Cúis áthais dom an Bille seo a chur ós comhair Seanad Éireann. Mar is léir ón mheamram míniúcháin a cuireadh ar fáil le téacs an Bhille séard atá ann ná forálacha is gá chun na méadaithe tathagacha a fógraíodh sa Cháinfhaisnéis i rátaí sochar agus pinsean árachais shóisialaigh agus freisin i rátaí pinsean seanaoise, daille agus baintrí neamh-ranníocach agus cúnamh dífhostaíochta a chur i bhfeidhm. Tá foráil sa Bhille, freisin, leis an dteorainn ioncaim chun árachais éigintigh faoi na hAchtanna Leasa Shóisialaigh a árdú ó £800 go £1,200 i n-aghaidh na bliana. Chomh maith leis sin tá forálacha tábhachtacha sa Bhille a bhaineann le módh nua chun acmhainn sealbhóirí feirmeacha beaga i gCeantair Chúnga d'áireamh i gcomhair cúnamh dífhostaíochta. Ina dteannta sin tá roint feabhsanna éagsúla ann ar na scéimeanna árachais shóisialaigh agus chúnaimh.
Fórálann an Bille go bhfaighidh na pinsinéirí neamh-ranníocacha uilig sean-aoise, daille nó baintrí, nach mó ná £26. 5s. 0d a n-acmhainn bliantúil, 10/- breise i n-aghaidh na seachtaine agus go bhfaighidh an chuid eile de na pinsinéirí 5/- i n-aghaidh na seachtaine. Tá uas-ráta pinsean neamh-ranníocach dilleachta dá mhéadú freisin do réir 5/- i n-aghaidh na seachtaine. De thoradh na méadaithe seo pinsean táthar arís ag leathnú ar na teorainneacha bliantiúla acmhainne agus na rátaí pinsean i dtreo's go mbeidh ráta breise ag an bpointe is ísle de gach scála iníoctha le daoine nach raibh ach díreach taobh amuigh den teorainn acmhainne d'aon phinsin go nuige seo.
Táthar ag méadú ar na rátaí cúnaimh dífhostaíochta do réir 5/- i n-aghaidh na seachtaine don fhaighteoir féin agus beidh 5/- breise iníoctha i leith cleithiúnaí aosaithe nuair is ann dó. Chomh maith leis an méadú i rátaí cúnaimh dífhostaíochta beidh a chomhthrom de leathnú ar an dteorainn acmhainne i gcomhair cáilithe chun cúnaimh dífhostaíochta.
Beidh na méadaithe ar shochair leasa shóisialaigh i bhfeidhm ó thosach Mí Eanáir seo chugainn agus dá réir soláthrófar 10/- breise i n-aghaidh na seachtaine d'fhaighteoirí sochar míchumais, sochair dífhostaíochta, sochar máithreachais, pinsean ranníocach baintrí, liúntas ranníocach dilleachta agus pinsean seanaoise (ranníocach) maille le 10/- breise i n-aghaidh na seachtaine i leith cleithiúnaí aosaithe más ann dó.
Táthar chun na ranníoca fostaíochta a árdú dá réir freisin. Is é an méadú ar ráta gnáthach na ranníoca do fhear oibre ná 2s. 10d i n-aghaidh na seachtaine i dtreo's gurab ionann is 14s. 8d i n-aghaidh na seachtaine an ráta sin agus é rointe go comhthrom idir an fostóir agus an fostaí.
Tá beartaithe ag an Rialtas freisin an teorainn pá is cuí chun árachais éigintigh faoi na hAchtanna Leasa Shóisialaigh i gcás daoine atá i bhfostaíocht seachas i mbun obair láimhe a árdú ó £800 i naghaidh na bliana go £1,200. Cuirfear an t-athrú seo i bhfeidhm ar dáta a sochrófar trí bhíthin Órdaithe.
Rud a cabhróidh go mór le mílte sealbhóirí feirmeacha beaga i gceantair chúnga is ea an t-athrú a fhorálann an Bille, maidir le módh áirmhithe ioncaim ó thalamh faoi na hAchtanna Um Cúnamh Dífhostaíochta. Is ar éifeacht táirgiúil na feirme do réir mar a thaisbeánann luacháil measaithe na talún é agus ní ar an líon stoc agus barraí, & rl. a bunófar áireamh na h-acmhainne feasta. Is é cuspóir na h-athraithe seo go mbeidh ar a gcumas d'fheirmeóirí beaga ins na ceantair chúnga an toradh is mó is féidir a fháisceadh as a bhfeirmeacha agus páirt a ghlacadh go pras ins na scéimeanna uilig atá ceapaithe chun méadú ar thoradh talmhaíochta ach gan bheith imníoch faoi chúnamh dífhostaíochta a chailliúint de bhárr a saothair.
Tá mar pholasaí agam le linn dom bheith im Aire na scéimeanna leasa shóisialaigh a choimeád fé scrúdú d'fhonn iad a fheabhsú tré pé easnamh, aimhrialtachta, nó lochta eile a tcítear dom a bheith ionntu a leasú chomh fada agus is féidir é. Cuige sin, seo go hachomair cuid de na leasaithe atá sa Bhille: Tá cúig athraithe ann a bhaineann le h-áireamh acmhainne i gcomhair pinsean neamh-ranníocach seanaoise, daille, baintrí nó dilleachta a ligfidh do roint mhaith daoine cáiliú chun pinsean, nó chun rátaí níos aoirde, feasta.
Tá feabhsanna beartaithe ar na hAchtanna Um Liúntais Leanaí freisin. Faoi cheann díobh íocfar liúntas leanaí le h-oifigigh Airm le linn bheith i gcéin dóibh, agus faoin gceann eile íocfar liúntas faoi dhó i leith gach linbh a mhaireann i gcás breithe iolraí seachas cúpla.
Maidir le costas na bhforálacha éagsúla: ar an dtaobh cúnamh shóisialaigh de is é an costas iomlán ná £4,337,900 i mbliain iomlán agus £2,484,100 sa bhliain reatha. Ar an dtaobh árachais shóisialaigh de is é costas iomlán na moltaí ná £5,190,000 i mbliain iomlán. Is é an chuid de sin a íocfar as an Stát-Chiste ná £1,290,000 i mbliain iomlán agus £668,000 sa bhliain reatha.
This Bill as a result of which the gross expenditure on Social Welfare will be increased by £9.53 millions in a full year represents a considerable advance in the field of social welfare in this country. From the explanatory memorandum circulated with the text, it will be seen that the Bill includes the provisions to implement the decision announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget speech on 11th May last to give substantial increases in rates of social insurance benefits and pensions, and also in rates of non-contributory old age, blind and widows' pensions and unemployment assistance. The Bill also includes provision to increase the income limit for compulsory insurance under the Social Welfare Acts from £800 to £1,200 a year. There are, in addition, important provisions in the Bill for a new method of assessing means for the purposes of unemployment assistance in the case of smallholders in congested areas, and, finally, the Bill provides for a number of miscellaneous improvements in existing social insurance and assistance schemes.
Senators will observe that the explanatory memorandum issued with the Bill is much more detailed than has previously been the case. I have had this done to help resolve the difficulty in understanding and following amending legislation of this nature which necessarily must be by reference to the existing Acts. My aim has been to make clear, as far as possible, what each amendment really does, where the text itself is not self-explanatory.
The Budget increases on the social assistance side, to be effective as from the beginning of next month, will give an extra 10/- a week for all existing non-contributory old age, blind or widow pensioners whose yearly means do not exceed £26 5s. while all the remaining pensioners will get an increase of 5/- a week. It is estimated that some 71,000 persons who are old age or blind pensioners will qualify for the 10/- increase and 41,000 for the 5/- increase, while over 11,000 widows will obtain the 10/- increase, the remainder getting the 5/- increase. The maximum rate of orphan's non-contributory pension is also being increased by 5/- a week. The opportunity is again being taken to extend the scales of means and rates of pension in each case so as to add an additional rate at the minimum of each scale which will be payable to persons previously just outside the means limit for any pension. As a result the scale for an old age pensioner without a qualified child will be extended to £156 15s., as against the present £143 15s. and therefore a married pensioner without a qualified child can have means of £313 10s. and still qualify for the minimun rate of old age pension. The means limit, of course, increases with each qualified child.
The rates of unemployment assistance for persons in urban and rural areas are being increased by 5/- a week for the recipient himself and by a further 5/- where there is an adult dependant. This will have the consequential effect of automatically extending the means limit for qualification for unemployment assistance by equivalent amounts.
The increases in payments in social insurance benefits will become operative at the beginning of January next, and will provide an extra 10/- a week for recipients of disability benefit, unemployment benefit, maternity benefit, widow's contributory pension, orphan's contributory allowance and old age (contributory) pension, with an additional 10/- a week where an adult dependant's allowance is payable with a pension or benefit. The extra cost will be paid for, as are all insurance benefits, by increases in the contributions from employers, insured employees and from the Exchequer. The consequential increase in the rates of social insurance contribution will be 2/10d. a week in the ordinary rate for male workers, making it 14/8d. a week, to be shared equally by the employer and worker. Increases in the rates of contribution for other classes will be 2/10d. where all the insurance benefits are insured against, with appropriately lesser amounts where some only of the benefits of the scheme are covered.
Rising levels of remuneration generally as a result of successive rounds of pay increases over the past few years, has affected the social insurance scheme by giving increasing numbers of persons who are employed otherwise than by way of manual labour, pay which was in excess of the limit for compulsory insurance under the Social Welfare Acts. The Government have decided to increase this limit which, of course, applies only to persons employed otherwise than by way of manual labour, from the existing level of £800, fixed in 1958, to £1,200 a year. The Bill provides that this increase will take effect from a date to be determined by Order. This is necessary not only to give employers and persons likely to be affected, reasonable notice of the change after the relevant provision becomes law but also to permit regulations to be made for the purpose of awarding credited contributions to persons brought back into compulsory insurance by reason of the raising of the limit.
These credited contributions will enable a person brought back into compulsory insurance to qualify at once for disability benefit or unemployment benefit, provided he otherwise satisfies the conditions for benefit. They will not, however, count for purposes of old age or widows' (contributory) pensions as any person going out of insurance by reason of going over the remuneration limit could have maintained his insurance for pension purposes by becoming a voluntary contributor. There is provision in the Bill to enable future variations in the remuneration limit to be made by Government Order and in such a case it will be necessary that the Draft of the Order be placed before each House of the Oireachtas and approved by resolution of each House before the Order can be made.
Many thousands of smallholders in the congested areas will benefit from the radical change, which the Bill provides for, in the method of assessing income from land under the Unemployment Assistance Acts. Means derived from their land by smallholders in Congested Districts will, in general, no longer be calculated by reference to the actual number of stock, area and type of crops, etc. on a holding but by reference to the productive capacity of the holding as indicated by the rateable valuation of the land. Under this new system all holdings bearing the same land valuation will normally be deemed to produce the same fixed rate of means regardless of the extent to which the occupiers are in fact working the lands. The idea is that each smallholder in the congested areas should be free to work his holding to maximum capacity, and to participate readily in all schemes designed to increase agricultural output, without being concerned about losing some or all of his unemployment assistance as a result of an expanding farm income arising from greater effort and enterprise on his part.
The Bill proposes to give the Government power to specify by order the areas in which the new system will operate. It is proposed to apply it in the 11 full counties of Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway, Cavan, Monaghan, Longford, Clare and Kerry together with the congested portions of West Cork and West Limerick. Thus the scheme will embrace the congested areas in the widest sense of that term. The areas I have mentioned are substantially the same as the areas which have been selected for the purposes of measures recently introduced for the development of the West such, for example, as the county development teams and pilot area schemes. The essential feature of the unemployment assistance scheme will be unaltered, but in the congested areas income from a holding will be calculated on the basis of £20 a year for each £1 of net land valuation. The present disregard of 5/- per week in respect of a married smallholder will, of course, continue to operate so that, in effect, the means assessed in his case for a £3 land valuation farm will be £47 per year and £67 for a £4 land valuation farm and so on. The means figure thus calculated will stay unchanged irrespective of changes in the output of the farm. In this way, a person who neglects his holding will lose any advantage in the scale of unemployment assistance payments which he enjoys at present over his more industrious neighbour with a similar valuation.
Special transitional arrangements will enable existing smallholder recipients of unemployment assistance in the selected areas to adapt themselves gradually to the amended scheme. In any case where it would be to their advantage they may for a period of five years continue to have their means assessed as at present on the basis of current values, for stock, crops etc., but in no case will the assessment exceed the figure which would be arrived at by calculating their means by reference to land valuation. In the absence of actual experience it is not possible to say with any firmness how many smallholders will benefit from the proposals or what the additional cost will be. We have, however, estimated, that some 24,000 smallholders in the selected areas will be affected including about 8,000 who are already recipients of unemployment assistance and that the additional cost of the change, on the basis of these numbers, will be something over £1,000,000 a year.
I feel I can say with full justification that when these changes are brought into force in January next there will be no reason why a smallholder in the congested areas in receipt of unemployment assistance should not make an all-out effort to increase the production from his holding by making the maximum use of his skill and energy, and of whatever financial and technical aids and advice are available to him, and by enthusiastic co-operation with his neighbours and full participation in government schemes designed to raise income levels in these areas.
It has been my policy as Minister to keep the various social welfare schemes instantly under review and to seek to improve them whenever and wherever possible. In each Social Welfare Bill introduced over the past few years, provision has been made for a variety of improvements, some great and some relatively small, but each of them of considerable benefit to the persons affected. The present is no exception as it includes provision for a number of improvements or extensions of existing schemes.
Section 15, for instance, deals with five modifications of the means test as applied for the purposes of non-contributory old age, blind, widows' or orphans' pensions and will undoubtedly enable a considerable number of persons to qualify for such pensions or to qualify for a higher rate of pension. These include an increase in the amount which may be disregarded from the earnings of a blind person in assessing his means for pension purposes by £13 for himself, his wife, and each qualified child and the complete disregard for the purposes of non-contributory old age, blind and widows' pensions of all payments from charitable organisations.
Another concession will permit an annuity payable under the Land Act, 1965 to an elderly or blind person who surrenders a holding to the Land Commission, to be ignored in so far as it does not exceed £3 a week in assessing means for old age or blind pension.
The remaining concessions in the group affect widows' non-contributory pensions and are the extension of the present disregard of £39 from earnings from insurable employment in respect of each qualified child so that it will apply also to a widow's earnings from any form of employment or self-employment involving personal exertions and the limitation of the amount of a qualified child's means which can be assessed against a widow to £26 where she has one such child and to £52 where she has more than one.
The position of non-contributory old age pensioners detained in mental hospitals is also being improved. At present their pensions are appropriated by the hospital authorities towards the cost of their maintenance and treatment but if the person in charge of the hospital feels that the pensioner is capable of using money properly, the pensioner may be allowed up to 10/- a week out of his pension as pocket money. Section 11 of the Bill will increase the amount that may be so allowed to a maximum of £1 a week and will also permit the person in charge of the hospital, over and above any payment he makes to the pensioner or even where he cannot make such payment to the pensioner, to pay on behalf of the pensioner portion of the pension towards such liabilities as the pensioner may have for rent, mortgages, insuranceet cetera.
A proposed extension of the children's allowances scheme will enable allowances to be paid to State servants, including Army officers, who go abroad in the service of the State or Government, or of the United Nations or other affiliated or similar international body and who bring their children to live with them. Another extension of that scheme while not of very wide application, will be of considerable value to those who benefit from it. It will enable double the appropriate rate of children's allowance to be paid, in respect of the survivors of multiple births, other than twins, while there are at least three such survivors.
Finally, it is proposed to amend the unemployment assistance scheme in order that a qualification certificate may be granted with retrospective effect to the date of application thus enabling unemployment assistance to be paid for a period of unemployment prior to the grant of the qualification certificate. At present, unemployment assistance cannot be paid until the applicant, no matter what his circumstances may be, is the holder of a qualification certificate. This amendment is in line with that made last year in relation to a revised decision affecting the grant of qualification certificates.
I do not think that I need go into any greater detail now but it may be helpful if I summarise the cost of the various proposals in the Bill. On the social assistance side, the total cost will be £4,337,900 in a full year, of which £3,165,000 arises from the Budget proposals, £1,084,000 from the concessions for smallholders in congested districts, and £88,900 from the remaining provisions. All of this cost will fall on the Exchequer, but the amount to be met in the current year will total only £2,484,100, that is, £2,076,000 in respect of the Budget proposals, £350,000 in respect of the smallholders' concession and £58,100 in respect of the remaining provisions.
The gross annual cost of the improvements on the social insurance scheme will be £5,190,000, of which £5,120,000 arises from the Budget proposals. It is, however, estimated that the increases in rates of contribution, will bring in an additional £3,900,000 to the Social Insurance Fund, leaving the cost to be met by the Exchequer at £1,290,000 in a full year and £668,000 in the current year.
These are very large sums but I am sure Senators will appreciate that substantial improvements cannot be effected in social welfare schemes without appropriate increases in the contributions of employers, insured workers and of the Exchequer. I am satisfied that the proposed increased expenditure on our social welfare schemes is more than justified and that it is a measure of a further great step forward in the evolution of our social welfare system. I have much pleasure, therefore, in recommending this Bill to Seanad Éireann.