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Committee on Finance. - Vote 47—Social Welfare (Resumed).

Tuesday, 18 October 1966

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 224 No. 10

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Debate resumed on the following motion:

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—(Minister for Social Welfare.)

Mr. Dowling: Information on Joseph Dowling Zoom on Joseph Dowling When I ended on Thursday afternoon last, I was dealing with the question of children's allowances. We are probably the only country in the world that gives social assistance to millionaires. It is quite possible for millionaires and such people to obtain children's allowances, without any offsetting factor being involved. There should be a revision with a view to enabling the Exchequer to recoup from a section of the community in receipt of an income in excess, possibly, of £2,000 per annum at the present time. This can be done by asking them to add to the income tax returns the full amount so obtained, which can then be recouped and passed on to families of low income.

I mentioned also the widow with a large family of young children whose only source of income may be the non-contributory widows' and orphans' pensions. She would need quite a substantial income to preserve the family unit as it was before the death of her husband. Sometimes the widow has to go out to work to maintain herself and then the children may be put into an institution at a cost per child each week of £3 or £4. It is understandable that the widow would find it difficult to exist on the widows' and orphans' pensions. If she got £5 or £6 a week in addition to the non-contributory pensions, I believe she would be able to remain at home to look after her family and a good job would be done by the State. Probably another Department would be involved also but I would ask the Minister to think along those lines.

The time has come when the contributory old age pension should be paid at 65 years. At this stage, I see no valid reason why a person should [1505] have to wait until the age of 70 years. The normal retiring age in industry is 65 years nowadays. If employers thought a man fit to continue in employment in an effective capacity until 70 years of age, I am sure most concerns would retain him.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan That would require legislation.

Mr. Dowling: Information on Joseph Dowling Zoom on Joseph Dowling The Minister should consider that point. At the moment, a man is entitled to disability and unemployment benefits, which give him something. The difference is very slight between the contributory old age pension and the benefits in question. This would be an offsetting factor at the labour exchanges. It would give relief to many hard-pressed civil servants and quite possibly would mean a reduction in their number if the pension were paid out, in the normal way, through the medium of the pension book. It is a step that will have to be taken at some stage. Now is the opportune time. There will be no loss to the Exchequer, and, from that point of view, this is something that can be brought about with a minimum of disruption.

With regard to widows' non-contributory pensions there is need for serious consideration. If a widow with a non-contributory pension is in temporary employment for ten or 20 weeks, her earnings are taken into consideration for the purpose of reducing her pension during the remaining period. This is a very serious situation. It causes a great deal of distress to those unfortunate widows. Sympathetic consideration should be given to this matter. There is a valid reason for altering the present system.

The Minister is responsible for providing the moneys for school meals. An investigation should be carried out by the Department of Social Welfare to find out if this money is spent to the best advantage. I am quite sure that any investigation would show that the children could have much better fare for the money provided. The responsibility rests primarily on the local authority, but the Minister should have [1506] an investigation into the type of meals supplied and the wastage that occurs. Some new system should be evolved designed to provide a more palatable meal for these children.

With regard to disabled persons, I raised a matter with the Minister for Local Government in connection with motor car taxation and he referred me to the Minister for Social Welfare. Where these people use cars for the purpose of their employment, they have to pay insurance in excess of 50 per cent and have to pay full tax. The Minister for Local Government is not prepared to make any concession. These disabled persons are put to the pin of their collar to keep these cars running. Where the cars are very small, the tax is only 5/-, but in other countries disabled persons pay a very low rate of tax, a tax which does not impose any burden on their incomes. The earning capacity of these people is limited because of disability and surely some allowance should be made to enable them to pursue their employment? The Minister might examine into this matter and make the necessary arrangements to have some allowance made to offset tax and insurance.

The Minister provides the money necessary to make fuel available for necessitous families. In many cases grave injustice is done to those in receipt of this fuel because they have to pay 2/- per bag, or perhaps 1/6 per bag, to have the fuel delivered, on top of the payment for the voucher. I believe a cash payment should be made to these people. That would enable them to buy briquettes or coal and have it delivered at no extra cost. Some revision is called for. I ask the Minister to have a look at this scheme and to ensure that the money is spent to the very best advantage of those in receipt of this fuel.

No great publicity has been given to this scheme and there are people who could benefit under it but who are unaware of its existence. Steps should be taken to publicise social welfare schemes. The books published by the Department should be available in post offices or Garda barracks [1507] in the same way as the electoral register is available for examination. It is only when one reads the book that one becomes aware of the many types of assistance available.

With regard to medical referees, there is a sum of £74,800 for travelling expenses, etc., in relation to the examination of persons by medical referees. This is a matter about which I am not quite clear. First of all, why is it necessary for these people to come before the referee if the certificate of the medical practitioner in the area is accepted? Does it mean that the certificate will be accepted for a particular period? Is there some other way in which the Minister can have the situation checked on? To my mind, it is a terrible reflection on the medical practitioners who are submitting certificates week after week. I should like to know how many cases are rejected by the medical referee and told to go back to work as a result of the examination by the social welfare officer. If a man who is really sick is called upon to travel to the Custom House, or elsewhere, he gets his subsistence allowance and his travelling expenses but the journey could make him much worse than he was. A more simplified system should be put into operation.

I just cannot understand how a certificate can be accepted from a doctor for six, eight, ten or 12 weeks and then the man is told that he is fit to go back to work, even though the doctor has submitted a certificate to say that the man is unfit. Where the logic is in that I do not know. In such a case, is the doctor who submitted the certificate crossed off and are no further certificates accepted from him? There may be a valid explanation for all this. I believe the Minister should be in a position to have, if necessary, his own medical personnel in a particular area who would be able to certify. I cannot understand why we accept some certificates and do not accept others.

There is at present the question of people who would have come in again under the social welfare code, due to the alteration in the ceiling. When the [1508] ceiling was raised to £1,200, quite a number of people who were previously outside the limit came back in. There is the case in CIE and elsewhere of people who have been in and out, due to the variation in the ceiling over a number of years, and who continued to pay voluntary contributions in order to be eligible for benefits they thought desirable and necessary. After the last change in the ceiling, CIE would not bring in a certain section who were under that ceiling. This is a very serious situation and one whereby many men can be deprived of the contributory old age pension by virtue of the fact that CIIE insist that it is only necessary for them to insure for widows and orphans. In time to come, it is going to affect many people if they get away with this.

I believe there is a case being made again to insure many of these people who are under £1,200 and are not fully insured at present. I am sure the Minister and his Department would seek out any employer who failed to bring into the social welfare grouping people under that amount. If these men are under £1,200, there is no reason why they should be debarred by CIE from getting the full benefits to which they are entitled. I would ask the Minister to have another look at this very serious situation which in years to come will affect many CIE workers who were outside the code and whose earnings now are such as to bring them in.

I have in mind an urgent case and next year will be too late to do anything about it, the case of a man who if he is not brought in under the social welfare code by the full contribution, will not be in a position to have the necessary number of stamps to qualify for the old age pension. I wonder would CIE make up the difference in that case? I am sure they would not. They are not a very friendly group when approached about problems of this kind. For that reason, I would ask the Minister to come down heavily on them, if they do not face up fully to their responsibilities to the workers.

Last week in the Dáil, I heard Deputy Dillon talking about a poor, friendless, homeless, hungry man and [1509] I was amused when I listened to him, but I would not be so amused today because I am aware now of a case which requires investigation. It is a case of a young man who went to England, spent three years there, and then returned here because of a nervous breakdown. During that period he was sufficiently thrifty to save a few hundred pounds, not enough to buy a motorcar, but if he had spent the money on drink or other forms of amusement and had no money now, he would be entitled to some form of assistance. He lodged this money week after week with a building society. He was only a labourer and, therefore, his earning capacity was not great. When he applied for unemployment assistance, his assessed means, after examination, were somewhere in the region of 50/- and on appeal the assessment was in the region of 40/-. Taken into account in that assessment were the free lodgings he had in his father's house. He was not earning while he had these lodgings but he was deprived of assistance of any kind. He sleeps in the house but buys his food out. He is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, due to his condition. His father has told him that unless he can produce the necessary means to exist, he can sleep in the house but cannot eat there.

This is not an exceptional case and it is one that should be more closely examined. I wonder if the man slept in the Iveagh buildings what would be the reaction to his case? Would he then get assistance? I am quite sure he would. If the man had spent his money on wine, women or something else and had come back without any money, then the case would be different and they would be only too happy to help him. Because he did not do that and because the money he lodged is assessed as means, he is deprived of assistance which he wanted only until he could get gainful employment. I believe that he will not get gainful employment and if he does not end up in a hospital, he will end up in some kind of institution. It seems to me that the simplest thing for him to do would be to take his money out of the building society and then if he applied for assistance, he would not be assessed [1510] on that amount. This case may not have come to the Minister's notice but I would ask him to have the matter examined to ensure that justice is done. This line, which one must very often toe, causes very great inconvenience. We must approach the case more humanely. I believe this regulation should be modified to a degree whereby one can get assistance when one is in need of it.

The next section I want to deal with are the old age pensioners. I believe one of the previous speakers indicated that delay in payment is a factor which causes some people to go into institutions. I have known only one case where the delay in payment meant the person going into an institution. Those people become nervous while waiting very often six or seven weeks. There may be a very valid excuse why the delay in payment occurs but there, again, it is purely a regulation drawn up with no human approach to the problem.

The very rigid line which one must toe should be examined in regard to those old people. The interview by the investigation officer in regard to those people is very important. It is a very delicate situation. Old people are sometimes proud. Sometimes old age pensioners should qualify for supplementary assistance but they fail to apply for various reasons. If it is a question that additional payments are necessary it should be brought to their notice. I know, on occasions, where old people were interviewed. They were entitled to additional facilities but there was never any mention of those facilities. The people in social welfare are only concerned about their own job and are not concerned about the supplementary assistance which those people obtain from various charitable organisations.

A page should be inserted in the pension books indicating the supplementary assistance which old people can obtain. The old age pensioner could consult this page in his pension book from time to time. He would then know what he could obtain. I would ask the Minister to have another word with the people in his Department who are dealing with old age [1511] pensioners. Those old people are very dear to the hearts of all public representatives. Public representatives have indicated their desire to see that the problems of the old people are fully met. Most of them feel that the assistance which those people should obtain should be given to them even at expense to the nation. I am quite sure that no person would begrudge additional taxation if it made the lot of old age pensioners better than it is at the moment, particularly people on non-contributory old age pensions.

I have seen old age pensioners from Ballyfermot, Drimnagh or Crumlin walking to the post office, which very often is a considerable distance away, and empty CIE buses passing by. Those old people are unable to pay the bus fares. CIE on many occasions have been approached and asked to provide free travel for those people during the off-peak hours. This may be well away from the Estimate under consideration but I believe that the Minister could have some type of offsetting factor there by way of a voucher which could be issued to those people in the same way as the turf vouchers are issued at the moment. They could then obtain free travel during the off-peak hours. I do not see why CIE could not provide such free travel, particularly as many transport authorities in other countries provide free travel for old people.

I see the Minister gets rent of £15,000 from CIE. He could very well raise that and see that free transport was provided for those old people during the off-peak hours. In the centre of Dublin people can travel during off-peak hours at very reduced rates but where this is really required, in the perimeter areas of the city, no such concessions are available. It is deplorable that we have a transport system here which does not give those facilities to old people who wish to travel during the off-peak hours when empty buses are travelling during those hours. Those facilities should be available in the outer areas of Crumlin, Drimnagh, Ballyfermot and on the other side of the city at Coolock and Finglas. If CIE expect the city [1512] service to pay at the expense of the old people we must have fresh thinking on this matter. I would ask that some type of consideration would be given to this particular aspect. This matter has been raised here before. It has been raised at Dublin City Council and at every council throughout the country. I am quite sure there are no members of the Dublin local authority or of the national Parliament who would object in any way to any offsetting factor, even if it meant additional taxation, in order to meet the needs of the old people.

Once again, I would ask the Minister to consider making available a list of social services so that people can consult it without having to go to the office and paying 1/6d, if it can still be obtained. At one time this could be obtained in the Government Publications Office. It is hard to expect old people to pay this money to know the services which they can obtain. They are hardly likely to say: “I will go down and get a copy and see what it is all about.” This could be made available in many ways. It could be made available through the local press and also in the post office. The post office would probably be the most desirable place because it is there that pensions are paid. The people in need of additional assistance could consult such a list there. I believe that an additional page in the pension book giving an indication of the different types of assistance that are available to old people, of which they are not aware at the moment, is something well worth considering.

In conclusion, I would ask the Minister to pay particular attention to the question of disabled people. I would ask him to provide some offsetting factor whereby disabled people can meet the high cost which often has prevented them from taking up employment where a car was necessary. The Minister should provide some assistance by way of relief in taxation. He could consult with his colleague, the Minister for Local Government, and have the rate of taxation on cars for such disabled people reduced. This would ensure [1513] that they could obtain different types of employment. Disabled people suffer a grave inconvenience because of their disability and they are precluded from taking up gainful employment of the nature which can be carried out where there is no disability. I would ask the Minister to consider that and to be mindful of the fact that there is in this city at the moment a section who are trying to deprive people of the benefits to which they are duly entitled under existing legislation. No one such group should get away with that type of tactics.

Mr. O'Leary: Social welfare and social security have in the past few years become the area of government in which the kind of attitude the Government have as their policy in social matters is most effective. In recent years we have seen in this area a great deal of rethinking on the part of people interested in this subject and we have seen more enlightened European countries trying to bring this whole subject of social welfare on to a more scientific and impartial basis, a basis on which recipients are paid out of the State funds available according to the needs they are discovering are theirs.

It has been discovered that this is not a strictly effective answer in relation to those pockets of poverty which occur in any society in any country. It is not sufficient to give attention to this problem only at election time. It has been discovered that, intelligent and all as politicians may be, the solution to this problem should be left to scientific partners of one kind or another to solve. This is especially so in the Council of Europe where a whole new universal discipline has come into existence in the social science field. They have gone into the population census and tabulated the ages and numbers of people in the population to find out just at precisely what point in their lives they need the State's help.

The Party to which I belong have for many years as a basic tenet of social philosophy felt that this is something we cannot hold too dearly, the obligation of the State to the weaker [1514] citizens in the community. We for our part have never felt it to be something that should be considered only at pre-election time or as an afterthought of a Budget speech by a Minister. The biggest single global criticism we can make of the present social welfare arrangements in this country is that they are piecemeal answers to a problem which has not yet been fully tabulated in all its complexity and size.

One could be very uncharitable and say that the payments we make to people in this bracket at the moment are payments that are called for because of political expediency at a particular time. It can be said that the payments we make to certain sections in our society are motivated mainly by what was suitable in a particular year and at a particular time, a motivation dependent upon an impartial assessment of the needs of that section of the population. If one does not make this impartial examination of the needs of the population over their lifetime, one would run the risk, even if one were spending very little, and indeed the amount this country is spending is little in this area, of its being, in fact, a waste of money in many cases.

We are not helped in this country in coming to an impartial or full assessment of the complexity of this problem because all the graduates we have in social science in this country cannot get employment and it is a tragic fact that people who are skilled in this area — I am referring to University College Dublin — must get employment in Great Britain or Northern Ireland where, in fact, there are greater opportunities of employment for them. It appears to me a great tragedy that social science people who graduate in this area cannot get employment in this country. As a result, our services suffer from a lack of knowledge and knowhow. It is pretty clear that if this problem is not rescued from being merely a plaything of our politicians, it will never be solved in any satisfactory manner. I think, to be perfectly honest about it, the only time this Legislature does anything serious about the plight of old age pensioners, or [1515] widows, or any of the groups that come under the heading of social welfare, is at election time, or in the aftermath of election time. This is not strictly the time and it is not the spirit in which to approach this problem.

We are just coming to the end of a year in which there have been a great many industrial disputes of one kind or another. This is a mark of the barren nature and lack of effectiveness of our social security. All sections of our population see that the only answer to their economic position is a pushing forward of the wage front and having their standard of living tied exclusively to this. Other countries more farseeing have shown by their social welfare schemes that they see that social services can provide a distribution of income to that section of the population who suffer from a lack of it. They can also see them as a means of lessening the onslaught on the wages front.

It seems to me that until we begin to see this problem in all its aspects, we will not get a real answer to it. My Party would welcome this change in which this matter would cease to be a political plaything. We would welcome an investigation into the needs of our population, into the needs of old age pensioners, into the needs of widows, and so on. We would welcome an investigation to see where poverty occurs in our national life. Too many of us are restricted in our viewpoint as to where poverty exists. If we live in the surburbs and travel by car, or go through the well-off districts, we can pass through life without ever knowing that poverty exists in our midst.

One is astounded sometimes to read that an old person has died in a room in which there was no fire and no money for a fire. One is surprised and shocked that some old person has died alone to be discovered two or three days later by neighbours but if one looks at the amount of money old age pensioners are expected to live on and compare it with, say, the cost of living for an hour of some people in our society, one is no longer surprised. It is true that, in such a small country, [1516] there are sections in our society who go about blissfully unaware that their fellow citizens exist in real want. This is not the lot of those who have been spendthrifts or who have been in any way profligate with their money but of people in the group of common or garden poverty.

It appears to us in the Labour Party, and it is true that in many countries they consider that the State has an obligation to see that no person in old age exists in want. There is an obligation on the State to see that old age pensions are not made merely the casual toss of political play in Parliament to be decided upon when other commitments have been met. I recall the last Budget when the Minister threw the old age pensioners a small, tiny increase. It appears to us that this is not the proper approach to the problem at all. We feel that an inventory should be made of what an old age pensioner's needs are. The Central Statistics Office should be got to use the various weightings they use in making up the cost-of-living index and apply that to the old age pensioner's way of living and see what, in fact, could give him a standard of living.

It is deplorable that an old age pensioner, any person living in that situation, at the mercy of the State, so to speak, without any kind of machinery whereby his payments from the State, his pension, are reviewed periodically, every time a round of wages occurs, has his standard of living by that amount reduced. In other words, those citizens in our State who have spent a lifetime of labour in the State, when they come to the end of their days, have no trade union, no organisation, to protect their deteriorating standard of living and it seems the only time anything is done for them is either as a pre-election gimmick by a Government in power or post-election memories of a Government just having won an election. This is a very tragic situation for old people in our country.

It appears to me that the Department of Social Welfare, however expert they may be in ladling out what payments [1517] there are there at the moment, is a fossilised institution, an institution which is rigid in its interpretation of what recipients are entitled to. No winds of change have blown in the dusty corridors of the Department of Social Welfare for some years. I would say the civil servants in that Department are more intent on seeing that the letter of the law is observed then that a spirit of Christian charity should motivate their actions. Christian charity would not see any civil servant in that Department sure of his promotion.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin Zoom on Cormac Breslin The changes the Deputy is suggesting would require legislation and it is not in order to discuss legislation on the Estimate.

Mr. O'Leary: I am suggesting that these are measures that other countries have taken or in respect of which they are at least approaching an attitude of mind. You will agree, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that I have not costed any of my proposals as yet.

Mr. Cunningham: Information on Liam Cunningham Zoom on Liam Cunningham Nor is the Deputy likely to.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish Zoom on Brendan Corish We do not know what Deputy Cunningham's taxation bill is.

Mr. Cunningham: Information on Liam Cunningham Zoom on Liam Cunningham What about those winds of change in the Department?

Mr. O'Leary: I suggest opening a few windows and doors. That would not cost any money.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland Zoom on Kevin Boland It would interfere with the central heating.

Mr. O'Leary: I would remind the Minister that there are many old age pensioners who have no central heating and who have to burn newspapers. I suggest that the Department take some of the old age pensioners' medicine, open up a few windows and get rid of their central heating.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish Zoom on Brendan Corish The central heating is the biggest problem the Minister has down there.

Mr. O'Leary: I commiserate with [1518] the Minister on the central heating but that also might cost money and I do not want to transgress the rules of this debate.

Even affluent societies have discovered that this question of poverty exists in their countries and what I am suggesting is that what little money we are spending at the moment — I think Portugal is our only competitor in the amount of money we spend, and for a country that likes to consider itself developed, comparison with Portugal is not a very commendable one — might in fact be better spent if we examined the problem in its complexity and saw where, in fact, we actually need cash.

It is an astonishing thing, and I have evidence of the lack of public interest in the real problems involved, that in a small country like this there should be some astonishment when we read of old people being found in ditches or found dead by their neighbours in blocks or flats even here in Dublin. This calls for greater use of the social science people we have graduating from our universities. It is a tragedy that such people, coming from our universities with all the up-to-date knowledge that has been discovered, find no employment in this country. The Department of Social Welfare, to my knowledge, does not recruit many of these social science graduates in this particular area. I do not know whether there are any special qualifications for someone coming into the Department of Social Welfare or if he just drops in as casually as civil servants drop into other Departments. It appears to me that specialised knowledge should be necessary. I would suggest also that the local authorities who play such a great part in this matter could, with great profit, also employ such social scientists to see how they could improve their particular service to the public.

The last Deputy who spoke referred to the problems in CIE. I can recall one hardy annual at any rate in this matter. All sections of this House have repeatedly called for reduced fares for old age pensioners travelling [1519] on public transport. The British Labour Government have done this in Britain. It could certainly be done at certain hours of the day. In Dublin and throughout the country, old people have to walk many miles in some cases around the country and even in Dublin to collect payment on a Friday. They are asked to go intolerable distances, and I can recall during the last bus strike here in Dublin, old people who had to walk many miles to their local centre. I do not think CIE would be at a great loss if some arrangement were made whereby old people could get reduced fares at a particular time of the day. As I see it, this goes back to the heart of the question. The Department does not appear to be concerned to get to the heart of this problem in all its complexity and to tabulate it as other countries have done, to find out what are the periods of need in an average family to enable the State to cater for this need and to rescue this whole problem of social welfare from being a political plaything before elections and after elections because this will never solve the problem.

I cannot remember when the realisation dawned on the conservative Parties in this country that there were votes in social security. I can recall reading previous debates in this House when the stock answer of people who are now dripping with mercy for the social welfare recipients — with mercy, but not with any actual concrete results for them — to any demand by this Party for greater attention to such people was “no.” It is many years since we said goodbye to that attitude, that it was worth votes to dole out charity before and after elections. I suggest that there is a greater obligation than that on all of us who are responsible.

There is an obligation on us to examine the problem, to see what are the main elements in the cost of living for an old person, say, at the age of 70, to ascertain the minimal heat required by such an old person because the present payment has scant regard for what should be the minimum [1520] essential. We must discard this idea that the social welfare payment is to be the minimal requirement. Social welfare is not merely the plinth or line but we should strive, as much as possible, to give them a decent standard of living. After all, it is not too much to ask that an old person having worked most of his or her life, having reared a family and lived a decent life in our community be protected against some of the hazards of life.

We call ourselves a civilised society and one of the features of such a society is that it makes provision for those who cannot provide for themselves. If tribes in Central Africa who are called uncivilised could make provision for their old people, why could not we, with our high claims to a rather important part in Christianity, have done something for our old people in this way? What do we find? The so-called pagan countries of Britain and elsewhere have shown us the way to deal with such people.

It appears to me that we have got to get a large dose of humility into our systems in seeing just how we can tackle this problem properly. If we do not get across to our people the idea that social welfare is every bit as responsible and important a section of Government intervention as, say, industry and commerce in economic life, we are making a big mistake. There is still the idea — and we have got to get rid of it — that people who must seek social welfare are somehow the misfortunates or misfits in our society. I question whether anybody in our society — with the kind of weekly wages they have in many cases — can avoid, at some stage or other, falling into the clutches of the Department.

I do not believe that the function of social welfare in this country is yet sufficiently understood. The Department could do a great deal in letting people know what are their rights, under even the existing code, because this, again, is a field in which there are many self-styled experts, many of them politicians or aspiring politicians, who set out to be sea-lawyers in their interpretation of these Acts. There are [1521] many people in our community — and my own union here in Dublin has discovered many members — ignorant of their rights under the different Social Welfare Acts. I am aware that there is a booklet published once a year which sets out in a more or less legal form what people are entitled to. I have seen booklets published by the British Government and other governments on the continent which explain fairly clearly to the people concerned just what their rights are in this respect. We cannot consider that we have, even under the present arrangement, a system which is fully understood by the citizens, unless we have this material.

The Department of Social Welfare in its administration could be less intimidating to the public when inquiries are made. Here I am not blaming any individuals. I presume that the officials involved are, like other officials dealing with the public, overworked people with many things on their minds; but I have received complaints from time to time from constituents that they were treated in rather offhand fashion when they went to them with some little problem. It is important to bear in mind here that the problem which seems to us to be trivial may, in the mind of the person facing it be the greatest facing him at that point in his life. An old person of 70 with a family reared does not have so many occupations of the mind to engage in and a problem which he feels involves an injustice for him acquires very large proportions. If it is not dealt with in a civilised humane fashion, we run the risk, again, of persuading these people that they are outcasts in our society. Above all, we must try in our regulations to bridge the gap for those in our society who fall upon hard times: the idea that they are somehow poor relations of the normal members of our society must be broken down. If, for example, we could get — in our payments to these people who are hit by poverty at different times — some relationship between the amounts paid to them and the amounts paid to people in productive industry, if, at least, there were [1522] some specific machinery whereby, year by year, these amounts could be reviewed in a constructive fashion and consideration of their plight removed from the mere shedding of crocodile tears by one Party or another we would be doing a good job.

For too long the plight of old age pensioners and others has been the voting fodder of unscrupulous politicians. It is time that situation was ended. Indeed, the Department could play a great role in ending the situation by undertaking the kind of study I have suggested, a national survey of real poverty, because this is, in fact, what we are setting out to combat — the pockets of poverty in our midst, poverty which, according to the manifestoes of different people, is the kind of ogre they are all setting out to defeat. But poverty very often does not seek publicity. There are people in our society who would prefer to be cold in the desolation and silence of their own rooms than look for what they consider to be charity. It is important that we drive home the message to those people that to be poor is no crime, to be poor is no fault of theirs, and to combat poverty is one of the responsible jobs of a Government.

It appears to me that we should say goodbye to this kind of complacency in facing this problem. I do not refer merely to the present Minister but to any Minister for Social Welfare who comes into this House and believes that a good job is being done because rules are being adhered to or claps himself on the back because he gave 2/6d to the old age pensioners last year and, maybe, in four years' time gives them another increase, when, perhaps, there would have been three or four wage rounds in the intervening period. A great French philosopher once said that the origins of pity were in the fact that we considered that perhaps the fate might some day be our own. In that case, I would suggest that the present Minister would not want to be dependent upon what we give to the old age pensioners, even accepting [1523] that rather narrow view of the origins of pity.

My constituency is not one in which I would be unaware of the problems of old age pensioners but I can say that I do not have to go very far to meet the misery really there at the moment. I might say that in my constituency, and in other areas of Dublin too, there are people with [1524] very little to eat, people who have to consider very carefully whether or not they can buy one egg today or tomorrow, whether or not they can light a fire today or tommorrow.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 19th October, 1966.


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