Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provision) Bill, 1969: Second and Subsequent Stages.

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

Cúis áthais dom an Bille seo a chur ós comhair Seanad Éireann. Mar is léir ón mheamram míniucháin a cuireadh ar fáil le téacs an Bhille, séard atá ann ná na forálacha is gá chun feidhm a thabhairt do na méadaithe a fógraíodh sa Cháinfhaisnéis i rátaí sochar, rátaí liúntas agus rátaí cúnamh faoi na scéimeanna leasa shóisialaigh agus chun scéim deontas a thabhairt isteach, faoi'n córas liúntais leanaí, i leith leanaí cháilithe a saolaítear in ilbhreith triúr leanaí nó níos mó. Tá forálacha sa Bhille, freisin, chun an uasteorainn aoise i leith dílleachtaí agus leanaí cáilithe de bhaintreacha, a bhfuil pinsean leasa shóisialaigh á íoc dóibh, a ardú ó sé déag go bliain is scór an fhad is a mbíonn na leanaí ag fáil teagaisc lánaimsire.

Forálann an Bille go bhfaighidh na pinsinéirí neamh-ranníocacha uilig 10/- breise in aghaidh na seachtaine. De thoradh na méadaithe pinsean seo táthar arís ag leathnú ar na teorainneacha bliantiúla acmhainne agus na rátaí pinsean i dtreo is go mbeidh rátaí breise, ag an bpointe is ísle de gach scála, iníoctha le daoine nach raibh ach díreach taobh amuigh de'n teorainn acmhainne do phinsin ar bith go dtí seo.

Táthar ag méadú ar na rátaí cúnaimh dífhostaíochta do réir 10/- in aghaidh na seachtaine do'n fhaighteoir féin agus do réir 10/- eile i leith cleithiúnaí aosaithe, más iníoctha iad. De bharr na méadaithe, leathnófar ar an dteorainn acmhainne i gcomhair daoine cáilithe chun cúnamh dífhostaíochta.

Forálann an Bille go méadófar rátaí liúntas leanaí go £1 10s in aghaidh na míosa i leith an dara linbh cáilithe agus go £2 i leith gach linbh cháilithe de bhreis ar beirt. Seasfaidh an ráta liúntas i leith an chéad linbh cháilithe ag 10/- in aghaidh na míosa. Ó Lúnasa amach beidh deontas íníoctha de £100 i leith leanaí cháilithe a saolaítear in ilbhreith triúr leanaí agus £150 i leith leanaí d'ilbhreith ceathrar nó níos mó. Íocfar an deontas comh maith leis an liúntas míosúil i leith na leanaí, atá níos mó fé dhó i gcás mar sin ná an gnáth liúntas atá íoctha.

Forálann an Bille freisin go méadófar de réir 10/- in aghaidh na seachtaine na rátaí sochar dífhostaíochta, sochar míchumais, sochar máithreachais agus pinsean ranníocach i leith baintrí, dílleachta agus seanaoise maraon le 10/- breise in aghaidh na seachtaine i gcás méadú i leith cleithiúnaí aosaithe más iníoctha é. Táthar ag méadú na rátaí ranníoca fostaíochta agus na ranníoca saorálacha sa Bhille freisin.

Forálann an Bille méadú de 10/- 'sna rátaí de na príomh sochar agus liúntas seachtainiúil faoin scéim árachais díobhálacha ceirde agus méadú dá réir 'sna rátaí eile. Ardófar an uasteorainn aoise do dhílleachtaí agus leanaí baintrí ó 18 go 21 an fhad is a mbíonn siad ag fáil teagasc lánaimsire. Méadófar, de réir pingin, méid na rannaíocha i leith árachais díobhálacha ceirde chun íoc as na méadaithe 'sna rátaí sochar agus liúntas.

Anuraidh cuireadh ar fáil den céad uair, faoi coinníollacha áirithe, méadú pinsin de 45/- do phinsinéirí sean-aoise agus baintrí thar 70 bliain d'aois atá éagcumasach agus ar gá bangoal forordaithe fostaíocht inárachaithe a fhágáil chun cúram lánaimsire a fhreastal ortha. Cuirfidh an Bille seo ar cheal an coinníoll go gcaithfidh an bhangaol forordaithe fostaíocht inárachaithe a fhágáil sul a n-íocfar an méadú pinsin. Ardófar ráta an méadaithe go 55/- sa t-seachtain freisin agus tiocfaidh na feabhsaithe ar an socar seo i bhfeidhm i mí Eanáir, 1970.

Beidh na feabhsanna thuasluaithe ins na scéimeanna neamh-ranníocha i bhfeidhm ó thosach Lúnasa agus furmhór na méadaithe ins na scéimeanna árachais shóisialaigh i bhfeidhm ó thosach Mí Eanáir seo chugainn.

This Bill, as a result of which gross expenditure on Social Welfare will be increased by some £17 millions in a full year, represents a worthwhile advance in the field of social security in this country.

It is necessary with this type of legislation to draft the Bill mainly by way of amendments to existing Acts, and I trust the Senators will find the explanatory memorandum circulated with the text helpful in interpreting the various amendments.

The Budget proposals for improvements in the field of social assistance provided for in the Bill and due to come into operation at the beginning of August next will give an extra 10s a week to all existing non-countributory old age, blind, widow and orphan pensioners. This will make the maximum personal rate of old age and blind pension £3 15s a week and the maximum personal rate of widow's pension £3 13s 6d a week. These increases in the personal rates of pension will enable the scale of means and rates of pension to be extended in each case to give additional rates which will be payable to persons whose means are outside the present limits for pension.

The rates of unemployment assistance for persons in urban and rural areas are also being increased by 10s a week for the recipient and by a further 10s where there is an adult dependent. The maximum rate will then be £3 1s 6d for a single person and £5 17s 6d for a married couple resident in an urban area; outside urban areas the corresponding rates will be £2 15s for a single person and £5 9s 6d for a married couple. These increases of unemployment assistance at the maximum will have the effect of automatically extending the means limit for qualification for unemployment assistance.

The monthly rate of children's allowance for the second qualified child in each family is being increased by 14s 6d to £1 10s and the rate for the third and subsequent qualified children by 13s 6d to £2, the rate for the first qualified child remaining unchanged at 10s a month.

Adjustments of the tax-free allowances under the income tax code to be made in respect of the second and subsequent children in families will, to some extent, offset the increase in rates of children's allowances for the children in families which are liable for income tax. However, the larger families not so liable will gain substantially from the increases in children's allowances—a four child family will get £6 a month as against £3 18s 6d at present and a six child family will get £10 as against £6 11s 6d at present.

The Bill also provides for a new grant of £100 to be payable on a multiple birth of three children and £150 on a multiple birth of more than three children. This grant will be in addition to any monthly children's allowance which the family may receive in respect of those children, the rate of which, in the case of such multiple births, is double the normal rate.

The increases in rates of social insurance benefits and pensions, due to come into operation at the beginning of January next, will provide an extra 10/- a week for recipients of old age (contributory) pension, widows' (contributory) pension, orphans' (contributory) allowance, disability benefit, unemployment benefit and maternity allowance. There will also be an additional 10/- a week for an adult dependant. A single old age (contributory) pensioner will get £4 2s 6d a week and a married couple £7 12s 6d a while a widow without children will get £3 15s a week. The personal rates of unemployment and disability benefit will then be £3 15s a week for a single person and £6 17s 6d for a married couple. Certain rates of unemployment benefit, which are payable where unemployment continues after 156 days, are the same as the maximum rates of unemployment assistance payable in urban areas and as assistance rates are being increased from the beginning of August next, these particular rates of unemployment benefit are also being increased from then.

To meet the extra expenditure on the increased rates of benefits and pensions, an increase in the social insurance contributions payable by employers and employees is necessary. The increase provided for in the rates of social insurance contributions, where all insurance benefits are covered, is 3s 9d a week, with lesser increases where only some of the benefits are covered. The increase of 3s 9d in the ordinary rate of men's contributions will be shared by the employer paying 1s 11d and employee 1s 10d and the new social insurance contribution will then be 25s 1d a week.

Consequent on the increases and improvements in the social insurance system generally being provided in the Bill, it is proposed to deal similarly with the benefits payable under the occupational injuries scheme. The increases proposed are 10/- in the rates of the main weekly paid benefits and allowances with proportionate increases in other payments. These changes will not involve any charge on the Exchequer as all benefits under the scheme are met out of the Occupational Injuries Fund which is financed by contributions paid by employers only. An increase of 1d in these contributions will be necessary to meet the cost of the increases.

The overall weekly employment contribution payable in respect of men in ordinary industrial or commercial employment will, from January, 1970, be 28s 3d made up of 25s 1d in respect of social insurance, 2s 2d in respect of occupational injuries insurance and 1/- in respect of redundancy payments. Of this, the employer will pay 15s 5d and the employee 12s 10d. In the case of women in such employment, the overall weekly contribution will be 26/-made up of 23s 8d for social insurance, 1s 7d for occupational injuries insurance and 9d for redundancy. Of this the employer will pay 14s 4d, the employee 11s 8d.

The rate of voluntary contribution covering widows' and orphans' pensions only will be increased by 8d to 5s 3d and the voluntary contribution which covers also old age (contributory) pension will be increased by 1s 6d to 10s 10d. A table showing the present and proposed rates of contribution appears in the explanatory memorandum.

Last year, a new benefit was introduced for incapacitated old age pensioners, both contributory and non-contributory, and for contributory widow pensioners aged 70 and over. At present the benefit consists of an increase of pension of £2 5s a week payable where a pensioner requires full-time care and attention and has no other adult living with him capable of looking after him other than a prescribed female relative. The female relative must be a daughter or step-daughter. The Bill proposes to modify the scheme from the beginning of January, 1970, by removing the existing statutory requirement that the prescribed female relative must have given up insurable employment to look after the pensioner and by providing power for the general conditions of the scheme to be laid down in regulations. This will supplement the powers already in the scheme to prescribe what female relative can qualify and will make the scheme more flexible. The rate of payment is also being increased to £2 15s a week under the Bill.

A further provision in the Bill is designed to assist widows and those having the care of orphans in the education of children. This will raise to 21 years, under both the contributory and non-contributory schemes, the age limit for orphans' pensions and for qualification for the increases in respect of children payable with widows' pensions, where the children continue in full-time education. The present age limit for qualified children is 16 in the case of these pensions. The new age limit will also apply in the case of orphans and the children of widows and widowers in the occupational injuries scheme, where the age limit is 18 years at present.

Up to 1966 a person receiving old age (contributory) pension or widow's (contributory) pension was disqualified for receiving the corresponding non-contributory pension. In that year statutory provision was made to enable the contributory pensioners mentioned to opt for the appropriate non-contributory pension, if it would be of advantage to them to do so. From August next when non-contributory pensions are increased until January next when contributory pensions are increased, cases will arise where the non-contributory pension would be temporarily more favourable than the corresponding contributory pension. It was never the intention that the provisions of the 1966 Act should operate in such circumstances and the Departmental machinery is not geared to handle temporary transfers from one pension to the other and back again. The Bill will, therefore, prevent such temporary switching of pensions but the right of a pensioner to switch where the advantage would be permanent will not be affected.

A non-contributory old age pensioner who is detained in a mental hospital cannot at present get more than £1 of his pension as pocket money, and then only if the hospital authorities think he is capable of using money. There is provision in the Bill to remove this limit of £1.

I do not propose to go into any greater detail at this stage as I hope that the explanatory memorandum will 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 there is £3,071,000 for old age and blind pensions, £507,000 for widows' and orphans' pensions, £1,280,000 for unemployment assistance, and £5,278,000 for children's allowances, the total cost being £10,136,000 in a full year, all of which will fall on the Exchequer. There will, however, be a recovery of some £400,000 of this by way of adjustments in the income tax code in respect of children. The gross cost of improvements on the social insurance side will be £6,969,000. Allowing for an increased annual income of £5,255,000 to be raised from the increases in rates of contributions, the cost to be met by the Exchequer will be £1,714,000 in a full year.

I have much pleasure in recommending the Bill to Seanad Éireann and I would ask for speedy and favourable consideration of it.

Business suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

This Bill mainly sets out the new scales for the various classes of persons mentioned. There are some minor changes in relation to the existing regulations. The amount allowed in respect of children's allowances forms the greater part of the benefits to be provided under the Bill. It provides for an increase of approximately 50 per cent in the allowances for children. It has been shown by statistics that in the circumstances of our economy it would be possible to increase children's allowances by 66? per cent. However, this increase of 50 per cent, although it is long overdue, is very welcome.

At the same time, I notice that while the allowances for children are being increased, there is a new regulation whereby these allowances are included in the income of the parents for the purpose of calculating the amount of income tax payable by these people so that this regulation will, in effect, take back approximately £400,000 from a number of the parents whose earnings are subject to income tax.

I am glad to see that there is a change in so far as the payments to old age pensioners in hospital are concerned. For some time now there have been complaints from old age pensioners to the effect that while they were in hospital they were only allowed £1 per week out of their pensions and even less in many cases. Under the new regulation a non-contributory old age pensioner while detained in a mental hospital will in future be allowed more than £1 per week if he is considered fit to use money. However, the regulation only removes the £1 per week limit; it does not indicate any maximum after that. Apparently, the discretion is to be left to somebody and we do not know if it will be left to the mental hospital authorities or to the health authority for the area concerned, whether it be the Dublin Health Authority or any other health authority, but whoever is to decide will, at some stage, have to reckon how much pocket money is to be allowed to a mental patient.

This Bill does not refer to the health boards all over the country but it is true that there are complaints from old age pensioners regarding the confiscation of their pensions by these authorities. I suppose that the reason why this has not been mentioned by the Minister in his statement is because the Minister has not any responsibility for the action of the health authorities in so far as confiscating the pensions of these people is concerned.

The increases must be reckoned by everybody concerned when we realise that these pensions are subsistence payments. They are payments to people who are in poor circumstances and who have proved this. The means test has not been removed. These people, in order to qualify for payment of their pensions, are still subject to this means test. The application of the means test in different parts of the country varies because in some areas it seems that pensioners have a better chance of getting the full pension than in other areas. Apparently it depends on the pension officer for the district concerned.

The pensions officer is required by law to comply with the regulations in relation to the means test. When a report goes to the Department and the incomes of the unfortunate people are actually taken into consideration for the purpose of reducing the pensions payable to them. I am told that it would cost approximately £17 million per year to abolish the means test altogether, taking into consideration the number of people now reaching the age of 70 years. The total cost of abolishing the means test would be very much greater in the future, having regard to the possibility of having the age for the pension reduced to 65 years.

At this stage, it is more important to reduce the age limit than to abolish the means test because we know from experience that a number of people, having reached the age of 65 years or over, are not enjoying very good health and are unable to do a week's work to earn a week's wages. They are often on home assistance, unemployment benefit or some other means of support of a very limited nature. They have to struggle on until they reach the age of 70 years to become entitled to the contributory or non-contributory old age pension. There is a good case to be made for reducing the age limit for the claimants of these pensions when we see a number of people in very poor circumstances who have reached the age of 65 years finding it difficult to make ends meet. Because of their health they are unable to work and unable to earn the wages which would enable them to live more comfortably.

The Government have not adopted a prices and incomes policy. The people on small pensions or small weekly payments suffer very much because of the rise in the cost of living and of the increased prices. These are two different things. Rising prices affect everybody to a very considerable extent. No attempt is made to keep prices down, particularly prices of goods which are regarded as normal commodities required by every individual.

In calculating the cost of living, approximately 200 items are listed and considered and their prices compared so that a calculation of the cost of living can be made. No attempt is made, among those 200 items, to control the prices of any of them. The odd halfpenny, penny or shilling is put on to these goods and the pensioners on limited incomes find they are able to purchase less goods with their allowances. Even in the last 12 months the purchasing power of the £ has fallen by 1/-. If no attempt is made by the Government—and they have no apparent intention of doing this—to preserve the value of money it is possible that the pensions we are speaking about will be approximately 1/- weaker this time 12 months which would make the figure 3s 9d in the case of a pension of £3 15s. If a man is getting £3 15s now it would take £3 18s 9d to purchase the same goods this time next year as he could purchase now with his £3 15s, having regard to the continued fall in the value of money. The value of money has fallen by 50 per cent since 1948 so in a matter of 20 years the purchasing power of £1 has fallen by 50 per cent.

People on what I call subsistence allowances are the people most affected by the fall in the purchasing power of money and because no effort has been made to keep a check on the prices of the goods they have to purchase in the normal way. Indeed, most of the goods these people must purchase in the normal process of living are subject to purchase tax and wholesale tax. The Government, therefore, while giving out these weekly payments, do nothing to ensure that prices are kept within a reasonable level and the goods these people must purchase are heavily taxed by the very Government making these social welfare payments.

I am glad the Bill provides for an increase of 10s a week under the Occupational Injuries Act. It appears that this increase of 10s will be paid by the employers. Most of these benefits are financed in three ways: the employer makes a contribution; the employee makes a contribution and the State makes a contribution. Very often the employer is required to make a greater contribution than the employee who will benefit under the scheme. But the employee also contributes. Indeed, employees make a very substantial contribution towards pensions for which they may never qualify.

I appeal to the Minister to consider the possibility of reducing the age limit for the old age pension to 65 years. Manual workers need to be in a good state of health to earn a living. Manual workers who become unfit for work have no alternative method of earning a living. Their earning power disappears. It is for that reason that I suggest the age should be reduced from 70 to 65.

I am glad the Government have been able to grant these increases and they will be welcomed by the recipients, who badly need them. We all know how difficult it must be for an old age pensioner to live on 10s 6d a day. Even in the cheapest restaurants or cafés one could not possibly live on 10s 6d a day. There is, too, the fact that old age pensioners have to meet rent charges, rates and other expenses. There is free travel and free electricity but, as far as free electricity is concerned, it is quite difficult for old age pensioners to qualify for free electricity.

The new rates will come into force in many cases at the beginning of January. There is a strong case in favour of paying these increases earlier, if possible. Apparently the increased contributions will not come into operation until January next but, despite that, a number of people are agitating to have the benefits paid sooner than announced.

The grant for triplets has been increased to £100 and, for more than three children, the grant will be £150. This may have made a certain impact on the public imagination, but I am quite sure that this will not cost the taxpayers very much. The maternity grants should be increased. They should be related to this new scheme.

There are just a few misapprehensions I should like to correct. It is not correct to say that a new arrangement is being made whereby children's allowances are being added for the first time to the income of the parents for income tax purposes. There is no change being made in this regard. It is a fact that the Minister for Finance proposes to recover part of the cost of this by a reduction in the amount of tax-free allowances in respect of children so that the benefit from the increases in children's allowances will be less in the case of a family the parent of which is liable to income tax than in the case of those who are not liable for income tax. That is really a move in the right direction. Neither is it correct to say that the same standards are not applied in relation to the administration of the means tests in different parts of the country. The Department take every possible precaution to see that there is uniformity in the administration of the means test and I am satisfied, at any rate, that there are very slight differences, if any, in the administration of the means test.

In regard to the case made by Senator Rooney for the reduction of the pensionable age it is not correct to say that a person who is in wage-earning employment must try to continue, even if he is unfit, after the age of 65 until he reaches the age of 70 and that there is no social insurance benefit available to him in the meantime. That is not correct. Unemployment benefit can be paid continuously between the ages of 65 and 70 and if a person is unfit for work disability benefit is payable. That, of course, would apply to anybody in wage earning employment. With regard to the point that the increased benefits under the occupational injuries scheme are to be financed completely by the employers' contributions, this, of course, has always been the position. Prior to the taking of this scheme into the social insurance scheme generally this was the employer's liability always. It was a matter between the injured workman and the employer who, naturally, usually covered himself by insuring with some private insurance company but the full cost was borne by the employer. When the occupational injuries scheme was brought in a few years ago this arrangement was continued and the scheme was financed completely bp the employers' contributions. I do not see any reason for departing from that. I do not see any reason why the taxpayer should come into it and I do not imagine that employers would see any advantage in part of the contributions being paid by the employees.

Senator Rooney pointed out that so far as the insurance benefits were concerned the insured workers were making a substantial contribution. This, of course, is quite normal because this is a contributory scheme made available not on the basis of contributions made. That has always been the position here also and it is a natural essential in the scheme that it is a contributory scheme. It is a fact that the total cost is compulsorily acquired by the Government from the community as a whole, part by way of general taxation and part by employers' and employees' contributions. That is a feature of all social insurance schemes and again a thoroughly justifiable one.

I do not think there is any other point I need reply to. As I have already pointed out, this year we are making a substantial redistribution of the increased national income that is expected to be available this year. The estimated increase in national income is expected to be £103 million and in this Bill we are making arrangements which will result in the transferring of something over £17 million of this in a full financial year to the recipients of social welfare generally. That is an indication that the Government recognise their duty to ensure that the fruits of increased prosperity are made available to those who are dependent on the different social welfare schemes as well as to the rest of the community.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining stages today.
Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.