Social Welfare Bill, 1990: Second Stage.

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

I have a script of 42 pages, copies of which I will make available. I will not, however, read all of it but I will read the early parts and then I will have some comments on the sections. They will be available for Senators who wish to read them. I do not want to delay the Seanad unduly by reading it all.

The main purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the improvements in our social welfare schemes and services announced in the budget on 31 January last. It also introduces two major new schemes and a number of other important developments.

Excuse me, Minister, I do not wish to interrupt you but I have been informed that it is what you say in the House that will appear on the record.

I fully appreciate that. It is for the convenience of Members that I have included these other matters.

This Bill is substantial, comprising seven parts and 51 sections. This makes it the largest piece of new social welfare legislation in almost 40 years since the Social Welfare Act, 1952, which established the social welfare system as we know it.

The Bill continues the Government's policy of sustained improvements in social welfare by more than maintaining all payments against inflation; giving special increases to those on the lowest payments; introducing many improvements in existing schemes; introducing a number of major new schemes and services, and improving the effectiveness of the delivery of our services, including the new appeals system.

Two years ago, we extended social insurance to the self-employed which was an historic development in social security coverage. Last year, we introduced a new social assistance scheme for widowers and deserted husbands. This year, we are introducing two important new schemes — a carer's allowance and a lone parents' allowance.

The Bill includes provision for a number of major and innovative developments in social welfare legislation — the new carer's allowance and new lone parent's allowance, which I have already mentioned, and the establishment of the new Social Welfare Appeals Office. Other innovative measures being introduced this year include: a special clothing allowance to help social welfare recipients to provide for their children's school and winter clothing which will come into effect in September; improvements in the means tests including, in particular, an exemption of income from the sale of a pensioner's residence in certain circumstances and an exemption of payments to persons who accommodate students of Irish during the summer months, and changes in the "free" schemes which will enable a companion to travel free with a recipient of disabled person's maintenance allowance who cannot travel alone. This will be of major benefit to people in this situation and will especially benefit the mentally handicapped.

In last year's Social Welfare Act I provided that the prescribed relative's allowance could be paid directly to the person who provides the care. Now we are going further to provide for the first time for a separate carer's allowance. This is a milestone in the development of our social welfare services.

For the first time in our legislation we are giving official recognition to the role of the carer who provides full-time care for elderly people in the community. We are at last recognising the "forgotten army" of carers, mainly women, whose selfless dedication has been of inestimable value to the community over the years.

From my own experience working in my own community, I have always been very conscious of the work of carers and I am very proud, as Minister for Social Welfare, to be in a position to introduce this new scheme which represents much needed reform in this area. The development is also in line with the views of the Commission on Social Welfare which recommended that carers should be entitled to receive a social assistance payment in their own right.

The new allowance will be £45 per week and some 8,000 carers are expected to benefit under the new scheme. This compares with the existing prescribed relative's allowance of £28 which only applies to 2,000 caring relatives. For those who already had the prescribed relative's allowance, the new allowance provides an increase of £17 per week. For others, it provides a new payment of £45 per week. The greatest gains go to those cases where the carer was hitherto receiving no payment at all because of the various restrictions attached to the prescribed relative's allowance.

The new allowance will be subject to a means test. In introducing this new scheme, my purpose is to direct available resources to those who need them most. The new scheme does this. I am pleased to tell Senators that many of the restrictions which apply to the existing prescribed relative's allowance will be dropped when the new allowance comes into force. These provisions will be made by regulations. For the first time married people living with a spouse will qualify. For the first time persons other than relatives will qualify. These are major achievements.

The position of people who are at present receiving the prescribed relative's allowance will be protected. If, due to the means test, a person getting this allowance would get a lower rate on the new carer's allowance, they will be able to retain their existing prescribed relative's allowance.

I am conscious of the needs of carers who are looking after people receiving disabled person's maintenance allowances from the health boards. I was pleased, therefore, to be able to put down an amendment on Committee Stage in Dáil Éireann which gave me the necessary power to extend the scope of the carer's provision. I can now, by regulation, include persons who are providing full-time care for DPMA recipients in certain circumstances. It is my intention to exericse that power in the context of the transfer of responsibility for the DPMA scheme to my Department. This extra provision was welcomed on all sides of the House.

I am also introducing a new allowance for lone parents which will mean that for the first time there will be a single means tested payment for all lone parents with at least one dependent child. I would like to highlight a number of aspects of this scheme.

In the first instance, it formally recognises that all parents bringing up children on their own face similar problems. The social welfare system must treat all families in a similar manner whether the lone parent is a man or woman and regardless of the circumstances giving rise to their situation.

Currently, the needs of lone parents are created for by six different schemes. The supplementary welfare allowance scheme also caters for a number of persons who cannot qualify for existing schemes. The new scheme which I am now providing for in the Bill will streamline all existing social assistance payments for lone parents. It will incorporate the existing schemes for unmarried mothers, widowers and deserted husbands. Women receiving widow's (non-contributory) pension, deserted wife's allowance and prisoner's wife's allowance, who have child dependants will also be covered by the new scheme.

The new scheme represents a landmark in legislation in relation to one aspect. For the first time ever, it provides a special means tested social welfare payment for separated spouses, unmarried fathers and prisoners' husbands. Up to now the only social welfare payment available to lone parents in these circumstances has been supplementary welfare allowance.

The new allowance will apply to lone parents who are bringing up at least one dependent child on their own, satisfy a means test and are not cohabiting, that is, living with another man or woman as husband and wife. Children can be regarded as dependants until they reach the age of 18 — or 21 if they are in full-time education — and the means test will be the same as that used for the widow's (non-contributory) pension and is designed to allow for a certain amount of part-time work.

I am delighted to be able to bring in this new scheme which is a significant achievement in the development of a non-discriminatory social welfare allowance for lone parents who are unable to provide for themselves. It is also a major step for my Department in rationalising the number of schemes catering for persons with similar means.

The third major initiative for which provision is being made in the Bill is the improved social welfare appeals system. At present appeals are made to me as Minister for Social Welfare and are heard by appeals officers of my Department who are independent in the exercise of their functions. Nevertheless, the fact that the appeals branch is linked to my Department has been the subject of criticism. I am taking measures to clearly separate the appeals function from the Department by setting it up as a separate executive office.

Under the new arrangements, appeals will be made direct to the chief appeals officer and the appeals office will deal with all aspects of appeals. I will be providing that in future claimants whose appeals are refused will get information about the reasons for refusal and will be encouraged to seek any additional information they require as a basis for their appeal.

Appeals officers and the chief appeals officer will be appointed by the Minister for Social Welfare. Individual appeal officers will retain the discretion to decide whether appeals are dealt with summarily or by oral hearing. However, I am also providing that the Minister for Social Welfare and persons designated by him will in future have the power to direct that an oral hearing be allowed where it is warranted. The new office will produce an annual report on its activities. I inserted this requirement, by way of a Committee Stage amendment, during the passage of the Bill through the Dáil.

Information on the operation of the appeals system is currently provided in the reports published by my Department every two years. An essential function of the new Social Welfare Appeals Office will be the publication of a report on its own activities. The Commission on Social Welfare recommended the publication of such an annual report. The commission recommended that the report should give details not only of the number of appeals received and decided by category, but also on the outcome of decisions. In addition to those details, the annual report should contain some commentary on trends in appeals; the reason for the incidence of certain types of appeals; an analysis of the need for legislative change to remove anomalies and inequities; and, where necessary, the implications of its decisions for policy making generally in the Department.

I fully endorse the commission's recommendations in this matter and I consider that the information provided would be very useful in monitoring and assessing the effectiveness of not only the new appeals office, but also my Department's decisions process. The publication of an annual report will make an important contribution to public confidence in the new Social Welfare Appeals Office as well as emphasising its independent status.

The new appeals office will be a separate office headed by a director and chief appeals officer. It will have its own manager and secretarial staff. Already the chief appeals officer has been appointed. Its headquarters in D'Olier House will include private rooms for the hearing of appeals. Work on the refurbishing of office accommodation will commence within the next few weeks. I expect the new office to be fully operational by the late summer.

The changes I am now making will maintain the independence of the appeals system and ensure that it is perceived to be fair and independent. They will also fulfil the undertakings contained in the Programme for National Recovery with the social partners, and in the Programme for Government.

Before going on to describe the main provisions in this Bill, I would like to take the opportunity to respond to the views that are constantly being perpetuated in the media and elsewhere about the extent of poverty in this country.

The most commonly quoted view is that one third of the population is living in poverty. This figure is the result of a gross distortion of the work which the Economic and Social Research Institute have done in examining the extent of poverty in Ireland. The ESRI approach is to establish relative poverty lines and to estimate the number of individuals falling below these lines. The amount of poverty depends on which poverty line you choose. For example, the ESRI estimated that only 13 per cent of individuals fell below a poverty line equivalent to 40 per cent of mean household equivalent income.

Moreover, even these figures are incomplete in a number of respects: first, the ESRI took account of cash income only and did not take into account the substantial benefits-in-kind afforded to the less well off, through for example education and health services; second, the survey was undertaken at a time when farm incomes were temporarily depressed, thereby over-estimating the level of poverty in rural households; third, the survey was carried out in 1986-87 since when, thanks to the efforts of this Government, the economy has experienced a rapid rate of growth, and the level of unemployment has declined. A key finding of the ESRI report was that families where the head of household was unemployed were at greatest risk of poverty; the substantial progress in reducing unemployment and increasing employment has undoubtedly increased the living standards of the poorest sections of the community over the last two years; and, finally and most importantly, since the survey was carried out I have made substantial increases in the level of support to those who rely on social welfare.

I want to make it clear that the interpretation put on the ESRI report by pressure groups is totally misleading, was never true and is becoming increasingly irrelevant due to the substantial economic and social progress which this Government have made.

This leads me to another area of interest to the commentators, namely the recommendations of the Commission on Social Welfare and the extent to which they have been implemented. Let us be clear about what the commission actually recommended. It made four main recommendations which were to improve the basic payments, to improve child income support, to broaden the social insurance base, and to improve the delivery of services.

Without exception, substantial progress has been made on each of these issues: the level of expenditure devoted to improvements over the past three years and the rate of increases granted represent substantial progress towards the commission's recommendations on basic payments. In fact, the 1990 equivalent of the priority rate recommended by the commission is £53 which has now been achieved in the case of all old age and lone parents pensions and almost so (£52) in the case of long-term unemployment assistance and disabled person's maintenance allowance; child dependant rates have been reduced from 36 to six and a minimum child benefit of £11 per week has been introduced. In addition, child benefit has being increased this year; the social insurance base has been extended to include the self-employed who are now making a significant contribution to the financing of the PRSI pension system — £62 million this year. I have asked the National Pensions Board to consider the question of extending coverage under the scheme to include invalidity pension and I am looking forward to their report later this year; and major and ongoing improvements continue to be made in the quality and delivery of social welfare services, as witnessed by the programme of expenditure on improvement of employment exchanges and by increased computerisation of services. In addition, two measures included in this Bill which I have already spoken about — the introduction of the new carer's allowance and the setting up of the new Social Welfare Appeals Office — are specifically in line with the commission's recommendations.

As Senator's will be aware, a limit of £50 applies on the amount of earnings which spouses may have and still be regarded as dependants for the purposes of social welfare payments to their wife or husband. This limit was introduced in 1986 as part of the equal treatment arrangements which precluded persons from being regarded as a dependant if they were themselves either in receipt of a social welfare payment or were at work. The total exclusion of persons at work was subsequently relaxed by allowing persons with earnings up to £50 a week to qualify as adult dependants.

I recognise that wherever the limit is set there will be difficulties for spouses of social welfare recipients whose spouse has earnings just below the threshold because an increase in earnings which brings them over and the threshold will result in the loss of the adult dependant allowance. This is one of the matters which is being addressed by the working group which I established last year to look at the treatment of households under the social welfare system, with particular reference to the equal treatment arrangements.

Following the report of the working group, which I expect shortly, there will be an opportunity to examine again the equal treatment arrangements and see whether a different approach would be more appropriate. In the meantime, however, I am happy to say that the Government have approved an increase from £50 to £55 in the limit and this will come into effect as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made. I know that this increase will be welcomed by persons in this situation and by the trade union movement which has made representations to me in this regard.

One of the difficulties arising here is that with the increases which have been awarded under the Programme for National Recovery, some of these people have come just above the £50, whereas they were just below it previously. This will be very important to them, particularly in areas like the cleaning industry, for instance, to enable them to continue to be regarded as dependants of their spouses. That is quite an important development from their point of view.

I would also like to take the opportunity to refer to the transitional alleviating payments of £20 and £10 which were introduced in 1986 to cushion people who lost the adult dependant increase as a result of the equal treatment arrangements. As Senators will know, the intention then was that the payments would last for a maximum of one year. However, we have kept these payments with small reductions each year ensuring that when account is taken of social welfare increases nobody suffered a reduction in their payments.

This year the same arrangement will apply. The alleviating payments, which currently stand at £16 and £8, will again be reduced by £2 and £1 with effect from July. Where account is taken of the increases in payments generally and particularly of the higher increases for persons on the lowest payments, the people concerned will still enjoy substantial increases in the payments being made to them.

Over the past two decades, there has been a substantial increase in OECD countries in the proportion of the work-force engaged in part-time employment. Ireland is not exception in this regard, although part-time employment is still less prevalent here than in most other countries. However, it may be anticipated that with the growth in service industries, in particular, part-time working will become more widespread. This development creates problems for the social insurance system, which was designed largely with the full-time worker in mind.

I have been concerned for some time about the exclusion of some part-time workers from social insurance and with the consequential anomalies which can arise. I have, therefore, requested my Department to undertake a thorough review of the question of extending social insurance to part-time workers, especially with a view to eliminating the anomalous situations which have arisen. The question is a complex one because of the need to ensure that workers make at least a minimal contribution towards benefits, that entitlement to benefits does not create a disincentive to work and that the system of social insurance contributions is an equitable and administratively simply one.

I expect to have the results of this review by mid-summer. I have also requested the National Pensions Board to examine the question of the pension entitlements of part-time workers and I intend to draw on both reports for policy changes in this area. Any changes to the insurability of part-time workers will have implications for employers as well as employees and I intend that the social partners will be fully consulted.

In addition to the specific measures provided for in the Bill, I am introducing a number of other improvements, as follows: A new clothing allowance to help social welfare recipients to provide for their childrens' school and winter clothing. Three million pounds is being provided for the scheme which will come into operation in September; the free travel scheme will be altered as soon as possible this year so as to allow recipients of disabled person's maintenance allowance who cannot travel alone to bring a companion when availing of the free travel concession. This will help physically and mentally handicapped people to utilise the free travel concession more fully; elderly pensioners over 80 years of age will be allowed to retain their entitlement to free electricity allowance when people come to live with them; invalidity pensioners who transfer to retirement pension on reaching 65 years of age will no longer lose their entitlement to the free schemes; free scheme entitlements will be extended to all social security pensioners of states with whom Ireland has signed bilateral social security agreements. We signed one with Austria quite recently and are at an advanced stage in making arrangements with the USA and Australia. These will be very important to us given the number of people emigrating to these countries and wanting to retire or come back to work here. The national fuel scheme is being extended to households where a long-term social welfare recipient lives with someone on short-term unemployment assistance or supplementary welfare allowance and to smallholders receiving long-term unemployment assistance who are living alone. This is the first time the free fuel scheme has been extended to smallholders in these circumstances. This point seems to have been missed in the other House.

The total value of the social welfare increases and related measures announced in the budget is £100 million this year and £216 million in a full year. Total social welfare spending this year will, as a result, increase to £2,764 million which is equivalent to £7.5 million for each day of the year. That level of spending on social welfare is the highest ever in the history of the State. It demonstrates once again our continued determination to protect and improve the position of those dependent on our social services.

The measures provided for in this Bill include: an increase in general of 5 per cent in social welfare weekly rates of payment with special increases of up to 11 per cent for 16 different groups of welfare recipients, mainly those on the lowest payments. This is the first time that these have been extended to groups other than those on the very lowest payments. Sixteen groups will get special increases this time; further streamlining of the rates for child dependants, reduced now to six compared to 36 in 1987, with an increase to £11 in the minimum weekly payment; an increase of 5 per cent in the monthly rates of child benefit; replacement of the existing prescribed relative's allowance by a new carer's allowance which will be payable on a means-tested basis to a wider range of persons providing full-time care and attention to pensioners; introduction of a new lone parent's allowance for parents bringing up children on their own which will streamline all existing social assistance schemes for lone parents and which will include, for the first time, lone parents such as separated spouses, unmarried fathers and prisoner's husbands; measures to facilitate the establishment of the new social welfare appeals office; a major initiative to relieve those on low earnings of their liability for PRSI contributions while preserving their entitlements to benefits and pensions; improvements in means-testing which will exempt the income from the sale of a pensioner's home in certain circumstances and the income received by mná tí living in Gaeltacht areas who accommodate Irish students; new arrangements involving the integration of the redundancy fund and the occupational injuries fund with the social insurance fund.

The increases in payments are provided for in sections 3 and 4 of the Bill. In general, social welfare payments are being increased by 5 per cent. Since the rate of inflation is likely to be of the order of 3 per cent for the year mid-1990 to mid-1991, the position of all claimants is more than being maintained. Indeed, special increases are being provided for 16 different groups and these increases are as high as 11 per cent in some cases thus more than meeting our commitments in the Programme for National Recovery.

The main improvements in rates are: an increase of 5 per cent generally in the weekly rates of social insurance, social assistance and occupational injuries benefits; a 10.6 per cent increase in the personal rates of long-term unemployment assistance and single woman's allowance; special increases of between 7 per cent and 15 per cent in the rates for adult dependants of the unemployed and those on supplementary welfare allowance. The new adult dependant rate for all of these payments will be £31 a week from July; an increase of £4, 8.2 per cent, a week for widows, widowers, deserted wives-husbands, unmarried mothers and prisoner's wives, under age 66 on social assistance means-tested pensions or allowances; a 6 per cent increase in the personal rate of the old age non-contributory pension; almost a 7 per cent increase, £3.50 per week, for widows and deserted wives under age 66 receiving contributory payments; an increase of 7 per cent in the personal rate of short-term unemployment assistance and supplementary welfare allowance; and a £3 a week increase in the personal rates for those receiving disability and unemployment benefit.

An increase of £5 a week has been provided for in the personal rate of unemployment assistance in line with the Government's continuing commitment to improving the position of the long-term unemployed.

Further increases in the adult dependant allowance and in child dependant payments will substantially improve the position of families depending on long-term unemployment assistance. From July, a couple with three children will receive an increase of £9 bringing their payment to £116 a week. These latest increases will mean that the rate of payment for these families has been increased by almost 30 per cent since July 1986.

This year, new categories have been included in the special increases. An old age pension couple, both over age 66, will receive £106 a week, an increase of £6, while a widow under age 66 with two children will receive an increase of £5.20, bringing her new rate to £80 a week.

This year sees a continuation of our policy on streamlining the different rates for adult and child dependants. This Bill provides that, in future, there will be only one adult dependant rate for the unemployed. The new rate will be £31 from July and will apply to all unemployment payments and also to disability benefit. This new payment means an increase of £4.10, or 15.2 per cent, for adult dependants of those on short-term unemployment assistance or supplementary welfare allowance and an increase of £2, or 6.95 per cent, for those on disability benefit, unemployment benefit or long-term unemployment assistance.

This year I am again reducing the number of child dependant rates which will now stand at six. The minimum payment which I introduced last year is being increased to £11 a week and the range of the payments for children will now be between £11 and £15.

The following examples illustrate the effect of the increases which apply from July next: a couple with two children on long term unemployment assistance will receive £105 per week, an increase of £8, while a couple with four children will receive an increase of £10 bringing their payment to £127; a couple with four children on short term unemployment assistance or supplementary welfare allowance will receive £120 per week, which is an increase of £11.10, while a couple with six children will get an increase of £13.10, and a total payment of £142 a week; a lone parent under 66 with three children on an assistance payment will receive an additional £5.20, giving a total payment of £93.50; a widow or deserted wife on a contributory payment with four children will receive a payment of £116 which is an increase of £5.10; an old age pensioner with an adult dependant on a non-contributory pension will receive a total increase of £4.40, giving them a payment of £79.50; and a couple both over 66 years and under 80 on a contributory old age pension will receive a payment of £107.20 which is an increase of £5.00.

I will now go through the different sections. I have made my comments available for the benefit of Senators and I do not want to hold up the House by reading through them and taking up too much time.

Section 5 deals with child benefit. It pinpoints the fact that we are giving a 5 per cent increase, which means we are back to the annual rates of increases for child benefit. Some 470,000 families will benefit in respect of one million children.

Section 6 extends the child dependant payments up to the age of 20 for long-term recipients. This is in line with a commitment I made last year to raise the age over three years. This is the second stage and next year the Government plan to bring the age up to 21.

The PRSI ceiling is covered in sections 7 and 8. The PRSI exemption for low paid workers is covered in section 9, and from 6 April this year this will come into operation. From 6 April 1990 workers who currently pay PRSI contributions at the standard rate and who earn a gross income of £60 or less a week will no longer be liable for their share of the PRSI contribution, 5 per cent, for that week. The exemption can mean an increase of £3.30 a week in take home pay for some workers and exempted workers will continue to have the full entitlement to social insurance benefit and pension. It is very important to note that, because in some countries you are exempt under a certain level and Members have been telling me about places where people are exempt. If they are totally exempt they get no benefit and that is not much value to those people. It is important to realise that it is estimated that this will affect some 50,000 workers and that they will still have their entitlement to all the benefits under the scheme, even though they be exempt from payments. The employer's PRSI exemption scheme is set out in section 10 which provides the mechanism whereby employers who took on extra people will be exempted from their payments for the next year.

Pay-related benefit is covered in section 11 which provides for the increase in the floor in calculating the rate from £69 to £72. The various arrangements for the lone parent's allowance are set out in sections 12 to 16. The amount of the allowance will depend on the number of children.

The carer's allowance is provided for in sections 17 and 18. Provision is made for the coming into operation of the carer's allowance by way of a commencement order and it is intended to have that in place by October. The new appeals office is provided for in sections 19 to 22.

The amalgamation of the occupational injuries fund and the redundancy and employers' insolvency fund with the social insurance fund is set out in sections 23 to 31. This measure will involve no increase in the contribution rate for employers which comprehensively will still stand at 12.2 per cent from 6 April 1990. The amalgamation will allow for easier administration, more efficient accountability and control and more secure financing, and will ensure that social welfare payments in respect of employees will originate from one fund. Sections 23 and 26 provide for the relevant amendments to the legislative references to the occupational injuries fund and the redundancy and employers' insolvency fund.

Section 32, which deals with disability benefit, is an important improvement for insured workers. It relaxes a condition for receipt of disability benefit after one year, which I consider particularly harsh in its application to some persons. Under the present legislation a person who has been in receipt of disability benefit for one year is required to have 260 employment contributions paid and to have at least 39 contributions paid or credited in the governing contribution year for the payment of disability benefit to continue. Claimants in future may continue to receive benefit if they remain incapacitated for work without having to satisfy the requirement of having 39 contributions paid or credited in the governing contribution year. That is an important improvement.

Section 33 provides for another measure which I think will make an appreciable difference to older persons who have to cope with the death of a spouse. It extends the after death payments to spouses in respect of whom an adult dependant allowance would have been payable but for the fact that he or she was receiving an old age non-contributory pension or a blind pension in his or her own right. Under existing provisions, six weeks' payment of benefit is made on the death of a social welfare recipient to the spouse for whom the adult dependant allowance was being paid. Payments are subsequently treated as payment on account of any widow's or widower's pension which becomes payable.

Means test improvements for old age pensions are set out in sections 34 and 35. Many elderly people are living in houses which have been their homes for many years but which are no longer suited to their needs and are no longer in a position to maintain. They may be able to find something more suited to their needs or to have the opportunity to avail of sheltered housing, but they face the dilemma that if they sell their homes they may lose all or part of their pensions because the capital raised on the sale of the house will fall to be assessed as means under the rules for assessing capital. Faced with this situation it is understandable that elderly people may hold on to their homes, perhaps ending up in hospital or in institutionalised care instead of living out their lives in comfortable circumstances. I am providing in section 35 for regulatory powers to exempt the income derived from the sale of a pensioner's principal residence from the assessment of the means in certain circumstances. That is a very important improvement which has not been referred to much in the other House. It is a major improvement for elderly people.

Section 34 provides that payments received by persons living in Gaeltacht areas who accommodate Irish students who wish to improve their fluency in the Irish language will not be assessed as means. This provision will benefit the mná tí of Gaeltacht areas who play such a vital part in fostering an interest among the young in our language.

Arrangements have been in operation for a number of years now which exempt widows and other groups from liability for the employee's share of the PRSI contribution. In line with a Government decision taken last year in the context of expenditure reviews, I am providing in section 36 that those arrangements will be phased out over the next three years. From 6 April next, widows and other persons affected who are employees will pay a PRSI contribution of 3 per cent increasing to 4 per cent in the year commencing 6 April 1991. The full employee's social insurance contribution of 5.5 per cent will be payable in the year commencing 6 April 1992. The health contribution and the employment and training levy will continue to be exempted. However, widows and other persons affected who are on low pay and who benefit under the PRSI exemption scheme I referred to earlier will, of course, continue to be exempt from their share of the PRSI contribution. I am proposing similar arrangements for those in this category who are self employed.

As a consequence of their renewed liability for PRSI contributions, I am also arranging from 6 April next for widows and other groups to be entitled once again to disability benefit at half rate for up to 15 months' duration in addition to their existing pension or allowance entitlement. This is a very important improvement for widows and other related groups, deserted wives, for instance, on deserted wife's benefit. Widows and others on low pay who benefit under the PRSI exemption scheme will also be entitled to the half rate disability benefit for 15 months. They will also, incidentally, be entitled to the half rate unemployment benefit when it comes out so both of those benefits will benefit widows. I am satisfied that the new arrangements for widows and others represent a reasonable approach to this question and that they will be welcomed by widows in employment generally who are willing to pay PRSI again in return for the extra benefits.

Section 37 extends the categories of persons exempted from the social insurance scheme for the self-employed to include those who are receiving occupational pensions on account of their late spouse and whose only other income is unearned income.

Section 38 provides that any moneys paid by way of supplementary welfare allowance, in respect of a period during which the claimant is awaiting payment of a disabled person's maintenance or an infectious disease maintenance allowance, shall be treated as payment on account of the allowance in question. This brings those health board payments into line with existing recoupment arrangements for social welfare payments.

Under the occupational injuries scheme, disablement benefit is paid by way of pension if the assessment of disablement is greater that 19 per cent. Where it is 19 per cent or less a gratuity is normally payable but if the period of assessment is for life or exceeds seven years the claimant may opt for either a gratuity or a pension. In some cases the weekly amount of such pensions can be quite small and, therefore, I am providing in section 39 of the Bill for a gratuity to be paid in respect of all new assessments below 10 per cent.

Sections 40 and 41 provide for amendments to the pre-retirement allowance, the single woman's allowance and the orphan's (non-contributory) pension, to allow that the maximum rates of these payments will be payable to persons with means of up to £2. They began previously with every 10 pence and now it will not begin until £2. It is really a streamlining of that, which has been misinterpreted by some people.

Last week I signed regulations bringing into effect the pre-retirment allowance scheme. The new allowance is designed to cater for those over age 60 who are receiving long-term unemployment payments. My intention in introducing the allowance is to provide these people, many of whom regard themselves as retired, with an alternative method of receiving their income maintenance payments. Those eligible for the allowance will receive their payments by way of a pension book which they can cash at their local post office. They will no longer have to sign on each week at the employment exchange.

The allowance is payable at the same rate as long-term unemployment assistance and those receiving it will retain entitlement to any extra benefits such as fuel allowances. Because of the different payment structure for those with means, under the pension system some persons may gain slightly as a result of the rounding up of their payments.

I am delighted that even at this early stage the indications are that the scheme will be very popular. In the past few weeks over 4,000 unemployed persons have opted for the allowance. Their new books were issued to them in time to be cashed last Thursday.

Section 42 provides for an amendment to the family income supplement scheme to enable minimum amounts of supplement to be prescribed in regulations. The purpose of this is so that I can set a higher minimum rate than is fixed at present. That is an important benefit and an important development. It will fit in with the family income supplement changes which we will be making shortly. This allows us to bring in a minimum above what we could do otherwise. Section 43 provides for a technical amendment to the rates payable under the various social assistance schemes to enable the rounding up of payments.

Section 45 provides that any sum deducted from an employee in respect of social insurance contributions but still unpaid at the time of a winding-up under the Companies Acts will not be regarded as part of the assets of a limited company but instead will be paid to the social insurance fund. This is to protect insured workers. The section also confirms the preferential debt status of unpaid PRSI contributions in certain cases.

Section 46 extends to public sector drivers and vehicles the provision that the amount of disability benefit, pay-related benefit or invalidity pension, payable for up to five years and arising out of a traffic accident, shall be taken into account in assessing damages for personal injuries.

Section 47 is designed to ensure that persons who commence a course under the vocational training opportunities scheme and later find out that it does not work out for them may continue claiming their unemployment payments at the long-term rate without serving waiting days when they resume their claim. This is important for flexibility. The vocational training opportunities scheme afford the long-term unemployed an opportunity to attend education and training courses at their local VEC and, at the same time, receive an allowance equivalent to their unemployment payments.

A person convicted of fraudulently obtaining a social insurance payment is disqualified for receiving benefit for three months. In section 48 I propose to bring the corresponding provision in relation to social assistance payments into line by reducing the disqualification period for these payments from six to three months. This is just bringing it down to the same period.

Section 44 provides for certain amendments to the provisions relating to prosecutions which are necessary to facilitate proposed alternative methods for making unemployment payments. Sections 49 and 50 are technical amendments designed to simplify the First Schedule to the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act which sets out the rates of social insurance payments. This is in keeping with my policy of simplifying the system so as to make it more easily understood. Section 51 provides that certain regulations will require the consent of the Minister for Finance.

This Bill is an important and in some respects an historic measure of legislation in the social welfare area. It gives effect to the improvements in our social welfare schemes and services announced in the budget and also introduces two new schemes. We are continuing the progress made in the past three years in improving and modernising the social welfare system. In that short period we have introduced some of the most far-reaching improvements ever seen.

We are conscious that social welfare recipients are among the most vulnerable sections of society and that legislative change can have a major impact on them.

Our primary objective at all times is to safeguard and improve the position of those dependent on the State's support systems. I am confident that we are achieving that objective and that the end result will be a social welfare system that will cater in a fair, efficient and, above all, sensitive and caring way for those who benefit from and those who rely on the social welfare services.

I commend this Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber this afternoon and thank him for his speech. Social welfare payments and the level of such payments were never as important to our people as they are at present. It appears now that this will be the case well into the nineties. It is an indictment of our position as a nation that over 30 per cent of our population are living in poverty. There are almost 250,000 people unemployed but those figures are modified by the fact that at any one time 40,000 people are on work training schemes including social employment schemes and so on.

In excess of 45,000 people emigrated in 1989. Emigration is draining the life blood of our people. It is conservatively estimated that 300,000 people have emigrated over the past five years. We have a duty to stop this haemorrhage. Unemployment would be more than twice the present level except for the fact that emigration has reduced the figures. Two-thirds of our emigrants are under 24 years of age. Our future human resource is leaving the country and contributing to the development of economies throughout the world. Their contribution is lost to our country. What are we doing to reverse this? I would suggest very little.

There is something radically wrong with our approach when our solution to our problems is to allow, and even actively encourage in some cases, our young people to leave the State. We need radical and innovative policies to reverse the trend. We must now, unfortunately, accept that long term unemployment for a considerable number of our people will be here for the closing years of this century. For the people directly involved, their standard of living and quality of life will be shaped by our social welfare system. We have a duty to ensure that the system provides these people with a standard of living and a dignity that is acceptable at our society's rate of development.

The system must attack the appalling level of poverty which exists within many groups. We must move towards a just society which has been the cornerstone of the Fine Gael policy since the early sixties and which continued the approach of the party to social issues since the foundation of the State. It is fair to recall that it was a Fine Gael led Coalition in 1974 which brought the State from being a poor relation of Europe in its payment of benefits to being one of the more progressive nations. It is interesting to note that the majority in Northern Ireland prior to that freely quoted our inadequate social welfare system as a barrier to a united Ireland. That has not been mentioned since.

Fine Gael produced their most recent policy document on social welfare in 1989. The proposals include a basic income scheme, a single eligibility test with graduated entitlement to benefit, the establishment of one-stop welfare shops, more favourable treatment for part-time workers, educational programmes and voluntary work options. There must be a major integrated reform of the tax and PRSI systems. Fine Gael also demand reform of the supplementary welfare system and the introduction of rent and mortgage subsidies to the low paid. They demand the exclusion of benefits for those over 25 years of age deemed to arise from living at home in calculating their entitlements to unemployment assistance. In this respect I wish to highlight the difficulties which the sons and daughters of small farmers experience when they apply for unemployment assistance on reaching the age of 18. Their accommodation is assessed at more than £20 per week but are given £14 or £15 per week in unemployment assistance. Something must be done about that.

It is not right that an adult in his twenties, and often into his thirties, should have to depend on his parents' or brothers' goodwill to survive. Applicants for non-contributory pensions should have their capital assessed on the basis of their actual return from the financial institution rather than the present mandatory calculation of 10 per cent. While the concept of a carer's allowance is to be welcomed it is a fact that many who will be expecting an increase from £27 to the proposed £45 per week will be disappointed. The number of people who will receive the maximum allowance will be fewer than the 2,000 who receive the prescribed relatives allowance at present.

In future, because of the associated means test, those who might have received the prescribed relatives allowance will not do so because of the provisions in the new scheme. I welcome the decision to broaden the categories of people who will qualify as carers. The means test, however, will mean that a person whose spouse is employed, other than those on a very low wage, will not qualify for the carer's allowance. Those on social welfare benefits in their own right will suffer a reduction in all individual payments. A single person giving up employment will be given an increase of between £6 and a£14 per week, depending on the payment received.

However, I welcome the concept of a carer's allowance in that it gives recognition to that group of people who do such an excellent job in our community. It is important that their contribution is recognised. Irish people always took care of their elderly relatives. The pressure of living in the latter part of the 20th century has reduced our commitment to these people. The nursing home can too easily become an easy option. We must support the long and proud tradition of caring for our elderly in their homes, the surroundings they know best, and give them the dignity they deserve in their declining years.

The number of elderly in our community will continue to increase. We must meet this challenge in the context of our proud tradition of caring for them. The Minister's proposals should be but a start to a more innovative approach to encouraging our people to take care of the elderly in their homes. We must be prepared to invest in this approach. It will pay dividends in maintaining the dignity of the old person and result in a saving to the State in the cost of keeping such people in nursing homes.

I should like to refer to the Minister's proposal to establish an appeals office. Concern has been expressed about the scope of that institution. It amounts to an internal reorganisation and it loses credibility because of the lack of independent representation. Representatives of the welfare rights associations should be included in that appeal body. It is important that the system should be open and have the credibility of playing an independent role in the appeals process. The social welfare system should not be a disincentive to work. Enterprise at all levels must be encouraged. Fine Gael propose that the earnings disregard for means tests should be increased to £30. That will facilitate those doing some part-time work and allow people who have difficulty in obtaining full-time employment some level of dignity that work in society brings with it.

I should like to compliment the Minister on introducing the lone parent allowance scheme. The rationalising of all payments under the lone payment allowance scheme, and the new description for the scheme, gives dignity and a proper title to the condition that people find themselves in. Fine Gael propose an exemption of PRSI on the first £2,500 of income. That would benefit low paid workers. The proposals for PRSI exemption in the Bill will only benefit those earning less than £60 per week. In effect this will only apply to the part-time workers. It is an inadequate response to the problem.

I am pleased that the Minister has included in the Bill an extension of the free travel scheme to cover companions of those in receipt of disabled persons maintenance allowance. I should like to appeal to the Minister to extend that facility to other categories such as the handicapped and elderly people.

The Bill fails to address the campaign for pro rata pensions to be awarded to pensioners with mixed contribution records. Pro rata pensions were awarded to one group of pensioners in 1988 with records of between five and 19 contributions. That has created a clear anomaly and an injustice. In response to questions about this issue the Minister has referred to the National Pensions Board. However, it must be faced. The economic costs must be fully assessed and justice done for the group of pensioners for whom time is not on their side. There has hardly been a time in modern Ireland when the social welfare system has been more central to more of our people. The reality of wide scale long-term unemployment is now a feature of our lives and will be with us to the end of the century. The quality of life of a large section of our society will, of necessity be shaped by the quality of that system. This is the reason this Bill is so important and the reason we should get it right.

I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom fáilte faoi leith a chur roimh an Aire anseo inniu. Le cúpla bliain anuas, go mórmhór, tá obair iontach déanta aige leis an gcóras leasa shoisialaigh a chur in a cheart agus le ord agus eagar a chur air, ord agus eagar a bhí ag teastáil go géar.

In examining this detailed legislation, it has to be taken in the context of an ongoing process of rationalisation, development and the elimination of anomalies. I welcome particularly the main features of this Bill.

I welcome the increases in general social welfare that have been awarded this year, increases of 11 per cent in certain cases. Particularly for those on low income this must be very welcome news. The innovative aspects of this Bill must be welcomed, particularly the carer's allowance. The lone parent's allowance, the social welfare appeals office, the exemption from PRSI for low paid workers, the extension of the free schemes, the means test adjustments and also — if I might mention here in the context of this Bill — the elimination of certain anomalies that arose between the family income supplement scheme and the tax system, which was also dealt with in the budget and will be dealt with in the Finance Bill.

This year Fianna Fáil have lived up to their commitment to the poor and to the more vulnerable in society. Over the last few years the Minister has improved payments dramatically. He has systematically set about identifying anomalies that are inherent in the system and eliminating them. He has improved the information available to the public, this is a point that has not been stressed enough because it is no good having schemes if the information regarding them is not available to the general public in an understandable fashion. As the Minister said, he has improved the buildings and the general way in which the Department deals with the public. A genuine effort has been made to preserve the dignity of the people who are dependent on social welfare and to treat them in a caring and understanding manner. Finally, an effort has been made to speed up the processing and payment of claims.

Any person attempting to reform our social welfare system can only do so in the context of the attitude of the general public. We, in this Chamber, have an obligation to try to mould public opinion to accept that the people on social welfare have fundamental rights. Generally speaking, over the years, our attitude towards people depending on social welfare has been Victorian and patronising. In time the Minister's contribution will be seen as giving a lead in trying to get away from this attitude, trying to improve the status of people dependent on social welfare, and moulding public attitudes in a positive way as to the contribution these people have to make to society.

In this legislation the carer's allowance and lone parent's allowance will be seen as specific details of this general intent. When talking about social welfare we all have an obligation not to scaremonger because one of the biggest inhibiting factors, and something that causes people to lose rights, is the introduction of fear into the social welfare code. Particularly in means tested schemes I have seen case after case where, through fear of the system, through unjustly encouraged fears of social welfare officers, people have done themselves out of rights. When we talk about the social welfare code there is an obligation on us to discuss it in a factual and dispassionate manner and not to let outselves get caught up in an emotional scene that can cause people to lose some of their rights.

I welcome the steps the Minister has taken to reform means testing which is one of the cornerstones of the social welfare system. These people to whom these schemes apply are normally the poorest and most vulnerable in society. I welcome the various steps the Minister has taken in this regard, particularly the exemption from assessment for capital of the sale of a pensioner's residence. I have been concerned for some time about the assessment of capital for means tested schemes. At present there are basically three schemes in operation — the unemployment assistance, where the first £400 is assessed at 5 per cent and after that at 10 per cent; old age and blind pensions where there is an exemption of £200, 5 per cent for the next £375 and 10 per cent for the balance; and then widows and now the lone parent's allowances where the first £200 is ignored, £100 is allowed for each child and 5 per cent on the balance. I accept that these various exemptions were introduced at times of high interest rates and when those exemption limits meant something. I am confident that when the Minister reexamines the means test — I am sure he has examined it — be will address this particular problem because I fear it will create, what we would term in the west, as the mattress economy, where people are afraid to put their money in the bank and tend to hold it in their houses. They hold it in cash rather than put it into safe keeping, where it can be used in the general economy. I hope that, in this general re-assessment, this particular problem would be addressed and that we will see progress on that score.

Mar dhuine atá ina chonaí sa Ghaeltacht, agus mar dhuine a rinne achainí go minic ar an Aire maidir le ceist na mná tí, measaim gurb é ceann de na rudaí is suntasaí a rinneadh don Ghaeltacht agus don Ghaeilge, ceann de na céimeanna is praiticiúla a dearnadh ariamh, ná na mná tí a bhaint as an gcóras measunú maoine. Is dóigh liom gur céim mhór chun tosaigh í seo agus go bhfuil sí anois scríofa sa Dlí ar bhealach nach féidir le éinne í a shárú. Ní féidir anois, teacht isteach na mná tí ó Roinn na Gaeltachta nó os na coláistí samhraidh a áireamh i dtaca le scéimeanna leasa shóisialaigh. Thar ceann mhuintir na Gaeltachta, ba mhaith liom buíochas ar leith a ghabháil leis an Aire as ucht an chéim mhisniúil seo a ghlacadh agus as ucht an seasaimh seo a thógáil.

As the Minister is aware there is grave concern among small farmers about the operation of the means test. The Minister gave an undertaking in his speech on the budget to review the scheme and I know he recognises the need for reform. I should like to place it on the record that his concern and openness about this matter has been very encouraging particularly for those who come from areas where a large number of the population depend either on small farms or fishing for a supplementary income. The cessation of the nominal system of assessment for small farmers during the seventies was a very regrettable step. It is a pity that this scheme, which acted as an incentive for people to produce more, was ended. I am confident that in the review he is carrying out the Minister will address this problem in a positive fashion and that soon we will see the first steps being taken to encourage people to earn an income which will supplement their social welfare benefit and still leave them within the social welfare net. Because of the pound for pound reductions I am afraid that is not the system being operated at present; this is the system the Minister inherited and I am glad that in his speech he promised to address this problem.

I am delighted that he has undertaken to review the position of part-time workers. However I would draw to his attention the problems being experienced by part-time workers and the way they are assessed in the social welfare system. Returning once again to the small farmers, I am sure that the Minister in his review will once and for all tackle the problem where the means of small farmers are assessed against what is euphemistically termed as "own produce consumed". A streamlining of the means testing system would take away many of the fears people have and would give people on marginal land, or with small fishing incomes or with incomes from tourism, an incentive to create more wealth for themselves and for the country as a whole. I also believe it would free officials from the very heavy burden of work involved in dealing with these assessments and allow them to deal with more serious cases to ensure that nobody is abusing the system.

I welcome the introduction of the carer's allowance. There was a fundamental flaw in the prescribed relatives' allowance where somebody looking after a person in receipt of a disabled person's maintenance allowance was not eligible for the prescribed relative's allowance. I understand that the Minister has provided under the new carer's allowance that the carer of a person in receipt of a disabled person's maintenance allowance will be entitled to the carer's allowance. I hope this provision will be used for the benefit of people in receipt of the long term disabled person's maintenance allowance. I accept that there could be a problem in regard to those people who have been in receipt of that allowance on a short term basis but I hope the problem in regard to the long term recipients will be addressed.

The introduction of the lone parent's allowance is a most significant step. It will clear up a number of anomalies in the system and put an end to the need to establish whether a wife deserted her husband or a husband deserted his wife. There will be a single system for dealing with one parent families. I think everybody in our society welcomes this provision. However, I hope that at some time in the future a provision will be included in a social welfare Bill where a widow will be able to receive her spouse's social welfare benefit for longer than six weeks after his death in view of the trauma she suffers. The trauma experienced by a person on the death of a spouse is great and society must give due recognition to this.

I welcome the setting up of a new social welfare appeals office. Not alone is it very important for our appeals system to be independent, but it must be seen to be independent. The acceptance of this recommendation of the Commission on Social Welfare is to be welcomed.

The extension of the free travel scheme to companions of recipients of a DPMA is to be welcomed. The extension of benefits to people from states with whom Ireland has bilateral agreements, is very important, and this move will be welcomed particularly in the west where a large number of ex-residents of the USA live. These people were not entitled to these benefits because their pensions came from the USA. I look forward to the conclusion of those bilateral agreements which will be a very significant improvement.

The free electricity scheme, the free telephone scheme and the free television licence may seem small on paper but they mean a lot to old people. The fact that people over 80 years of age will not now lose their benefit if someone comes to live with them is also to be welcomed. Even though it may appear to be a small benefit, it will be very significant to many people. As the Minister said, very little consideration has been given to the extension of the fuel scheme to smallholders. I hope the Minister will clarify whether a family — a husband, wife and children — on social welfare would be considered as living alone in that context. This is a welcome innovation.

The clothing allowance will be widely welcomed because September can be a traumatic month for people on social welfare. This measure takes account of the needs of less well off people at this time of the year.

There is one anomaly that could be addressed in the future. It relates to widows. Could the free schemes be extended in the future to widows in receipt of widow's pensions who, if they were not widows, would be in receipt of DPMA if their husbands had been in receipt of invalidity or old age pensions?

Social welfare contributions are a tax on the poor. Therefore, the elimination of social welfare contributions in any week where wages are below £60 has to be welcomed. I have one minor reservation and that is that it may prove complicated for those employers who still use manual systems of paying wages as opposed to those using computers for whom it is not a problem.

There are about 120 rates of PRSI contribution which are based on insurable weeks, and with the advent of part-time employment this has caused problems. I am sure it also causes problems in the Department when insurable weeks and work weeks do not tally. However, I am sure this matter will be addressed. I am glad that the Minister mentioned this problem and look forward to its resolution.

The Social Welfare Bill cannot be examined without a close look at the complementary step taken by the Minister for Finance of raising the tax exemption limit for families. In the past few years the exemption limit for a married couple with four children has been increased from £5,800 to £7,700. This, together with the increases in the rates of family income supplement which have now covered 60 per cent of the difference between the actual income and the target income, have given the low paid a new incentive to work. Significant steps have been taken to take the low paid out of the tax net, increase family income and give due recognition to the position of children in low paid families.

The Minister spoke about the position of dependent spouses. I am glad he is addressing this problem because at the moment if a dependent spouse earns £56 or £57 the net gain in wages after PRSI can be very small and in extreme cases non-existent, particularly if there are children in the family. I am pleased this problem is being addressed.

I welcome the Minister's statement about the continuing development of computerisation because it means people can get accurate information quickly. I hope this process is speeded up so that all recipients of social welfare will be able to get information more or less on demand about means tests and the various allowances they are entitled to. As part of this, sooner or later, we will have to issue every adult in the country with an RSI number. There may be administrative problems in doing this in the short term but in the long term the benefits for both the State and for the people on social welfare would be worth the effort. It would also help to eliminate fraud within the system.

I would like to compliment the staff of the Department of Social Welfare. They have a difficult job to do but they are understanding people and deal courteously with the public. They are often maligned, but they did not create the system. We do that and it is their job to implement it as best they can. They are to be complimented in general for the way they handle the system.

Mar a dúirt mé i dtosach, tá an-mholadh ag dul don Aire. Tá obair iontach déanta aige le blianta mar Aire Leasa Shóisialaigh. In ainneoin an méid atá ráite faoi 30 faoin gcéad den phobal a bheith bocht, dá dhonacht agus atá an scéal, bheadh sé seacht n-oiread níos measa murach an obair chiúin, leanúnach, tuisceanach atá déanta le slacht agus eagar a chur ar an gcóras. Sílim féin go bhfuil céim iontach chun tosaigh tógtha sa Bhille seo chun feabhas a chur ar shaol na ndaoine atá ag brath ar an gcóras leasa shóisialaigh agus chun a gcearta a chur chun cinn.

The unemployment situation is such that for many of our people social welfare will be their only support. For that reason we in Fine Gael are disappointed that the Minister did not undertake the major reforms necessary to provide a social welfare system of equality. Coupled with that, the Social Welfare Bill must be considered within the context of the tax system. Fine Gael are also disappointed at the failure of the Government to introduce reform in that area.

I will concentrate in my contribution on education and training, particularly on education within the formal system in relation to life skills and rights for young people so that they can become aware of their rights before they join the dole queues. I will look too at the very centralised control of the social welfare system, the lack of monitoring and the lack of representation of welfare rights groups. I will also look at terminology. I admit that there have been improvements in terminology but it is still a stumbling block for people who have to avail of social welfare. I will also consider women and poverty, the inaccessability of the workplace for many women, the exploitation of part-time workers and improvements in the standard of premises in which people have to sign on.

The Bill fails fundamentally to reform the system. Various excuses can be made but we cannot run away from the fact that numbers on the live register are increasing. The Bill leaves the bulk of the low paid in the PRSI net and retains substantial anomalies. Multiple means testing is based on gross rather than net incomes and despite the ESRI report on poverty the Bill makes only a token gesture towards anti-poverty measures. It fails totally to develop adequate educational opportunities and voluntary work options for the 250,000 unemployed and their dependants.

I will mention the Fine Gael tradition on social justice. We have been advocating for a long time, before it was fashionable for other parties to do so, a basic income scheme which would eliminate the two-tiered society and prevent people on social welfare from feeling they are a race apart by giving them dignity and an incentive to work. Likewise, Fine Gael have looked for a single eligibility test with graduated entitlement to benefit, the establishment of one-stop-shops and the more favourable treatment of part-time work, educational programmes and voluntary work options. The necessary reforms must be integrated within the tax and PRSI systems.

Senator Neville has mentioned the reform of the supplementary welfare system. There is also the possibility of the payment of rent and mortgage subsidies to the low paid. A point which is not mentioned often enough is the exclusion of benefit from those over 25 years of age deemed to arise from living at home in calculating their entitlement to unemployment assistance. Many of these people are long-term unemployed and they can get either a few pence or a few pounds. This puts them as adults in a vulnerable and undignified position.

I am glad to welcome the introduction of back-to-school payments. As a teacher I am very much aware of the burden on families in September, particularly when faced with the necessary expenditure on uniforms, books and other requisities for children at secondary level. Large amounts of money have to be forked out by parents. Many students are disinclined to put that burden on their parents and they opt out; in many cases the parents have no option but to allow them to opt out. I have seen this happen in my own school and the teacher cannot always follow up these drop-out students. Society has really let them down. For these reasons I welcome the introduction of back-to-school payments. Health, education and social welfare are three areas to which there should be accessibility for all our children. This must start with education because if a child is deprived at that level everything else falls asunder.

I do not want to be the dog in the manger in relation to the carer's allowance but the increase from £27 to £45 per week is minimal. The number of people who will receive it will be fewer than the 2,000 who are currently in receipt of the prescribed relative's allowance. Some people who qualify for the existing allowance will not qualify for a carer's allowance due to the means test. It will be very disappointing for such people. It is a pity, too, that there are no new categories of persons included as requiring full-time care. Recipients of the DPMA should also qualify for the allowance.

The changes proposed in the Bill generously broaden the category of people who may now qualify as carers. We welcome this, but rigid means testing such as is applied to non-contributory pensions means that anybody whose spouse is employed, other than those on a very low income indeed, will not qualify. For those on social welfare payments this will constitute a drop on all individual payments and for those on dependent payments the increases will be between £6 and £14 on average. Expectations have been raised in this area and many people will be disappointed since the benefit will be a tiny proportion of that expected.

We would wish for consumer representation in regard to the appeals office. There is a degree of window-dressing in this area. Major reform groups have lobbied for representation. I dislike the centralised system with little or no consumer representation.

There is inadequate provision for families with children. As a nation we put ourselves to the forefront as champions of the family. That is fine in theory but in practice it does not work out. Families are in crisis and are bearing the brunt of the recession. They are over-represented among the poor, a factor which disturbs me. As a parent of a child who has just moved out of the teens I know the monetary demands not just for the basics but to have money to survive in the social context. These are adult demands. A 19-year old fellow would sometimes eat more than his father and mother together. The terms "teenage children" is a misnomer, they are adults and their basic needs in relation to clothing, food and education are at their highest. This puts tremendous pressure on parents. Dealing with young adults at that stage can be quite explosive and volatile. There is the stress of the transition from school to working life and the demands which are put on them by the over-commercialisation of contemporary life. There are psychological as well as financial pressures on parents and this has to be emphasised more and more. We cannot ignore the reports of the ESRI, the Conference of the Major Religious Superiors of Ireland, the Combat Poverty Agency or the National Campaign for Welfare Reform. They cannot all be wrong in stressing the financial, social and psychological pressures on young adults at a crucial stage in their lives.

Within the social welfare system there is a slight hostility to work and a suspicion of education and I do not think these issues are being adequately addressed. The amount of earnings disregard in a means test, unchanged since 1975, should be raised to £30. The vocational training opportunities scheme is very important but it is beyond the State's capacity to finance its extension. However, not only would it act as a stop-gap but also it would be an incentive to everybody, and not just to the few who get on the scheme. Psychologists, psychiatrists, economists and anybody who has done studies in this area will tell you that those who drop out of the education system find it very difficult to get employment. Because of this the scheme should be extended to everybody, if at all possible.

I have already stated that there is a close relationship between long-term unemployment and education levels. The last Social Welfare Act allowed the long-term unemployed to participate in the widest possible range of courses but the number of places available — only 240, but still an improvement on the previous figures — is far too little given the vast number of unemployed and their dependants. To show that we are not being overcritical of the Minister, let me say he has made a very strong humanitarian gesture in this Bill. The number of places available on the two pilot schemes, which stood at between 30 and 60 in 1960, is being increased to 240. This is to be welcomed. Regulations are in place which allow the setting up of many educational schemes. I hope we are not thinking in terms of years but rather of making significant progress in the near future. It is very important that there be continuous assessment of those who have been placed on these courses to prove that the courses are worthwhile. Perhaps such monitoring is taking place but I am not so aware. The theory is that the better educated you are — this has been proved within first, second and third level — the better your chance of getting employment. However, I would like to know whether these courses have made any appreciable difference to people in getting employment. I think they do but I would like to see proof.

With regard to recipients of disability and unemployment benefit, 20,000 people have been in receipt of benefit for between three and eight yers. These people have no other income and lag behind. It is very important that the Minister allows this group to qualify for child dependant payments in respect of children over 18 years attending full-time education. The Minister mentioned extending these payments to children up to 20 years of age, but I seek clarification whether this applies to all groups.

The children of recipients of disability and unemployment benefit are regarded as non-persons in that they are not acknowledged for tax or social welfare purposes and cannot receive any supplementary welfare support. Therefore an inadequate budget has to be stretched to pay for their education. Working as I do in an inner city school I am aware that there is dreadful pressure on those students to leave school. The pressure on some students, who might not be over-motivated and whose parents know they cannot keep them in second level, to drop out is enormous. One does not as a teacher, wish to pontificate or to put pressure on them — at this stage they are not thinking in terms of the State providing for them — but they begin to look at their parents' inability to keep them at second level. I do not like it when students grow up and look back with a certain amount of resentment, with chips on their shoulders, and argue that they did not get a bite of the cherry or get an opportunity to develop their full potential. As I have stressed, there is a link between education and social welfare.

I congratulate the Minister for introducing the lone parent allowance. As well as rationalising all schemes for lone parents, the Minister is deleting the socially stigmatising terminology. This is a timely move. He says he is simplifying the schemes, but there is also the question of dignity. I am stressing that line all the way — a basic income will ensure that these people, the number of whom is increasing, will maintain their dignity. I am also glad that single fathers will be eligible for the lone parent allowance.

In relation to the old age pension, some anomalies still exists, one of which the Bill fails to address, that is awarding pro rata pensions to pensioners with mixed contribution records. In 1988 pro rata pensions were awarded to one group of pensioners with between five and 19 contributions. This is a clear anomaly and an injustice. The Minister said he is referring this matter to the National Pensions Board but we are talking here about an elderly segment of society for whom time may be running out.

It affects everybody. That is the trouble. I will explain this later but it is much wider than the one that was done.

I am glad about that. The Minister indicated that the £50 exemption limit is to be raised to £55. Am I right?

That too is to be welcomed. Welfare rights groups and women's groups have lobbied for this increase, but the failure to index this payment — I wish it were more than £55 — has created a prison for some women. I am thinking of women, popularly known as lollypop women, who try to ensure the safety of children going to and from school. They do not work during the summer holidays and they should be given a special exemption.

Women who avail of part-time employment are open to exploitation. The Minister has said that this is a problem that will be with us for some time. Even though the number of women in part-time employment here is not as large as other EC countries, we have a far greater proportion of women in part-time employment than men. This leaves women in a vulnerable position.

I would like to touch on rural poverty. This is a buzz word to a degree nowadays but these are hidden statistics because many urban people consider anybody with any bit of land to be well off. However a huge percentage of small farmers are living in poverty. Their sons and daughters who wish to take up farming do not have a hope of doing so, neither do they have access any longer to jobs in the Civil Service, the public service, teaching and nursing.

The Minister mentioned a figure of £0.6 million for community development. I hope he will acknowledge the attempts being made by communities to improve the quality of their lives. Here I instance women's organisations as well as the Combat Poverty Agency which is not exclusively a women's group, although Mary Daly — maybe I should not mention her by name — is synonymous with the Combat Poverty Agency. Likewise, I hope that funds will be given to the Council for the Status of Women to distribute as they think fit. At present they do not play the role they should. I seem to be congratulating the Minister frequently this evening. I hope the negative aspects have been highlighted also. With the Oireachtas All Party Committee on Women's Rights I acknowledge that he was very aware of the need for the moneys allocated to women should go to disadvantaged women. Obviously, caring, humanitarian concern is shown there.

Let me refer again to the life skills programme. Two areas in education are not covered within the system: one is political education and another is an exposure to the rights of people, male and female, young and old. The whole area of social welfare should be included under life skills, not developing a mentality of "these are your rights and you are entitled to them". There are responsibilities as well. Within that you look at the work ethic but also at the fact that terminology, which is becoming more simplified, is explained in detail at junior-senior level and in post-primary schools, so that young people will not take years to unravel the mystery of the social welfare system or feel there is a certain stigma in what they have to do to claim assistance.

If they had access to a basic income we would not be so worried, but there is a need for education in that area. The emphasis I would like to put on social welfare is the development of dignity at all costs, the incentive to work and the elimination of a sub-class of people, as social welfare people are often referred to today.

The Minister has tried to address the system but I would have preferred him to take the bull by the horns, shake the whole system up and review it once and for all. That would make for a more equitable society.

I welcome this very good Bill and I would like to make a few comments on it. As everyone realises, the Bill provides for a number of very significant developments in the social welfare code. The increases in social insurance and social assistance payments provided for in sections 3 and 4 represent an increase in real terms for all social welfare recipients. Those on the lowest levels of social insurance payments, such as unemployment and disability benefit, will receive increases of over 6.5 per cent which on my reckoning is about 3.5 per cent in excess of the expected rate of inflation. The increases in the levels of social assistance payments are even more significant. For example, an increase of 11 per cent or £5 per week, is being provided in the weekly personal rate of long-term unemployment assistance, and an average of 8 per cent, or £4 per week, is being provided in the weekly personal rate of widow's non-contributory pension and other analogous payments.

One of the most significant developments in the Bill is the new carer's allowance which is well provided for in sections 17 and 18. As we all know, the conditions attached to the prescribed relative's allowance scheme were very restrictive, and I am delighted that they are not being brought forward in the new scheme. This means that for the first time married women and persons who are not related to the incapacitated pensioner may qualify for an allowance. In addition their entitlement will not be affected, as at present, if other persons are also living with the pensioner. The weekly rate of the new allowance will be £45 per week, and this represents an increase of £17 compared with the existing prescribed relative's allowance. Furthermore, increases will be payable to the carer in respect of dependent children. Overall it is estimated that an additional 6,000 carers will benefit under this new scheme. The introduction of this scheme represents a major advance in social welfare provision, and the Minister is to be complimented for giving practical recognition to the dedicated and invaluable work done by those caring for the elderly in our community.

The other major new development provided for in the Bill is the lone parent's allowance. This new scheme has a number of major advantages. By extending cover to separated spouses it will no longer be necessary for claimants to establish that they have been deserted by their spouse. The new measure provides for equal treatment between men and women by extending cover to unmarried fathers and prisoners' husbands. By incorporating a number of the existing schemes for men and women rearing children on their own, it represents a major simplification of the income maintenance provisions for all lone parents.

Apart from the provisions contained in the Bill, the Minister is making progress on an ongoing basis in a number of other areas of the social welfare code. For example, he has recently made the necessary regulations providing for the introduction of the new pre-retirement allowance scheme. This new allowance will be of considerable benefit to the over sixties who will now have the option of being paid by pension book, in which case they will no longer be required to sign on at their local employment exchange each week.

The provisions contained in this Bill, taken together with the other improvements made by the Minister in recent years, not only improve the position of the less well off in our community but serve to streamline and simplify the social welfare code. Knowing the Minister, knowing he is a very caring person and a person I hold in very high regard, I have no doubt he will continue to improve the social welfare system in this fashion.

This is a very important Bill. It deals with social welfare which is the largest item of national expenditure. It is an important issue. It also is a problem about which there is a great deal of ignorance among the public at large and people are not always aware of their social welfare entitlements. It is estimated that approximately one third of all cases seen at political advice centres deal with social welfare. There is an enormous problem and gap in communications about the schemes between the Department of Social Welfare and those people who are entitled to benefit from them. Some progress has been made in relation to explaining entitlements and I welcome the publication of two recent booklets —indeed I want to compliment those who produced them — which are quite informative. At the same time we are still waiting for the next edition of the Guide to Social Welfare which I gather will be published in a month. Perhaps it is already available?

It will be after the Bill is passed.

Part of the trouble is that the old edition is now out of print. I look forward to the new edition of the Guide to Social Welfare and I hope that the target for publication which I was given, namely next month, will be met. However, the problem of explaining the system to those people who are entitled to benefit remains. It is an enormous challenge and I am not happy that adequate resources are being devoted to that great communications problem.

Certain aspects of the Bill are welcome and indeed the Minister is to be complimented on some of the initiatives although other aspects of the Bill certainly do not please me. I welcome the introduction of the carer's allowance which is a worthwhile initiative and the Minister is to be complimented on it. The introduction of the lone parent's allowance is also to be welcomed. The means test in relation to the carer's allowance seems to be very restrictive and while the idea is good it also has to be seen in the context of relatively small amounts being paid to people to look after relatives and various other people in need of care. When you compare what is being given against what it costs to keep these people in institutions — in the order of £300 to £400 a week — then in many ways the country is getting very good value for money in relation to what it pays people to care for others who will benefit from this scheme. In my experience, there are also considerable problems in relation to guidelines for means testing for social welfare. Have clear guidelines been established and, if so, have they been implemented? Certainly there seems to be wide variations in the interpretations of certain social welfare officers. I have also found it difficult to understand the attitudes of some of these officers who are less than sympathetic to beneficiaries of social welfare. People administering the scheme should administer it; it is not their function to make judgments.

I am critical of the increase in child benefit which is certainly very small indeed; it has been calculated at 2½p a day and there was no increase in 1987, 1988 and 1989. Two and a half pence a day in this budget seems to me to be very modest indeed.

The provision of the extra 15,000 jobs in the social employment scheme is certainly desirable. However, for single people participating in it the pay, as I understand it, seems to have gone down by about £10 a week since the Government took office.

In the fuel scheme there seems to be reductions which amount to £20 per person per year. What is the situation in relation to the £3 million which has been promised in subsidies for smokeless fuel for people on low incomes in the Dublin area for the months of October, November and December? To the best of my knowledge we have not been told how this subsidy will be spent or administered and I would certainly like the Minister to inform us of the plans in that regard. Certainly quite a large number of old people in particular are worried as to how they will keep themselves warm next winter when they will not be able to buy bituminous coal and they will have to spend money on smokeless fuels which, of course, are more expensive.

It is reckoned that to feed and clothe a child under the age of four costs marginally less than £20 a week, and to feed and clothe a child older than that costs about £30 a week. At present the child benefit is £11 a week. It has been calculated by reputable nutritionists that the amount of money available for social welfare for teenage children is simply not enough to provide them with an adequate supply of nutrients from the type of foods available at the moment.

I welcome the development whereby the unemployed can go on to further education while they are participating in a scheme. I am somewhat disappointed that only 200 people are availing of it at this stage but I suppose things start on a small scale. I hope that number will be considerably expanded in the years ahead. I also hope that the Minister will devote adequate resources to informing people of the educational opportunities which are available for those who are unemployed.

It is disappointing that in 1989, social welfare increased by 3 per cent and inflation by 4 per cent, despite the fact that commitments were given that social welfare allowances would keep pace with inflation.

Another matter of considerable disappointment is the fact that there is no commitment in the Bill or from the Minister to implement the report of the Commission on Social Welfare. This takes me on to the Conference of Major Religious Superiors and the whole idea and notion of the elimination of poverty. The eradication of poverty from society does not seem to be on the agenda any more or, if it is, it certainly is not spoken about as something of any great priority. God be with the days of Frank Cluskey and Brendan Corish when they were struggling with great commitment, and indeed with a great deal of success, to put poverty on the agenda. In the past few years poverty has simply become a non-issue; it is marginalised, it is made irrelevant and there are now very large segments of society effectively confined to the position of an underclass. They do not rate. They are not an issue in politics and that is very much to be regretted.

There is the question of the 100,000 who have emigrated. What is their position? In many ways the problem is gone, exported. There are 250,000 unemployed. There is increasing polarisation in society. There is the increasing concentration on consumerism, the idea and the notion that we should consume more, with no reference to those people who have been pushed aside, those people who cannot consume or participate, those people whose role in this country has been forgotten. Indeed, in many ways it has taken on the dimension of the skeleton in the cupboard, an unmentionable. In what is termed as polite company it is considered offensive to talk about those people and their rights. It is the intention of the Labour Party to continue to highlight the problems of those on social welfare.

We have the problem of the health services. It is a two-tier system with those at one end of the scale receiving the best of treatment in high technology hospitals while those at the other end are pushed aside and left to join increasingly long queues. We must also deal with the question of public housing and what used to be free education. The "free" element of our education system has been slowly and systematically eroded. Changes have been introduced by those who set the agenda, who make the values. I am referring to those who have the notion that money is good above everything else. It is their view that the more money they have the better but they do not give those who do not have money any rating. I deplore that drift in society. In that regard I welcome the contribution of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, regardless of those who were annoyed by it. I welcome the attempt by that group to put those people, and the issues I have referred to, back on to centre stage in Irish society. It is a matter of great regret to me that those issues received so little attention from those who are in a position of power. It is unfortunate that they see fit to ignore the problems of the poor in our society. It is important to point out that there are some honourable exceptions. I am referring in particular to the leader writers in The Sunday Tribune. They have tried on many occasions to make poverty an issue. I should like to commend the authors of those articles.

I should like to refer to the problems of those in temporary employment, those on short-time work, and the way they are treated by some employers. To be frank, some employers exploit their part-time workers. It is appalling that those in a position of power and who employ people to organise their work rota in such a way that their employees work for periods a few minutes short of the time specified in the statutory regulations. That is crying out to be rectified and I hope the Minister will see to it that those people receive their legitimate entitlements. It is important to refer to the virtual collapse of the free legal aid scheme.

We should address the problem of the poor. In the course of his remarks the Minister referred to what he described as the notion that one-third of our population are poor; in other words, in rough terms one million of our people are poor. The Minister was correct in stating that the notion of poverty is derived from people's beliefs, is derived from values and is a subjective and value judgment. In the region of 250,000 are unemployed and if we include their dependants, and take a one-to-one ratio, we find that roughtly 500,000 people are involved. We must bear in mind that the average Irish family has 2.4 children and if we add them to the other figure we will find that we are not far away from having one million poor people.

According to my values those in receipt of unemployment benefit, and their dependants, are poor. It is appalling to think that some people believe that those in receipt of social welfare assistance are paid too much. It is shocking to think that some elements in our society hold that view and that they have the brass neck to suggest that the amount those people receive in social welfare is a disincentive to work. Those who say that are light years away from the awful problems that those on social welfare experience. It is my belief that one-third of our population are poor but that is not acknowledged by the powers-that-be. I regret that we are not providing solutions to that problem. Rather, we are setting about destroying the notion that those people are poor. I have not doubt that the Conference of Major Religious Superiors were correct in their statements.

I will be brief because the Bill has been debated adequately in the other House and in the Seanad. I should like to congratulate the Minister on the work he is doing in the Department of Social Welfare. He has the welfare of the less well off sections in our community at heart and he will always provide the money needed to make the burden lighter for those people. That was my experience when I had the pleasure of working with the Minister in the Department of Social Welfare.

In recent years many improvements have taken place in social welfare schemes and I am happy to say that most of them were brought about by a Fianna Fáil Administration. There have been improvements in such schemes as the free travel scheme, free electricity scheme, free fuel scheme, the prescribed relative's allowance, prisoner's wife's allowance, deserted wife's allowance and many others. In the Bill the Minister has introduced a new scheme, the carer's allowance under which those whom I consider to be very deserving will be paid a benefit. The prescribed relative's allowance, which the new scheme replaces, was too restrictive. Old people, the handicapped and the disabled, prefer to be cared for at home and it is important that we pay those who care for them an adequate allowance. I should like to appeal to the Minister not to make the provisions of the scheme too restrictive. Special consideration will have to be given to carers who reside in the family home with their brothers or sisters as is the case in many homes in rural Ireland. Under the prescribed relative's allowance if two people were living in the house with the disabled person the carer did not qualify for the allowance. That anomaly should not be carried into the new scheme.

Over the years the Minister has tried hard to get rid of the anomalies in the schemes. I should like to compliment him on his efforts and appeal to him to keep up the good work. He should put a human face on the Department of Social Welfare. I should like to refer to the unemployment assistance as it applies to small farmers in the west of Ireland. I cannot understand how Department officials assess the incomes of small farmers. I have seen some of those assessments and, as a farmer, I could not agree with them. In many cases the assessment was too high. It appears that the officials do not understand how small farmers in the west of Ireland live. If a farmer makes minor improvements on a holding the officials pounce on them and reduce the dole or cut it off entirely. There should be some relaxation in that scheme because we have reached the stage where many of those farmers cannot exist without some such allowance. They should have that as a right.

Critics of this scheme may say it is costing a lot of money but I can say that one industrialist setting up in any part of this country would probably get more from the Exchequer than all the farmers in the west are getting in small farmers' dole. I would like to see some relaxation in the system of assessing their means because I have experience in my own parish of a small farmer with 25 or 26 acres of land being granted an allowance of £9 per week. That is totally unacceptable in this day and age. There is no way that a man and his wife can live on such a small farm without receiving some help from the State. It has reached the stage where these people must get this allowance as a right. I hope the Department officials who are interviewing them will not be as tough on them as they have been in recent years.

I am very happy to see the improvements that have taken place in social welfare. I hope that improvement will continue. We know there are many things that need to be done but it all costs money. When one sees the bill for the various allowances one realises the huge problem the Minister and the Government have in trying to dish out that money and divide it fairly on the people who are entitled to it. If we are to increase or improve the existing allowances it requires more money and the only place the Government can get that money is from the taxpayers. That is the unfortunate situation but, having regard to the amount of money available the Minister is doing a very good job and I want to compliment him on it. I hope he will keep a human face on the Department, make it more accessible to the people who need to use the Department offices and to get rid of some of the anomalies that exist in some of the schemes in operation at present.

Unlike many of my colleagues who have already spoken I cannot pretend I fully understand the intricacies of the social welfare system, nor do I come across the sort of demands that many in this House come across from their constituents for their social welfare entitlements, day in and day out. Indeed much of it is a maze of difficulties and entitlements which I have still to resolve. Nevertheless I have read the Bill and the Minister's speech and to some extent we can envy the Minister and his Department.

What the Minister is doing here, quite rightly, is telling us how much money he is giving away and the goodies he is offering to various people in various categories. Whereas I appreciate the political and human need to do this, I do not see in his speech any mention — he can correct me because I may be wrong — of social welfare abuses or, indeed, any mention of what plans the Government have for tackling this problem. I approve of what he has said in detail about those sections of society to whom he is going to give more allowances. It would be helpful if the Minister acknowledged that the abuse of social welfare is still a reality, that moonlighting is a national pastime and it is something we simply cannot ignore. I do not know the extent of the black economy in this country but I know it is very large.

The Minister tells us in his Social Welfare Bill every year the extra allowances he is giving to various sections of society but I would like him to establish a commission which would examine and come to conclusions about (a) how much money is in the black economy and (b) more importantly, how many recipients of social welfare there are who are involved in the black economy. I do not wish to fall into the trap which the Labour Party leader here has talked about of saying that the majority of those on social welfare are abusing it, I do not believe that. I can tell the Minister and everybody in this House knows, I have come across time and time again people who want to be paid cash, people who do not want to pay stamps, people who do not want to pay income tax for small jobs. The conclusion I draw from that is that these people, or some of these people, are drawing social welfare benefits to which they would not be entitled if they had an authenticated income. The poor, the handicapped, the sick and the old — whom the Minister wants to help — could benefit if we found out how much money is in the black economy, if we found out exactly how much social welfare recipients were taking out of the black economy. Then we could collect that money and give it back to those who are entitled to social welfare.

I say this in ignorance of how large that problem is because nobody knows the extent of the problem. However, I would wage a fairly hefty bet that it is much bigger than we accept, that a blind eye is turned to this sort of activity and it is a very difficult problem to tackle because it is out of hand. Everybody in this House, if they are honest, knows the black economy is very large; they come across it every day of their life.

I would just like to say a few words about means testing. I know there are long-term left-wing ideological objections to means testing. I would like to welcome the measures the Minister has taken for means testing improvements in various areas but it could be extended even further. I do not see why means testing should not be extended to all forms of social welfare. I do not believe that those who can afford more should be taking any money from the State. It is a simple as that. We could extend it even further by saying that those who are looking for third level education and who are drawing social welfare should automatically get free third level education, that those who cannot afford certain things in our society should be means tested and should benefit as a result. I have never understood the ideological objections to means testing; it should be extended to all forms of social welfare.

Finally, there appears to be a competition between the Minister and the Labour Party as to who knows more about poverty, about the extent of poverty in this country, about the priority which the Minister puts on poverty and the priority which Senator Upton puts on poverty. We are all concerned about poverty and we all believe equally that it should be eliminated but if we do not know its extent we are in certain difficulties. Secondly, it is very easy to talk about poverty and to say that not enough is being done for the poor without costing it but in the real world we have to cost poverty and we have to say exactly where the money to tackle poverty will come from. I have several ideas about that; there are areas where there could be more taxation, we could collect more money especially from the black economy. It is a little disingenuous of members of the Labour Party to come in here, attack the Minister, say that one-third of the population is suffering from poverty and that something must be done about it without actually saying how they will raise the money. It is unhealthy to compete with one another in our sympathy for the poor unless we are prepared to mention the sections of society who are going to pay for the poor.

I welcome the Social Welfare Bill, 1990, and I would like to avail of this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Social Welfare who has done tremendous work since taking over this portfolio. This Bill is a further effort by him to rationalise the number of payments and to simplify the social welfare system generally. Many changes have taken place within social welfare over the past few years and the Minister's main targets in this Bill are the weaker sections of our community who are most in need, in particular, the elderly, the handicapped, the long-term unemployed, the low paid workers, lone parents, and the carers in our society.

For many years I have argued that people with families on social welfare should get a double week's allowance when their children are returning to school. For this reason I welcome the special clothing allowance for social welfare recipients which will come into effect this coming September. This will help these people to buy winter clothing for their children when they return to school. This is a long overdue measure and I hope it will be simplified, so that people on social welfare with young families will automatically qualify for it.

I welcome the proposal to set up a new appeals office. The area of appeals is most unsatisfactory. There is a problem with how appeals are dealt with and the terms of reference for deciding such appeals. We are all aware that there are two types of appeals, one for those on unemployment assistance and one for those on disability benefit. I ask the Minister to clarify the position with regard to the new appeals office. Under the present system an appeals officer sits with an employer and a trade union representative when dealing with an appeal, and they are assisted by two assessors. The two assessors can give an opinion but they are not involved in the decision. I take it that this will be the position under the new system.

There is also a need to update the medical appeals system. If politicians are honest they will admit that they spend more time making representations about medical appeals than appeals in any other area of social welfare. Some recipients of disability benefit can be cut off from their allowance by medical referees even though such recipients may be able to prove they have to go into hospital the following week or that they have had a severe ailment for a long time. I hope that enough staff will be made available to the new appeals office to deal with appeals. At present it takes a very long time to process appeals. I know of cases in County Kerry where it has taken up to ten weeks to process unemployment appeals. This is far too long for a person who needs unemployment assistance.

The introduction of the carer's allowance is most welcome. It confirms once again that the Government's policy is to keep senior citizens in the community or within the family unit with their sons, daughters, nieces or nephews. This, of course, will mean large savings for the Department of Social Welfare because, as we have been told in the past, it costs between £400 and £500 per week to keep an old person in a hospital or institution. Under this scheme many of these people can now remain in the community or in the family home. The Minister has also indicated that a son, daughter, niece, nephew or a person outside the family, can claim the allowance for looking after old people. This is a major development in the social welfare services area. I compliment the Minister on recognising the work and role played by the carer. This recognition has received a great welcome across the community.

The introduction of the lone parent's allowance is most welcome. It will apply to unmarried mothers, deserted wives, deserted husbands and unmarried fathers. This is an area which has caused many problems in the past.

The Minister introduced the PRSI contribution scheme for the self-employed a few years ago. From April of this year the contribution rate for the self-employed will be 5 per cent. It is only right that the self-employed should make a contribution to the PRSI pension scheme as it will benefit them. The income from the scheme for this year will be approximately £62 million, which I understand is 30 per cent ahead of the original target set by the Minister. People have to pay into this scheme for ten years before they will be entitled to receive a benefit. I should like the Minister to look again at this aspect of the scheme because even though a person may have only six years to work before he reaches pension age he must pay into the scheme. I have already taken up this point with the Minister and I should like to raise it again, especially as it relates to people who are over 60 years of age and who have no choice but to pay even though it will be of no benefit to them. I appeal to the Minister to consider giving these people an option to buy their remaining four, five or six years in order that they may claim a contributory pension. I believe such a move would be most welcome. It is most unfair to people to have to pay into this scheme for up to nine years and not receive any benefit because they do not have the magic ten years' contributions. I have been approached by many self-employed people who are prepared to pay for these extra years, even at the higher rate, so that they can get into the system. I again appeal to the Minister to seriously consider this aspect of the scheme.

I am pleased that the Minister has again increased the long-term unemployment payments. This area needs to be kept under constant review and payments should be increased on a regular basis. It is unfortuante that people can remain unemployed on a long-term basis because of a lack of suitable employment. These people are entitled to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families.

Under the Social Welfare Act, 1985, which deals with equality in social welfare matters, the previous Fianna Fáil Government introduced a threshold of £50 for the working spouse of a person claiming the full rate of social welfare benefit. If the working partner was earning less than £50 per week the spouse was allowed to claim the full personal rate, in addition to the full adult dependant rate and the full child allowance. However, once the earnings of the other spouse went over the threshold of £50 per week, the spouse claiming social welfare payments had the adult dependant rate withdrawn and received only half the child dependant allowance. It is now almost five years since the threshold was set and since then spouses have begun to get very small increases in their salaries. Recently I met a deputation of women who are employed on contract cleaning whose husbands are on social welfare. These women had been on an average income of £45 per week but because they were recently awarded an increase this will put them over the £50 threshold and as a result it would not pay them to work. I appeal to the Minister to consider increasing this threshold by at least 20 per cent. The only reason these women go to work is that they need the money to supplement the family income.

I welcome the concession given to people over 80 years of age. I know of cases where social welfare officers called on people and informed them that they were not entitled to some benefit they already had, such as free fuel or free electricity, because somebody was living with them. The social welfare officer was doing his job according to the rule book. I welcome the extension of benefits such as the free travel and the free electricity allowance, for certain pensioners provided in the Bill. A companion will be allowed to travel free with a pensioner in receipt of a DPMA who is entitled to free travel. This will be of tremendous benefit to handicapped people, including those with mental handicap. We have had representations from many people about handicapped persons who had a travel pass but whose companion had to pay his or her fare. I am glad the Minister has seen fit to concede on this point. The extension of the national fuel scheme is also important and will be of benefit to many people.

Finally, I congratulate the Minister on bringing this Bill before the House. It should be remembered that this Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Woods, also introduced the Social Welfare Act, 1981. This Bill is an improvement on that Act and is substantial legislation. The fact that the Minister introduced the 1981 Act, and has now brought this Bill before the House in 1990 shows his commitment in this area. He has shown once again that we have a caring Government who wish to make improvements in the social welfare system. I commend the Bill to the House.

Tá roinnt mhaith cainte déanta inniu ag moladh an Aire ar son an Bhille Leasa Shóisialaigh atá os comhair an Tí, agus níor mhaith liom go gceapfadh sé go bhfuil an Choróin Bheannaithe Naofa á bronnadh air de bharr an Achta mar a sheasann dúinn anseo tráthnóna. Tá gnéithe áirithe den Bhille seo atá inmholta, ach os a choinne sin, is furasta airgead a dháileadh amach agus é a mhéadú ó bhliain go chéile ag brath ar an méid airgid atá ann le caitheamh. Ag deireadh an lae caithfimid bheith ag caint sa Bhille seo faoi bhochtanas, bochtanas na clainne agus na tíre seo dá bharr.

Níl fúmsa ach mo chuid cainte a dhíriú ar an rud seo ar a dtugtar an dole in iarthar na tíre, agus ar fud na tíre go ginearálta. Is cúis imní domsa, ar chaoi ar bith, nach bhfuil ardú suntasach agus, go deimhin, nach bhfuil ardú ar bith ann, dar liomsa, do lucht an dole. Tá ráite go bhfuil 5 faoin gcéad mar ardú coitianta trasna an bhoird ag lucht dole, ach nuair a chuirtear san áireamh boilsciú na bliana seo caite — 4 faoin gcéad agus an bhliain roimhe sin 1 faoin gcéad — féadtar glacadh leis nach raibh ardú ar bith ann agus nach bhfuil ardú ar bith le fáil ag lucht dole faoin mBille seo.

Bhí mé ag éisteacht ar ball leis an Seanadóir Ó Cuív ag canadh moltaí an Aire faoin éacht mór atá déanta aige maidir le mná tí na Gaeltachta. Ní fheicim éacht ar bith ann. Ní fheicimse ann ach gur éirigh le Rialtas Fianna Fáil ag an am an dá chois a chur isteach ann ó thaobh na ceiste seo. Bhí na mná tí Gaeltachta ag coinneáil scoláirí ó 1906 agus, cúpla bliain ó shin, faoi réimeas Fianna Fáil, chinn siad ar airgead na mban tí seo, nó brabach as airgead le scoláirí a choinneáil sa samhradh, a bheith mar chuid d'airgead a chuirfí san áireamh nuair a bhí cúrsaí dole i gceist.

Ní dhearna an Comhrialtas riamh é sin. Ní dhearna Rialtas ar bith é, ach rinne Fianna Fáil é, agus tháinig an oiread sin brú ar an Aire ó mhuintir na Gaeltachta, ó mhná tí na Gaeltachta agus ó lucht eagraithe na gcoláistí Gaeilge, gurbh éigean dó géilleadh. Go deimhin féin, is mise an chéad duine a thug mná tí na hÉireann le chéile le cur in aghaidh bheartais an Aire. D'oibrigh muid an-dian agus rinneamar lobbying an-dian, ní le rud éigin a thabhairt do na mná tí, ach lena gcearta a thabhairt ar ais dóibh. Bhí na cearta seo ann i gcónaí, ach b'fhéidir go ndéarfadh an tAire nár chóir go mbeadh siad acu i gcónaí. De bharr an churtha in a aghaidh a chuireamar ar bun, dúirt an tAire, "Beidh sé sin ceart go leor. Ná habair tada faoi. Ná bíodh a fhios agam tada faoi agus beidh sé ceart go leor". Ach ní raibh sé ceart go leor, mar bhí daoine ann — agus tá go leor litreacha agam lena chruthú — go raibh breis agus míle punt, míle go leith punt i gcás amháin, á bhaint de theacht isteach dole na clainne sin de bharr scoláirí Gaeilge bheith á gcoinneáil acu. B'shin breis agus £25 sa tseachtain.

Má cheapann an Rialtas seo, nó an tAire, gur éacht mór atá déanta acu ar son mhná tí Gaeltachta na hÉireann le bheith mar chuid den dlí anois, nach mbeadh sé ináirithe feasta mar theacht isteach, bhuel, mar a dúirt mé i dtosach, níl aon rud mór ann ach a gcearta bheith faighte ar ais. Dála an scéil, ag an am céanna go raibh an buille mór seo buailte ag an Rialtas céanna ar mhná tí na Gaeltachta, rinne siad iarracht ar líon na scoláirí a bheadh ag freastal ar na coláistí Gaeilge a theorannú. Throid muid sin freisin agus tarraingíodh siar é an chéad bhliain eile mar go bhfaca siad an dochar a bhí á dhéanamh agus a bhí déanta.

Níl ansin ach sampla beag, tugtha agus léirithe ag an Aire féin faoin droch-chaoi atá ar dhaoine nach bhfuil jab ná post seasta acu. Tá sé admhaithe sa Bhille seo ag an Aire, agus molaim é sa mhéid go raibh an misneach aige é sin a admháil. Bhí daoine ar nós mhná tí Gaeltachta agus a gclanna ag fulaingt gan chúis, gan fháth de bharr rialacha seafóideacha a thabhairt isteach, a bhí ag dul ag déanamh an bocht níos boichte agus deis níos fearr ag an fhear saibhir éirí níos saibhre. An locht is mó atá agamsa ar an mBille seo, bíodh go bhfuil rudaí áirithe ann atá inmholta, mar a dúirt mé i dtosach, nár thug an tAire aghaidh cheart ar an mbochtanas.

Tá an poverty trap níos soiléire inniu, agus an Bille seo á chur tríd an Seanad againn, ná mar a bhí sé riamh i stair na tíre seo. Tá fáth ann go ndeirimse gur chaill an tAire seo an deis a bhí aige le rud éigin cinnte a dhéanamh. Níl aon leithscéal dá laghad aige mar Aire. Tá os mo chomhair anseo leabhrán a cuireadh amach ag an Roinn Leasa Shóisialaigh, Report, 87-89. Bhí mé ag breathnú ar na hAirí éagsúla a bhí i gceannas ar an Roinn Stáit seo le leathchéad bliain anuas, ó 1947, agus feicim go raibh an tAire atá ann faoi láthair, ceithre huaire mar Aire. Is iontach an deis é sin agus is iontach an moladh atá ag dul d'fhear gur éirigh leis an Aireacht chéanna a bheith aige ceithre huaire le deich mbliana anuas, ó 1979 go dtí 1989. Ní raibh éinne eile dá chomhleacaithe a chuaigh roimhe in, aon cheann de na Rialtais an fhad sin, nó chomh minic sin, mar Aire Leasa Shóisialaigh. Sin an fáth go n-abraim gur chóir go mbeadh tuiscint i bhfad níos fearr ar an scéal ag an Aire thar aon Aire eile.

Tá sé ráite, agus tá a fhios ag an Aire go maith é, fiú amháin isteach sa chéad chéad eile, sa bhliain 2000 ar aghaidh suas chomh fada le 2007, de réir tuairisce, go mbeidh breis is 200,000 duine fós as obair sa tír seo. Mar sin, is cuma cé bheidh i gcumhacht, an Rialtas seo nó Rialtas comhdhéanta den Fhreasúra mar atá sé anois, caithfear aghaidh a thabhairt ar rud iontach nua atá i saol na tíre seo, go gcaithfimid aitheantas bunúsach a thabhairt do na bochtáin, breis agus ceathrú milliúin acu sa tír, agus muid ag dul isteach sa chéad chéad eile.

Ba chóir, mar sin, go mbeadh an tAire ag tabhairt aghaidh ar sin ar bhealach praiticiúil, go mbeadh sé ar a mhíle dícheall le haird a thabhairt ar an chaoi a mbeidh an saol ag na bochtáin amach anseo. Tá ráite ag daoine eile romham, cén chaoi is féidir é sin a leigheas gan a thuilleadh airgid a chaitheamh. Tá an tAire molta ag cainteoirí romham as na hathruithe atá déanta aige sa chaoi is go mbeidh sé níos éasca déileáil leis na nithe uilig atá mícheart, na nithe beaga, nó anomalies mar a thugtar orthu. Ach bhí an-deis aige i mbliana, dar liomsa, ón eolas a bhí aige, tabhairt faoi seo ar bhealach níos láidre agus le i bhfad níos mó misnigh ná mar a rinne sé.

Duine ar bith a bhfuil baint aige le saol na tuaithe feicfidh sé an poverty trap seo ag obair ó lá go chéile. Tá cuid de na rialacha a bhaineann le meastachán a dhéanamh ar theacht isteach clainne ar bith chomh hamaideach sin gur iontas liom gur lig an tAire an deis thairis sa Bhille seo gan aghaidh níos dásachtaí agus níos misniúla a thabhairt ar na deacrachtaí seo. Mar shampla, tá sé san Acht mar chéad riachtanas go gcaithfidh duine atá ar an dole bheith go gníomhach ag iarraidh jab a fháil. Samhlaigh duit féin fear thiar i gConamara agus é ar a bhicycle ag dul thart ag iarraidh jab? Tá na monarchana atá ag Údarás na Gaeltachta ann, sin áit amháin le triall. Ach tá a fhios ag an saol Fodhlach go raibh an oiread sin daoine ag faire go dtí i mbliana ar jab sna monarchana sin nach mbeadh seans ann dá leithéid.

Ba chóir don Aire aird a thabhairt ar seo. Tá impleachtaí uafásacha ag baint leis go gcaithfidh fear a bheith ag déanamh iarrachta le jab a fháil agus a fhios aige ina chroí istigh, agus a fhios ag an Aire, nach bhfuil aon jab ann dó. Mar sin, tá sé sin ag déanamh an-dochair do dhínit an fhir sin nó na mná sin, go bhfuil orthu rud éigin a dhéanamh nach mbeidh toradh dá laghad air, agus a fhios sin acu sul má thosaíonn siad.

An dara riail atá ann, agus atá níos seafóidí fós agus atá ag déanamh i bhfad níos mó dochair, dar liomsa, ná go gcaithfidh an fear nó an bhean bheith ar fáil le hobair a dhéanamh. Sin, dar liomsa, ceann de na rialacha is measa a d'fhéadfadh bheith sa Bhille, agus is trua liom nár thug an tAire aird ar sin nuair a bhí sé ag caint ar na anomalies seo chun go bhféadfaí fáil réidh le cuid acu. Níl rud níos measa ná go gcaithfidh fear nó bean suí síos sa mbaile gan tada le déanamh acu. Tá an prionsabal seo ag dul i gceann ar dhaoine chomh mór sin go bhfuil siad ag rá liomsa agus le cairde an Aire féin ar an taobh eile den sconsa ó thaobh na polaitíochta de, cén mhaith dúinn, níl aon chead againn aon rud a dhéanamh; caithfimid bheith ar fáil le hobair a dhéanamh don Stát.

Tabharfaidh mé sampla beag don Aire faoi fhear a bhí ar an dole agus a raibh teach ar cíos aige. Bhí sé ag fáil suim ar nós £17 in aghaidh na seachtaine ach bhí costas £30 punt in aghaidh na seachtaine mar chíos ar an teach. Bhí an fear gur leis an teach sásta cead a thabhairt don fhear sin obair a dhéanamh gan aon airgead bheith i gceist, go mbeadh sé sásta féar a ghearradh agus eagar éigin a chur ar an teach, istigh agus amuigh, agus dá ndéanfadh sé é seo, idir an méid a bhí le fáil aige ón liúntas a bhí aige agus an méid a bheadh maite dó, ní bheadh tada le híoc aige. Tháinig an cigire thart agus fuair sé an fear seo ag baint an fhéir, agus cé gur chruthaigh sé don chigire nach raibh sé ag fáil aon íocaíocht, cuireadh píonós láidir air agus b'éigean dó éirí as an obair. Tá faitíos air anois rud ar bith a dhéanamh chun barr feabhais a chur ar féin. Ní chosnódh sé pingin ar an Stát ligean do dhuine mar sin dul amach agus obair dheonach a dhéanamh. Níl cead acu, áfach, faoin dlí. Is ar an ábhar sin a agraím gur chaill an tAire deiseanna iontacha sa mBille seo, i mbliana, chun teacht i gcabhair ar dhaoine atá sáinithe sa trap bochtaineachta seo. Ní dhearna sé é agus is é an trua é nach ndearna.

Is cuimhin liomsa go raibh Ardeaspag Thuama agus fear d'Fianna Fáil anseo i mBaile Atha Cliath agus mé féin le casadh ar Aire na Gaeltachta na hama, chomh fada siar le 1956, an bhliain chéanna a chuir mé aithne ar an Aire s'againn anois, le fiafraí de an bhféadfadh sé rud ar bith a dhéanamh maidir le ceist an dole. Is é a bhí uainn ná go ligfí d'fhir an dole, gan aon chostas ar an Stát, beagáinin airgid nó maoine a chnuasú dóibh féin a d'ardódh iad — would lift them up — mar a déarfá. B'shin 30 bliain ó shin, beagnach, agus is amhlaidh atá an scéal againn inniu agus a bhí i lár na gcaogaidí agus i dtús na seascaidí.

Táthar taréis an tAire a mholadh ag rá gur fear é atá sásta aghaidh a thabhairt ar na deacrachtaí seo agus iad a réiteach. Luadh athbhreithniú a dhéanfar. Bhí an tAire seo ina Aire ceithre uair i ndiaidh a chéile; tá súil agam go bhfeicfear ón athbhreithniú seo atá geallta aige go dtuilleann sé an moladh atá tugtha dó anseo inniu, agus go bhfuil sé sásta na hathruithe cuí a dhéanamh chun deis a thabhairt don duine atá thíos leis.

Is cuma conas mar a dhéantar suas na huimhreacha, táim den tuairim láidir go bhfuil beagnach milliún duine ar féidir iad a áireamh sa trap bochtainneachta seo. Níl duine ar bith sa tír ag fáil bháis ceal bia ach ní hionann bia agus dignit, ná ní féidir a áiteamh nach bhfuil daoine áirithe sáinithe i dtrap na bochtaineachta cé gur féidir go bhfuil dóthain le n-ithe acu.

Tá an-mholadh faighte ag an Aire anseo inniu i dtaobh an liúntais feighlí nó carer's allowance. Is iontach go deo an smaoineamh é ach go bunúsach is locht mór ar an mbeart é go bhfuil measúnú ioncaim ag gabháil leis. Ceistím an chúis atá le measúnú ioncaim sa chás seo. Meabhráimíd dúinn féin an costas ard atá i gceist chun duine a choimeád in oispidéal go priomháideach nó go poiblí, nó i dteach banaltrachta.

D'fhiafraigh bean díom an mbeadh sí i dteideal an £45 seo. Bhí cónaí uirthi i dteach clainne a céile agus is ag a céile amháin atá ioncam, cé nach bhfuil de dhifríocht idir an teacht isteach seo agus íocaíocht an dole, ach trí nó ceithre phunt. Tá sise ag tabhairt aire do sheanbhean sa teach sin le hocht mbliana anuas agus tá gach seans ann go leanfaidh sí uirthi. Go dtí seo, ní raibh pingin de chúnamh nó de bhuíochas le fáil aici ón Stát as ucht obair an Stáit a dhéanamh.

Níl a leithéid de mheasúnú ioncaim ag gabháil leis an liúntas leanaí. Mar sin, d'iarrfainn ar an Aire, thar aon ní eile sa Bhille seo, athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar chúinsí an liúntais feighlí seo. Is beag duine, de réir na staitisticí, a bheidh ag gnóthú dá réir, muna ndéanann. Áiríonn daoine áirithe go mbeidh faoi bhun 2,000 duine i dteideal an liúntais seo; tá daoine eile a deireann go mbeidh thar 8,000 duine á bhailiú. Measaim féin gur meastacháin suibíochtúla iad seo uilig. Ní bheidh aon phingin le fáil ag an mbean a luaigh mé cheana, bean atá ag tabhairt aire do sheanbhean le hocht mbliana anois, agus ní thuigim cén fáth nach mbeidh. Níl ag a fear céile ach £128 in aghaidh na seachtaine agus tá fear eile síos an bóthair uaithi atá ag fáil beagnach an oiread céanna airgid agus beidh seisean i dteideal an liúntas a ghlacadh. Anomalies atá i gceist anseo arís. Tá an smaoineamh taobh thiar den liúntas seo chomh fiúntach sin gur trua liom nach ndeachaigh an tAire all the way, agus é á eagrú sa chaoi is go mbeadh sé le fáil ag daoine atá ag déanamh na hoibre seo a bhfuil an oiread sin maitheasa ag baint leis.

Tá gnéithe eile a d'fhéadfaí a athrú maidir le measúnú ioncaim, nach gcuirfeadh aon chostas ar an Stát. Thrácht an Seanadóir Hussey cheana ar an gcaoi ina ndéantar an measunú seo. Tá fir in iarthar na hÉireann a d'fhéadfadh £1,000 a shaothrú trí fheamainn a bhaint, nó carn móna a dhíol, nó iascaireacht chladaigh a dhéanamh, ach níl aon chead acu faoin Acht seo a leithéid sin a dhéanamh. Cuimsítear gach cineál oibre den tsórt seo, maraon le teacht isteach ó lóistín a thabhairt do mhicléinn samhraidh, faoin teideal "Earned Income".

Is ar an ábhar sin a deirtear go bhfuil feirmeoirí an iarthair go maith as ach tá 90 faoin gcéad d'fheirmeoirí an Chlocháin, in iarthar Chonamara, ag maireachtáil ar theacht isteach na bhfeirmeoirí beaga; tá níos lú na £100 á thuilleamh acu in aghaidh na seachtaine. Tá cartaí leighis ag 80 faoin gcéad acu agus gan ach 13 faoin gcéad acu ann a bhfuil baill dá gclanna ag freastal ar oideachas den tríú leibhéal. Léiriú ar bhochtaineacht atá ansin ach fós tá dóthain le n-ithe acu. Sin é an trap atá faoi chaibidil agam anseo agus deirim leis an Aire go mairfidh an trap seo chomh fada le deireadh na haoise seo agus isteach sa chéad aois eile.

Táim ag impí mar sin ar an Aire aghaidh a thabhairt ar an bhfadhb seo go misniúil agus na constaicí atá ag cur bac ar dhaoine ó theacht aníos as an mbochtaineacht a chur as an tslí. Nílimid ag tabhairt an seans dóibh faoi láthair; táimid á shá ar ais síos ann mar chomh luath is a dhéanann siad iarracht ar a gcás a fheabhsú gearrtar pionós orthu. Sin é deacracht an Aire, agus admhaím gur mór an fhadhb é ach deirtear gur fear misniúil é. Tá rudaí áirithe sa Bhille a chruthaíonn an méid sin faoi. Molaim freisin go mbeadh an deontas ábhar tine le fáil ag gach duine atá ag fáil íocaíocht dole mar tá gach duine atá i dteideal dole ar lión na mbocht agus ní gá é sin a threisiú. Ba chóir go mbeadh siad i dteideal na n-íocaíochtaí seo fad a bhíonn siad ar an dole. Sin é croí m'argóna.

Tá an-chuid rudaí fiúntacha sa Bhille seo maidir le soláthar liúntaisí do réimse mór daoine. Is ag méadú, áfach, a bheidh líon na nglacathóirí amach anseo. Tá seans ag an Aire an cás seo a fheabhsú. Ba chóir go mbeadh sé de chumas ann agus é in a Aire le ceithre thréimhse anuas, an t-athbhreithniú seo a bhunadh go sciobtha mar go dtuigeann sé an ní atá ag teastáil níos fearr ná mar a thuigfeadh éinne eile í. Ní aon mhaitheas é a bheith ag déanamh scrúduithe i ndiaidh a chéile agus na daoine ag éirigh níos boichte in aghaidh an lae.

Iarraim mar sin ar an Aire aghaidh a thabhairt ar na deacrachtaí agus aitheantas a thabhairt do na boicht a bhfuil suas le ceathrú milliúin acu i gceist. Beidh an fhadhb seo ann go ceann i bhfad eile agus tá súil agam go dtiontóidh an tAire ar an mBille seo a leasú sa chaoi is go mbeidh deis ag an fear bocht éirí aníos agus a chuid dínite a athghnóthú.

I welcome the Minister to the House. We are discussing a very important Bill. The range of allowances, sections and categories provided for demonstrates how many people benefit in one way or another from the Minister's Department. It is clear that the Minister would have liked more money to give out and he can only do his best with what he is allowed. Vast numbers of people in our society in one way or another have to depend in whole or in part on social welfare payments. I welcome particularly the carer's allowance, which is long overdue. The previous allowance was an insult, as the Minister would probably agree, and it remained unchanged for so long and in no way reflected the contribution made by many people in society in helping out the State.

The chief recipients of social welfare are the many people who are unemployed and the stark reality is that many people remain unemployed. Many people who are not unemployed here probably would be so if they had not gone away to work elsewhere, not necessarily by choice.

In relation to the new appeals procedure I would like to mention the delay in reaching decisions particularly regarding claims for long-term disability. Recently an unfortunate person was involved in an accident as a result of which he will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He was in the rehabilitation centre in Rochestown Avenue for nine months and a few more months in another hospital. After all that time, despite medical evidence being submitted, there was a delay in a decision on his application. This seems absolutely crazy. Any non-medical person or any half-wit could have decided what this person needed and should have got without delay. Probably the usual red tape was the reason for the delay. A decision once made can be reviewed. That person, who is going to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life and who spent nearly a year in the rehabilitation centre, is still awaiting a final decision. After a decision is arrived at it may be several weeks before any payment is made. I welcome the provision for independence of the appeals officers but at times the initial decisions are taking far too long. I do not know whether the Department are hamstrung with embargoes or lack of staff. The Minister has to watch for fraud, abuse and so on but in cases where medical evidence has been submitted the matter should not have to go around the Department for everyone to deal with it before a decision is made.

I ask the Minister to ensure that, after a tragic accident when the victim may have difficulty in pursuing his claim, decisions are expedited. The Minister said he is setting up a new office. I hope it will not be inundated like other boards and bodies where there are not enough people to process the applications and where we end up with a log-jam.

The carer's allowance is long overdue. The Minister has described such people as a forgotten army who help an elderly parent, a relative or friend. I hope payment of the allowance will not be hamstrung by the application of a means test and red tape. Where a son or daughter is caring for an elderly parent and a certain income may be coming into the household, what ground rules will be applied? Will the fact that a certain income is coming in vis-á-vzs the other spouse, be a bar? It should not be because these people are saving the State money. It would be ideal if we could keep elderly people out of nursing homes or hospitals and let them stay in the community provided there is a back-up assistance. The allowance is welcome and I hope it is only a start.

I would welcome the special clothing allowance for which the Minister allocated £3 million in the first year. I do not know how many people will qualify but the Minister might indicate exactly what each family or person will get? Will it be per child or per household? How much will be given? the Minister said the allowance will be paid in September This expensive time when clothes, shoes and books have to be bought. It would be ideal if it could be paid sometime in the middle of August so that children can go back to school properly clothed. Perhaps the Minister will indicate what rule of thumb will be used? He mentioned £3 million but I do not know how far that will go, whether it will be per child or per long-term social welfare recipient. Will it be linked to children's allowances? If it will amount to only a few pounds — while everything is a help — it will not go too far.

I am glad that some provision is being made in relation to disability payments and the relaxation of conditions. I would like the Minister to look at the question of one person receiving the allowance although somebody else is in the house. He has applied that to free travel, that is a commonsense approach because it is unrealistic to expect an 80-year old to travel alone. There are certain restrictions in this area but every effort should be made to see that old people are not prevented from travelling because a relative cannot afford to go with them.

I ask the Minister to pay special attention to the provision of electricity and telephone allowances because there are categories of people who do not qualify when the system is rigidly applied. Obviously there must be rules but in cases where a person is disabled or old and not entitled to the full allowance, a partial allowance should be granted, especially for a telephone as it is a necessity where an older person or a person looking after a disabled person is housebound. I ask the Minister to review this with a view to implementing it in the future as people find it hard to pay the rental and telephone costs out of the allowances. There have been cases where, while the Minister's Department paid the rental, the difficulty arose in the installation costs because it is beyond the means of some people to find £90, £100, £150 or £200 for the initial cost. There should be a special allowance for installation or the cost should be phased in over a long period.

I also welcome the lone parent's allowance. The Minister pointed out that while traditionally it relates to the mother it can equally apply to the father. As the Minister said, in many cases the husband or the man of the household is the lone parent. We often talk about women's rights but a man can be left in very difficult circumstances and, given the traditional domestic nature, can at times be left in a worse situation as he has to try to bring up the family as best he can.

I welcome the Bill. I am glad the Minister has gone a certain length but it should be borne in mind that some of the payments which various categories are receiving are very low. The Minister must recognise that many people live on the border of poverty, if not in poverty itself. I fully acknowledge that he is trying to keep everyone happy with limited funds at his disposal. We must look after the long-term unemployed and the aged who have given much service to the country and who deserve and are entitled to live out their last days in dignity.

I know the Minister has made certain progress in relation to the question of social welfare abuse. Questions must be asked before people are granted social welfare because if people abuse the system and rip off the State, the State will never see that money again and sending them to prison is a pointless exercise. We must cut down on the abuse because if there is more money in the kitty other people will benefit. It is important that we continue to look after the less well off in our society. We have to look after many different categories of people. Indeed we would like to do more for them but we have to work in the light of the money available.

I would like the Minister to examine the decision-making process in his Department in order to eliminate delays and mistakes in the future. A complaint about his Department, and indeed many other Departments, is the delay in decision-making. The appeals process is being improved. I would ask that all people should be treated with the dignity they deserve. I am glad I was able to contribute to the Bill.

I welcome the Minister to the House. It is good to see a senior Minister defending his brief in the House rather than hiding behind other people.

Like previous speakers, I believe the concept of a carer's allowance is excellent. It is a very worthwhile development but, while we may have established the principle, we have done little more than that in this Bill. I say that with regret as I do not wish to do down the Bill in any slick way.

People caring for someone at home fall into the category of caring for a child, a spouse, an immediate relation or an immediate neighbour. The fact that the number who qualify has been broadened is welcome, but I believe only a tiny fraction will qualify under the means test. I firmly believe that most carers will be debarred by the means test. I rang the Department yesterday to discuss this matter and I am sure the people to whom I spoke were of the highest professional standard but, unless they made a mistake, it would appear to me to be excruciatingly difficult to qualify for the carer's allowance.

From my experience of dealing with the people I represent in the county electoral areas, it is the unmarried small farmer who minds his aged parents. That pattern is repeated throughout the district. At the outset I must say that they are carers in a very real sense and continue the very noble tradition of affection and care for our old people, which is a wonderful part of our heritage. I am immensely proud of that. They have a tremendous emotional tie to the elderly person and they are very vigilant in caring for the person. They are in regular contact with the medical personnel. They are also preventing the hospitalisation of that elderly person. They would have two difficulties in qualifying for the carer's allowance, but I would be delighted to be told otherwise. First, small farmers at subsistence level would not be considered technically as full-time carers because they have a minor interest in a few sheep in the back field and that debars them from being considered full-time carers. I would like the Minister to assure me that they could be considered as full-time carers. Second, the small income they eke out from harrowing and ploughing the fields would militate against them in qualifying for the allowance.

I am concerned about the carer's allowance on two levels. So many people who are actively caring for someone will be deemed not to be full-time carers in a technical sense. God forbid that anybody would be earning much less than £45 per week, but I think anybody with even a relatively small income would be debarred by the means test from receiving the carer's allowance. I welcome the principle of the carer's allowance but having established the principle we must work to institute a proper carer's allowance. It is important that we place our reservations on the record of the House. It is no exaggeration to say that since the initiation of a Social Welfare Bill I have received quite a number of inquiries about the carer's allowance from bona fide carers. These well intentioned philanthropic people have worked very well in caring for the elderly. It is important that we clarify the issue for those people, and commit ourselves to improving their lot.

The carer's allowance is the central plank of the Social Welfare Bill. The principle of an allowance is good. However, with the greatest respect to the Minister, I have genuine fears about how the allowance will work in practice. I sincerely believe that those with a modicum of income will have difficulty in qualifying for the allowance and, secondly, those who appear to have an outside occupation, such as small farmers, cottage industry or other subsistence level occupations, may technically be debarred from receiving the allowance even though they have committed their entire life to the care of the old person.

I hope the Minister will reassure the House that he is continuing with his efforts to eliminate wastage in social welfare. We should all work very hard to eliminate fraud. We, the politicians, correctly identify the inadequacies of social welfare, the people caught in the poverty trap, but we are also aware that large payments are going by default to people who defraud the system. This is particularly difficult in the Irish context because for historical and cultural reasons we have a tradition of not co-operating with officialdom and bringing areas of fraud to their notice. This is part of our tradition. That makes the job particularly difficult but it is nonetheless important and this issue should be brought to the attention of the House. There are many hearsay reports of massive fraud in social welfare but occasional discoveries are made. We are all aware of areas of fraud and they must be corrected. That would take a lot of courage and political will but it is a job worth doing because a lot of savings would accrue. I hope, when the Minister is summing up, he will tell the House that a very vigilant effort will be made to eliminate fraud in the social welfare system. The money saved could be rechannelled to those in greatest need, and obviously there are many in great need.

I welcome the provision for the poorer families with schoolgoing children. I know, having practised as a teacher for many years but at present on leave of absence, the hardship and difficulty facing parents at the return to school stages of the year, and I genuinely welcome the development in this area. There will have to be some system built into the social welfare code to help families with teenagers attending secondary school. As a teacher and an elected representative I come across many parents of teenagers who are crippled by the expenditure on second level schooling, on examination fees, school tours and so on. Many families on an average income, with teenagers attending second level school are in the poverty trap. I suggest that the funding to deal with that area could be got by a continued programme to eliminate fraud.

Another group whose problems must be addressed in social welfare legislation is women in the home. Their problems are not adequately addressed in this Bill but they will have to be addressed in future Bills. I realise that at times of national stringency there has to be a set of priorities, but I consider this a top priority and I would ask the Minister to address it urgently. We are all committed to the principle that women should be in a position to work. That is an accepted and unquestioned maxim of society, and rightly so. All women should have an opportunity to carve our their identities in the workplace and live a full life at that level. Many women, sometimes by choice, end up as housewives and they experience many difficulties.

We should be under no illusions but that small farmers today are in genuine difficulty, particularly dry stock and tillage farmers and to a growing degree, dairy farmers although their position is not as bad as the other categories. Many small farmers and their families in isolated rural areas are in real difficulty, and I am thinking specifically of the wives of those farmers. A number of these women are in a very vulnerable position as housewives, have very little disposable cash and are in genuine difficulty.

Attempts were made by my party in the past to address this problem but I am honest and open enough to admit that these attempts were not as successful as we would have liked. I commend to the House, and to the Minister specifically, that that area should be considered. It is worthy of once again being put on the political agenda and brought to the attention of the nation. I ask the Minister to go to the Cabinet table with the suggestion that we try to provide an income for women in the home and women in need.

Two groups have contributed in a significant fashion to the entire social welfare debate in recent times, to the evolution of social welfare policy and to our consciousness of the difficulties of the poor. The first is the Combat Poverty Agency who for the first time, have established indisputable objective statistics which are beneficial in our analyses of social welfare needs. No longer are we being subjective or addressing this area in a whimsical way. They have provided us with evidence and some of their statistics are very frightening. We should acknowledge in this House the work of the Combat Poverty Agency.

The second group whose work I would like to publicly acknowledge is the Conference of Major Religious Superiors. I would like to hear the Minister tell the Seanad that he is disappointed that the Taoiseach saw fit in Dáil Éireann some days ago to insult the Conference of Major Religious Superiors when he said he was not interested in anything superior or major. That was a regrettable remark. I honestly think — and I say this in a very positive spirit — that the Conference of Major Religious Superiors have made a very positive and worthwhile contribution to the debate on poverty, social welfare and the evolution of our society. There are many smart critics of contemporary religion who would like to pretend that the Church is unaware of the problems of society and the needs of those on the fringe of society, those in the poverty trap and those less capable of shouting. That is why I am encouraged by the Conference of Major Religious Superiors and their work. Here is a beacon of light within the institutional Church. I have always been extremely impressed by their work and I was genuinely horrified to hear the Taoiseach use them as the butt of a joke in the Dáil recently. I hope the Minister will distance himself from that remark and tell the House that he values their contribution, as I am sure he does. I hope the Minister will take on board my comments.

I apologise for coming in late but I will be very brief. This Social Welfare Bill continues with the great strides that have already been made in the social welfare code. As we know, many improvements have been made and various social welfare schemes and services have been introduced in this Bill. I understand the Minister said it is the largest piece of social welfare legislation for almost 40 years. He must be warmly congratulated for his very caring approach to this problem. Of course, like everybody else, he would like to do much more but he must be reasonably happy with the social welfare allocation in the 1990 budget.

One aspect of social welfare which interests me — and I have spoken to the Minister about this matter on a few occasions — is the question of money-lending. This matter is not referred to in the Bill but it is an aspect which interests me. I would welcome new tough measures to curb the activities of illegal moneylenders whether that means that the Department of Justice or the Department of Social Welfare, or both, will be involved. From what I know of the problem new measures to curb these activities are necessary. Pending the introduction of the legislation every effort must be made, through education and counselling, to encourage people to become savers through the credit unions, the Post Office, banks and building societies. The VECs should be asked to educate those who are on a low income about proper budgeting and saving.

The Bill represents a major advance in social welfare legislation. It introduces two important schemes, the carer's allowance and the lone parent's allowance. It is agreed that the burden of caring for elderly incapacitated relatives has been done by women over the years. With little recognition, sons, daughters-in-law, daughters, sisters and wives have cared for ailing relatives at home. In the process they saved the State millions of pounds. The new carer's allowance gives meaningful recognition to what has been in the main women's work in the home. The Bill is a landmark in social welfare legislation.

The present prescribed relative's allowance is a restricted scheme. We have been told that the new allowance will apply to as many as 8,000 people, including non-relatives giving full-time care to incapacitated pensioners. The change in the name of the allowance is breaking new ground because it gives carers official recognition instead of them being regarded as relatives. There are limitations. The new measure applies only to carers of old age pensioners or those in receipt of invalidity or blind pensions. It will depend on the means of the pensioner. Nonetheless it represents a progressive step, one that can be built on in the future. It is unfortunate that the carers of handicapped non-pensioners are not included but, like other schemes that contained anomalies, after it is introduced I have no doubt it will be extended in the coming years. The Minister has recognised the need to give financial assistance to full-time carers and there is scope to examine the various categories in the future.

We are all aware that the number of people incapacitated and in need of care is on the increase. From my involvement with the Arthritis Foundation of Ireland I am aware that those with complaints such as arthritis, Alzheimer's Disease and elderly people live longer. The Bill recognises that in that it provides for the payment of an allowance to carers. The Bill also provides for the introduction of the lone parent's allowance to replace existing allowances such as the deserted wife's benefit, prisoner's wife's allowance and deserted husband's allowance. Those categories failed to qualify under the existing scheme but will be included under the lone parent's allowance. Separated, as opposed to deserted wives, who are not being maintained, single fathers and prisoners' husbands looking after children will be included. That was a progressive move by the Minister. I have always maintained that the income is the problem and that is addressed in the Bill. Men can qualify for the full-time carer's allowance and it is important that such benefits should extend to them. All allowances should be paid on the basis of need and function and not on the basis of sex, marital or social categories. There are many far-reaching improvements in the Bill and I warmly congratulate the Minister on introducing them.

I should like to thank Senators for their contributions on the Bill. The discussion was wide ranging. I should like to deal with a number of points raised by Senator Fallon. He referred to the size of the Bill and I agree with him that it is the biggest Bill in content for almost 40 years. I accept that many problems remain to be solved. We have tackled quite a few of them in the Bill and I am happy with the support the new measures have received in both Houses. Senator Fallon who referred to illegal money-lending asked if any advances have been made in regard to them. The short answer is that the plans we set in motion are working. I do not wish to say too much about this topic at this stage. The Senator will be aware we established a supervisory committee to look after the loan guarantee fund which I provided.

We have adopted a nationwide co-ordinated approach to tackle the problem and to assist people who want to get out of the grips of moneylenders. We are getting the co-operation of the Irish League of Credit Unions, the Irish Banks Standing Committee, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the community welfare service of the Eastern Health Board, the voluntary social services and officers from my Department. The scheme is doing very well but there is a desire not to broadcast the progress it is making. There is great interest in the subject in the media and that can cause great difficulty for those who are doing the work. They have asked me to let them get on with the job with a promise to produce a report in due course. I expect that early in the summer we will have a comprehensive report from those involved. To some extent the scheme is going too well because the people involved are finding that it is taking up a good deal of their time.

Many Senators mentioned the carer's allowance. They are correct in stating that old age pensioners, invalidity pensioners and blind pensioners are included but in the Dáil I moved an amendment on Committee Stage, which was approved, to include those who are in receipt of a prescribed payment under section 69 of the Health Act, 1970. It is important to stress that I got approval from the Government for that amendment because approval means the allocation of more money. There is a substantial amount of money involved in that extension. Basically, I want to get the scheme up and running. In the Bill I am seeking power to introduce a scheme and it will have to be operated in a controlled way. Once it is up and running we will see where we are going and, if necessary, introduce changes.

We estimate that we will be bringing in about 8,000 people into the scheme. Under the amendment which was approved by the Dáil I have power to include those in receipt of the DPMA who are incapacitated and in need of full-time care and attention. Those who qualify under that extension have not been included in the Department's estimate of 8,000. That point has been missed by most people who have commented on the new scheme. I do not wish to create any false impressions about the new scheme but the moment one mentions a carer's allowance many of those who are providing care feel that they qualify. We could be involved in the expenditure of millions of pounds if there was no control on the scheme. When the scheme is up and running we will be in a position to judge it.

People talked about the means tests that are applied but there is scope to vary them as we go along to see where we can apply them. The definition here gives me, as Minister, the power to include a person who is in receipt of a prescribed payment under section 69 of the Health Act, 1970; which people bring in has yet to be worked out. Obviously those we have in mind are the people in need of full-time care and attention who are very much in need of the carer's support. Obviously this is associated with a disabled person's maintenance allowance, which means there is a means tested scheme in operation in that household already. On the means basis, we will have to set it up, see how many people are involved and see where we go from there. Several Senators made the point that money could be saved if these people did not have to go into hospitals. That is something that can be seen, debated and argued as we go along. Obviously anyone who gets full-time care and attention at home will be saving a hospital bed or a home from having to provide care.

The object is to keep as many people as possible in the community and, of course, to do it within the financial constraints under which I have to operate. I managed to get extra money to do that this year. Probably the reason this was not done in previous years was that they could not get any extra money. I got the money, I set up the scheme and all I hear is: that it is a nice idea but it will not work, because we have not given enough. We really have to look again at what are we doing. My officials estimate that the number of people who will be entitled to receive this allowance will be 8,000. That does not include the people who might come in under the disabled persons maintenance allowance. The principal requirement at this stage is to get the scheme through and operating. A number of people were concerned about how and when it would operate and what the constraints on it would be. It will be brought in by regulations which will define all these issues.

The purpose of the Bill is we give certain power to me, as Minister, but I have to specify exactly how that power is to be exercised and where it will apply, and relate that to financial considerations. I have here the regulations we brought in recently for the pre-retirement allowance. Deputies in the other House were very surprised to find that these regulations are quite substantial — this is a major document. There are many implications in these regulations, but some Senators might think preparing such a document would be simple. People over 60, in certain circumstances defined in the Bill, will be able to have their long-term unemployment assistance payments made in pension book form instead of having to sign on. To make those changes and to stay within the legislation — everyone is welcome to look at the regulations — is quite a complex task. That is what regulations are all about. The Minister for Social Welfare is being given the power to make these regulations within certain overall parameters. There is scope within those regulations, which is limited by resources and by the amount of money available in a particular year, for the carer's allowance. We will set up this scheme and get it into operation for October. This is an historic breakthrough and, in the future, this scheme can be fine tuned and developed as resources become available and we can prove that it will save money but we have to show that we will have a better system at the end of the day, especially if we are talking about spending millions of pounds on this scheme. In that sense I am particularly pleased that this scheme is being introduced.

The lone parent's allowance is another scheme we are introducing. This development has come about because, over the last couple of years, I have been fitting different pieces in place and now we are in a position to bring in the lone parent's allowance scheme. Deputy Flaherty, Fine Gael's spokesperson in the other House, recognised and identified that fact. She could see that I had been bringing the different pieces together to get into a position where we could take this step. The lone parent's allowance scheme means averaging people upwards in money terms, it means removing some of the restrictions and bringing in separated people, for instance it removes the need to prove who has been deserted. It is a very important change, it is a very big change, it is a very fundamental change in our legislation. The implications are considerable, and some of them relate to staffing. Some staff will now be able to tackle other aspects of that scheme to improve its effectiveness and efficiency. I accept most people have welcomed that in a very straightforward way.

We have had a number of suggestions about what we might do. Several Senators, including Senator Neville mentioned exempting the first £2,500. What we have done is to exempt people below a limit of roughly £3,000, or £60 per week. We have given an undertaking to examine all the implications of the other aspects of the PRSI and tax systems. One way or the other, most people would agree it is important to exempt the people at the lower level. This measure will cost £11 million in a full year and £8 million this year. To take the step suggested by Fine Gael Senators today of exempting the first £2,500 would cost £309 million because this would apply to everybody — the person in the highest income bracket as well as people at the other end of the scale. If I had £309 million there are many areas I could spend it more effectively than spreading it right across the whole spectrum. There are other ways to help the people the Senators are talking about that would be much less expensive, and I am certainly prepared to have them examined.

A group was set up immediately after the budget to examine some of these implications and possibilities and we are looking at their proposals. What appears to be a very simple proposal is not quite so simple when you examine it. The proposal that has been adopted is relatively simple, even if it causes a few administrative difficulties. Nevertheless, from a cost point of view you can see that it would not be feasible.

Senator Neville raised a number of points. He spoke about carers and the question of means and income disregard, which was also raised by some other Senators. The problem with income disregard when you have a limited amount of money, say £50 million or as I have, £216 million in total, is who you give it to first. Do you give it to the person who has no income or to the person who has an income? Problems can arise in situations where the levels are below the targets you want to reach. I have gone a long way towards reaching targets and, as I have pointed out, we have reached the main targets. We have exceeded the priority targets set by the Commission on Social Welfare in some cases and reached the priority targets in many cases.

While I am trying to get these people up to the priority targets I have to spend the money on the people who have no other means because obviously they are, by definition, the people who are worse off. Consequently, I am concentrating on giving the resources to people with the lowest means. When I get up to targets all round, then I can turn around and say, "There are other things I would like to do as well". Obviously, if I can do a certain amount as I go along that will be helpful, and I will try to do what I can in that respect.

In relation to the income disregard, it has been suggested that we should disregard £30. It may seem a small enough thing to disregard £30 but the cost of doing that would be £60 million. Needless to say the people who would have this amount disregarded would be quite pleased but the people who do not have an income other than the basic income we are paying them would hardly thank us for spending £60 million on that at this time. This is something I will certainly have to give further attention to in the future. The reason for taking the line I have taken should be fairly clear.

Senator Neville welcomed the new appeals office and felt that it should be independent. I want to make it very clear that the appeals system is independent. The High Court has said it is independent and there is no question about that. There was a question about its independence because it is within the Department of Social Welfare. For that reason I am putting it out as a separate office, letting it be completely separate in its operation and giving it additional staff, a director of its own and a chief appeals officer. Work on the new premises is well underway at this stage and should be completed within a couple of months. The Office of Public Works are working on the new office at present and it will be put into operation as early as possible. This is a major step ahead. I am taking this step in order to improve the system, make it more efficient and let it be seen to be independent, which it is. I know that the system is independent.

As Minister for Social Welfare I know everything that goes on, day in and day out in my Department. That is my job. I know that the system operates separately and independently. However, I also know that there is a certain perception about it because it is within the Department and is administered by the Department. This was done originally for efficiency because of the administration within the Department. We have now decided, at some extra expense, to give it a separate administration so that it will provide more information to people. They will see a change in the system and I believe the best thing to do at this stage is to let it operate and then see how it is working. I am very confident it is going to be a very much improved system and arrangement, and I believe Senators will see that that is the case in due course.

Senator Neville also raised the question of mixed insurance. The problem with mixed insurance is that it runs into everything currently as well as past. It is a current, a continuing and a future problem as well as a past problem. People were affected by it in the past, people are currently being affected by it and people will be affected in the future. Only half the public service are in the full system. At present 160,000 people on the lower rates are not in the system, 140,000 of whom are in the public service. As long as that situation continues there will be difficulties with mixed insurance when people move from one area to another, even within the public service.

This matter is being examined by a committee within the Department and the National Pensions Board to see how the problems can be resolved. It may well be that the only one way to resolve it is to have more uniformity. I want Senators to understand that I took the other question because it had a beginning and an ending; I was able to segregate it and have it done on the pro rata basis but the mixed insurance matter will not have an ending until the other things are put in perspective or the whole scheme changes.

Senator Ó Cuív welcomed various measures, in particular the old age pension, the health exemption and the question of mná tí. He was concerned about smallholders, the review of means and the need to encourage them to earn income where that is possible. There is a similar problem across the country in relation to the reduction on a £1 for £1 basis. Incidentally, Senator Ó Foighil who spoke about this reduction did not realise that a person lost £1.40 for every £1 they earned before I took up office. He criticised me for the things I did when I was first in office and said that I should have known better and done a lot more. At that time a person would have lost £1.40 for every £1 but I managed to get it first to £1.30, then to £1.20 and then to £1 for £1. The next step is to make provision for people to get back into the workforce. I am very conscious of the need to do this. Senator Ó Cuív had a particular concern about own produce consumed, about which I am also concerned. I will undertake to have a look at this question.

Senator Ó Cuív also referred to the importance of computerisation and complimented the staff involved. There is a large number of staff involved and some will cause problems but in general they have been helpful. Things have been changing very rapidly and they have had to adapt to computerisation and all the other changes we have brought in. If we look at the number of changes which have taken place in the past two years we will see just how good the staff have been in implementing those changes and how helpful they have been.

Senator Jackman had a very strong interest in education and training. I agree with what she said, but, as I think the Senator appreciates, it is not all within my brief. We have taken steps in relation to education, for example the VTOS which will be extended much wider. There are 13 centres at present and the number will be increased. Staff have to be provided for each scheme and a formal, set arrangement is involved. The other regulations allow much wider involvement. For instance, the Dublin VEC have said that under the other regulations they will be able to provide one thousand places alone. I will continue to communicate with other VECs and educational establishments because I have totally changed the scheme under those regulations. It is wide open now and it is a question of getting on with implementing it and making sure people know about it. Before Christmas and the budget I asked the educational establishments to come forward with proposals in that whole area because of their association with and the very large capacity and resource they have in that area. I look forward to the proposals which they will bring forward in due course. I have not received any yet.

The Senator mentioned the exemption of the £2,500 and I told him about the problem in relation to that. I am sorry the Senator feels I am failing to fundamentally reform the system. It will, however, be very different from what it was two years ago and much better for the people who are in it. One cannot change the whole system overnight because every change has some unexpected effects. The reform, therefore, has to be built in and monitored carefully. I am trying to do that in many areas. In another year or two one will not recognise the social welfare system compared with the system we had two or three years ago. Various people have made comparisons between what we are and are not doing and what was done earlier. I will not get involved in this to any great extent except to say that from 1983 to 1986 the increase for the long-term unemployed was 14.1 per cent, allowing for inflation. In 1987 there was very little movement because it was a very difficult year but from 1987 to 1990 there was an increase of 25.6 per cent — nearly twice the level of increase has been achieved. It is important to recognise that there is real improvement. The same applies to short-term unemployment where the increase is from 5.9 per cent to 17.2 per cent. Listening to debates here or in the Lower House, one would begin to wonder if we are doing anything and what sort of people we are to let things get as bad as has been suggested. But, as a result of the recent increases, our rates of benefit compare very favourably with the rates in the United Kingdom and the North. After adjusting for the differences in currency, our personal rate of unemployment benefit is £48 compared with the United Kingdom rate of £37. Our long-term unemployment rate is higher than the benefit rate at £52 and not £48. For a couple with two children it is almost £102 for us compared with £96.50 in the United Kingdom. The widow's pension is £56 here and £43 in the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom they have extras for children, but we are still ahead with £86 for a widow with two children compared with the North or the United Kingdom where she gets £79.40. Disability benefit is £101.80 compared with £96 in the United Kingdom. Our payments now compare very favourably with those in the North and in most cases they are higher.

It is important for Senators and Deputies to recognise that although we may have deficiencies, we want to do something about them and we are making progress and contributing very substantial amounts towards improving to that end.

The question of children was raised. When we took office there were no income tax concessions to families with children; they had just been abolished, and that may or may not have been wise. The result was that the tax system did not cover children. We set about correcting this by introducing a special child tax exemption of £200 per child as part of the poverty package to cater for people at work on low incomes as well as those on social welfare. That has now been raised to £300 per child in the 1990 budget. Senator Ó Cuív referred to that and pointed to some figures. Because of those child tax allowances a family with five children on £8,000 is exempt from tax. There is a marginal exemption then for those earning between £8,000 and about £11,000. This will be monitored and measured and can be improved on if it is found to be effective. We are beginning to see the results of the implementation of this measure. This is certainly one way in which we can bring about an improvement in the circumstances of families on lower incomes.

We have also substantially improved the family income supplement for families at work by increasing the maximum amount which a family with four children can receive, from £22 to £42 per week. The families in receipt of social welfare benefits have also gained substantial increases.

I am conscious that it is families who are most at risk and the aim of the ESRI study is not to prove there are one million people in poverty, because many people on social welfare have other incomes. We have to talk about what we are paying to people on assistance and means-tested schemes. The ESRI studies did not set out to identify an absolute level of poverty. They state clearly that they cannot and did not set out to identify it. They set up models with a view to seeing what happens over a number of years. These data were collected in 1986 and 1987. The Combat Poverty Agency report is also based on data collected in 1986 and at the beginning of 1987.

Much has happened since then. I am not saying that people have been brought completely out of the difficulties they have but there have been substantial increases. Notwithstanding that, the people most at risk, whose position has been improved because we have spent a good deal of money, are those with families, and the larger the family the greater the risk. We have done a good deal to try to address that but it must still be a focus of attention. Before I leave that subject let me say that although most people have been marking time to try to get the economy and the country back in line, the Government have given increases to those who depend on social welfare.

There has been much discussion about poverty and what it is. I take the view that we should take things as they are and do something to improve payments for people on low incomes. In a recent document called Doctrine in Life, Paul Bowe, OP, looking at the question of theology and social analysis pointed out that a major problem seemed to arise with the nature and scope of all social analysis; that a whole array of social sciences was involved, social philosophy and institutions, economics, sociology, anthropology, social psychology and maybe most essentially social history. He said it must be emphasised that these sciences are not like other disciplines such as mathematics, physics or chemistry, in which the terms used have a precise well-defined technical content and meaning, the conclusions of which can be demonstrated fairly rigorously to be either true or false. He said that by contrast the social sciences use terminology which is frequently inexact and vague. He then mentioned democracy, liberty and, of course, poverty and inequality. He went on to say that since they deal with human ideals, institutions and behaviour, living conditions, personal and social relationships, authority and law, etc., they are emotionally loaded and frequently arouse passions which, to say the least, are not conducive to objective and disinterested research. Even so-called facts are not always what they seem to be.

What is happening is that people are taking research which is intended for one purpose and using it for a different purpose. They are missing the basic point. The figures are of value and are a very important guide for the future but they are being used in an incorrect way. People have been harping for years about the one million poor. That is the catch phrase. It is a very emotional one which is used as a headline by the media. If within that million there are people who are really poor, those who have been identified by the ESRI as most in need of assistance, then by spreading resources too widely we are doing them a disservice. That is what is happening.

I must counteract this by saying that no matter what is said I will do what is right. That is why in addition to giving special increases to the long-term unemployed we are also giving special increases to 16 other categories. If I had the resources, their increases would be bigger because I must direct such resources as are available to the people who need them most. That is what I intend to do.

We may be able to do something new on the figures in the near future. Work is still being done using that data base. Examination of some cases is being done to see what has happened since. It is time to look at the figures in the context of 1990, not 1986.

Some Senators mentioned the exemption at £50 and there was reference to the case of somebody who might be on £45. By going to £55 we will meet that situation. There are difficulties in proceeding along that line. The whole question is being examined in the current household study which we hope will come up with information which will assist in deciding how to arrange matters for the future.

Senator Hanafin noted a major development in that separated spouses are now included and it is no longer necessary to prove desertion. It is an important point which will make a big difference when it is incorporated in the regulations.

Senator Upton seemed to think we were not doing enough about information. We have greatly improved the information service in the Department. More people are employed there and more information is being disseminated. All the leaflets are being upgraded and we have standardised the approach in social welfare offices around the country. Standard display units are being used. We want to do much more in this area but many improvements have been made in the past two years. We have involved the voluntary agencies in various fora, particularly in the pre-budget period. They are also involved in some other aspects of the service.

I was asked what is to happen in regard to the £3 million clothing subsidy. The details will be worked out fairly soon and it will be in operation by September. I appreciate what the Senators have said about getting the scheme in place as early as possible. I would envisage something along the lines of the footwear scheme. There are all sorts of complications because every health board is doing something different. In some areas schemes are in place which are paying amounts higher than we could possibly afford while in other areas people are getting nothing. We have to work on finding a balance. The footwear scheme will give some idea of the possible outcome.

Senator Upton raised the case of people who may be working part-time for 17½ hours per week. This is the kind of thing which led me to instigate the examination which is going on. Senator Upton also said that anyone in receipt of unemployment benefit is poor. This is not necessarily the case. There are many cases of people drawing benefit who have retired on pension, sometimes a very big pension. They will also draw unemployment benefit for a period of approximately 15 months. After that they will be claiming credits so they will still be on the register. At present 17,000 people are claiming credits. It is a distortion to include these people among the unemployed. Perhaps half this number are available for and actively seeking employment. Others have effectively gone out of the workforce but want to keep their contributions credited. There are all sorts of vagaries like this within the scheme. Senator Upton might more accurately have referred to people in receipt of long-term unemployment assistance. A person who was self-employed can qualify for short-term unemployment assistance and then go back into employment, but those who are obviously poorest are those on long-term unemployment assistance. Various groups have highlighted this fact.

Senator Ross said there was no mention of abuses. I could talk about such matters but this is a debate on the contents of the Bill, not an Estimates debate. Senator O'Reilly urged me to continue tackling fraud and abuse. I assure him that we are carrying on our programme against this continuing problem. The saving this year under fraud control measures is a further £40 million. That sum has been put back into the system. The Government have allowed me to do so because we have made a saving.

Senator Ross wants us to study the black economy. Some of the things said about the black economy are true and some aspects are very substantial. Measures are demanded and we are taking them. One of the most recent measures is concerned with tackling subcontractors in certain industries. It was put into effect only at the beginning of this year but it will have a major impact.

Senator Ross wanted to extend means tests to all social welfare beneficiaries. I would be opposed to that, although I know some people would be in favour. I believe the social insurance fund is particularly important to workers. They have a right to receive a pension and such benefits as unemployment and disability benefit and invalidity pension. They do not have to undergo a means test and that is very important for workers. It is only when they run out of contributions that they have to be means tested. The pension is permanent. If one talks to any widow who receives a pension they will soon find out how important it is to have the right to receive a pension. The tax system is there to even things off. If people have a big pension from somewhere else as well as a social welfare pension the tax system is the ultimate leveller. I would not go along with them on that idea.

Senator Foley stressed the need to target our resources and I accept what he had to say in that regard. In relation to appeals he was anxious that the same assessors will be available. I want to assure him that the same system will operate. He also wanted to know if it will be faster. Part of the idea in providing extra resources is to ensure that appeals will be processed more quickly. I would also like to emphasise that while the central office will be in Dublin, the arrangements which have applied up to now will continue to be applied all around the country and it will be our intention to improve the situation.

Senator Foley was also concerned about the self-employed over 60 years of age who pay into the system but receive no benefits. If married, their spouse would qualify for the widow's pension. I know people do not regard that as a particular benefit but their spouse would qualify for benefit. The main inhibition to bringing those people in, even if they continued to pay for a number of extra years, is the very high cost involved. I want to assure Senator Foley that the scheme will be assessed, as promised, at the end of this year.

Senator Ó Foighil had a number of things to say. He felt the provision in relation to mná tí should have been included a long time ago. It is being included now and I am very pleased to make this arrangement in relation to mná tí who take on students of the Irish language. They make a very important contribution and I am particularly happy to be able to make these arrangements for them.

Senator Ó Foighil spoke about me and referred to previous Ministers. I am the longest serving Minister of Social Welfare and have some experience in the area. However, he missed the fact that during the three-year period 1980-82 — as Senators know we were out of office for part of 1981 — old age pensioners got three 25 per cent increases in a row. This is one of the reasons the ESRI do not consider old age pensioners to be one of the groups at risk. We increased their payments on purpose in 1980, 1981 and 1982 by 25 per cent during which time I was Minister for Social Welfare. Senator Ó Foighil seemed to think I did not do anything during my term in office as Minister for Social Welfare and he seemed to have missed that point.

The second point the Senator seems to have missed is that over that three-year period we increased the payments to the long-term unemployed by 11 per cent each year. The Senator also seemed to miss the fact that this is the most comprehensive Social Welfare Bill since 1952. He was also concerned about smallholders and wants people to be able to do some work. I have made the system much more flexible and plan to go further. The problem is that if we wish to bring in flexibility we could not just bring it in relation to one group only; we would have to bring it in relation to all groups. The Senator wants me to grant more waivers in the Connemara area. However, people in other parts of the country would make a similar call. The Senator also mentioned the need to raise means but I explained earlier where the difficulty lies. I agree with the Senator in general that we must encourage people to get back into the workforce and earn. We will have this objective.

Senator Cosgrave wants faster decisions in disability benefit cases. I have noted that point and convey what he had to say to the Department. The Senator also wanted to know if there are enough people in the appeals section. I could give him the figures; they are not as bad as people think. As I mentioned earlier, I will try to make it more efficient. I have already got approval for some additional staff and we will see an improvement. When it is open and operating I could arrange for more Senators and Deputies who are interested to come along and meet the staff there because I think it would be worth people's time to see what is being done.

I do not want to delay the House unduly but the Senators asked me so many questions about different things that I could go on for quite some time. I was to due to attend an official function but as the time has passed by at this stage I will just send my best wishes. One of the problems Ministers face when making official arrangement to attend functions is that they may have difficulty in meeting them.

Senator Cosgrave also referred to the question of phones and need for phased installation costs. As a Deputy I have organised some phased installation costs. I am probably not supposed to say that but there are bona fide cases where, as Senators and Deputies are probably aware, this can be done. Perhaps Telecom could consider this in relation to particular groups of people as I do not think we should ask the Department of Social Welfare to do everything all the time. People on the street do not seem to realise that the Department of Social Welfare pay CIE £28 million to provide free transport and they seem to think that it is CIE who provide this service. I feel commercial organisations, in relation to particular groups who are particularly deserving, should at least come part of the way. Developments such as phased installation costs for particular categories could be considered by Telecom in the first instance. Senator Cosgrave also suggested that we keep an eye on abuse and continue to direct resources towards the less well off. He certainly identified what I am trying to do.

Senator O'Reilly referred in great detail to carers. He also mentioned the small farmer who if in receipt of a full payment, would be unlikely to benefit. The Senator was probably talking about bachelors but in the case of a small farmer with a wife, the wife would qualify where somebody else, such a parent, is living in the house. That is a big advance. We may have to consider bachelors in the longer term. As I said, the details will be set out in the regulations before October. I noted the points made by Senators here and by Deputies and we will bear these in mind in implementing and progressing the scheme.

In relation to the lone parent allowance, and this relates to many of the other things we are doing, we have taken a major step in introducing this allowance and in streamlining the schemes for persons with similar needs, such as lone parents with a responsibility to look after one or more children. I regard it as particularly important that we get into legislation the concept of a separate allowance. We could then start to work on that concept and improve it. We are being given power in this legislation to do things from here on. Now that the concept of a separate allowance for lone parents is being enshrined in legislation we must go further and ask what further policy measures we should be considering to meet the changing and diverse needs of that section of the community.

One obvious policy area is the need to introduce measures which will maximise the opportunities for lone parents to achieve some degree of financial independence. Here I am talking about the provision of opportunities to improve educational levels. When we talk about lone parents we are talking about what would previously be known as deserted wives, unmarried mothers, deserted husbands, widowers and widows. We are talking here about opportunities to improve the education level for these people, because, even though we improve the levels of payment for them, they are caught at those levels. While we can argue about what those levels of payment are, how good they are or how good they are not, we want to see those people getting going beyond those levels. We are talking about opportunities to improve the educational levels, the skill levels and even the confidence levels that will facilitate a return to the workforce. Allied to those opportunities is the availability of assistance to find suitable employment and access to suitable child care facilities at a reasonable cost.

Take the unmarried mother for instance — she will be a lone parent when this legislation is passed, let us not forget that. The term "unmarried mother" will be gone from our legislation. That is what we are doing in this Bill. As far as these people are concerned, we do not want to see them stay on the level that can be provided by social assistance. We want to give assistance to those who can, and who want to get back into the labour force. That is particularly difficult for them for many different and practical reasons. We want to provide the kind of support and child care facilities, or support to get child care facilities, and allowances to let them start earning their way back into the market. There are some allowances there, but in the future we must concentrate on this area and develop it.

One of the common objections I get, very amusing in one way, from unmarried mothers is that they are not allowed into the Jobsearch programme. I have to listen to people saying the Jobsearch programme does nothing for you but that programme provides opportunities for courses as a priority for the long-term unemployed. Since people are not in the category of the long-term unemployed, they cannot get into that programme, and they want to get back into the workforce.

Another measure worthy of consideration is continuing some form of payment whether related to child dependant allowances, rent assistance or other specific needs, for a specified period after entering the workforce. I am very conscious of these needs and of the fact that this is the direction in which our policy should be going. I believe these are important questions for consideration in the context of further developing our resources to meet the needs of lone parents in a changing society. In this Bill we are taking a very major step in relation to lone parents and I am indicating the kind of things that are in my mind in this regard and the way in which that whole scheme could be developed for the future.

I thank Senators for their contributions and I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and declared carried.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.