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Committee on Finance. - Vote 47—Social Welfare.

Thursday, 13 October 1966

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 224 No. 9

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Minister for Social Welfare (Mr. Boland): Information on Kevin Boland Zoom on Kevin Boland Tairgim:

Go ndeonófar suim nach mó ná £42,203,000 chun íoctha an mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31ú lá de Mhárta, 1967, le haghaidh Tuarastail agus Costais Oifig an Aire Leasa Shóisialaigh, le hagaidh Seirbhísí áirithe atá faoi riaradh na hOifige sin, le haghaidh íocaíochtaí leis an gCiste Árachais Shóisialaigh, agus le haghaidh Ildeontas.

'Sé £42,203,000 an méid glan atá ag teastáil le haghaidh seirbhísí leasa shóisialaigh don bhliain 1966-67. Is méadú de £6,695,000 é sin ar an mbunsoláthar don bhliain 1965-66. Séard is cúis leis an méadú mór seo ná gur árdaíodh rátaí cúnaimh shóisialaigh ó thosach mí Lúnasa, 1965, agus rátaí árachais shóisialaigh ó thosach mí Eanáir, 1966. Meastar go gcosnóidh na méadaithe sin maille leis na feabhsaithe eile a rinneadh ins na scéimeanna tuairim is naoi milliún go leith punt i rith na bliana seo. Beidh tuairim is milliún eile de bhreis caiteachais i mbliana toisc líon na néilitheoirí a bheith ag dul i méid, agus dá bhrí sin meastar go mbeidh beagnach £10,500,000 ag teastáil i mbliana thar mar a deonadh don bhliain seo chaite. Táthar ag súil, ámh, le teacht isteach breise de £4 milliún toisc gur árdaíodh na rátaí ranníoca ó thosach mí Eanáir, [1325] 1966, agus gur árdaíodh an teorainn árachais ó £800 go £1,200 le héifeacht ó mhí Meán Fómhair, 1965. Mar sin tá suim ghlan de tuairim is sé mhilliún go leith punt sa bhreis ag teastáil.

B'fhéidir gur cheart dom a rá go bhfuil comparáid á dhéanamh agam idir Meastachán 1966-67 agus Bun-Mheastachán 1965-66 de réir mar a taispeántar iad i Leabhar na Meastachán. Is eol do Theachtaí, ámh, gur aontaíodh le Meastachán Forlíontach i mí Márta seo chaite chun an caiteachas breise ó mí Lúnasa, 1965, ar sheirbhísí cúnaimh agus ó mí Eanáir, 1966, ar sheirbhísí árachais a íoc. Chuir an Meastachán Forlíontach san £3,835,000 sa bhreis ar fáil don bhliain 1965-66, agus nuair a chuirtear an tsuim sin san áireamh sé £2,860,000 an tsuim bhreise atá ag teastáil don bhliain seo thar mar a deonadh anuraidh.

Tá £176,000 sa bhreis de dhíth i gcóir costais riaracháin i mbliana. I gcás árachais shóisialaigh, siad na seirbhísí is mó is cúis leis an méadú ná sochar míchumais, breis agus dhá mhilliún punt, pinsin seanaoise ranníocacha £1,850,000, sochar dífhostaíochta, tuairim is milliún punt, agus pinsin baintrí, breis agus milliún go leith punt. I gcás cúnaimh shóisialaigh tá breis agus dhá mhilliún go leith punt ag teastáil le haghaidh pinsin seanaoise, £813,000 le haghaidh cúnamh dífhostaíochta agus £400,000 le haghaidh pinsin baintrí. Tá £50,000 sa bhreis ag teastáil le haghaidh liúntais leanaí toisc líon na leanbh cáilithe a bheith ag dul i méid in aghaidh na bliana.

The net Estimate for my Department for the financial year 1966-67 is £42,203,000 as compared with an original Estimate of £35,508,000 for the year 1965-66. The increase of £6,695,000 is a consequence of the very substantial improvements in the social services resulting from the enactment of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1965. When that measure was before the House in June of last year, I pointed out that its provisions were expected to increase the gross expenditure on social welfare by £9.53 million in a full year. This estimate still stands. In fact the total gross cost of the assistance and insurance services, leaving out administration [1326] costs, is expected to be higher by £10,479,000 in the current year than the original Estimate for last year. About £9½ million of this is attributable to the legislation I have just mentioned, and the balance reflects mainly an upward trend in expenditure.

In regard to administration—Subheads A to D of the Estimate—there is an overall increase of £176,000. Slightly over half of this increase is in respect of salaries, wages and allowances, reflecting the higher levels of remuneration arising from salary revisions in recent years. In addition to the 1,947 officers shown at Part III of the Estimate, provision is made under Subhead A for the remuneration of 87 managers of branch employment offices and 323 clerks to old age pension committees and sub-committees. The increase of £37,760 under Subhead D is caused by an increase of 20 per cent in the capitation rate on which payments to medical certifiers for the issue of free medical certificates to insured persons are based.

Under Subhead E—Payment to the Social Insurance Fund—there is an increase of £2,732,000. As Deputies are aware, this is a net subhead which provides only for the portion of the cost of the insurance services falling on the Exchequer. The detailed estimate of the expenditure and income of the Fund is set out in the appendix to the published Estimate. It will be seen from the appendix that the estimated total cost of the insurance benefits in the current year is £30,591,000 as compared with £24,024,000 for 1965-66. The services primarily responsible for this increase of £6,567,000 are disability benefit £2,044,000, old age (contributory) pensions £1,850,000, unemployment benefit £1,000,000 approximately and widows' and orphans' (contributory) pensions £1,538,000. These increases are, of course, a reflection of the substantially increased rates of payment which came into operation at the beginning of January last. The income of the Fund is expected to increase by £4,000,000 as compared with last year because of the increased contribution rates effective from January, 1966, and the [1327] raising of the insurability limit for non-manual workers from £800 to £1,200 from September, 1965. The net result is that the payment from the Exchequer to the Social Insurance Fund is estimated at £12,450,000 as compared with £9,718,000 last year.

In the case of Social Assistance— Subheads G to K—the estimated increase is £3,912,000. Non-contributory old age pensions are responsible for £2,635,000 of the increase, unemployment assistance for £813,000 and widows' and orphans' non-contributory pensions for £400,000. These increases are due very largely to the higher rates of payment in operation since August, 1965, and also, in the case of unemployment assistance, to the change as from January, 1966, in the method of assessing the means of smallholders in congested districts. An increase of £50,000 is forecast under Subhead H—Children's Allowances— because of a continuing upward trend in the number of qualified children.

The comparisons I have made between the estimated expenditure for this year and for last year are based on the figures in the published Estimates Volume for 1966-67. In other words, I have compared the Estimate for 1966-67 with the original Estimate for 1965-66. Deputies are aware that in March last the House agreed to a Supplementary Estimate was required mainly to meet the increased cost in 1965-66 of the provisions of the 1965 Act. Thus, while the figures shown in the current Estimates Volume in respect of 1965-66 do not represent the full estimated expenditure in that year, I thought it would be less confusing to base comparisons on the figures as published. I should, however, mention that when we take the Supplementary Estimate of £3,835,000 into account, the net provision sought this year is £2,860,000 more than the revised provision for last year.

In the course of the debate on the Supplementary Estimate the practice of asking the House to vote additional money for social welfare towards the [1328] end of the year was criticised. I endeavoured to clarify the position by pointing out that as the Book of Estimates is published before the Budget, it is not possible to include the estimated cost of any increases which may be provided for in the Budget. Accordingly, the Estimate now before the House does not, and could not, include any provision for the improvements provided in the 1966 Social Welfare Act which will come into operation as from the 1st November next. I will, very likely, have to seek additional provision for these increases before the end of the present financial year. I mention this now in the hope that Deputies will not be surprised should there be another Supplementary Estimate before the end of the present financial year.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan Zoom on Richie Ryan Sé tuairim Fhine Gael nach bhfuil dóthain sa Mheastachán seo. Ach ós rud é gur fearr leathbhollóg ná easpa aráin nílimid i gcoinne an Mheastacháin. Dúirt an tAire nach bhfuil ach £2,860,000 sa tsuim bhreise atá ag teastáil don bhliain seo thar mar a deonadh anuraidh. Sé mo thuairim gur breis de 5 nó de 6 faoin gcéad an méid sin cé gur 75 faoin gcéad an méid ba cheart a bheith ann.

The small increase this year reflects little more than the amount necessary to maintain the already grossly inadequate standard of social services which we have. The Minister pointed out, quite rightly, that in regard to administration, the overall increase represents £176,000, of which half was in respect of higher levels of remuneration. It is not unreasonable to say that if persons in receipt of salaries, wages and allowances achieve an increase of those dimensions, the amount sought this year in respect of increased allowances and benefits under the social welfare code reflects to a considerable extent the increase in the cost of living, the increase which has to be paid by people for necessary services. Therefore, that further reduces the significance of this year's increase to a paltry 2½ per cent.

We in Fine Gael believe that if we [1329] are to achieve a just society within a period of five years, social welfare allowances must be increased by not less than 75 per cent, that is, accepting that monetary values remain static, but our economic and financial experience is such as to justify and anticipate that in order to achieve a better level of improvements, we would need to have something like a 100 per cent improvement in social welfare benefits. The Minister and other critics of the Fine Gael objective to achieve a just society say that we are liberal in proposing improvements and not so ready to suggest ways in which the money can be made available. We have indicated in a very clear way that we consider that within the targets which the present Administration has already set for itself in its Second Programme for Economic Expansion, there is room, without additional taxation, for providing a more equitable distribution of the national cake. Even if this is not possible—and we feel the inflationary spiral which the Government have initiated and continue to encourage, may make it impossible to achieve their targets without additional taxation—we believe that the public conscience is sufficiently disturbed that the better-off sections would endure an increase in the burden of taxation if such were directly related to improvements in social welfare benefits. Unfortunately, the experience under the present Administration has been that while they boast time and again that improvements in the social welfare code will follow if there is an increase in taxation, the reverse has been the experience.

We had, some years ago, tens of thousands of the taxpayer's money spent on advertisements to justify the turnover tax which we were told was going to provide better social welfare and health benefits but we know that far from better services being provided, the reverse happened because the real value of money needed to finance these services has decreased. However, we think it desirable that in future if there are to be increased tax impositions, we should relate those impositions specifically to the creation of a social welfare fund so that the people would have the [1330] feeling that they were paying directly for improved services.

We think it regrettable that notwithstanding any improvements in various sectors of our national life over the past 40 years and notwithstanding improvements in our social welfare services, we are in fact falling behind the rest of Europe. That is a situation which in the experience of our own people here is regrettable but it is also a situation which will create considerable difficulty for us in the future, if and when we become associated economically and financially with any great European social and economic structure because it is clear that those structures require all their members to maintain equal social standards.

Whenever we in Fine Gael have criticised the present administration for their failure to move with European countries, whenever we have criticised them for their failure to maintain their rate of progress at such a pace that there would not be any great differential between our welfare services and those abroad, the Minister has endeavoured to cloak the arguments advanced by us to suggest there were various fringe benefits which we did not take into account. I do not think the situation is as confusing as the Minister seems to suggest.

We know that there are hardly any two countries which have identical social welfare schemes. They are paid for in different ways; they are administered in different ways and their ultimate results are different; but we think it is possible, taking an overall assessment in different countries, that we could improve them. The Minister has said we are not comparing like with like. I believe you cannot do it in detail but you can in a global way. The OECD, UNESCO and other international organisations have done this. We are prepared to rely on them. If you accept those figures, you will find that the Irish figure is exceedingly low and will have to be greatly improved if we are not to have increasing injustice in the future. I use the word “injustice” in a general way to mean inequality of treatment, unnecessary differentials, advantageous treatment for one section of the community and disadvantageous treatment for others.

[1331] We have, unfortunately, here in our social and economic code, two strata and, instead of endeavouring to bridge the gap between those, we continue in our legislation, year in and year out, to crystallise those prejudices of days gone by. Take, for instance, the differential in treatment which we operate between manual workers and non-manual workers. A manual worker is still regarded as a person who is to be hired and fired at short notice, who is not to have a pension related to his job and whose unemployment benefits are to be maintained at a standard barely sufficient to keep body and soul together. On the other hand, non-manual workers, by agreement which they have been able to negotiate for themselves, and by the kind of snob theory which operates here, are regarded as people who are entitled to a great deal more than the manual workers. Some of those non-manual workers enjoy generous pensions, to which often they have not contributed themselves, and in many ways they are treated as privileged members of the community.

We need, if we are to have a just society here, to break down those prejudices of days gone by and treat everybody, whether he be regarded as a so-called manual worker or a non-manual worker, as equal so far as conditions of employment and benefits of employment are concerned. Our social welfare code is bristling with prejudices so that we need an entirely different approach to social welfare matters. We want to get away from the Victorian approach which is operating at the present time.

I have said before, not meaning to be offensive but to be objective, our Department of Social Welfare has become little more than an accounting agency for the Department of Finance. They are more concerned with ensuring accuracy in bookkeeping than with the provision of a humanitarian service for people who have fallen on difficult days. It is time we took a look at our whole social welfare code and endeavoured to assess whether or not we are helping some section of the community adequately or fully by giving them purely monetary payments [1332] more comfort, better living conditions more comfort, better living conditions, and better prospects of recovery by affording to them domiciliary services, medical services, food services and clothing services through a domiciliary welfare scheme.

It is significant that private people here have appreciated the need for domiciliary services. A great deal of credit must be given to those people, particularly in Dublin city, who are at present organising a meals on wheels service. This service per head of population could benefit more but would probably cost less than some of the State schemes of monetary payments but the real effect in many cases will be that many elderly people and disabled people, for the first time in years, will receive one square meal and one well-prepared hot meal a day. This is because this takes into account not merely that money is needed to live but that one also needs help, skill and the will to be able to live properly.

There are very many elderly people who are unable to manage on the paltry amount of money given to them by the State, not merely because in monetary terms it is inadequate, but also because, working alone and in isolation, it is impossible to arrange and discipline one's life to get the best out of life. I believe the State should endeavour to encourage those kinds of services and expand them. I believe that with the more human type of service which could be given under the auspices of the Department of Social Welfare, the overall effect would be of greater advantage than just adding a little money here and adding a little there, year in and year out, without regard for the ability of the recipient to spend the money wisely.

One of the most difficult Departments of State to deal with in regard to its activities and scope is the Department of Social Welfare. This is because all its activities are related to what the statutes and regulations say it may or may not do. Somebody has described Local Government law as a jungle but the jungle of the Department of Local Government is, I think, a desert compared with the jungle of the Department [1333] of Social Welfare with its legislation, rules and regulations. It is an extraordinary thing that although that is so, the impact is a very individual and a very personal one. I think the Minister ought to encourage his Department to use plain English when dealing with the numerous people who address their little problems to the Department for attention. It is regrettable to have to state that one of the worst scriveners available to us is the Department of Social Welfare. Write about any of the multitudinous things that are proper to a Department of State to one of the other Departments and you will receive a legible type-written letter in language which people can understand. But communicate with the Department of Social Welfare and you will get in one or other of the official languages a paper which is of the worst quality Government stationery in a form which will contain innumerable errors with interlinear alterations in every type of indecipherable scrawl. I am sure members of this House have also had great difficulty in trying to understand these missives, but it becomes absolutely impossible for people who are not familiar with the dialogue of the Department of Social Welfare to understand what some of these notices may mean. In addition to that, you have the Department on some occasions using phrases in the Irish language which even Irish linguists are unable to understand. It is time to call a halt to the confusing camouflage which the Department of Social Welfare so readily put up.

Some time ago I received a communication from the Department of Social Welfare which I passed on to one of my constituents. This communication read:

Tá orm a admháil go bhfuarthas do litir (Uimh. Thagartha....)

Then there was a long line and the end of the brackets. Then it went on:

den ... 26-7-1966.

The final message was:

Táthar ag déileáil léithi.

I passed this to my constituent but he, on receiving it in the post, took it to the Christian Brothers in one of the [1334] schools in my constituency. The Christian Brothers thought the matter was urgent and referred the man back to my door. He was advised late in the evening that some great benefit was being given him. He was amazed to learn that the last phrase meant “Táthar ag féachaint chuichi”; in other words, “They are looking into it”.

I have told my constituents the meaning of “Táthar ag déileáil léithi”. I think we ought to be primarily concerned with the least fortunate and lesser educated members of the community and that we should not use phrases and language, in either of the official languages, beyond the comprehension of even relatively educated people. Therefore, I would appeal to the Minister to ensure, even though it may mean a small increase in administration costs, in overheads, in stationery and an increase in the number of typists in his Department, that there is a substantial improvement made in future in appearance, layout and form in papers from his Department because even Deputies have the greatest difficulty in trying to decipher some of the communications from the Minister's Department.

I notice the Minister did not, in his address, refer to the considerable saving he has enjoyed because of the increases granted earlier this year to British pensioners here. I think he said earlier this year, replying to a Parliamentary Question, that it was in the region of £800,000 but I may be wrong in that.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland Zoom on Kevin Boland There was a figure of £238,000 given but it has increased.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully Zoom on James Tully Is mór an trua é.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland Zoom on Kevin Boland It is an over-estimation.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan Zoom on Richie Ryan My personal experience is that an increasing number of people are having their pensions cut. I heard from people who had their pensions cut that they had them restored in part. The figure is not even £250,000 but it is big enough to justify mention in the Minister's address. I am not sure [1335] whether that £250,000 is included in or excluded from the Minister's figure for last year or for this year. It ought to have been isolated for special redistribution to the sections of the community who are in most need of increased benefits.

I should like to draw attention to a problem which mercifully does not frequently occur but it is one which, I think, ought to receive the Minister's sympathy and attention. It is one which can be remedied in the regulations. At present, the mother of an illegitimate child is unable to get benefit for that child if she loses her employment, and if she is living with a relative and, in particular, if the relative with whom she is living is a person who is himself in receipt of social welfare benefit. I have in mind the mother of an illegitimate child who, through no fault of hers, became unemployed. She was living with her father and because he was the head of the household the mother of this child was unable to get benefit. Her father was an extremely difficult person to deal with. Like many old people he resented the presence of the child, not because of the status of the child but because old people generally are unable to endure the crying and wailing and domestic upset of children. He was not contributing anything towards the child's food or clothing bills and this mother was in dire distress because of the fact that she had not sufficient means herself, through her own unemployment benefit, adequately to maintain herself and her child. I think it should be possible to look at this on the merits and, where circumstances appear to justify it, payment of unemployment benefit in relation to such a child should be made by the State.

There is another problem of administration which I think ought to be remedied. I refer to the frequency of delays in the payment of weekly disability benefit, particularly where the disabled person, the person who is ill, is required to make weekly certificates available. I am sure that a number of Members of this House have had complaints about these. Our invariable experience is that when you convey [1336] these complaints to the Department, you receive from the Department an apologia which asserts that your complainant is wrong, that the Department are right and they have issued payment on specific days and within the time that it should have been issued. One is not always in a position to contradict the Department but I have seen cases where the Department asserted that they posted payments on particular days and where the postmarks on the envelopes containing the benefits were, in fact, one or two days subsequent to the dates on which the Department believed that they had posted the letters. It may be that the Department handed them over to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and that a delay then occurred and that the Department of Posts and Telegraphs did not frank the letters on the day on which they received them, but if this is so or whatever the reason, I should like to see a substantial improvement in the payment of these benefits.

We come now to a matter which I think needs remedial action. In a substantial number of cases where people are in receipt of such benefit it is apparent that they will be disabled and that they will be unable to follow their employment for a considerable time. I feel that in such cases, rather than awaiting a specific application by the beneficiary or on behalf of the beneficiary, the Department should waive the requirement of weekly certificates and allow the certificates to be furnished monthly. It is extraordinary that where the Department is prepared to accept certificates at monthly, or longer intervals, the weekly payments appear to be made regularly and without any delays on the part of the Department or the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. These delays occur, apparently, with most frequency, where there is a requirement to furnish a weekly certificate. It appears that a certain section of the Minister's Department awaits the furnishing of these certificates and then on getting them, approval is given for the making of payment but in the processing of the certificate, the approval and the issuing of the money and the delivery of [1337] the money, varying degrees of delay frequently occur. I feel that the burden of work in the Department would be greatly reduced if they accepted certificates at longer intervals than a week. The Minister should endeavour to reduce the requirement of weekly certificates.

Having said all that, we fully appreciate the reason for weekly certificates. It is to ensure that nobody receives payment for a longer period than he or she requires it but I believe that in the long run the State would lose little even if the odd person were to get benefit for a week longer than was necessary. The reduction in manpower in the Department and the reduction in overhead costs would be substantial if certificates were, in many cases, accepted at longer intervals than a week.

From the humanitarian point of view I feel it is an undue hardship to impose upon people who are disabled and who are probably in domestic difficulties to require them to attend a doctor week in week out to furnish these certificates. This in itself imposes undue hardship on people who are themselves disabled and, in this city, many people so anxiously require payment of benefit that they endeavour to expedite it by personally delivering their certificates at the Department of Social Welfare. For many people this requires an expenditure of a couple of shillings or more in bus fares and a number of hours which they can ill afford to be absent from their homes. Notwithstanding the fact that they are unable to follow their occupation they would probably be better off in their homes resting and recuperating than enduring the hardships of public transport or the absence of it in this city.

This brings me to a matter which I have raised on numerous occasions. I make no apology for again bringing it before the Dáil. It is the obligation which we unnecessarily impose upon recipients of old age pensions, contributory and non-contributory, children's allowances, widows' and orphans' pensions and other social welfare payments to attend in person at a post office for payment of their pittances. As I have pointed out [1338] before and as I emphasise again, there is no justification for requiring personal attendance of people at post offices in large urban areas. The justification, if such it could be called, for the requirement that people attend personally is to reduce the possibility of fraud, to reduce the possibility of people representing themselves as being the beneficiaries. Personal attendance might be of value if the person actually making the cash payment were in a position to identify the recipient but it is ridiculous to suggest that in urban areas, where as many as 1,000 to 3,000 people per post office are in receipt of benefit, personal attendance is required for identification purposes. The postmistress, sub-postmistress or any assistant in the post office could not possibly know the identity of the vast majority of people personally attending at such post offices. In any event, if a person wants to avoid personal identity in Dublin or in any other urban area all he needs to do is nominate a post office outside his own particular parish and the Department will allow the payment to be made there. It is beyond all reason, in my opinion, to continue this requirement which imposes a colossal burden on the recipients themselves and which takes no account of the domestic difficulties which such personal attendance requires and which imposes on the post office authorities a burden which is unnecessary, inconvenient and costly.

The Minister is familiar with Ballyfermot. In Ballyfermot, between the two post offices there, on one day of each month almost 5,000 families are entitled to get payment of children's allowances. It can be argued that there is no obligation on the recipient of a child's allowance to attend on the first day of entitlement to obtain payment. That is perfectly true but as far as I can gather actual experience is that something between 75 per cent and 85 per cent of the people who are entitled to such allowances seek payment on the first or second day of entitlement simply because their incomes or wages are not sufficient to give them enough to pay for clothing or to pay the rent.

It is common knowledge that Dublin Corporation's rent fund is maintained [1339] to a substantial extent up to date by referring children's allowances towards the rent arrears. If children's allowances were to be abolished tomorrow, even if all salaries were increased by a weekly sum equivalent to the children's allowances there are many house-holders in this city and elsewhere in the country who would not be able to manage their rent affairs because they would not have that expected monthly income coming in. Anyway, there is a problem that we have thousands of people in urban areas where they are no more than bearers of an impersonal cheque book requiring them to attend, because we believe that in some way or another this will stop fraud. It might stop it in a small village where the postmistress knows everybody but it certainly will not stop it in any of the large urban areas. I would once again beseech the Minister — who, I think, is not unsympathetic — to take the plunge and do away with this rule in so far as the urban areas are concerned. Mind you, if it is unnecessary in the urban areas, I do not see how the rural areas should have to endure it either in the future. After all, all that is required is to allow people to cash their allowances in places other than the local post office. If they could cash them in other than the local post office, the possibility of fraud would probably be less because the local shopkeeper or butcher — although these people do not frequent the butcher's except at Christmas because they cannot afford the price of meat — would probably know more about them, their appearance and their family circumstances than many a postmistress. I venture to suggest that, in the areas where there is the greatest demand for social welfare payments, you also have the least amount of letter writing and letter posting.

It is now over a year since we increased the ceiling of remuneration for insurance. We increased it from £800 to £1,200 on 6th September, 1965. I know an effort has been made to peg incomes over the past year but, of course, it has not succeeded. Many people who, a year ago, were within the insurance limit have now — perhaps [1340] fortunately for them — gone beyond it. Of course, it is possible for them to maintain voluntary insurance, but, human nature being what it is, some of them will not do so or they may be pressed, due to other financial commitments, and may feel disinclined to do so because of financial embarrassment. It is desirable that this rate should change more frequently than we have permitted it to change in the past.

Speaking now from recollection, I think there was a lapse of something like eight or ten years from the time the £800 limit was fixed to the time it was fixed at £1,200, and the result was that a substantial number of people — something in the region of 10,000 — in the intervening period, went outside the insurable limit. This is undesirable; it certainly creates difficulties and leads to a sense of grievance, when people who have contributed for several years, and then when they fail to contribute because of a change in their salary structure, fall into difficult times, find that, notwithstanding the fact they contributed large amounts over the years, they are disqualified.

The way to remedy this is to have a more frequent change but perhaps I should not dwell too long on this because I think it does require legislation at present to change this limit. I am not certain whether, in the last piece of legislation, we allowed this to be changed by Ministerial order, but, whatever way it can be done, it ought to be done with more frequency. If wage levels change, as they do tend to change, yearly or thereabouts, then this limit ought to be increased by the average amount by which income levels have altered in the intervening period.

There are many other aspects of social welfare we would like to discuss but perhaps we can do that at another time, as the Minister has promised us a Supplementary Estimate in the course of the year. One thing can be said in favour of Supplementary Estimates, that is, they allow one to talk about the matter more frequently, but that is all that can be said for them. We think it desirable that we have a keen social conscience in this [1341] country and perhaps the more people in public life preach about the necessity for improving our social services, the more will people be prepared to accept that it means a sacrifice for some people, because their incomes will be redistributed but it is a worthwhile aim if we can improve the overall standards of our people.

Deputy James Tully and I were recently privileged to be in a country where there is no social service or code such as we understand it here, and it is only on seeing at first hand the appalling absence of a social conscience that one realises how vitally necessary it is to have a socially just society. We have in this country, I think, fallen into the ditch of indifference. We have assumed that all will be well as long as we add just that little amount of money one year after another to match increases in the cost of living, as long as we add that little amount to existing social welfare payments. That is certainly not enough. As I said earlier, we can provide a more socially just society in many ways other than by increasing the monetary allowances paid.

This is something to which the Department of Social Welfare ought to direct its attention. It has a worthwhile role and it ought to endeavour to be something other than an accounting agency for the Department of Finance. It ought to endeavour to see in what ways the standards of our people can be improved, to see in what way the colossal differences which now exist between the various strata of our society can be abolished or can be narrowed to some extent. This is a worthwhile aim and I should like to see the Department doing more in that regard.

We are fortunate in recent times in having inaugurated, in our universities and colleges, courses of social studies. Some of these faculties have produced some very worthwhile studies in recent times. The research work being carried on is, I believe, of the greatest value and is deserving of support. I feel the State is not helping these studies as much as it ought to; in fact, I do not think it is helping them at all in so [1342] far as the Department of Social Welware is concerned. These people, who are skilled in these researches, are ready, willing, able and anxious to have an exploration in depth of our social requirements and I should like to see the Department of Social Welfare playing a positive part in encouraging these people to carry out this work. If we had more of that kind of research work, we might be able to build a more inspired social code than the one upon which we are relying at the present time.

I would, therefore, like to see substantial grants being paid by the Department to these faculties to have the necessary research carried out. I do not think the Department officials themselves are in a position to do it; all they can do is as much, perhaps, as public representatives can do, that is, to list, to refer and to try to make decisions within the existing code upon individual cases presented to them from time to time. But the kind of new work necessary, the kind of new society we should be building, will not adequately be planned unless we carry out widespread research at home, outside the ambit of the official code, official requirements and statutory requirements we have at the present time. Other countries have done this with great success and that is why they have, in many cases, different types of social services from what we have here.

Unless we do this and do it quickly, we will be in serious difficulty in years to come on two fronts: our own people will not be adequately provided for and we may not be able to match the requirements of countries which, for economic, financial and political reasons, we may desire to be associated with — not that I am to be taken as advocating some of the alliances which some people speak of at the present time, but if they are coming and if the people desire to have them we must be prepared, or else the effect on our people, socially and economically, will be disastrous.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully Zoom on James Tully I must on this occasion, as I have done on each occasion on which I spoke for my Party on the Estimate for the Department [1343] for Social Welfare, pay a well-deserved tribute to the officials of the Department for their courtesy in dealing with the very many queries addressed to them by myself and members of my Party. One thing which has always amazed me is the fact that they are able to produce in a very short space of time replies to complaints which we make to them, and they usually come up with the right answer.

On the few occasions on which I have approached the Minister's office, I also received courtesy and co-operation, and for that I am grateful, and I want to place that on record. It is a pleasure to deal with the officials of the Department but what we have cause to complain about is what they have to administer. It is true that over the years social welfare benefits have been substantially increased. Unfortunately, social welfare assistance does not seem to have kept pace and, as a result, we still have people attempting to live on a very miserable pittance, their only crime being that they are old or ill, and that before they became old, they were attempting to eke out an existence in noninsurable employment, people such as the self-employed. Something will have to be done to try to improve the lot of these people, and I believe that could be done within the framework of the existing social welfare legislation.

The Minister and his Department cannot be very proud of the various means tests as they are administered. On previous occasions I incurred the wrath of the Minister and his predecessor because I said that the people who investigate the means of applicants for various types of assistance seemed to be created from a special mould. For some extraordinary reason, they seem to take pleasure in searching into the souls of the people they are questioning, to try to find out if by any chance they happen to have a hen hidden away at the back of the house which they have not disclosed, or if they had a few apples the previous year which they sold and did not disclose. I instanced already the case of a widow with a few children who had planted [1344] one small ridge of potatoes and 50 cabbage plants in her back garden. The genius from the Department assessed them as means and valued them at an income of 4/- per week. That 4/- a week would represent about £10 a year but it put her £2 over the limit which would entitle her to a few shillings extra in social welfare.

I mention these things because they do not run true to form or to the code by which these things are administered in the Department. There are serious causes of complaints. I am a member of an old age pension sub-committee. While we do not get very much respect as a committee and our recommendations do not cut much ice, we are still a necessary part of the set-up. We make recommendations and, on occasion, officials come in to us to prove why someone we have recommended for an old age pension is not entitled to a pension. In very many cases the officials concerned could not know less about the situation if they tried. They simply take what they see, or what someone else has told them, at face value. I have one extreme instance of an official who came in to prove that an old man of 75 years of age who some years previously had rented nine acres of land had an income of £1,000 a year. Eventually it turned out that the poor man, who was a very good judge of cattle, had been attending the local mart and buying and selling in that mart for individuals who did not want their names entered for one reason or another, and he usually got a glass of whiskey or something like that. Yet the person who made the investigation produced evidence that he had an income of £1,000 a year. That sort of nonsense should not be allowed to continue, and I would ask the Minister to do something to prevent these people from making stupid reports.

I have had numerous complaints from people whose means were investigated and who claimed that the officials were less than courteous. In the case of an old person who never had very much to do with officialdom, and who always feels when he is asked questions that someone is trying to trap him into giving a wrong answer, it is not good enough to have someone advising him that he is liable to a [1345] heavy fine or imprisonment for making a false statement which he had no intention of making until he got a bit confused.

My comments will be rather disjointed because I do not want to detain the House or the Minister, and I want to cover a number of disconnected points. We have unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance and if an insured person becomes ill, he is entitled to disability benefit, but if a non-insured person becomes ill, he is not entitled to anything under the social welfare code. He can apply to the local authority for a disability allowance but that is not payable if the person is a patient in hospital. There is no reason why the Minister should not consider some type of disability assistance which would be comparable with disability allowance, which would be payable to people who, through their own fault, or through no fault of their own, are not entitled to disability benefit. In most cases it is not the people themselves who are affected but it is the unfortunate wife and family who are left without any income. Perhaps that is something the Minister might rectify.

I was interested to hear Deputy Ryan's reference to the young lady who had an illegitimate child and was unable to draw unemployment benefit because her father was the head of the house. I had a similar case recently of a young lady — not in Meath but in an outside area — who had two illegitimate children. She applied for home assistance, which was granted, but subsequently it was refused by the home assistance officer and she was told to try for unemployment assistance. When she signed, she was told it was an employment period and she was not entitled to unemployment assistance. She pointed out that she had two dependent children and she was told in writing that she was a spinster with no dependants and as such was not entitled to any benefit. I am not going into the rights or the wrongs of that young lady's having two dependent children. The fact is that she had them and it was rather stupid that such a decision should have been taken because [1346] it is impossible to get away from the fact that she had two dependent children. Because the home assistance officer felt he had no responsibility to pay any benefit to her from the rates, and because the Department felt they had no responsibility to pay her unemployment assistance, she and her children were hungry for a considerable period, I understand. That should not happen in this country.

There is also the question of the person who has been employed for many years and when he falls ill or becomes unemployed, finds that in one of these years the employer, through negligence, or deliberately, failed to stamp an insurance card, with the result that he is disqualified from benefit for a period. I know he is entitled to recover the lost benefit from the employer but in many cases he is not in a position to do so. There should be a special section set up in the Minister's Department to deal with this sort of thing. While the Department many, if requested and if they so desire, take proceedings to recover the lost benefit, this is done only in exceptional cases. There is no reason why it should not become a set arrangement that in all cases where failure to stamp an employment card is discovered and this results in loss of benefit, in addition to recovering the lost stamps — which the Department do — they should also recover the amount of benefit lost to the employee. It would not entail a very great amount of work and there might be no loss of revenue because I am sure the Department could recover from the person concerned the amount of the costs of whatever action was taken. I am sure also that if the Department decided they would take this action, the people who did not stamp cards would be very anxious to have payment made.

Another point that is causing a lot of trouble is in regard to the person who has not ever drawn unemployment or disability benefit. He becomes ill, goes to hospital and subsequently sends in a half dozen, or perhaps a dozen, certificates claiming disability benefit. He is entitled to that benefit. [1347] In fact, if he were in hospital and the certificates were sent in, the benefit would be held up in a number of cases unless there was a special request made for some payment or for payment to be made to somebody at home until the patient was discharged. Is it not extraordinary that if the certificates are sent in late, although the person may have been stamping cards all his life, in nine cases out of ten, the Department will rule that the person is not entitled to benefit because the certificates were late? I think this is wrong, and when it was provided for many years ago, there must have been some peculiar idea at the back of it which no longer exists. The person is only asking for what he is entitled to get and I ask the Minister to make the necessary change in the present system. It will require only a slight change but as it is, it has inflicted much hardship on many people I know and I am quite sure on others throughout the country.

Another point impinging on this is that when a person is in hospital, payment is held up until he leaves hospital, except perhaps for the £1 or so a week that may be allowed for comforts. I recently had occasion to ask a question in the House about a married woman, the wife of a farm labourer. She had worked with farmers and she was in hospital. The Department insisted on holding up payment until she left hospital. I can see the merit in holding up payment in the case of a single man or woman who has no dependant. If payment were not held up in such cases, it might fall into the hands of somebody not entitled to it and the person concerned might find that he had no benefit to get when discharged; but I cannot see why benefit which would normally be paid into the household and spent on the house should be held up where a married woman is concerned and where her husband and family are at home and could do with the small amount of money involved.

I recently had a query about a man who had become unemployed. When dismissed, he went to the local labour exchange. The unfortunate man had [1348] some obstruction in his palate or the roof of his mouth and was very difficult to understand. I fear the lady in the labour exchange was not very kind to him and told him in no uncertain terms what he was to do. I am sure he also told her what she could do but he understood what she said while she could not understand him. In any case she told him to go and get certain information. His wife brought the matter to my notice and I took it up with the Minister's officials who very quickly made arrangements with the lady concerned to allow the man to sign, which he duly did. That was done in the following week. Then somebody decided they would investigate his right to unemployment benefit. There was nothing to investigate. The man had been many years in hospital and had been discharged. He was married and had been working as a builder's labourer for about two years. He had the necessary number of stamps and was entitled to benefit. But some people decided to raise a hare for the purpose of getting their own back on the unfortunate man. That sort of thing should be stopped and I propose to give the Minister particulars of the case.

The Minister referred some months ago to the fact that he was introducing a new system by which a domestic servant would be entitled to draw unemployment benefit but he spoiled it by one condition which he added on, that she must have ten years insurable employment. That is scandalous. There is no reason why domestic servants should be put in a different category from anybody else. I know there is the mentality in this country that domestic servants should be kept on tap, just in case some of the people who call themselves “the upper set” should require domestic help. That idea remained until a few months ago when the Minister made a change. It is a pity when he made the change that at the last moment somebody persuaded him to put in this provision which, in effect, means that there is no change at all. Domestic servants as a rule work for short periods and only a very small number remain in domestic service over a period of ten years. Most of [1349] them get married and have houses of their own. The people who, for one reason or another, remain in domestic service for long periods are becoming very scarce. I am sure the Minister knows that as well as I do. Even at this stage he should remove this provision which should never have been put in.

The Minister has a reference here which rather intrigues me. He says that the increase of £37,760 under Subhead D is caused by an increase of 20 per cent in the capitation rate on which payment made to medical certifiers for the issue of free medical certificates to insured persons is based. Am I correct in thinking that a sum of 5/- per insured person is added to the fund from which medical certifiers are paid and that it is distributed in the ratio of 1/- or 1/6d throughout the country to 2/- for a city for each certificate issued? If that is so, why has such an increase which has caused a reduction of a substantial amount in the Insurance Fund, been considered necessary? I most certainly am not opposed to the payment of medical certifiers for work done, but when an average of 25/- is now being paid for the issue of medical certificates it is a little bit out of the way to add 20 per cent to it. Perhaps the Minister would give us any information he has on that when he is replying.

Deputy Ryan referred to the increase in the British pension. It is true that a number of people in this country got extra money to the tune of £500,000 or £600,000 as a result of that increase, but the State has collected roughly £250,000. It is quite easy for the Department to say: “We cannot be expected to have a separate set of rules for those who are in receipt of British pensions. We cannot be expected to have a means test which applies one way and does not apply the other way.” There is, however, a little suggestion of meanness in this. After all, we did make a great stir about the fact that we were looking for this reciprocal agreement and about the fact that we got it. Having got it, it is rather out of the way that the Department of Social Welfare should swipe £250,000 of the money concerned [1350] for the purpose of boosting State funds. I can see the difficulties, but it does not look well.

It is rather a pity that employment exchanges cannot be, in fact, employment exchanges. I have yet to find, in the country districts anyway, any employment exchanges where people are offered employment. I realise that under the new Ministry for Labour there may be a change suggested in that. Some arrangement must be made whereby people who go to employment exchanges can be told if there is employment available in the area. The fact that we have not got full employment or anything like it is causing a certain amount of difficulty, but when there are jobs available in an area, the employment exchange there should know about them and should be able to inform people in this regard.

Another matter which has come to my notice over the years, and particularly this year because of the cut down in the amount of money available for certain public works, is that people who were working as labourers on public works and who would prefer to be working have been told that because there is a cut down in the amount of money available, or for some other reason, the works are closing down and they are being disemployed. These people tell me that on a number of occasions they will go to the labour exchange and, by signing at the exchange and on condition that they do not do any work, will receive the same amount of money and in one case I know of more than if they had been working a full week.

Let it not be thought that I am objecting to the payment of social welfare benefit by the Department of Social Welfare to people who are entitled to a big payment. However, there should be some method of coordinating the activities of different Departments of State. It is ridiculous that a man who would prefer to be working can have more than his full wages, on condition that he does not work, while the job he was working on, a public works job, is closed down because there is no money available to continue employment in that job.

[1351] I should be grateful if the Minister would consider having that matter investigated.

I notice the Minister made no reference as to when he proposes to put the new Industrial Injuries Bill into operation. Surely we are not going to have to wait four or five years, as we did in regard to the report, before the Bill is introduced. After all the trouble we went to, some effort should be made to implement the Bill. Various reasons have been given for the delay. One thing I notice is that the insurance companies have not been put on notice that it is proposed to introduce the Bill from a specific date, and surely that must be done before the Government can introduce the Bill? Some arrangement must be made whereby people who are insuring work-men under the Workmen's Compensation Act will know they are no longer liable and that the State will take over from a particular date. Perhaps the Minister would let me have some information about that when he is replying.

I appreciate very much the co-operation which the Department and the Minister have given me for the period I have been acting for my Party on social welfare matters.

Mr. O'Hara: Information on Thomas O'Hara Zoom on Thomas O'Hara My main criticism of the Minister in connection with this Estimate is in regard to the treatment of old age pensioners, widow pensioners and others in receipt of British pensions. In the west of Ireland, and particularly in the constituency I represent, it is well known that people have been forced to emigrate down through the years. Many of them have been obliged to break up their homes or small farms, ranging in valuation, as in the case of people living in Achill, from £2 to £5 and, in my own immediate neighbourhood, from £7 to £10. The majority of these people, because there was no local employment, emigrated to England and found employment there. They have remained there for a long number of years and qualified for certain allowances under the British social welfare system.

Many of these pensioners have now taken up residence in Ireland, having [1352] endured many years of hardship and, perhaps, risked their lives during the emergency. When they were in England, they sent money home to their fathers and mothers or brothers and sisters in order to keep the home fires burning. The national income has an item on the receipts side which, although I cannot say what the figure is at the present time, has been running at a very high figure for many years. These people contributed in a big way towards the support of the national economy. The British Government have been generous in granting increases in benefits to these people now resident in the Republic, and many of whom are in the west of Ireland. That an Irish Minister for Social Welfare would instruct his officials to go and make a thorough investigation of these cases and in nine cases out of ten, to collect their pension is intolerable.

Some of these people have reached an advanced age. In going to them, the officials have been blunt and I might even use the word “insulting”. It is a disgrace. Surely the Minister knows the hardship these people have gone through, the hardship their forefathers went through in their fight for their little holdings in days gone by? I am proud to be descended from that class whose sons, in turn, were forced to emigrate to keep body and soul together. Is it not a disgrace that an Irish Minister in the year when we have been celebrating the sacrifices and the great things these people did should get legislation passed empowering him to send out social welfare officers to the mountain homes of these people? It is something any Minister should be ashamed of.

I was in Achill as recently as Monday last and I found several of these cases on the island. The sons and daughters had to emigrate to England, and from their hard-earned money, to help their homes. Anybody who has gone to Achill in the tourist season or out of it will notice how well these people, by their hard earnings, have helped to improve their homes. Some of the people at home are now in a position to rent their bungalows for the purpose of supplementing their income. It is to their credit that they are able [1353] to do these things. However, I have people in Achill and in other poor areas such as Mulranny and Newport where these calls by the Minister's officials have been made.

Because of the credit squeeze and the general scarcity of money, as another Deputy has been in the habit of saying, there is no limit to the depths to which Fianna Fáil can descend when it comes to grabbing from a deserving class, a class in need, the last few shillings of their hard-earned money and at the same time to depriving them of what they are justly entitled to in their old age.

I have brought these things to the Minister's notice frequently and recently I addressed a question to him asking if he were aware of the hardship these measures have been causing, if he were aware that pension books were being collected from these old, poor people. I asked him if he were aware that social welfare recipients in general were being penalised. His reply, which is to be found in the records of the House, was that he was not aware of any such hardship. If he is not so aware, he had better go down the country where the people will tell him what they think of him and his officials.

I live among those people; I know their problems and their difficulties; and I put it to the Minister that he could effect savings among his inspectorate staff sufficient to pay the pensions of these people. We have inspectors drawing mileage allowances and salaries to travel to those people, now in their 75th and 80th year, telling them they are not entitled to anything from an Irish Government. It is scandalous treatment, and if I were allowed to use a stronger adjective, I should be inclined to do so.

In Achill recently I met an old woman in her 80th year. She suffers from arthritis and her health is very poor. She requires frequent medical attention; she has to buy tablets and drugs to help her get a night's sleep. I can tell the Minister and the House that on the day the social welfare officer called to collect her pension book, her drugs and her tablets were [1354] not much good to her. It is disturbed her that day and many a night and day since. To think that after rearing a family of nine or ten children and seeing them going across the water to work hard to earn a livelihood, she should be treated like this is scandalous.

I suppose that because of the present financial state of the country, the Minister and the Government feel that any way they can get money, even at the expense of those poor people, is all right. It is no wonder, therefore, that homes are being closed in the west of Ireland, in my native parish. Other Ministers go to Tourmakeady and Ballina and Ballycastle promising all the great things they will bring, the different schemes and plans they have for those areas. Is it not hard to expect that people will believe these Ministers when they see all around them the treatment poor old people are getting at the hands of the Minister for Social Welfare?

I did not have the advantage of being in the House when the Minister moved his Estimate but I have got a copy of his speech from which I shall quote a paragraph:

In regard to administration, Subheads A to D of the Estimate, there is an overall increase of £176,000. Slightly over half of this increase is in respect of salaries, wages and allowances, reflecting the higher level of remuneration arising from salary revisions in recent years.

It is true that many of our civil servants, nearly all of them, have got increases to which they were justly entitled. It is also true that many of them, especially those with £1,500 a year or more, have got very generous increases. Some people prefer to call them status increases. At a time when some of our civil servants with salaries of £1,500, £2,000 and £3,000 were given increases of £100, £200 and £300 a year, our old age pensioners and widows were being hounded all over the place, being interrogated with a view to taking their pensions from them. It is no wonder that there is the emigration and frustration that we witness in the west of Ireland, and particularly in Mayo.

[1355] I quote again from the Minister's speech:

In addition to the 1,947 officers shown at Part III of the Estimate, provision is made under subhead A for the remuneration of 87 managers of branch employment offices and 323 clerks to old age pension committees and sub-committees. The increase of £37,760 under subhead D is caused by an increase of 20 per cent in the capitation rate on which payments to medical certifiers for the issue of free medical certificates to insured persons are based.

I have met constituents of mine whose benefit was stopped when they became unemployed, in some cases through ill-health. They felt that all they had to do was to report to the labour exchange, complete the necessary forms and that the cheques would be issued to them without serious delay. These schemes were contributory schemes to which the persons concerned had made contribution. When it came to making a claim for benefit, officers who had been granted increases in salary, particularly medical certifiers, saw to it as far as they could that the unfortunate individual seeking benefit because of injury or ill-health would be put through the mill.

A neighbour of mine was called in for investigation by a medical certifier. When he entered the room where the medical certifier was sitting he was told to sit down. He moved a chair into a position which he considered suitable. He was asked by this medical certifier why it was that he moved the chair. The applicant told me that that medical certifier was very lucky that he did not hit him with the chair on the head. He said that he felt he was entitled to benefit, that he had worked on the bridge at Foxford excavating ten or twelve feet of hard rock with a hand drill and had suffered injury, and that he should not be insulted in that way by an officer of any Department.

The Minister should see to it that persons engaged in investigation should have respect for the working man, who contributes a great deal to [1356] their salaries. I should like the Minister to investigate that case. It happened a couple of years ago. Perhaps the same gentleman is still attending at that office. He should be told where to get off.

Deputy Tully referred to cutting down on public works. Yesterday I had a question to the Minister for Finance in connection with the cutting down of employment in one important work being carried out in my neighbourhood, namely, the Moy arterial drainage scheme. At present, an abnormal number of people are being cut off employment on that scheme.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin Zoom on Cormac Breslin How is this related to the Estimate? The Minister for Social Welfare is not responsible for employment schemes or drainage schemes.

Mr. O'Hara: Information on Thomas O'Hara Zoom on Thomas O'Hara I want to make the point that, as a result of this cutting down of employment, there are many people who will have to depend on unemployment benefit and some of these people have come to me. Deputy Tully made this point too with reference to public works. You did not pull him up. I am following the same line. There is one scheme of public works where the number employed is being reduced and I am asking the Minister to see to it that when persons who are so disemployed apply for unemployment benefit there will not be prolonged investigation and delaying tactics. I hope that people who are entitled to unemployment benefit will not be confronted with the type of medical referee or officer — Deputy Dillon used to call them “cigires”— who draw big salaries and who make investigations with no other purpose in mind than to deny the ordinary workingman benefit to which he is justly entitled. Some of these applicants have wives and children to keep. They have rates to pay. They cannot sell their cattle or sheep at the present time. Neither they nor the merchants who supply them with goods can afford the time taken in the Minister's Department to issue a cheque. Official personnel may be able to get credit in local shops and their salaries may be sufficient to allow them to have [1357] some spare cash but many of the people about whom I am concerned live from week to week. They pay rates, taxes and all the other things. In connection with unemployment insurance and unemployment assistance, I would ask the Minister to see to it that much of the red tape is cut out and that applicants will be given the justice to which they are entitled.

Mr. Lyons: Information on Michael D. Lyons Zoom on Michael D. Lyons Deputy O'Hara has covered a great deal of the ground that any Deputy coming from the west would have to cover in relation to the work of the Minister for Social Welfare. Most people realise that the Department of Social Welfare is of the greatest importance to the “have-nots”. It is, therefore, necessary that the Minister should be a man of wide understanding of the problems involved and should have the kindness of manner that is necessary in such cases as occur so often in the west and, indeed, throughout the country.

The Minister must realise that for some years past the “have-nots” have not been treated in the way that a Christian people, a Christian government and a Christian society should treat them. Possibly that is due to the fact that enough money could not be made available. Other Ministers have assured us in the Dáil, yesterday and today, that they have more than enough money for their particular services. I refer in particular to the Minister for Local Government. Apparently, he has been able to whisper into the ear of the Minister for Finance and to secure for his Department a great share of money, if we can believe the Minister. The Minister for Social Welfare should adopt the same procedure and should try to get more money for old age pensioners and others in the social welfare and social insurance classes.

Everybody knows that, today, 47/6d a week will not provide the bare necessaries of life for an aged person who has to pay rent, clothe and feed himself and provide himself with light and heat. The sum of 47/6d is a mere pittance today. Yet we find that not everybody is entitled to 47/6d. We find cases, in the west particularly, [1358] where you have a man who decides to turn over a small farm to his son to allow him get married and start a new family. The old man applies for the old age pension. Due to the tradition and history of the west it has often happened that a marriage agreement is made whereby the old people are entitled to a living in the home. But, mark you, the living in the home is a serious question for the people concerned. I had a case recently. An old man came to the house to see me. He said he had got notice that morning that his pension was to be cut by 5/- because he had a living in the house. The land valuation of the farm was £1 15s. I ask the Minister or anybody else listening if they realise what the maximum production would be from a holding with a valuation of £1 15s to contribute to the livelihood and comfort of an old age pensioner. It is an impossibility. The living in a house appears to be rated as something more than £26 per annum.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland Zoom on Kevin Boland The Deputy is aware that what he is saying now is untrue?

Mr. Lyons: Information on Michael D. Lyons Zoom on Michael D. Lyons I can assure the Minister I am not so aware.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland Zoom on Kevin Boland Well, it is untrue. It did not happen.

Mr. Lyons: Information on Michael D. Lyons Zoom on Michael D. Lyons I have the details of the case.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland Zoom on Kevin Boland It did not happen.

Mr. Lyons: Information on Michael D. Lyons Zoom on Michael D. Lyons The information I have states it did.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland Zoom on Kevin Boland It did not. There is no such information in the Deputy's possession because residence and maintenance is assessed at one shilling per week, which is less than £26 per year.

Mr. Lyons: Information on Michael D. Lyons Zoom on Michael D. Lyons On valuation?

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland Zoom on Kevin Boland It has nothing to do with valuation.

Mr. Lyons: Information on Michael D. Lyons Zoom on Michael D. Lyons For an old person getting a living in the house?

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland Zoom on Kevin Boland Yes, 52/- per year.

[1359]Mr. Lyons: Information on Michael D. Lyons Zoom on Michael D. Lyons I can assure the Minister that this man has given me the facts and I shall present them to the Minister. Even if it is assessed at one shilling per week the fact is that this man has been told he is not entitled to the 5/-. I know the valuation of the holding. I know my facts are right. There are many other cases in which something of the same nature occurred. Where you have extremely small valuations and hardly any income it is a damnable thing that an investigation officer, with a very fine salary himself, should go down and find it necessary for the economy of the country to clip 2/6d or 5/- off those unfortunate people. I do not think any Minister could or should stand over that — or any Deputy either. This has been going on for a long time. I am asking the Minister to approach the matter in a more broadminded fashion and attempt, even if legislation is necessary, to give a fair crack of the whip to those people.

As was pointed out earlier by Deputy O'Hara, we know that when investigation officers come along their first concern is to get the poor, unfortunate person flabbergasted if they can. They try to get him to mix himself up in a way that his statements can be twisted. They attempt in every way to ensure that as little as possible must be given to the applicant. That is the official attitude. They feel they are only doing their duty if they make it so hard on everybody that they tangle themselves up in statements and give the officers some reason for depriving them of that to which they are entitled by law. That is something the Minister should whisper into the ears of those who go down. He should attempt to get them away from that attitude. I admit it is not as prevalent among investigation officers today as it was some years ago, but there are cases where it has happened.

There is also delay in the investigation of claims. The Minister should see to it that where claims are presented they will be dealt with in as short a time as possible. Old people particularly like to have these matters dealt with because delay occasions [1360] them more stress and worry than a younger person.

In the case of sick benefit, we find at times that an individual who becomes sick or gets hurt and has to apply for benefit may suddenly have been hurt in a car crash or may be suddenly stricken unconscious and taken away to hospital. But the law states there is a very definite period within which the applicant must notify the authority. If he does not do so inside the specified time he is debarred from receiving the benefit. Even through it is probably necessary to have regulations for practically everything, it is unfortunate that a person should be so deprived either because he was unable at the time to comply with the regulations or because he was ignorant of the regulations. There are many people living alone, many poor people who had not a great education, who could never be au fait with all the regulations of Government Departments who could be deprived of this benefit without any substantial reason. In cases of that kind the Minister himself could exercise his prerogative and ensure that people, who through no fault of their own were unable to comply with the regulations, would get a fair crack of the whip. Keeping to the letter of the law in cases of that kind would do no credit to an official or a Minister.

I have heard of many cases put before the Minister to which he was very sympathetic. He knows the conditions. But it is very hard for the Minister to control his officers. I suppose the same thing applies to practically every Ministry. Even though the Minister may be broadminded, tolerant and willing to take a wider view, it is probably very hard for him to get his officials to follow the same line. All social welfare problems must be approached in a broadminded and tolerant way. The people who need these services are the “have-nots”. If the Minister would see to it that he would get more of his share of the moneys provided by the Government, and get it distributed amongst the classes of persons I have mentioned, he would be doing a good, Christian, charitable job and, along with that, he [1361] would be enabling people to stay in their own homes, which is vastly important for old people and people who are sick.

The Minister and the House must know that it is far more economic to keep a person in his own home and to pay him the amount of money that will enable him to live there than to institutionalise him, which has another effect. I am afraid too many people are institutionalised in this country at the moment not because, as some people state, their relatives are getting hardhearted and do not want them — that is not the reason — but because not sufficient money is available from amongst their relatives and of their own to maintain them at home and to give them the medical attention they need. Probably, it is a fairly wide field. The Minister for Health, as well, would have to enter into it. However, so far as the functions of the Minister for Social Welfare enter into this picture, I think that every penny he can provide to enable an old person to live in his or her home will be money well spent rather than the alternative of putting them into an institution where they are all part of a common herd. I feel very strongly about this.

I have been a member of a local authority for a long number of years. I have seen the effects on old people of taking them away from the family environment and putting them into homes of one kind or another for the reason that there was not sufficient money to maintain them at home. I would ask the Minister to examine the situation to see if he can raise the old age pension to a level approaching the standard at which it should be in a modern society to enable those people to have a better living and also to increase widows' and orphans' pensions. If he is dynamic enough to approach this matter, he will have the support of Dáil Éireann and the country because he will be doing it for the people who need it most in our community. In all good faith, I ask him to attempt to do this.

Mr. Dowling: Information on Joseph Dowling Zoom on Joseph Dowling The Department of Social Welfare is probably one of the [1362] most important Departments and it is fitting that the man in charge of it is a man of imagination and courage, a man of sympathy for and understanding of the problems of the weaker sections of the community. His efforts, since he became Minister, have been made in no uncertain way and appreciation of them has been made known not alone by members of his own Party but by members of other Parties. The weaker sections of our community are dear to all our hearts. We must bring commonsense to bear on the improvements which are necessary, within the framework of the Department of Social Welfare, to remedy the defects in their condition.

I want to refer to children's allowances and to ask the Minister to have another look at this question. I believe that, at the moment, children's allowances are paid to people with substantial salaries of as much as £4,000, £5,000, £6,000 and £7,000 per annum. I believe the children's allowances should terminate at the salary level of £1,200 per annum and should be taken back in full within the income tax assessment. The amount recovered should be distributed among the weaker sections of the community by way of additional benefits of one kind or another. I feel very strongly about this.

Many alterations have taken place in the income tax code over the years. When children's allowances were introduced, we were told that there might be offsetting factors but many alterations have taken place in the meantime so that the position has been nullified so far as a return to the Exchequer is concerned. This is a very serious problem. People with incomes of £6, £7, £8, £10, and £12 per week who have large families are drawing the same amount of children's allowances as people with similar sized families but who have an income of many thousands of pounds per annum. We shall have to have another look at the problem and achieve a greater understanding in relation to this scheme. I have made many inquiries from time to time and I have always been informed — especially in the far distant past when this scheme was first [1363] introduced — that these offsetting factors would be put into operation. I have examined the changes that have taken place in the structure of the income tax code and if there was an offsetting factor, then all I can say is that so many changes have taken place that the position seems to be nullified. It is a matter that should get fresh and comprehensive consideration.

I also believe that where the bread-winner dies and the widow is left with a number of children — it is possible, here, that discussions will have to take place with other Departments — she should be enabled to keep her family at home rather than to have to put them into institutions and to go out to work herself. With the small pension, such a woman is in many instances unable to care for her children. Take, for example, a widow with four or five children. In a State institution, each child would cost about £5 per week for [1364] its maintenance. If the widow got at least half the amount which would have to be paid to the institutions for the maintenance of her children, plus her widow's pension, then she could stay at home and look after her children and keep them together. In that way, a greater service would be done not alone to the children and their mother but to the community in general. Many widows find that they are left with very heavy commitments and liabilities such as the repayments on a house or a fairly high rent which they are paying to some landlord, apart altogether from local authorities. It is not desirable that the home should have to be sold or given up and the children put into institutions.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

The Dáil adjourned at 5 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 18th October, 1966.


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