Séard atá sa Bhille seo na forálacha is gá chun feidhm a thabhairt do na méadaithe a fógraíodh sa Cháinfhaisnéis i rátaí pinsean seanaoise, daille agus baintrí neamh-ranníocach agus ins na rátaí pearsanta cúnamh dífhostaíochta i gcomhair cleithiúnaithe aosaithe do réir 5/- i n-aghaidh na seachtaine do dhaoine atá gan acmhainn. Ina theannta tá dhá athraithe tábhachtacha dá ndéanamh sa Scéim Árachais Shóisialaigh— leathnú na gcoinníollacha ranníoca i gcomhair pinsean baintrí (ranníocach) agus leathnú ar shochar dífhostaíochta i dtreois go mbainfidh sé le mná ar fhostaíocht i seirbhís tís príobháideach agus i dtalmhaíocht. Tá roinnt forálacha sa Bhille freisin maidir le leasuithe ilghnéitheacha i scéimeanna árachais shóisialaigh agus cúnaimh shóisialaigh.
Baineann na méadaithe cáinfhaisnéise uilig i mbliana le cúnamh sóisialach mar is cuí im thuairim nuair is teoranta iad na foinsí i gcomhair leasú na seirbhísí sóisialacha. Mar sin is chun méadú ar phinsin seanaoise agus baintrí agus cúnamh dífhostaíochta dóibh siúd atá gan acmhainn a usáid mé an t-airgead a cuireadh ar fáil dom sa cháinfhaisnéis i mbliana. Bainfidh 21,000 pinsinéirí seanaoise nó daille, as an iomlán de 112,000 pinsinéirí, tairbhe as na méadaithe seo agus bainfidh suas le 6,500 baintreacha as iomlán de 22,000 baintreacha tairbhe as sa gcaoi céanna.
Maidir le cúnamh dífhostaíochta toisc nach bhfuil an triail acmhainne cosúil leis an gceann i leith pinsean ní féidir sa gcaoi céanna méadaithe na cáinfhaisnéise a theorannú do dhaoine gan acmhainn amháin. Leathnaíodh ar fhorálacha na cáinfhaisnéise maidir le cúnamh dífhostaíochta beagáinín i dtreo is go mbeidh méadú áirithe ag dul do gach faighteoir. Táthar mar sin ag árdú uas-rátaí cúnaimh dífhostaíochta i leith na ranganna éagsúla do réir 5/- do dhaoine gan cleithiúnaithe linbh. De thoradh na méadaithe i rátaí cúnaimh dífhostaíochta gheobhaidh gach faighteoir méadú áirithe agus leathnófar go huathoibritheach ar an dteorainn acmhainne chun cáilithe i leith cúnaimh dífhostaíochta i dtreo is go mbeidh roinnt iarratasóirí, atá beagnach cáilithe faoi na coinníollacha atá i bhfeidhm faoi láthair, cáilithe feasta.
Ceist atá im intinn agam le tamall is ea leasú na gcoinníollacha ranníoca i gcomhair pinsean baintrí (ranníocach). Tá na coinníollacha atá ann faoi láthair lán tsásúil i bhfurmhór na gcásanna ach tháinigh roinnt chásanna faoi mo bhráid mar a raibh cuid mhaith árachais le linn saoil oibre an fhir chéile ann ach gan an oiread ranníoca aige agus a chólíonfadh an triail meáin mar atá sé chun go mbeadh a bhaintreach cáilithe chun pinsin. Tá fúm é sin a leigheas ins an mBille tré triail meáin breise a sholáthar faoína cáileoidh baintreach chun pinsin ar mheán áirithe thar an saol iomlán árachais i dtreo is go mbeidh tuille baintreacha cáilithe chun pinsean ranníocach.
Níl mná a bhíonn ar fhostaíocht i seirbhís príobháideach tís árachaithe i leith dífhostaíochta faoi láthair agus tá fúm, dá bhrí sin, ins an mBille an Scéim Árachas Dífhostaíochta a leathnú i dtreo is go mbainfidh sé leis na mná seo, agus le mná atá ar fhostaíocht i dtalmhaíocht chomh maith, trí na rátaí ranníoca árachais shóisialaigh a bhaineann leo a mhéadú go cuí, na ranníoca nua seo a bheith ináirithe i gcomhair sochair dífhostaíochta.
Ar na forálacha ilghnéitheacha ins an mBille tá ceann a éiríonn de thoradh an méadú ar uas-ráta an phinsin seanaoise neamh-ranníocaigh. Faoi seo beidh rogha ag duine atá dícháilithe chun pinsin seanaoise neamh-ranníocaigh toisc íocaíocht faoin scéim pinsean seanaoise ranníocach bheith aige, an pinsean neamh-ranníocach a fháil má tá sé cáilithe cuige agus más fearr dó é ná an íocaíocht eile úd.
Baineann fuíoll na bhforálacha ins an mBille le cóiriú forálacha atá ann cheana. Soláthraítear gur féidir rialacháin a dhéanamh faoina mbeidh an méadú i bpinsean seanaoise ranníocach i leith leanaí cáilithe iníoctha le daoine seachas na pinsiniérí nuair is cuí é. Soláthraítear freisin go mbeidh máthair dall cáilithe feasta chun méadú ar a pinsean i leith a leanaí cáilithe a fháil nuair is ag a fear céile atá an teideal chun an liúntais linbh. I gcás mar sin roimhe seo bhí sí dícháilithe ón méadú i gceist.
Soláthraítear ins an mBille freisin nuair a chailleann duine sochar de dheasca mainneachtana fhostóra go mbeidh iomlán an tsochair inghnóthaithe ón bhfostóir fiú nuair a fhaigheann an duine árachaithe cúnamh sóisialach i n-ionad cuid den tsochar i gceist. Roimhe seo ní raibh ach méid glan an tsochair inghnóthaithe ón bhfostóir i dtreo is go mbíodh an Státchiste thíos de dheasca mainneachtain an fhostóra. Mar deireadh táthar chun cumhachta maidir le hÓrdaíthe a dhéanamh faoi chomhar-shocraíochtaí le tíortha eile faoi chúrsaí slándála shóisialaí a tháthú agus a leathnú go mbainfidh siad leis na scéimeanna uilig atá dá riaradh ag mo Roinn.
Cabhróidh sé le Seanadóirí má achoimrím costas na bhforálacha éagsúla ins an mBille. Ar an dtaobh cúnaimh shóisialaigh de, is é an costas iomlán ná £694,500 as a mbeidh £674,500 ag dul d'fhorálacha na cáinfhaisnéise. Beidh airgead taisce ann don Státchiste áfach de thoradh leasú an scéim pinsean ranníocach baintrí do réir £144,000 i naghaidh na bliana a fhágfaidh £550,500 mar chostas glan don Státchiste. Is é costas iomlán bliantúil na bhfeabhsanna ins an scéim árachais shóisialaigh ná £310,000 i mbliain iomlán as a n-íocfar £288,000 trí mhéadú na ranníoca, ag fágaint £22,000 in aghaidh na bliana mar an chostas glan don Státchiste.
Is fiú iad mar fheabhsanna na feabhsanna ins an Scéim Leasa Shóisialaigh atá dá soláthar ins an mBille seo taobh istigh den acmhainn atá ar fáil. Is cruthú é an Bille ar shuim leantach an Rialtais i bhforbairt na seirbhísí sóisialacha agus is leanúint de chóras na bhfeabhsaithe bliantúla é.
This Bill includes the provisions necessary to implement the decision announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget Speech in March last to increase the rates of non-contributory old age, blind and widows' pensions and the personal and adult dependent rates of unemployment assistance for persons with no means. In addition, two important changes in the Social Insurance scheme are being made—the modification of the contribution conditions for widows' (contributory) pension and the extension of unemployment insurance to cover women employed in private domestic service and in agriculture. A number of provisions dealing with miscellaneous improvements in the social insurance and social assistance schemes are also included in the Bill.
Although the Bill is not very long, many of the provisions are, of necessity, drafted by way of reference to existing legislation — a method which unfortunately can lead to a considerable amount of obscurity in the text. The explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill attempts to explain the effects of the various provisions and I trust that Senators will have found it useful and informative.
The Budget increases are all on the social assistance side this year and I am convinced that, where resources for improving the social services are limited, the bulk of these resources should be devoted to the most deserving groups in the community. For that reason, the money made available to me this year has been devoted mainly to increasing non-contributory old age, blind and widows' pensions and unemployment assistance for persons who have no means, that is, persons whose means on investigation have already been assessed as nil. This will benefit some 21,000 old age or blind pensioners out of a total of over 112,000 such pensioners to the extent of 5/- in the weekly rate of pension, while some 6,500 widows out of a total of 22,000 widows will similarly benefit.
Because the manner of applying the means test to recipients of unemployment assistance differs from that applying in the case of pensioners, the Budget increases could not be applied only to persons with no means without causing a number of anomalies. For unemployment assistance purposes, the existing Acts lay down for the various categories of persons maximum rates of assistance which are payable where the weekly means do not exceed 2/- in the case of a person with no dependants or 5/- in the case of a person with a dependant. The rates of assistance are reduced by 1/- for each further 1/- or part of 1/-of means which the person may have over and above the amount disregarded, 2/- or 5/- as the case may be. The Budget proposals in relation to unemployment assistance have, therefore, been extended so that every recipient will get some increase. The maximum rates of unemployment assistance, both urban and rural, for the various categories are being increased by 5/- in the case of persons with no dependants, 10/- in the case of persons with adult dependants and 8/-in the case of persons with child dependants and, at the same time, the disregard of the first 2/- or 5/- of any means is being withdrawn. Thus, the new maximum rates will be paid to persons with no means and these rates will be reduced by 1/- for each 1/- or part of 1/- of weekly assessed means.
I have had in mind for some time the question of modifying the contribution conditions for widow's (contributory) pension. The present conditions are quite satisfactory in the majority of cases as the requirement of having 156 contributions paid and a yearly average of 39 contributions paid or credited over the last three or five years immediately before the husband's death are comparatively easy conditions to satisfy. However, they are not satisfactory in cases where the number of contributions during the years immediately prior to the husband's death is low due, say, to a break in insurable employment for any reason and they do not permit of any pension being paid unless the conditions are fully satisfied.
A number of cases have come to my notice where there had been a considerable amount of insurance over the husband's working life but insufficient contributions in the vital three or five years before his death to qualify the widow for pension. It could be argued that the man had had the right to become a voluntary contributor and thus to preserve his pension rights but this is of little consolation to the widow who knows that her husband had a large amount of insurance in earlier life which is useless to her for pension purposes. I propose in the Bill, therefore, to continue the existing requirement of having 156 contributions paid but, where a widow fails to satisfy the existing average test, to provide an alternative test under which the average will be calculated over the full insurance lifetime with full pension being paid if the yearly average so calculated is 48 or more and reduced pensions being paid where the average is less than 48.
To help meet the cost of the additional contributory pensions which will be payable, there will be an increase of 2d in the rates of employment and voluntary contributions. Some of the widows who will qualify for contributory pension under the new conditions may also be entitled to widows' (non-contributory) pension which will not be paid where the contributory pension is better. Regulations will, however, be made to permit any widow to draw the non-contributory pension in lieu of the contributory pension if the rate of non-contributory pension for which she could qualify would be higher, the contributory pension in any such case being paid from the Social Insurance Fund into the Exchequer to offset in part the cost of the non-contributory pension.
Women employed in private domestic service or in agriculture are excluded from the unemployment benefit scheme and I am not satisfied that a good case exists for the continuation of this total exclusion. I propose, therefore, in the Bill to increase the rates of social insurance contribution payable in respect of these women to include an element in respect of unemployment benefit and to permit the new increased contributions to count for unemployment benefit purposes. Additional conditions for the receipt of unemployment benefit by these women will, however, be prescribed by regulations under existing powers and, while the terms of these additional conditions have yet to be settled, the general intention is to restrict entitlement to unemployment benefit to women with a good employment record over a minimum period, of probably, ten years— possibly with some scaling down of the requirements beyond that point in step with advancing age. Because of this restriction of entitlement, the consequential increase in the relevant rates of contribution will only be 1/-a week, of which the employer will pay 7d.
Apart from the proposals for increasing rates of social insurance contributions in this Bill, other increases in these contribution rates are proposed in the Social Welfare (Occupational Injuries) Bill recently passed by the Oireachtas. There are reasons why all three increases in contributions should be synchronised and, accordingly, the proposals for increased contributions in this Bill, together with the related provisions, will probably be brought into operation on a date to be appointed by order by the Minister. It will then be possible to bring the increases in contributions under this Bill and the increases in connection with the Occupational Injuries Scheme into operation on the same day.
One provision of the Bill is consequential on the increase in the maximum rate of non-contributory old age pension. This is section 13 which provides that a person who is disqualified for receipt of non-contributory old age pension because he is benefiting under the Old Age (Contributory) Pensions scheme may have the option of drawing the non-contributory pension if he can qualify for it at a higher rate than the payment to which he is entitled under the contributory scheme. Where a person opts to receive the non-contributory pension, the amount he would otherwise receive under the contributory scheme will be paid out of the Social Insurance Fund to the Exchequer to help meet the cost of the non-contributory pension. A similar position will arise under the widow's (contributory) pension scheme in relation to widows aged 70 years or more when the new conditions provided in the Bill become operative and section 13 is, therefore, drafted to include widows.
One of the remaining provisions of the Bill will enable regulations to be made providing for the payment of increases of old age (contributory) pension in respect of qualified children to persons other than the pensioners where the circumstances so warrant. This will extend the power already existing in regard to the increase of pension in respect of an adult dependant which is used, for example, to allow the adult dependant's allowance to be paid directly to the wife where it is clear that the husband is neglecting her.
Other provisions involve qualified children for the purposes of increases of pension under the Old Age Pensions Acts. These increases are payable in respect of children for whom the pensioners are receiving children's allowances under the general Children's Allowances Scheme and a blind mother is thus precluded from receiving an increase of her blind pension in respect of her children where her husband is the person entitled to the children's allowance. It is proposed to permit the blind mother in such a case to receive an increase of her pension for her children. The payment of double increases in respect of the same children to both the husband and the wife will be prevented by regulation.
In some recent cases where widows have lost contributory pension by reason of the default of their late husband's employers in the payment of contributions, I have been advised, in connection with proceedings for recovery of the lost benefit for the widows under section 35 of the Social Welfare Act, 1952, that I could not recover more than the net amount of the benefit lost, due allowance being made for the fact that the widow had been paid non-contributory pension. I am not satisfied that the employer in such circumstances should be allowed to evade his liabilities at the expense of the Exchequer. The Bill will, therefore, make it clear that the amount repayable by the employer in such a case is the gross amount of benefit lost and that, if assistance has been paid to the beneficiary, it will be repayable to the Exchequer either as part of the gross amount repayable by the employer or, if he has repaid the beneficiary the full amount of the lost benefit, by the beneficiary.
Finally, the powers in relation to the making of orders in connection with reciprocal agreements with other countries on social security matters are being consolidated and expanded to cover all the main social security schemes administered by my Department. Our ratification of Convention No. 118 of the International Labour Conference made it necessary to obtain such powers in relation to children's allowances and the recent agreement with the United Kingdom on social security matters showed the desirability of having clearly defined powers covering the widest possible range of our schemes.
I hope that I have given Senators a comprehensive picture of the proposals in the Bill and of their effects. It may help if I summarise the cost of the various proposals in the Bill. On the social assistance side, the total cost will be £694,500 in a full year of which the Budget proposals as amplified will account for £674,500. There will, however, be savings to the Exchequer consequent on the modification of the widow's (contributory) pension scheme amounting to some £144,000 a year and this will leave the net cost to the Exchequer of the proposals in the Bill as £550,500. The gross annual cost of the improvements on the social insurance scheme will be £310,000 in a full year of which £288,000 will be met by the increase in contributions leaving the net cost to the Exchequer, £22,000 in a full year.
The improvements in the Social Welfare schemes being provided in this Bill are worthwhile improvements within the limits of the resources available. The Bill is moreover an indication of the Government's continued interest in developing social welfare services and a continuation of the process of effecting each year such improvements in them as are found possible. I have pleasure, therefore, in recommending the Bill to Seanad Éireann and I would ask for speedy and favourable consideration for it.