Public Business. - Social Welfare Bill, 1959 (Certified Money Bill)—Second Stage.

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

Mar adúras i nDáil Éireann, is é cuspóir an Bhille seo breith an Rialtais a chur i bhfeidhm méadaithe do réir 2/6d. i naghaidh na seachtaine a bhronnadh ar gach phinsinéir sean-aoise, ar lucht faighte cúnaimh dífhostaíochta le cleithiúnaí aosaithe agus ar bhaintreacha atá ag fáil pinsin neamhranníocaigh gur liúntas do'n bhaintreach an t-iomlán nó cuid de. Moltar go mbeidh na méadaithe i bhfeidhm ó l Lúnasa, 1959.

Cosnóidh na méadaithe a moltar £1,313,000 do'n Stát-Chiste i mbliain iomlán. Dé'n mhéid seo, gheobhaidh pinsinéirí sean-aoise £1,062,000, lucht faighte chúnaimh dífhostaíochta £85,000, agus pinsinéirí (neamhranníocach) baintreach £166,000. Déanfaidh na breiseanna seo ar an gcaithteachas ar sheirbhísí chúnaimh shóisialaigh dá riaradh ag mo Roinn an caithteachas iomlán orthu siúd a thabhairt go £21,794,000 i naghaidh na bliana, suim go bhfaighidh pinsinéirí sean-aoise £11,462,000 de.

Naturally, everyone who is concerned to see that the least well-off members of the community are to be looked after as well as the community can afford, welcomes this Bill. When the Central Fund Bill was before the Seanad, I spoke about this matter myself and I suggested that if money was not very tight with the Minister, he might give the old age pensioners an increase of 2/6 a week. I formed the impression that the Minister accepted this good advice following the rumpus that occurred in Britain after their Budget. Anyway, the Minister has done it, and he deserves the gratitude of people concerned about the conditions of the old age pensioners, the non-contributory widows, and the people in receipt of unemployment assistance who are, perhaps, the worst off of the three groups.

Let me say first of all that the 2/6 a week barely brings the purchasing power of the old age pension up to what it was in 1938-1939. It means that the community as a whole, whose general welfare has improved by something in the region of 20 or 25 per cent., are not prepared, apparently, to give any more to these, the least well-off sections of the community. One could argue and make a coherent case that the old age pensions should be increased by a good deal more than this figure of 2/6 a week. A social welfare officer spoke very disparagingly to me of the 2/6 increase and no one knows the conditions better than the people who do the field work in this connection.

I made a suggestion myself—I noted that it was subsequently mentioned, perhaps quite independently, by two members of the Dáil in the debate in the Dáil—that something higher than the normal standard should be given to the old age pensioner who lives alone. I am aware that the people who have to operate the Act see a difficulty in that in its initial stages. They feel they would have to call on every old age pensioner. I do not think that would be necessary. It could be done by putting an advertisement in the newspapers that any old age pensioner who claimed to be living alone should send in an application. That would get rid of a lot of the extra administrative work. The least an old age pensioner living alone should get, I feel, should be a figure of 35/- a week which would be 5/- a day. That would merely give them what the rest of the community apparently have got though, of course, we are all aware that it is not evenly distributed over the community.

I believe we all welcome the Bill but it is the least that could be given in the most elementary way of justice to the old age pensioners, the recipients of unemployment assistance and the non-contributory widows. The cost does look large in a full year, roughly £1? million, which is a sizeable amount of money. Special consideration should be given to people living alone, although I know there is an administrative point of view that there is a difficulty in giving special consideration to individual cases, particularly here in Dublin.

Many years ago, I did St. Vincent de Paul work myself and we had a system whereby we gave a very small amount to old age pensioners who were living alone. I can still remember their names, though some of them have, no doubt, left this orb long since. We gave them 1/- a week extra, mainly in order that we could call around to see them. On the ordinary card, they got 4/- or 5/- a week for groceries, but the fact is that the St. Vincent de Paul Society gave them 1/- a week purely to have an opportunity to call to see the people who were living alone. People who know them and who live among them tell me that a number of them are suffering from malnutrition.

In this month's copy of theNational Observer, which came to my hand this morning, there are two columns of material on the subject. For example, it says:

Recently, a distinguished physician made a striking statement to a Fine Gael Research and Information Centre Meeting.

Most doctors, he said, knew that the hospitals of Dublin were full of old people suffering from nothing other than starvation. Others have since confirmed his statement as nothing but sober, disturbing truth.

For, it is clear, the combination of senescence, poverty and ill-health is daily bringing to our hospitals creatures so neglected as to be an indictment of us all.

The point is, that where two of them are living together or where they are living with their families, particularly in the country where perhaps they are looked after by their neighbours, they are better off—I do not mean to suggest that the Dublin neighbours do not look after them because they do—but the problem is more serious in Dublin because of the higher cost of living— the only way to solve that problem is to give a larger sum of money to the people living alone. I do not think it would cost very much because I believe there are actually very few of them living alone but some like to be independent and do not want to feel they are in the position of being almost compelled to live with someone else when they like to live in a room by themselves. Subject to that criticism, I welcome the Bill.

I support Senator O'Donovan in his view that the allowance given to meet the cost of living to the old age pensioners is very meagre but I am sure it is a Government decision and anything we say will not affect it. Probably the Minister himself has not the power to increase it without the approval of the Government.

There is a section of the people who I believe are very harshly dealt with not only under this Bill, but for some time past, and they are the people who are in receipt of small pensions for services rendered outside this country. I have known of cases which came before pensions committees, where an increase on these small pensions amounting to as little as 5/- a week often reduced their old age pensions by 7/6 per week. I believe that the means test in this respect should be modified to some extent. Those people have spent a lifetime in some foreign service and when because of the cost of living or for some other reason, they get a slight increase in their pensions, their old age pensions can immediately be reduced in this country. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look into this matter and if it is possible to give these people some consideration.

This Bill, naturally, cannot be opposed, but it would be wrong to let it pass through the Seanad without saying that I, and the people who think with me in the Labour movement, think that this increase of 2/6 a week is miserable in its amount and miserable in the date from which it is to operate. The plight of the old age pensioners is surely well enough appreciated by all of us to awaken our conscience in regard to what is happening. I quite appreciate that proper increases to old age pensioners and others in receipt of social benefits are costly on the Exchequer. I accept right away that if these are to be brought to a proper level, then extra taxation must be levied, but I think the Government have a responsibility in this matter. They have the responsibility in so far as they can to alleviate the plight of these people by imposing, if necessary, extra taxation. It is not for me, and this is not the place, to suggest where the extra taxation can be secured, but I think we will accept in principle that extra taxation must be levied and must be borne if these people are to be treated properly.

The date from which the increase is to operate is 1st August. Really, I should have thought that with the smallness of the increase, the Government would have at least applied the increase concurrently and given some ease to these people. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will go back to his colleagues in the Government and ask them seriously to consider between now and the next Budget proper benefits for these people and at the same time take a decision that the necessary revenue must be collected to give these proper benefits.

This measure is a timely one and it shows that the Government appreciate the position of the old age pensioners. If I were asked my opinion on this matter, I would have tried probably to give the same amount of money, but I would do it in a different way. I think the pensioner who is living with his or her family is in a better position than the two old age pensioners living together and is in a far better state than the single pensioner. I would prefer to see single pensioners given 5/- or 7/6d. if they are living alone because they have to bear the cost of rent, fire and other expenses. In my opinion, they are the people who are far worse off.

Senator O'Donovan mentioned a case where that was brought to his notice by a charitable organisation, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. I have been told that pensioners living with their families consider that the money is a private perquisite. I have even heard it said that it is money to drink, but the single pensioner living alone is one for whom charitable organisations will still have to make up the difference between what that pensioner receives by way of old age pension and what he needs for mere existence.

With regard to what Senator Murphy said about extra taxation, I do not think this country can bear any extra taxation. There is a sum of £150 million taxation on the country at the moment, which represents £1 per week per head of the population. If we could get better value for money, perhaps we might be able to do with less taxation, but I think that any extra taxation would be self-defeating. It would mean that we would get less production and the cure would be worse than the disease.

We support this Bill which we regard as a move in the right direction. I would urge on the Minister that next year he might consider the question of the single old age pensioner and the two old age pensioners living alone. They have not the benefit of the family income, the family roof or fire.

Senator Murphy complained that these increases will not be payable until 1st August of this year. I think he is entirely correct in his complaint because this Bill is about two years late. This is a Bill that should have been introduced two years ago, following upon the savage inroads made upon the standard of living of the old age pensioners, the unemployed and the widows and orphans by the 1957 Budget. The Government are making some small restitution even at this late stage and we are glad, but there is nothing in the Bill in which to congratulate them.

There is only one other point I wish to make about the Bill. It is in relation to the scale of means set out in Section 3 for determining the payment of pensions to widows. I have been looking up the 1952 Statue which is referred to in Section 3. From my reading of the 1952 Statute, there has been no change in the scale of income which is set down in column 1 of the Table in Section 3. It seems to me that that Schedule should be revised and that the income should bear some relationship with the decline in money values.

The cost of living has risen about 25 per cent. since 1952. Therefore, it means that a person who, in 1952, had an income of £117-15-0 was in a much better position and was much better off than a person who has an income of £117-15-0 at the present time. What it means is that a person who has £117-15-0 today would need to have 25 per cent. more to be in the same position as a person with that sum in 1952. It seems to me that every time the rate of pension for widows is increased, the scale of income should also be increased proportionately with the increase in the cost of living Perhaps, the Parliamentary Secretary might indicate why that is not done. It seems to me to be elementary and a matter which might engage the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary and his Department when they are introducing a Bill of this kind in the future.

Ní mian liomsa mórán a rá ar an mBille seo ach fáilte a chur roimis agus a bheith sásta go bhfuil a ndícheall déanta ag an Rialtas sa rud so. Is breágh bog is féidir le daoine áirdeanna níos mó a thabhairt dosna daoine atá i gceist san mBille so ach ní míníonn siad dúinn in aon chor cad as go dtiocfaidh an t-airgead breise nó cad iad na cánacha breise is ceart a chur ar na daoine chun na breiseanna seo a chur i bhfeidhm.

Like other Senators who have spoken, I welcome these increases which are being given to the classes of persons envisaged in this measure. I am glad to see that the Bill is welcomed by all sides of the House. At the same time, it is to be observed that the welcome being given from the opposite side of the House is being watered down a bit, by suggestions that these increases to old age pensioners, blind pensioners, widows and orphans and so on should be greater. We would all like to see the increases greater than they are, but we have to be realistic and bear in mind the capacity of the community to bear any extra increases.

When we consider this matter objectively, we must admit that there is a good slice of the national revenue being paid out to these classes of people who come within the scope of Social Welfare. Roughly some £22 million is a big sum for this country. Having regard to the resources of the country, the position would compare favourably with that of other countries. After all, there is a limit to what can be done.

Senator O'Donovan and others advocated special consideration for the old age pensioner living alone. I do not know if that is a practical suggestion. I imagine that such a decision, if it were adopted, would give rise to considerable administrative difficulties. As well as that, it is always rather invidious to discriminate between one section and another in these matters. Therefore, if there were to be any extra increases, those increases should apply all round.

Senator O'Quigley referred to the increase in the cost of living and gave a percentage figure. I do not know where he got that figure and I should like to see it myself. I do not agree with the figure he has given as regards the increase in the cost of living since 1952 —which, I think, was the year he mentioned. Any fair-minded and unbiassed individual will admit that the Government here have brought the social services up to a reasonable level, even having regard to the increase in the cost of living.

As I said at the outset, we should all like to see these classes of people, the needy sections of the community, getting more if we could afford to give it to them; but in considering any such increases as certain Senators here have in mind, we must remember that we have to cut our cloth according to the measure, that we must have regard to the national resources and that we have not done too badly.

Like other Senators, I am very glad that the less fortunate in our community have been considered this time and granted a half-crown. There are two observations I should like to make. First of all, in Dublin particularly—I do not know about the rest of the country—the Dublin Board of Assistance are obliged to subsidise their old age pensioners with a grant of home assistance. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to ask the Minister to issue an order forbidding a board of assistance—in Dublin or elsewhere—from taking into consideration this increase of half-a-crown. At the present time, if a person is receiving x shillings in pension and y shillings in subsidy, there is no sense whatever in, from 1st August, increasing the pension to make it x plus 2/6 and reducing the subsidy by 2/6. Therefore, I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to see if the Minister could issue an order to that effect, forbidding boards of assistance from taking into consideration this increase of 2/6.

There is another observation I would like the Minister to consider, that is, in the case of non-contributory widows' pensions. There are widows who were granted a non-contributory pension, not through any fault of their own but because their husbands were possibly out of employment for the required number of years beforehand, or otherwise. The Minister should do something to forbid a means test in such cases. It is a hardship. If a widow is in receipt of a non-contributory pension and if she is fortunate enough to secure some kind of employment—like the contributory pension widows, who have no means test—to help her to augment this pension, to raise a family, there is a means test introduced there and then and her pension is reduced accordingly. I should like the Minister to consider doing away with the means test as far as the non-contributory widows' pensions are concerned.

I feel, like several other Senators, that this Bill represents something quite considerably less than the minimum that we owe to the old people of our country. I would ask the Minister and the House to look back to the days when it was a main plank in the platform of the Republican Party that Cumann na nGaedheal were paying an old age pension of only 10/- a week. The modern equivalent of 10/- a week is almost exactly 27/6 a week. In those days, we were told of the extreme stinginess and grudging character of the Government, that expected old people to live, pay for food, clothe themselves decently, pay rent and pay for fuel at the wretched rate of 10/- a week. In those days, 10/- bought just about what it is possible to buy for 27/6 now—which represents the new total pension including these fresh increases.

I would ask members of the Government, in particular, to ask themselves, in these circumstances, in looking back, with the full knowledge of the facts they have now, whether they now consider that the Government of those days were perfectly right to pay only 10/- a week and could not do any better. I am aware, of course, that they cut 1/- off the pension and that there was a great amount of cheering when the 1/- went back on again in due course. But were Cumann na nGaedheal right at the time they were paying 10/-? Was that sufficient? Was that as much as we could afford to pay? If they were being mean, stingy, unimaginative and inhuman, can all those adjectives be applied now to the present Government? It seems to me they have either to say that the 10/- was right then, or admit that they themselves are doing precisely what their predecessors did in those days to the old people.

I would ask the House to consider what level of existence people can achieve on an income of 27/6. I suggest that their conditions are sub-human and that there are tens of thousands of people in this country today who are living in those sub-human conditions. I suggest that many of them are too meek, and indeed too weak physically, to make the kind of protest that all of us here should make if we examine our hearts and consciences.

Supposing an old person is paying for rent something like 5/- a week. That is not an enormous amount. Many of them are paying more, but let us suppose they are not paying more. Supposing that, for a considerable portion of the year, they are spending 4/- a week on fuel, which is absolutely essential for an old person, particularly an old person who is under-nourished. Supposing they spend something like 1/- or 2/- on an average a week on clothing—put it down at 1/-. Probably the most expensive item will be footwear. I would ask members of this House, when they see old age pensioners, to have a look at their footwear, which has to do them not just in these months but in the months from November through the winter to February, March, and so on. I do not think it excessive if we say they would have to spend an average of one shilling a week—surely that is not excessive on clothing, including footwear? Supposing they have to spend one shilling a week on transport, which is not improbable. We make no concessions in our semi-nationalised transport for old people.

How much of the 27/6d. is left for food? Something like 16/6d. A sum of 16/- in the week for food is a little over 2/- a day. I wonder how many members of this House, if they were to try to do it for a bet, could exist, say, for a fortnight without spending more than 2/6d. a day on food? I have a feeling that the weight of quite a number of individual members of this House might drop under those conditions. I may say that light-heartedly, but nevertheless the fact is that we all must recognise now that to try to exist, and try to live a human life, on such a level of food intake is virtually impossible.

Furthermore, we apply a means test to these people, a humiliating means test. If they have so much as £2 a week from any other source, they get no old age pension. I wonder why is it considered that £2 a week is enough to permit them to do without any old age pension? It is almost as if the Government were recognising that it takes £2 a week for them to keep fairly alive and that if they have that, they are all right. If that is the case, surely the minimum pension should be £2 a week?

I was asked on two occasions recently to make an appeal for the Mendicity Institute here in Dublin. Their main aim now is to provide very simple, very clean and adequate meals for old people or any people—for poor people—with no questions asked. I notice that in the preceding year as many as 87,000 of these meals were served, whereas last year 92,000 of these meals were served. They are as simple as can be. They consist of one dish. It is good and wholesome and plentiful. The fact that there is such a demand for such meals—the Mendicity Institute is only one of many such institutions — provides, I suggest, an indictment on our society, because we are not doing what we ought to do for our old people and our poor.

It has been said that we have not got the money, that taxation is already too high, and so on. I remember last year—I think on this very Bill —the Minister for Finance said that nobody apart from myself had mentioned where the money might come from. I had suggested a very considerable cut in the Defence Estimate. The Minister, while being content to say that nobody but myself had made any suggestion as to where the money could come from, paid no attention at all and did not even consider or comment on the suggestion that one might save something on the £6 million or £7 million a year we spend on the maintenance of our defence system. We could save quite a considerable sum on that Estimate alone. If the sub-human conditions in which our old people are forced to live to-day were to be considered by the Government as a national emergency, I suggest they would find the money. I am afraid we have a tendency to sleep light on other men's wounds. It is not regarded as a national emergency and so we make this absolutely minimal gesture of throwing them 2/6d. a week. I notice that in Britain it is possible to pay a couple of old age pensioners a joint pension in the neighbourhood of £250 a year, whereas our comparable pension, with this increase, will be something like £143 a year.

The United Kingdom is a much wealthier country than we are. However, I notice that in Denmark they succeed in paying to an old couple of that kind a joint pension of £200 a year. They pay it at the age of 65 and it is a non-contributory pension, though there is a means test which is applied at about the same level as ours —above £100 a year. In a small and even poorer country like Iceland, they pay a joint pension of £227 a year at the age of 65. It is contributory and there is also a means test.

Finland pays a joint pension of £287 to a pair of old age pensioners at 65. That is contributory, but there is no means test. Against those figures, I suggest that our joint pension of £143 a year for a pair of old age pensioners granted to them most grudgingly at the age of 70, with a means test, though admittedly it is non-contributory, is, in the light of those comparative figures from other countries—not all of them wealthy countries—an indictment of our failure to provide for our old people and for our blind pensioners and widows in the manner in which we ought.

It has been suggested that this 2/6d. a week is something like an absolute minimum, but it is far below what any decent minimum should be. If you ask at any of our institutions—the Government are well aware of the fact—how much it costs to keep an old person, they know well they cannot do it on 27/6d. a week. I do not want to stress that any further for the main reason that I think we all feel ashamed of the disgraceful manner in which we treat our old folk.

I appeal to the Government—and I put the appeal quite apart from any Party political considerations, because I have not noted any difference between this Government and the Coalition Government in this respect— to consider very seriously whether, before this time next year, they cannot find it absolutely necessary, as a matter of national emergency, to treat our old people and our dependent widows in a manner of which we need not feel ashamed, as I feel heartily ashamed of having to-day to support this wretched Bill.

I would remind Senator Sheehy Skeffington that an emergency does not last forever and that we are dealing with the day-to-day problem. Social welfare at its best in any country you take is not a living wage; it is a contribution in aid. Senator O'Donovan spoke about a problem which is a very live one, that is, the problem of old age pensioners living alone. You cannot force them, in a democratic State, into an institution. They have a right, if they choose, to live alone. He referred to an article in theNational Observer dealing with the question of malnutrition. Now, you could fill the house of an old age pensioner living alone with the best foods imaginable and he would still suffer from malnutrition.

The Senator says that he has a knowledge of St. Vincent de Paul work and I am sure he has. Anyone knowing the plight of those old age pensioners living alone knows that they are not able to cook for themselves properly, or to prepare the nourishment which will save them from malnutrition. Their general diet consists of tea, bread and butter. That is all they are able to provide for themselves. This is really the problem of the old age pensioner living alone who has not got an income of £104, let alone 104 pence or 104 farthings, and yet chooses to live in the room or garret by himself. It is a very vexed problem.

The Dublin Board of Assistance, and other such local authorities, provide supplements to old age pensions, but then you encounter the individual with an understandable pride who will not take that, even if it is offered to him and you just cannot do anything about it. There is one institution which comes to the relief of people who fall by the wayside and are too proud to look for social assistance, although I see nothing wrong with it. It gives a limited relief and there may be other institutions like it. The problem of the old age pensioner who has not got one penny coming in to him during the year is something towards the solution of which we should all direct our energies.

I dispute the contention of Senator O'Quigley that the cost of living has gone up by 25 per cent. in the past seven years. I refute that statement; it did not go up by that figure.

It did not go down.

These are statistics.

That figure is wrong. He argues naively that we should keep our eyes open and when the cost of living goes up by so many points, then we should raise all social services. We should all like to see the Utopian days when there would be a barometer for salaries and wages which would go up and down in that kind of way. These are very great problems which we cannot solve overnight and as far as this Department is concerned, when the cost of living went up in the past two years, we brought in a Bill and increased the old age pensions.

They did not get the increase yet. They are still waiting for it.

They got the increase and they will get this one. We are dealing in millions in this. We are taking one quarter of the current expenditure and devoting it to social welfare. When Senator Sheehy Skeffington talks about saving a million pounds in the Department of Defence, he should realise that that would not give us exactly 2/6d. a week for old age pensioners alone and you cannot pick out old age pensioners without picking out social beneficiaries like non-contributory widows and orphans and unemployment assistance recipients. So the sum is a very large one which would have to be provided and while one would stand for economies all round, you have the problem of increased taxation and that is a very knotty problem.

The Senator talked about Iceland, amongst other countries, where old age pensions were higher than here. The cost of living in Iceland is one of the highest in Europe, unless it has gone down recently, and the cost of living in Finland is not too low either. It is fairly high there. What the people are getting with one hand they are giving out with the other.

Senator O'Sullivan spoke about the recipients of small pensions from outside. We understand that problem quite well, but the means test is there and they are far better off than the people to whom I have just referred and who were referred to by more than one Senator. Single persons or married couples living in cities or in rural areas who have not got a brass farthing coming into them during the year are the people to whom we should direct our attention. The person who has £52 10d. per year and can still get the old age pension is a lot better off than the person with nothing coming in.

As I said and I repeat, the local authority can come to their aid as everybody in this Assembly knows. There are dozens and scores and hundreds of people who will not go to the local authority or to an institution.

£7,000 was stopped from old age pensioners in one year in St. John's Hospital.

Wexford has always a problem of its own, but I am talking about the question generally. The numbers in the county homes are much the same all the year round. I think the people in the county homes are well off especially when I read of a person who has been burned to death by fire caused by parafin oil, or whose house has been burned down while he was in it. If such people were in county homes, they would be under medical care; they would have good nurses and nuns to look after them; and they would be getting nourishing food, not only bread and tea. They would be far better off. We cannot force them if they wish to stay out of the county homes.

This disparagement of the county homes has been repeated again and again and it is very wrong to give it a stigma. The county homes have improved out of all recognition.

Exactly; he is only paying lip service——

He is only trying to drag the people down and make paupers of them. The British tried that and we should not be doing it.

When the Senator was supporting a Government, he did not do very much for them.

We did more than Fianna Fáil did for them; butter was cheaper and bread was cheaper.

Who abolished the food subsidies?

You are only "yes-men".

An Rúnai Parlaiminte.

We cannot statutorily order the local authority not to take into account any increase given by the Oireachtas by way of social benefits, but we have suggested to them before that they should not, and we shall do so again. We do not think they should take any increase into account that comes in a national way to these social beneficiaries. If a local authority takes such an increase or any other increase into account, they are acting unjustly to the people who need these services, and as far as we can indicate to them that they should not take it into account, we shall do so. Again and again we have raised the income limit in the means test. The last increase was in 1952. I think I have covered the various points raised by Senators on this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.