quoted is the figure of £14,000 per delegate to the Galway conference.

The question of delays was raised. I am aware that the delays have been greatly reduced and I could get the figures to show this. The appeals office are trying to reduce them even further but there are certain things which cannot be reduced. I wish to refer to another parliamentary question on today's Order Paper, No. 157, and if the Deputies so wish I will not mention the name of the Deputy concerned but this time——

Please do.

——it is a Member on this side of the House.

Do not be afraid to mention him.

The reply to that question states that the social welfare officer has twice visited the person concerned since January 1991 in order to establish his entitlement to pension and that investigations are still continuing concerning the proposed transfer of land to his nephews. When the position has been established his case will be referred for immediate decision and he will be informed of the outcome. Long delays are usually experienced in that type of case. We are overcoming these delays by bringing the self-employed and others into the insurance scheme.

Reference was also made to the training courses undertaken by social welfare officers. They do a four month training course made up of two modules, two months formal training and two months on-the-job training under supervision. Formal training incorporates elements such as courtesy and dealing with the public. They do refresher courses from time to time. Even though we are almost out of time I must reply to Deputy Fennell who made reference to a person in Ballymun, from the Fine Gael Party, who wants to run in the local elections.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): She never mentioned Fine Gael.

She did. She said "of ours".

(Carlow-Kilkenny): She referred to an unemployed person who wants to stand for election.

They said that we have some too. Claimants for unemployment assistance or benefit are required to satisfy the statutory condition of being available for and genuinely seeking work. In the normal way, candidates for elections who are in receipt of unemployment payments have no difficulty in satisfying my Department's deciding officers that they fulfil these conditions. Accordingly, there is no need for any special steps to be taken in respect of candidates for the local elections. Therefore, there is no problem. If an individual locally is having a problem he should bring the case forward and I will make sure it is dealt with.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Will that apply to all parties?

Yes, it will apply to all parties. I commend the Bill to the House. It is a very important Bill which makes many advances in social welfare. I know Deputies would like to see more being done, and in the future we hope to be able to do more, but this Bill is a major step forward in social welfare and social security.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá 64; Níl, 55.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Brennan, Mattie.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Foxe, Tom.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Charles J.
  • Hillery, Brian.
  • Hilliard, Colm.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kelly, Laurence.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Lyons, Denis.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • Browne, John (Wexford).
  • Burke, Raphael P.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
  • Cullimore, Séamus.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • McDaid, Jim.
  • McEllistrim, Tom.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
  • O'Connell, John.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • O'Toole, Martin Joe.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wyse, Pearse.


  • Ahearn, Therese.
  • Barnes, Monica.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Belton, Louis J.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Crowley, Frank.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Doyle, Joe.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Enright, Thomas W.
  • Farrelly, John V.
  • Fennell, Nuala.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Garland, Roger.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Philip.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McCartan, Pat.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Mac Giolla, Tomás.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Gerry.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Owen, Nora.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reynolds, Gerry.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sheehan, Patrick J.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Yates, Ivan.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies V. Brady and Clohessy; Níl, Deputies Flanagan and Boylan.
Question declared carried.

When is it intended to take Committee Stage?

Tomorrow, subject to agreement with the Whips.

Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 21 March 1991.