Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 5 Jul 1956

Vol. 46 No. 6

Social Welfare (Amendment) Bill, 1956—Second Stage.

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

The Bill I am now submitting to the Seanad is that dealing with the increase in the rates of the insurance benefits which were mentioned by the Minister for Finance in his Financial Statement on the 8th of May. It was then announced that the Government had decided to increase the rates of the benefits which are paid from the Social Insurance Fund and that legislation to give effect to the decision would be introduced at an early date.

The benefits payable from the Social Insurance Fund which are paid at weekly intervals and which it is proposed to increase are:— disability benefit, unemployment benefit, widows' (contributory) pensions, and maternity allowance.

In each of these benefits, the normal rate of payment is at present 24s. per week with, in the case of disability benefit and unemployment benefit, an increase of 12s. per week for an adult dependent and 7s. per week each for one or two children. A widow in receipt of a contributory pension also receives an additional 7s. per week each for one or two children.

The standard weekly rate of 24s. for each of the benefits I have mentioned is being increased to 30s. The additional 12s. per week for an adult dependent will become 15s. per week and the additional 7s. per week for each of one or two children will become 8s. A man with a wife and two children who, at present, if unemployed or ill receives 50s. per week will, when the new rates come into force on the 3rd September next, receive 61s. per week. A widow with two children who at present receives 38s. per week will after 7th September next receive 46s. per week. A woman in receipt of maternity allowance who at present receives 24s. per week will after 3rd September next receive 30s. per week.

The increased rates of benefit being provided will cost over £1,500,000 per annum, of which £1,000,000 will be provided by increases in the existing rates of contribution. The additional amount payable by the Exchequer will in a full year be just over £500,000. The advantage which will be derived by the sick, the unemployed and the widowed from these increases is of importance to the recipients, particularly when it is borne in mind that these benefits are paid at times when the recipients-are most in need of help.

In order to provide the amount needed from contributions it will be necessary to increase the man's ordinary contribution from 4/8 per week to 5/6 per week, which means that the employer and the employee will each pay an extra 5d. per week. The contribution for an agricultural worker will go up from 2/6 per week to 3/2 per week, so that the employer and the employee will each pay an extra 4d. per week. At its increased rate of 3/2 per week this contribution still represents very good value for money in the way of benefits provided in return for the contribution paid. The woman's ordinary contribution will go up from 3/4 to 4/1, the employer paying an extra 5d. per week and the employee an extra 4d. per week while the rate for female domestic servants will be increased by 6d. from 2s. to 2/6, the employer paying an extra 4d. and the employee an extra 2d.

Having regard to the substantial nature of the increase in benefit rates proposed under the Bill, I do not think that objection will be raised to the small increases in the amounts payable as contributions by employers and employees. When one considers the important part played by social welfare benefits in providing an assured source of income for workers in times of difficulty, the Bill will, I am sure, be welcomed. The amounts which will be paid out annually in the benefits to which the Bill relates after the increased rates come into operation indicate their importance to the worker in times of difficulty and, in the event of the death of the breadwinner, to his widow and children. These amounts are:—


Disability Benefit


Unemployment Benefit


Widows' and Orphans' Contributory Pensions


Maternity Allowance


a total of just under £8,000,000 per annum. Some 92,000 men and women will receive weekly payments of benefit out of this annual sum. A large number of these have wives and children dependent on them. The number of adult dependents is 28,000 and of children 45,800 and the recipients of benefit receive an additional payment in respect of these. The weekly amount which these persons receive from the Social Insurance Fund takes the place of their former earnings in the case of those who are sick or unemployed and of the husband's former earnings in the case of the widows.

It may come as a surprise to Senators to learn that each week on the average 41,500 persons are ill and in receipt of disability benefit. Of these, 14,500 at present receive an additional 12/- per week in respect of a wife or other adult dependent and there are 18,200 children of recipients for each of whom 7/- per week is being paid. It is customary to think of sickness as a thing that is over quickly but of the 41,500 persons who are in receipt of disability benefit each week no fewer than 18,000 have been continuously ill for more than a year and a very large proportion of this number will not be able to earn their own living again. I need not say how valuable the weekly sum they receive in benefit is to these unfortunate people and it should be a source of satisfaction to the employers and workers who are contributing to the Social Insurance Fund to know that the money they contribute is put to such good use.

Is ceart na méaduithe seo atá i gceist ag an Aire a thabhairt do na daoine atá luaite sa mBille mar tá fhios againn go léir go bhfuil an costas maireachtála ag dul i méid agus dá bhrí sin tá dualgas ar an Rialtas méadú dá réir a chur ar na seirbhísí seo atá ann do na daoinibh is laige sa Stát.

Tamall ó shoin, do bhí Bille beag eile os ár gcomhair anseo ag tabhairt méaduithe den tsaghas céanna agus bhíomar ar aon-aigne ag an am sin go mba chóir na daoine atá i gceist sa mBille atá fén ár mbráid anois a chur isteach san áireamh. Tá an t-am tagtha anois nuair a thuigimid go léir go mba chóir córas sóisialach den tsórt seo a bheith ann chun fóirithint ar na daoine atá i gceist, na daoine atá ag cur airgid sa gciste urrúis atá ann dóibh, na daoine go bhfuil easláinte orthu, na daoine nach bhfuil aon obair acu agus gan aon leigheas acu air, agus na baintreacha freisin— iad san go léir go bhfuil cúrsaí an tsaoil ag brú orthu.

It is only right and proper that the provision being made here to increase benefits for the people mentioned in the Bill should be made so as to bring them into line with the other people whose cases were dealt with in a previous Social Welfare Act. At that time, we reminded the Minister that these people—widows in receipt of contributory pensions, people in receipt of unemployment benefit and people in receipt of disability benefit—should get the increases that were given in the previous measure that came before this House. Unfortunately, it is necessary to make such a provision as this for the weaker sections of the community having regard to the fact that the cost of living in this country is continually rising and that, because of that, the circumstances of life are pressing hard upon these sections of the community.

There were, and I suppose there are still, politicians and people, perhaps people in this House, of the opinion that this social welfare code is becoming too much for the country to bear, but I am not one who would subscribe to that view. I remember a time when a certain important politician likened these social welfare measures to a row of medicine bottles to be kept on the shelf to be administered to the needy and the sick, according as the need arose. I hope we have drifted away from that attitude and that point of view. If there are still people here who think that these social welfare benefits are not necessary, I, for one, would dissociate myself from their point of view.

As to the amount of the increases being given under this measure we may have different views, but I shall not labour that point here to-day because I suppose we must accept what the Government is offering as the amount they find it possible at the moment to give, although, maybe, we could say that if the Government would curtail their expenditure in many ways, there would be more money available for those in receipt of disability benefit, unemployment benefit, widows' contributory pensions and maternity benefit.

If there is any degree of generosity enshrined in this measure, and I submit that the generosity is limited, a good deal of it comes out of the pockets of other people. It will come out of the pockets of the contributors to the Social Insurance Fund and for every shilling the Government is making available by way of increase to these sections of the community, the contributors to the Social Insurance Fund will have to pay 2/-. As the House knows, the amount in question is £1,500,000 and of that £1,500,000, £1,000,000 is coming out of the pockets of the people who contribute to the fund.

The Minister mentioned that there are 92,000 people involved in this measure. If that is so and if the Government's contribution to the increases envisaged in the measure is the sum that has been mentioned, it will mean an average of about 5/6 a week to the 92,000 people. That will be the Government's contribution to the problem, to offset the increase in the cost of living.

It is our Christian duty to help the weaker elements in the community. It is even economically essential to maintain our dwindling population in good health and, if people fall ill, the State must give them the necessary help to enable them to be cured as quickly as possible and should assist for the time being those who are dependent upon them. If we failed to progress with our social legislation, we would be failing in one of our first duties to the community and would be leaving the way open to certain nefarious influences that are usually brought to bear on a situation like that.

In addition, it is necessary to ensure that the social services in this country are kept more or less in line with social services elsewhere, having regard at all times to the economic resources of the country, because, of course, if our social services lagged behind those in neighbouring countries, there would be a further incentive to people to emigrate and, goodness knows, we have had and are having too much emigration.

It is because of all these considerations that we welcome this Bill, limited though its provisions are, and in order that the provisions of the Bill may be made available as soon as possible, we propose to give the measure as speedy a passage as possible.

I welcome this Bill and believe that it will be welcomed by every member of the House. Irrespective of how ideal conditions may be in any country, it is safe to assume that there will always be the class of people, widows and orphans, unemployed persons, and so on, for whom the Bill seeks to make provision. For that reason, it is only fair that the responsibility for looking after such people should be on the State. I see no objection to asking that the people whom this Bill seeks to benefit should, when able, when in employment, contribute towards the providing of the benefits they receive when out of work and, as the Minister has said, the increased benefits they will receive under this Bill are well worth the extra contribution they are being asked to make.

While I welcome the Bill, I should like to avail of the occasion to draw the attention of the Minister again to certain abuses that are prevalent throughout the country, in so far as one particular section that this social welfare legislation provides for is concerned, namely, unemployment benefit. I do not mean to stress this at this juncture because it was already referred to during the debate on the Finance Bill. I have no objection to anybody in the world who is bona fide unemployed being generously provided for, but I do suggest that certain regulations surrounding the conditions necessary to enjoy this benefit are at the present time being strained and abused. I believe that the Minister would be able to close up the gaps and wipe out the flaws and make the administration of that section of this Bill fairer to everybody.

I do know that there are many people in this country—with normal means—who would gladly invest in national loans but desist because of the abuses and extravagance which they fear exist under the administration of the unemployment benefit. It is not for me to give the details of what these abuses are nor the subterfuges used by those people who enjoy them and who are not entitled to them. I believe the resources of the State are sufficiently effective to counteract those defects.

I welcome the Bill and I believe that everybody in this House, no matter to what section he belongs, will agree that such legislation is a necessity and that the cost should be a charge on the resources of the State.

In joining with those who welcome this Bill, I notice that the only criticism being made so far of the Bill is that it has been described as being ungenerous. I am surprised at the rather naïve contribution which we have had from Senator Kissane on this subject, when he points out that for every 1/- put up by the Government, 2/- must come from the contributors to the scheme. Surely at this stage of his career the Senator must realise that Governments have not got any money; Governments are merely the trustees of the people's money and in their capacity as trustees, they have to decide that very difficult problem—the dividing line between generosity and lack of generosity. It would be quite a simple matter for a Government that did not want to shoulder its responsibilities, did not want to face the realities of any situation at any time, to offer very generous terms indeed, to offer 2/- payment from the Government for every 1/- put up by the contributors. That would be quite a simple process, but it would not save the contributors. It would merely mean that that money would be taken in some other concealed form of taxation from the contributors. I do think we ought to be realistic in welcoming this Bill and realise the extraordinarily good value people are getting for their money, as the Minister has pointed out.

Senator Ruane has drawn the Minister's attention to certain alleged discrepancies that are taking place under the unemployment benefit code. I wish to express also the hope he has expressed, that efforts will be made to tighten up the machinery in such a way that many of these undesirable practices that may exist will no longer be possible; but we ought not to place too much stress on that aspect of the situation. We must always remember that human nature is human nature and that the unemployed man or the semi-unemployed man, if he tries to get what benefit he can, is perhaps in some ways only imitating his better off fellow-citizen, who, from time to time, may try to avoid the payment of as much income-tax as he can.

Hear, hear!

In that respect, it is very hard to say where equity lies and whose hands are the dirtiest or the cleanest. We must look on matters like this in a realistic and sympathetic fashion, remembering that no one group of people is more virtuous or less virtuous than the other.

I should like to support this Bill and to say that it should be as generous as the resources of this State can afford. I believe that one of the things which can bring good and beneficial laws into disrepute is evasion. I would ask the Minister to see that people are not allowed to evade and defeat the laws. I am going to disagree with Senator Crosbie. If people who are not entitled to benefits take them, they will reduce the common pool for people who deserve benefits. That is wrong. The same applies with regard to the evasion of tax. If people evade taxes, it means that more taxes will be put on people who have to pay them and who have no way of evading them.

Two other points which I noticed from time to time come to my mind. The first is the question of people who get married. Women who get married will leave their employment, after giving notice to their employers, and then draw unemployment insurance. They ask the employer if they may have further employment, but, by the time they return from the honeymoon, their positions are filled. They then go to the local exchange and draw their money—sometimes I understand being driven there in their husband's motor-car. That should be stopped because I do not believe it was the intention to help people like that.

Another case which was brought to my attention is that of people who leave permanent employment and take up temporary employment which may provide them with slightly better wages. They then register, and are given unemployment benefit. They are offered another type of work that is not similar to the work in which they had the temporary employment and they refuse it. They continue to get the benefit, although they have left permanent positions, in the first instance.

I think that defeats the intention of the Minister and his Department. People in permanent employment who leave it for temporary employment and then refuse another type of employment which is not the same should not have it both ways. The Minister should investigate cases of that nature. There is nothing that brings the law into so much disrepute as when people who have to pay taxes see the law being got round that way. It is no wonder that people become cynical when they see others being allowed to get away with that sort of thing.

I should like Senators to indulge in some serious thinking about the unemployed and those in receipt of social service benefits. I heard the comments that these people are too well off and that, because they are getting these social service benefits, they are not inclined to work. Let us examine the matter. Take a man in receipt of 30/- per week and divide that by seven days. That leaves him with 4/3 per day. He is at least entitled to have three meals a day, which works out at 1/5 per meal. His wife, who has to look after the home, gets only 15/- a week. In my opinion, she is entitled to as much benefit as the husband to maintain herself. As I say, she gets 15/- a week and that divided by seven gives her 2/0¾ per day. Everybody will agree that she is entitled to three meals a day and if you divide that into 2/- it leaves her with 8d. per meal.

These people have to pay rents and the Seanad would be surprised at the rent that is sometimes demanded of them. They have also to provide some kind of heating and pay for light. They have also to make provision for clothing. How many Senators and legislators have ever given these things a thought? The only fault I have to find with the present increase in benefit is that it is far from being adequate.

Senator Burke, who is a well-meaning man, evidently treats all those things very lightly. He talked about the girl with a job who got married and said that when she and her husband came back from their honeymoon, she goes to the labour exchange and draws benefit and often drove her motor-car to collect it. I think it is unfair to exaggerate the position.

I have been a member of the Court of Referees for years and I can assure the House that applicants have to go through a very severe examination before they can even pass in order to get the benefit. Girls marry whose husbands very often have not constant employment, but work only in a casual capacity. The wife has still to offer herself for employment and in this connection quite a large number of girls pay stamps for ten, 12 or 14 years. Is there anything wrong in a woman getting benefit for the stamps she has paid?

I want to impress upon the Seanad that this is not so easy a matter as one might think. If the woman gets benefit, she has to report every week and she has also to show evidence of the number of jobs she looked for. If she cannot satisfy the people concerned she will not get any benefit. I know girls who were employed for years but the employers would not take them back. I am glad to see that Senator Crosbie made the point he did.

It would do no harm for us sometimes to listen to what the unfortunate people in the queues at the labour exchange say when they see people going to golf and races, while they have to try to keep themselves, their wives and children. I think we should think more seriously than we do when we talk about the unemployed, the widows and orphans and other unfortunate people.

I cannot understand why the wife of an unemployed man who has to look after a home and take care of her children should not get as much benefit as the husband in order to keep herself in moderate comfort. Indeed you could not call it moderate comfort. All she is offered is 15/- a week. In the light of those circumstances, we are far from doing justice to those people.

With regard to the question of alleged abuses, I was surprised to hear Senator Commons make the statement that some people in his county were getting from £1 to £3 by "dodging the column". I should like to point out to the Senator that a man in a country district can get only 12/- unemployment benefit and he gets 6/- for his wife, if he has one. How on earth could a man get £1 or £3 from the dole, if he is clever enough? Talk of that kind is not treating the unemployed man and his wife very fairly.

We will have to be more serious when making contributions of that kind. I am not at all satisfied that this State can only pay these meagre benefits to men and women who are kept out of employment through no fault of their own. They are anxious to work. They have to stand in the labour exchange queues and undergo abuses of all kinds. I hope the day will come when we will have some sense of proportion in regard to this matter.

It is not the intention of any member of this House, I am sure, to delay the passage of this Bill. Everybody will recognise that, with the sharp rise in the cost of living over the past year, something must be done for the lower income groups in the community. We cannot, however, overlook the fact that this Bill, while it gives benefits to those in the lower income group, imposes an additional burden of £1,000,000 by way of direct taxation, and while the contributions called for under this Bill may be described as insurance contributions, they are compulsory, and compulsory insurance and direct taxation are closely allied.

They are certainly forms of a levy which cannot be evaded. We are right, as Deputy Hickey pointed out, to think seriously of this problem. It is a serious thing that such a large section of the people of this small country should be forced to draw unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance. It is humiliating for the people concerned and it does cast some reflection on the ability of our nation to govern itself in the best possible way. We cannot blame the unemployed person who seeks to supplement his unemployment benefit in some way by working secretly, even though he perhaps does so illegally.

I think the State is being lazy and I want to put this challenge to the Minister that the Government and all Governments in dealing with this problem are being lazy in not being able to find some alternative to the dole. I feel it could be done in a great number of cases. If we must provide unemployment assistance, it should be possible to organise some form of useful employment, even educational employment, for those who are temporarily out of work, in every district. It should be possible to organise some scheme under which men who are drawing unemployment assistance would contribute a number of hours in some form of educational work, or at least in training for some other type of employment to which they are not already accustomed.

All social workers and others interested in this aspect should take this matter up in a serious way. The Minister for Social Welfare is a young and active man, and I think he should give this matter his consideration, with a view to finding some scheme which could be put into operation throughout the State, whereby men could be given some form of training in this way. Young men in particular could be given some training in a type of work that might be to their benefit. If that were done, it would remove many of the difficulties which we have at the present time, particularly in regard to men seeking work while drawing the dole in an underhand way.

This is a very serious evil, particularly as it affects rural areas. Men who are drawing unemployment assistance will look for work where they can find it and others will not accept the regular wages paid by the local authorities to agricultural workers. Instead, they prefer to take up work of a casual nature for a week or two at higher rates of wages, knowing that, when they become unemployed, they can collect unemployment assistance. The whole matter is one that should have very serious consideration and the suggestion I have made of providing work or training of some sort, particularly for young men, is worthy of consideration. These young men could be given some special training in some form of work for which they may be more suited.

This is one matter to which we should have a very realistic approach. The Minister has presented us with a Bill which proposes to give increases to those people who are entitled to receive benefits from the State, through their contributions, through the insurance schemes or through the contributions received from the Exchequer. I think that before we go into the details we should examine and decide for ourselves what principles should direct the Government in relation to these matters.

The time has arrived when a majority of the people in this House and the other House are in general agreement that there should be assistance given to those people who are entitled to allowances under the various sections of this Bill. It has become very popular in recent weeks to suggest that many matters should be taken out of the realm of Party politics and I make bold to suggest that one of the matters that should be taken out of the realm of Party politics is this matter of the provision the State can reasonably make to compensate these people who are entitled to receive some contribution from the various State organisations.

If we could arrive at that stage, we could do some very useful work. I suggest to the House that if it is agreed on all sides that it is right for the State to make such provision, then we may arrive at the stage when we can decide what that contribution should be. What I want to suggest is that the pension scheme or the allowances made might be based on the contributions made; that the amount received by the recipient should bear some relation to the contributions he has paid. I would like to see the position brought about in which we could take the question of providing for the widow, the orphan or the old age pensioner out of the hands of the Minister for Finance. At present, when the Minister for Finance comes before us and presents us with his demands, he usually says: "If you are not prepared to accede to my demands, do you suggest that you are one of those people who would take from the widow, the orphan and the old age pensioner and all other necessitous people these social welfare benefits?"

We have arrived at a stage in this country where various organisations are set up to decide what the remuneration of the various classes of State servants should be and to make recommendations on these matters. Could we not have agreement in that way on the question of these social benefit payments? I think that quite possibly we could.

It would be a very good thing if we could have agreement as to what percentage of the earned income of a worker he or she should receive, in the event of conditions arising of the kind which this Bill provides for.

Is there not a means of getting the minimum human needs of any man, woman or child from our health authorities?

That is a question. It is one of the questions which, I suppose, should be examined by a committee. I should like to see this whole question of social welfare taken out of the realm of Party politics and, in particular, taken out of the orbit of the Minister for Finance because, from time to time, he may be in a position to come here and say to us: "If you are not prepared to give me the money I demand, then I suggest you are one of those persons who are not in sympathy with the proposal to give additional money to the old age pensioner, the widow, the orphan", or whatever section of the community it may be.

I think we should aim at deciding what allowances or provisions an Irish Parliament can make for certain categories of persons, some of whom may not have been in insured employment, some of whom have been self-employed and some of whom have given service to this country. We have the persons employed in the Civil Service, members of trade union organisations and all the other people who are organised. If we are to differentiate in any way, my sympathy would be with those people who are most in need of our help and guidance.

With regard to the proposals before us this afternoon, I want to say at the outset that we welcome this measure to make additional provision for people who are badly in need of it. The question that now arises is: what additional benefits can we confer on those people? We are making provision here to give them an increased amount of money. That increased amount of money becomes necessary as a result of conditions which have operated in this country over the past 12 months and therefore it will not represent any noticeable benefit, so far as they are concerned.

This Bill is just an attempt to bring the people concerned into line with the people who were covered by an earlier Bill. We are merely giving them some little compensation—and I say "little" with much emphasis because, as a result of the present increases, we intend to extract increased contributions and these increased contributions will have a certain effect. The employer must pay an increased contribution as must also the employee. These increases will be passed on and they will be passed on to that section of the community which has no redress and which must, under all circumstances, face the bill of increased costs.

The Senator must not repeat himself.

As a matter of fact, I do not think I have referred to this aspect of the Bill. However, I am always prepared to accept the Cathaoirleach's direction. There are one or two points in relation to this whole question of social welfare, and particularly in relation to contributions, that I should like to refer to and in regard to which I should like to make some suggestions. I have made these suggestions over quite a number of years—sometimes while sitting on the far side of the House and sometimes while sitting on this side of the House. I am sure the Cathaoirleach and the Minister will bear with me while I make my point——

Provided the Senator is in order.

Consider the case of an employee who has paid his or her contributions in the required period and who becomes unemployed or requires sickness benefit. A tradesman or technician who is in receipt of a weekly income makes a weekly contribution to the fund. Should such a person become ill or unemployed, he is in a much worse position than the person whose weekly income is £5 or £6. I think the Minister suggested in the Dáil that if there were difficulties in relation to such persons, they had an approach to the public health authority. When we come to question that, we find that a worker who has been employed over a period of years and who has paid a weekly contribution over that period, because he is a technician, probably a tradesman, when he falls ill and applies for the assistance that we propose to make available to him in this Bill——

The Senator must soon come to the Bill, or I must ask him to resume his seat.

This is a very important matter and one on which I and many members of the House would like to have some direction from the Minister. I do not want for one moment to go against your ruling, Sir, but I do think that the proposals of the Bill open up a very wide field. We are asked to provide a certain amount of money to be devoted to assisting a certain group of people. We should have an opportunity of letting the Government and the Minister know what we consider should be done. If, however, my remarks are outside the scope of the Bill, I shall desist.

While we support in general the provisions of this Bill, we are not satisfied that it goes as far as we would like it to go. We have not at our disposal the information that would enable us to decide what the allowances should be, but, certainly, the allowances provided are not of such an amount that the State should not be in a position to meet them.

I should like the Minister to consider the suggestions that we have made. I hope that at some stage we shall have an opportunity in this House—and it would be good for the nation that we should have that opportunity—of discussing the relationship of our social welfare code to what the nation can bear.

We are in entire agreement that there should be some increase or some concession given to people in receipt of social welfare benefits. I entirely dissociate myself and the members of my Party in this House from the suggestion that, because provision is made for those people for whom the State cannot provide employment, they do not seek employment. There will always be people who are unemployable. There will always be people who, because of family ties and domestic difficulties, cannot accept employment outside a particular area. It is only right that the State should assist such people.

I do not like to intervene in this debate because I am not a great authority on social welfare. I intervene, however, to explain something to Senator Hickey and Senator Murphy which they do not understand any more than I can understand the problems which they have in the city. The unemployed person must get assistance from the State when he is genuinely seeking employment. The figures read out by Senator Hickey of the cost of providing food, clothing, light and so on would lead us to think that, even though the State is trying to be most generous, the provision made is very meagre indeed. That will be agreed.

I think I will be in order on this Bill in referring to farmers, reasonably substantial farmers, taking the standard of farms in County Mayo, who will not become registered owners of their land, who allow the receivable order and the rates receipt to continue years after years in the names of their fathers or grandfathers, but who still have all the benefits, small as they may be. Those people perhaps work for a fortnight or three weeks on a county council job on the roads, or work for two or three weeks on the land project. Eventually they go for unemployment assistance and are investigated by the investigating officer. They point out that they have nothing. The land is not in their names; the stock on it is not theirs, particularly if there are one or two elderly parents alive. But, at the same time, those people are delighted that there is no opportunity of getting work because, in nearly 90 cases out of 100, people of that type have too much to do at home. Their neighbours, however, are up to their eyes with their own employment for six days and sometimes seven days in the week.

It is a very bad principle and it is causing a lot of talk. I would ask the Minister to investigate the matter more thoroughly and to find out how it is or why it is that unemployment assistance can be given to a man driving his own Ford Anglia car to the town on every Tuesday, drawing unemployment assistance and going home, and why it is that you can see another man getting a substantial price for two or three cattle at the local fair and, at the same time, going up that evening to the barracks and signing on for assistance. These are the things which are giving unemployment assistance a very bad name down the country. We know it is very different in the city.

No one can say anything to an individual living in a labourer's house or cottage, built by a county council or corporation, and possessing only half an Irish acre of garden, for drawing unemployment assistance, because he has no opportunity of working at home.

There is another type which is multiplying very rapidly. There is also the system through which people buy stamps for insurance cards. When these people are laid off in their employment, they go into league with some neighbours, who are farmers, perhaps, and buy their own insurance stamps, at the same time, working at home for themselves. When there are a certain number of stamps on the cards, they are entitled to get benefit. That is a racket and, by making these statements I am going to become one of the most unpopular public representatives in County Mayo, but when everybody is complaining about it, it is only right that somebody should say something about it.

The people who are living in labourers' houses and who are making a genuine effort to get work should be given an increased amount but should be made work on one or two days in the week.

For whom?

The county council could take the money that goes into an area from the Department of Social Welfare. Every year there are hundreds of useful county council works turned down because we have no money for them. The rates cannot provide it. If unemployment assistance paid into certain areas could be transferred the local authority could come forward and say: "Instead of giving you so much for being unemployed, through no fault of your own, we will give you two days' work."

There is a very wide margin indeed between those claiming unemployment in the local area and those claiming it in the city. Where a person in the city has nothing but the house he is renting, nobody would dream of saying that he is not entitled to receive assistance from the State when he cannot get employment.

It would surprise the Minister and the Department of Social Welfare what the amount of money they could withhold would be and still not do any injustice to anybody, and it would raise the morale of those in receipt of unemployment assistance very much, because nobody begrudges it to anyone who is entitled to it.

One would imagine from the speech made by Senator Commons that the amount which the State is contributing towards unemployment assistance was a very considerable one. In comparison with all the other expenditure by the Exchequer, the amount provided for unemployment assistance is extremely small. As Senator Hickey mentioned on the Finance Bill earlier, an adult in a rural area is entitled to only 12/- per week and if he has an adult dependent the amount he receives is £1 a week. If the adult has a dependent with two children, the maximum he can receive is 28/-.

And he could have ten young children at that.

Apart from that, his income must not exceed £72 16s. in the year. There are abuses of this legislaaion, but as there are of a great deal of income-tax legislation in the country. If people are in receipt of these amounts, and there is no doubt about that, then the reflection is on the officials who are dealing with the matter. I believe that there is very great variation in the standard in different areas, depending on the type of officials in the areas.

And a big difference in the areas as well.

Yes. Human nature being as it is, some people investigate much more thoroughly than others, and I know some people who regard themselves as very unfortunate to be situated in one area of which I am aware as against other people in a different area.

I feel that particularly in the case of uneconomic holdings in the congested districts, unemployment assistance is a social benefit which is required, and that due to the fact that those people cannot receive much employment of a permanent character, and as they are unemployed in the sense that there is little work to be done for many winter months, this social benefit is necessary. For many months of the year, most of those people will be disqualified for unemployment assistance because they are outside the period and only those people who are married, where the total valuation is under £4 a year, are entitled to the full year. It is not the small amount of unemployment assistance that is retaining these people in the country. The greater emigration is from those areas, and the men regarded as most valuable for hard work in Britain and the north of Scotland in the tunnels are men from Mayo, Donegal, Kerry and such places, because they are prepared to do much work that any Englishman or Scotsman, apparently, is not prepared to do.

I should like to refer to the qualifications that there should be 26 unemployment contributions paid before a person can qualify for unemployment benefit and—at least formerly—50 unemployment contributions in respect of or credited to the claimant for the contribution year preceding the benefit year in which the claim is made. I am glad that the Minister proposes to reduce that maximum from 50 to 48. There are many times when a person may be ill or through an oversight may not have signed his card and consequently may not have the full 50 credits that were formerly necessary. I was wondering would the Minister not even consider reducing the 26 contributions, and even the 13 contributions that would have to be paid before a person could again qualify after the six months had expired.

The Minister will appreciate that now in rural districts where so many people have to depend on casual employment—for instance on roads, where the work is only available for a very limited period of the year—they may not have earned sufficient contributions, and if those people have now to pay more for the stamps which they have to buy, and the local authority has to increase its contributions also, due to the fact that apparently work on roads will be less for the current year, owing to the reduction in the amount from the Road Fund and from the National Development Fund, it seems to me that an injustice may be done to those people if they have to pay additional contributions and may not qualify at the end of their employment period.

I should like to thank the Seanad for its reception of this Bill and for the grudging welcome from some of the Senators. I should like to say that I value this contribution, because I think that, despite the grudging welcome that came from certain quarters, there was an air of sincerity with regard to social welfare generally.

Senator Kissane was the first to speak, and he attempted to claim credit for the introduction of this measure. He says that his Party reminded us on the last occasion that we had the Social Welfare Bill that these increases were necessary and due. I should like to inform Senator Kissane and the House generally that it is part of the policy of this Government, the policy which I will implement, to increase as far as possible all those social welfare benefits, and that I promised on the last occasion I was in this House the benefits that are now mentioned in this Bill.

The grudging welcomes were from some Senators who said that this Bill would compensate only for the increase in the cost of living. Another speaker attempted to quote a politician whom he did not name and whom we shall leave unnamed, who described social welfare benefits as medicine bottles to be taken down from the shelf when required. I do not know what the bad significance of that is. Surely, one has only to take down disability benefit when people are sick and out of work, or unemployment benefit when people are unemployed, or pay a maternity allowance when a woman has a baby or is going to have a baby. However, I will not take up Senator Kissane on that, because I have an idea who the politician is, and possibly he will take it up with him himself or some other member of his Party.

It was said that this merely compensates for the increased cost of living. The increase since when? The benefits which are now enjoyed and now received by the workers were introduced in 1952, and the cost of living since May, 1952, has increased by 16½ per cent. These increases provide for increases to insurance recipients of 25 per cent. I think we are making up leeway.

The worker has to contribute.

I will come to that in one minute. It is true to say that the benefits that are now received were first mentioned when the Social Welfare Bill was introduced in March, 1951 by the former Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Norton. These increases now, as I have said, represent an increase of 25 per cent., and are, if you like, continuing in the line that was introduced by Deputy Norton in the Bill he presented to Dáil Éireann. I would suggest that in this Bill we more than compensate those people for the increased cost of living, and there is no use in anybody saying in this House or elsewhere that those increases are necessary because of the rapid increase in the cost of living during the past 12 months. This is to make up leeway that was not made up by the former Government. They are facts, and if anybody wants to challenge these figures as far as the percentage increase in the cost of living is concerned, or the increases now proposed, he will very easily and in a very short time find out what the facts really are.

It has been suggested that the generosity is limited. I think that in respect of social welfare history, or schemes in this country, this is the biggest percentage increase ever given. I hope to be able to continue the policy of endeavouring to compensate these people and all those in receipt of social welfare benefits as the cost-of-living index figure fluctuates.

Senator Hawkins asked that we take social welfare out of the realm of politics. I wish we could. I have heard many pleas from the two sides of the House to take agriculture out of the realm of politics, and to take Partition out of the realm of politics, and now we have a plea to take income-tax out of the realm of politics. I do not know whether it can ever happen or not. I am very doubtful if it can, having regard to the political set-up in the country for the past 35 years.

I agree with Senator Hawkins when he said—I hope I interpreted him correctly—we should try to arrive at a stage where these social welfare benefits should increase, as will probably be the case, as the cost-of-living index figure increases. I think we would be in a very happy state if we could get agreement on that point. The Senator suggested a committee. I presume he meant a committee representative of all Parties that would examine the whole question of social welfare.

We have had people from time to time, as we had Senator Hickey to-day and different other Senators, talking about the inadequacy of these benefits. The country is unanimous about the inadequacy of the old age pension allowance. We all agree it is inadequate, but we ought also to be unanimous as to the proper method of raising the money. When people think of old age pensions, they think of an increase of £1 or 10/- per week. An increase of £1 to the old age pensioners means an increase of £8,000,000 per year and an increase of 10/- means £4,000,000.

We would be a much happier community and the old age pensioners would certainly be much happier, if we could get agreement as to the method of raising that money. I do not speak on behalf of the Government in this connection. I would like to see the day come when we could say, when we are framing our Budget: "We will impose these taxes to ensure that old age pensioners will have a reasonable standard of living and that widows and orphans who are not in receipt of contributory pensions will have an adequate allowance."

We know what the pattern has been, not in respect of this Dáil, but in respect of all Dála. No matter what Government might give an increase to the old age pensioners, whether it be an increase of 2/6, 5/- or 7/6, which necessitated an increase in income-tax, immediately there is a "holler" from the Opposition, no matter who they may be. Therefore, I certainly would favour the suggestion made by Senator Hawkins in this case, and by Senators and Deputies from time to time, that we might be in agreement about the rates of social benefit, but that we might also be in agreement as to the method of raising the money. There is no reason why we should not have agreement on that, too.

There have been complaints, too, that, even though these benefits are well deserved, inadequate though they may be, the contributors will have to pay and the employer and worker will have to pay. In the first place, the State is doing its share. The State is prepared to face up to its responsibility in providing this year approximately £500,000. I cannot understand why anybody in the House, from the right hand side or the left hand side, should object to the fact that the worker and the employer will have to pay their share as well, because we accepted in the Seanad, as we accepted in the Dáil, the principle upon which the social insurance scheme was founded.

It was introduced by Deputy Norton in March, 1951, and the Dáil at least unanimously accepted the principle that there would be a one-third contribution from the employer, the employee and the State. When Deputy Dr. Ryan as Minister for Social Welfare, introduced his Social Welfare Bill, it was also unanimously accepted in the Dáil and Seanad that that should be the basis of the scheme as far as the financing of it was concerned—that the worker would pay his one-third, the employer his one-third and the State its one-third.

As far as these increases are concerned, the increases are financed on the very some principle: 5d. from the employer, 5d. from the employee and £500,000 from the State represents one-third each as far as the increases are concerned. Therefore, I do not think it is really fair, honest or just for anybody from either side of the House to complain about contributions when the country as a whole has been unanimous in its approval of that method of financing the social insurance fund.

There has been some talk in the Seanad about what are commonly called the "dole men." I think it is true to say that there have been comments from time to time down through the years about the same "dole men." We are apt to get a wrong impression about these unfortunate people. Complaints have been made here and in other places outside both Houses of the Oireachtas that these people are getting money under false pretences. I do not think anybody would suggest that there is a perfect system in the administration of the distribution of unemployment assistance.

I do not disbelieve what Senator Commons said in respect of certain people in regard to certain areas which are unnamed, but we must remember that these "dole men" are not the total number of unemployed and that well over 50 per cent. of the people who are unemployed at the present time are in receipt of unemployment benefit to which they have contributed. They are entitled to that without any regard to means tests or any other form of test, except the test of being available for employment.

As far as those in receipt of unemployment assistance are concerned, I do not disbelieve there are some people who are obtaining money under false pretences. As far as my Department is concerned, it frowns very strongly on that practice, and has endeavoured to trace these people who are responsible for drawing unemployment assistance and at the same time are gainfully employed in some sort of work or other. It is very difficult to make a system perfect and, as Senator Crosbie said, there are evasions of income-tax. Practically every single law passed in this country for the past few hundred years has been broken and is being broken. The traffic laws are being broken; the income-tax code is evaded, and it is inevitable that there will be some people who will try to get through the Social Welfare Acts and Unemployment Assistance Acts.

I and the Department endeavour to trace these people, but with little cooperation from the people who complain. I refer to a vast number of employers and they are responsible to some extent in not helping us to trace down those people who have been described here. It is the duty of an employer, when he employs any person, to demand his insurance card. Once he takes his insurance card out of the employment exchange it means, so far as the officials are concerned, that he is working and that he is not entitled to sign for unemployment assistance.

The employers have not co-operated in trying to trace down these individuals and on the flimsy evidence we sometimes get, employers are reluctant to give any evidence. As far as the investigation officers of the Department of Social Welfare and the officers of employment exchanges and branch employment exchanges are concerned, they do their utmost to make sure that people do not get money under false pretences. Whether it is peculiar in certain areas of the country, I do not know, but as far as the part of the country with which I am familiar is concerned, I do not think it is widespread. I might say that I do not think it is as widespread as people imagine. Out of the 20,000 or 23,000 who at present are drawing unemployment assistance a hard core of those, as Senator Walsh reminded the House, could be re garded as being unemployable.

They are not dodgers. Let nobody get it into their heads that they are people who do not want to work. They are people who are unemployable as far as employers are concerned. These people believe themselves they could do a day's work, but would not be acceptable by employers for any work they might have. I think we ought to be a little more considerate of these people who are unemployed, simply because they are unemployable. In my experience and in my personal contact with these men, I know that there is a small percentage of people unemployed in this country who would not take work. There is a good deal of criticism of these people who draw unemployment benefit and I am not referring to Senator Commons or to anybody else who made comments in this House to-day. I would say that there are a few who are getting unemployment benefit while they work and it is difficult to catch them, and when they are caught and prosecuted, certain people in other places do not deal with them in the way in which the Department would like them to be dealt with.

The suggestion was also made that people who are in receipt of the dole should be sent to work. I do not think I would favour that suggestion. There was the specific suggestion by Senator Commons that the money devoted to unemployment assistance might be paid to the county councils who would employ these men and pay them out of money contributed to the county council by the Social Welfare Fund. That might be feasible in respect of certain people who are unemployed, but I do not think it would be generally feasible. I do not want to represent myself as making a difference as between one type of worker and another, but there could be the situation where you might have ten clerical workers who have become unemployed. Would it be fair to those workers to tell them that a qualification for drawing unemployment assistance would be to go out and work for the county council for six or seven or eight hours during the week? I do not think it would be fair, because I have seen men of that type who are not used to manual labour—clerks in my town who, through force of circumstance, were required to go on relief schemes —and who when they had worked for a few hours found their hands blistered and bleeding. If I were unemployed and asked to go and work in a quarry with a sledge, a pick or shovel or to use a wheelbarrow, I would like to know what condition I would be in at the end of a few hours' work.

As I say, the suggestion of Senator Commons might be feasible in respect of certain types of manual workers but I do not think it would be feasible in the case of other workers. I do not think it would be desirable to place an obligation on these people to take any work that might offer in that way. I think there is an obligation on us to provide these workers with assistance when they become unemployed and when the State or the community cannot provide employment for them.

I think it was Senator Burke who mentioned that there was a considerable abuse by married women receiving unemployment benefit shortly after they were married. Such is not the case. As a matter of fact, it ought to be known that women who are married must requalify for unemployment benefit by obtaining 26 weeks' employment or stamps. Prior to January, 1955, they had certain rights under the Insurance Acts. Under the 1952 Act, they could receive unemployment benefit because they were entitled to it, by having made a certain number of contributions in stamps. As long as they were available for work, even if married, they were entitled to that benefit. Now they are compensated when they get married to the extent of a gratuity of £10 and that more or less cuts them off from any social welfare benefit, but they can become entitled again to requalify for benefit by having 26 stamps.

It was Senator Burke who also complained that there were certain people who refused work to which they were sent by the employment exchange. I do not think that that is widespread, nor do I think the officials in my Department in the exchanges or the sub-branch exchanges insist that people take up work not suited to them. Again, I quote the example of the clerk. I do not think such a person would be sent to a job that required him to use his hands or that would be detrimental to his health. Persons in that position are not expected to take on work of that sort and I think every effort would be made in the exchanges to place unemployed persons in occupations that suit them.

As I have said, I do not think it is widespread. If, however, people refuse to take a job because it is not suitable to them and are cut off from unemployment assistance or benefit, they have the right of appeal to the appeals officers. I must say in respect of the appeals officers that I as a Deputy in my dealings with them found that they were very humane indeed. It is not their policy and it is certainly not my policy that people should be shoved into occupations for which they are physically and perhaps mentally unsuited.

Senator Walsh, I think, asked about the modification of the qualifications for unemployment benefit, particularly in respect of the number of stamps required. He mentioned that 26 might possibly be too many and that there ought to be a reduction in the number and I think he mentioned that 12 stamps should be sufficient for requalification. I am afraid I could not make any alterations in that, because for one reason it is very much easier to qualify for unemployment benefit now under the terms of the 1952 Act than it was heretofore. Secondly, any big modification in the number of stamps required would seriously affect the social insurance fund. It might be hard in respect of certain people, but it would not be possible to modify the position in the present circumstances. I think I have covered most of the points raised by the Senators and I would like to thank them for the reception they have given this Bill and for their helpful criticism and suggestions.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill passed through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.