§ 5.55 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Assheton)
I beg to move,That the Draft Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) (Amendment) Regulations, 1939, made by the Minister of Labour and National Service under the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, a copy of which was presented to this House on 5th December, be approved.It will, perhaps, be agreed that the introduction of a new set of unemployment assistance regulations does not provide the best opportunity for a maiden Ministerial speech, nor is my task made any easier by the fact that both my predecessors in office were endowed with gifts of eloquence to which I can lay no claim. Both of them graduated in the best schools of oratory, for one of them 1099 was President of the Union at Oxford and the other at Cambridge. In addition to that, the House will, I am sure, readily appreciate that if one has an oratorical inferiority complex, it is not altogether removed by the very close association which I am privileged to enjoy with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. But I will try to make up for my lack of eloquence by giving the closest possible attention to the work of what, I am sure, the House recognises as one of the most important of all Government Departments, since it affects the daily lives of so many millions of our fellow citizens.
I am sorry not to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) in his place this evening, for it was to him that I first owed my real interest in the problem of unemployment. Nearly 25 years ago, when I was still at school, the right hon. Gentleman came down and gave an address on the subject of unemployment, and I well remember how deeply I was stirred by all that he told us. He recommended among other things that we should read the book called "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist," and it was from that book that I first gained an insight into the misery and anxiety which unemployment causes in the homes of those whom it afflicts. My own constituency, fortunately, has been comparatively free in recent years from serious unemployment, but the county in which I live—Lancashire—has given me every opportunity to see at close quarters, not only the tragic consequences of unemployment, but also the very gallant way in which its people have met their adversities in the years since the war; and no one who has lived among those people could fail to have the highest respect and admiration for their qualities. Last winter I spent on a Royal Commission which was investigating conditions in the West Indies. I had amongst my colleagues on that journey one who was much loved in this House—Morgan Jones—and it would be impossible for anyone to have spent many months on a journey with him without having gained something in sympathy and understanding of the problems of the unemployesd, and to have begun to realise the advantages that have been gained here by the ordered progress of our social services.
1100 The Draft Regulations which are before us this evening concern the determination of need and the assessment of needs. Unemployment allowances paid by the Board are based on a scale of rates laid down in the current Regulations. These Regulations, as the House will remember, were passed and approved by Parliament in the summer of 1936, and they came into force in the autumn of that year. Since then the rates have remained unaltered, though the House will recollect that regulations were passed last year permitting special increases in order to meet the needs of winter-time.
Some of the financial implications of the war were made clear by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a recent speech. He pointed out that while the country was devoting its efforts to producing a large quantity of goods which could be used for only destructive purposes, there must inevitably be a serious reduction in the amount of goods and services available for ordinary consumption. It follows, therefore, that the general body of the community must regulate its desires for material satisfaction in time of war. For reasons which were cogently explained by the Chancellor, it is not possible for the general standard of such satisfaction to be maintained in time of war at the same level as in time of peace. If a general attempt to do so is made by increasing the amount of money which is at the disposal of individuals, whether in the form of wages, or salaries or otherwise, the result will merely be to force up prices and reduce the value of that money without adding in any way to the quantity of goods which are available for consumption. By such a process the consumer gains nothing and the poorest least of all. Our capacity to conduct the war to a successful conclusion is hampered by the aggravated increase of prices which must surely be the result. No one who is a realist, I think, can fail to recognise the truth of this.
The Chancellor, however, was very careful to point out a distinction which it is the whole purpose of my speech to underline, and the distinction is this. There are certain sections of the community who are obviously unable to share in the same way in these sacrifices, and those are the people whose incomes are only just sufficient for the essential needs of life. We can, however, take comfort from the fact 1101 that our rapidly increasing war effort will before long bring into employment many of those who have been out of work for a long time and will lessen the number of those who have to depend upon unemployment assistance allowances. These allowances, which are provided under the Regulations of the Board, are designed to meet the most immediate needs of the applicants, and if, owing to a change of circumstances, such, for instance, as a rise in the cost of living, the old scale is no longer appropriate, it is the business of the Board to propose a suitable alteration. In the light of that duty, imposed upon them by Statute, the Board have been giving careful consideration during the past few weeks to the whole situation, including, of course, the cost of living. It would not be practicable to change the Regulations every time the cast of living figure rose or fell. Nevertheless, it is plain that when there is a substantial rise in the cost of living it becomes necessary to consider the position. The Board have now reached the conclusion, after taking various considerations into account, that some change is desirable, and draft Regulations have been submitted to the Minister proposing the changes which are regarded as appropriate.
The changes which are proposed may be summarised thus. The present rates will he increased by 2s. a week in the case of a man and wife, is in the case of a member of the household who is 16 years old and over, and 6d. in the case of a child under 16. The rate for a person living alone, such as, for instance, a lodger or boarder, will be increased by is. 6d. a week. The greatest care has been taken in drafting these Regulations to ensure that the increase shall be a real one. I will explain why it is necessary to provide, in two particular cases, special safeguards. First, the existing Regulations provide that where a householder with a single dependant has no available resources his allowance shall be raised to the rate of unemployment benefit current in the summer of 1936. Under the proposed Regulations the normal allowance for a man and wife will be 26s., but as this is equal to the appropriate benefit rate no addition would fall to be made unless some special provision was made to deal with this point. The provisions of paragraph 2 avoid this result and provide that the same increase as before 1102 shall be given under the proviso and the allowance in the case mentioned will, therefore, be 28s. a week instead of 26s.
Second, under the Regulations one-quarter of the scale rates are deemed to be in respect of rent, and if the amount paid in rent exceeds this proportion the allowance is increased accordingly. With a higher assessment it would work out that the amount attributed to rent would be increased and the extra allowance hitherto made for rent would, therefore, partly disappear. The benefit of the new rates would in such a case, therefore, not be wholly operative. To avoid this happening and to make certain that the increase will really be received care has been taken to ensure that the rules for adjustment of the allowance on account of rent are operated on the old lower scale allowance and not on the proposed higher one.
I might mention here another point with regard to rent which is of real importance. In so far as we are seeking to make provision for an increase in the cost of living, the item of rent can generally be left out of account because under recent legislation increases of rent have been restricted. Since rent remains stable, it follows that the improvements now proposed in the scale rates should be considered in relation not to the full amount of the allowances, but in relation to the three-quarters of them which are attributed to items other than rent. It will be seen, for example, that the 2s. increase to be given to a man and wife is in effect a rise of 2s. on 18s. and not a rise of 2s. on 24s. which is the scale rate. I cannot help feeling that this aspect of the matter though perhaps at first sight somewhat technical, is of real importance. As the House is aware, the Statute provides that the important question of unemployment assistance rates shall be settled only after full opportunity has been given for discussion in Parliament. The draft Regulations containing these proposals are now before us, and I hope that the House will give its approval this afternoon so that it may he possible in the majority of cases to make payments at the new rates before Christmas, which I hope will be in some homes a happier one in consequence.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
It is my pleasure to express the appreciation of the House 1103 at the way in which the hon. Gentleman has made his first speech as a Minister. It is not his maiden speech, but it is his first speech from that Box. I feel sure that we are entitled to expect from him the very efficient service which his office would require from him and which the House is entitled to have from a Minister representing a Department here. The hon. Gentleman had an easy task. The Regulations are simple, and, fortunately, the hon. Gentleman was moving a small concession to the unemployed people. If he had come with a less favourable proposal, he would perhaps not have so fortunate an experience as he will have to-night. I hope that he will not fall from grace in his selection of associates. He said that he had gone to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) for first instruction and guidance on this distressing subject of unemployment. Then he said he enjoyed and profited from his association with Morgan Jones, who is no longer with us in this House, and who, also, had close and sympathetic contacts with unemployed people in recent years. He did not suffer from his association with these two men, and I advise him to sit a little further away from the Minister of Labour, and not to be influenced entirely by the whispering words that may come from him from time to time.
The Parliamentary Secretary represents the division of Rushcliffe. We knew Lord Rushcliffe in this House, and we have seen the steady decline of his appreciation of the miseries of the unemployed and the way in which he schooled himself to study technically the various regulations made by this House. Then he removed from this House to a higher sphere in the political world and to a position of economic certitude which is denied to the majority of us. Lord Rushcliffe is partly responsible for the appearance of these schedules, and I am not surprised to find that they again continue the miserable rates imposed by this House years ago. They were begun by the Economy Act, 1931, and have been continued and modified from time to time, but they have never contained, nor do these Regulations to-night, the means of decent sustenance and livelihood for the unemployed. The complaint I have is not against the hon. Member opposite, not perhaps against the 1104 Minister on this occasion. The complaint is against the Government as a whole, and in particular against those responsible for the main direction of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and also the Treasury, who are responsible for the sins of all of us and are so niggardly in their provision for the proper maintenance of these people. The hon. Gentleman said that this concession amounted to £2,500,000 and covered, I understand, 400,000 applicants, but that number does not represent all who are to share in the provision which is being made. I do not know what the exact figure is.
§ Mr. Grenfell
Assuming that it is 1,000,000 or 1,250,000, this £2,5oo,000 a year represents only about £2 a year for each of them. That is an advance of roughly 40s. a year, less than is a week. It is true that the recipients are divided into categories, and that there is 2s. increase for married couples, is, increase for every person over 16 years of age and 6d. for those under 16, with is. 6d. a week for lodgers, who are now to receive 16s. 6d. instead of 15s.
Those are the main provisions of these new Regulations, and in view of the extent of unemployment and the suffering and misery which it entails, I do not think anyone in any part of the House would dare to stand up and say that generous provision is being made for the unemployed. The payments were never adequate and these small additions are no measure of generosity, only something offered in expiation of past failure to relieve the sufferings of the unemployed. The basic rates were never meant to be an adequate allowance. I remember well the discussions we had and the case we made from this side of the House eight years ago. At intervals since we have repeated the protests we then made. We have brought to the ears of the House the cries of the poor, but the tales of woe and suffering have never moved the Minister and never moved the mass of Members of this House, and it is not good enough to come forward now and say, "We are giving these additional payments as an act of generosity, as an act of seasonal good will, because Christmas time and the New Year are coming." They are increases which have been long overdue, and they are not a 1105 sufficient addition to the basic payments, which were decided some time ago and make no provision at all for the increase in the cost of living.
Hon. Members can analyse the figures as they like. They may analyse them in the subtle way of the hon. Gentleman opposite, who said the additional payment was not meant to be computed as a percentage upon the whole of the allowance at present paid, because there were fixed charges, like rent, which never varied, and, therefore, the 2s. was a percentage payment on something less than the 24s. —on 18s. or 17s. Really, there is no provision here for improving the standard of living of the unemployed. They will not be a bit better off in 1940 than they were in 1937 or in 1936. It is a miserable standard of life which the allowance provides. Take, for example, the items specially mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, that is, food and other household expenses apart from rent, and compare the diet which can be provided on that money with the dietetic standards laid down by the British Medical Association and Sir John Orr.
Even with the increase there will still be a big deficiency. No household dependent upon these allowances, particularly where there are a number of young children, will be able to provide the standard of diet advocated by the British Medical Association or Sir John Orr, and so, in spite of the ostensible increase in payments, we are only perpetuating a misery standard, a standard below the poverty line. In those households which have no income part from these allowances they exist below the poverty line. There will be 1,000,000 people who can never get sufficient to eat, sufficient to clothe them or decent housing accommodation. We have treated those poor people very shabbily indeed. That is the note I wish to strike in examining these Regulations.
I wish the Government would take a larger view. We do not reject these concessions, we welcome them for What they are, but we know they are not enough. It would he wrong for any Member of this House to represent this as a satisfactory allowance to the people whom he represents. I have lived in the industrial area which I represent during recent years, and I make this confession to the House, that my worst forebodings about the Unem- 1106 ployment Assistance Board have not been fulfilled. Great sympathy has been shown by the officials of the Board, who have modified the asperity of the Regulations. Those who go round making the assessments have been better than their masters in Whitehall and at Thames House, and they are entitled to a word of recognition for the manner in which they have discharged their difficult and disagreeable duties. They have been generous at the risk, sometimes, of displeasing the heads of the organisation which they serve. I am sure that is so. They have admitted to me that the existence which they witness every day is not an existence which they would like to share themselves.
I live in a district where there are probably 2,000 or 3,000 people on the means test, and though, fortunately, the number is declining, the hard core of unemployment is as hard as ever it was. Little impression has been made upon it by anything which the Minister or the Government has done. That hard core shows very great resistance to any Government treatment. The effects of unemployment are cumulative. The people become poorer and poorer during every month or every year they are on the means test. The resources with which they have been able to eke out a livelihood grow more slender. Their homes get poorer—they are pathetically poor. I know men who were workmates of mine and schoolmates of mine, as good men as exist in this country, as good as anybody in this House, as good as anybody on the Treasury Bench. I would say the men of whom I speak are the best men I have ever known in my life, and they are poor, and are getting poorer every day. These new Regulations will not do justice to them. We are now spending £6,000,000 a day. I do not grudge it, I think that in present world conditions that expenditure is necessary, the thing had to be done; but how tiny a trickle this £2,500,000 a year becomes when compared with the annual expenditure of which this country is now proved to be capable.
I hope that when the Minister replies to-night he will say that this new provision is not his last word. This new concession has been made in response to pressure. I understand that the Minister himself saw the Trade Union Congress, a body which represents the industrial 1107 classes as no other body does, not even as we in this House represent the workers. They put the case before the Minister. The first point they made was that the basis which has existed for years is not high enough. I should like the Minister, instead of making paltry alterations of 6d. or 1s. a week, to recast the whole plan of unemployment relief. I am now almost reconciled to the Unemployment Assistance Board—but without the family means test. But there are many anomalies which cannot be reconciled unless we redraft the whole of the conditions under which unemployment relief is paid.
Last Sunday a man called to see me, a coal miner, 57 or 58 years of age, about my own age. He has a boy of 24 or 25 working in the pit at a wage of £2 10s. or £2 15s. a week. The man complained, with a sense of wrongs and sorrow which had to be seen to be understood, that with every increase in the wages of his son from the age of 20 upwards there had been a decline in the Unemployment Assistance Board allowance to the home. The boy is now earning, probably, £2 15s. a week because he got an increase of 4s. a week which was arranged by the coal mining industry a few weeks ago. When his wages went up by 4s. the Unemployment Assistance Board took half of the increase away by reducing the allowance to the home. The father gets 9s. 6d. a week. He said that he was ashamed to have to depend upon his boy. He was ashamed that the boy had to throw in all his money to maintain the home.
People who say that this sort of thing does no injury to family life simply do not know. It is not the young man who maintains his father who complains; it is the father who complains, and very often he goes without some of the petty comforts which we all expect to get in order to be able to say that at least the Unemployment Assistance Board provides bread. That is not good enough. There is no change in the condition which says that a father shall not be dependent entirely upon his own boy's labour. Under these Regulations, it is quite possible still for a man with two sons at work not to receive a penny piece in unemployment allowance, except that the Minister may authorise a compassionate allowance of a few shillings. I know these cases in very large numbers. These 1108 Regulations do not meet that kind of hardship. I do not know of any personal sorrow that is greater than that which is joined with the humiliation of a man who knows that the best years of life are gone and that he can see himself as a burden to his own children. That is a matter which I expect the Minister to take up.
We have over 1,000,000 unemployed. Everybody knows that these people do not get enough. I could not live on this unemployment allowance, although I have been accustomed to a hard life. I have lived as hard a life as anybody in this part of the House. Nobody in this House could live on that allowance, so why should we be the arbiters in respect of the 1,000,000 unfortunate people, who have to be kept perpetually down to this low standard? That is what is wrong with these allowances. I would like to see the allowance for children immediately raised not to 6d. but to a minimum of 1s. These allowances are inadequate. Why do we not use this opportunity to make a decent job, at least of the children's allowances and see that the children are properly fed and nurtured? These small allowances are a crime against the children, and I hope that the Minister will say to-night that this is not his last word and that he is contemplating a far wider re-arrangement of the whole of the unemployment regulations. Economy at the expense of the poor is not service to the nation. I hope the Minister will say that this miserable cheese-paring policy in regard to 1,000,000 of our people is to be brought to an end, and that we shall welcome very soon regulations which will make a reasonably generous provision for our unemployed people.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot
I would join with the hon. Gentleman in offering congratulations to the Parliamentary Secretary on his very successful first appearance at that Box. The hon. Gentleman went on to appeal not to the Parliamentary Secretary but to the Minister, and he said on two occasions in his speech that he hoped that these regulations were not the Minister's last word. Of course it does not very much matter whether it represents the Minister's last word or not, because the Act of 1934 deliberately took the initiative out of the hands of the Minister and placed it in the hands of a Board which is not responsible to this 1109 House. That is one of the features of the Unemployment Assistance Board to which we and hon. Members above the Gangway have constantly objected. We hope to see it altered before very long.
I cannot follow the hon. Gentleman in his eloquent survey of the position of the unemployed at the present time, but I would like to raise three specific points which occurred to me when I read the regulations. I apologise to the House for going into details, but these are matters of very great importance to the people concerned. First of all, I see on page 4 a reference to winter relief. I hope that the intention is that this 2S. in the case of a married couple and 1s. in the case of a single person will be in addition to the Winter relief. The applicant will get his original scale and his winter relief and he will get this addition as well. I understand that to be the intention of the regulation. I should like some further assurance about how that will work out. The regulations last year said that, as winter was coming on, the officers of the Board could make such increases as might be reasonable in all cases. Last year and the year before the Board has been advising the officers about the way in which they were to use their discretion and they drew a line of demarcation between two classes of applicants. They advised their officers to use their discretion to grant an additional 2s. or 3s. of winter relief in cases where not more than 5s. was the approved allowance from the Board.
I assume that that is the principle to be adopted in future, when the computation has to be made by the officer. Where more than 50 per cent. of the whole income of the family is represented by allowances from the Board, is this additional money to be taken into account? It may make a considerable difference. If it is taken into account, you may have the peculiar situation that because a man was getting his relief under this regulation he could not have the winter relief. The two arrangements might very well cancel each other out. That is a matter on which the House would like more information. I would also like to have an assurance about the words at the bottom of page 7:The general effect of regulations made in the terms of the present draft would, accordingly, be that, with the exception of a small number of cases raising special considerations, all existing allowances would be increased 1110 by sums, the amount of which in an individual case would depend on the number and ages of the persons in the household.I am not very happy about the words,with the exception of a small number of cases raising special considerations.As the Parliamentary Secretary explained the matter to the House, there was to be an automatic increase in every case, 2s. for the married couple and 1s. for the single person and 6d. for each child. One of the objections I take is that this House has passed regulations in which we gave a wide measure of discretion, and the way in which that discretion is to be used is determined from Thames House by circulars which never come before this House for Parliamentary approval.
Long before we passed the winter relief Regulations the Board was making its own arrangements, of very doubtful legality, without any Parliamentary sanction at all. These words are obviously words of limitation, designed in certain cases to take away this proposed increase of 2s., 1s. and 6d. Before we part with these Regulations we ought to know what are the exceptional cases contemplated by the Board. Will there be any modification if this Regulation is passed? There is bound to be a number of cases particularly in a constituency like my own where the people will get no benefit from the introduction of the Regulations. I think this point should be met. We are here conferring an increase of the amounts for those who come under the Unemployment Assistance Board, and yet so far as I am aware no similar arrangement has been made for increases to those who are drawing standard benefits. The result is that when these Regulations come into force those who have exhausted their benefit rates will be drawing higher sums than those who have paid up all their contributions.
That seems to me a very remarkable situation. It may be right or wrong to divide the unemployed, as we did in 1934, into two categories, but the division is there, and our unemployment assistance has proceeded on the assumption that we give greater advantages to those who have paid their contribution. They were to get something in return. It is only reasonable that those who are in full insurance should get at least equivalent benefit to those who are outside. It may 1111 be that, later on, some recommendation will be made to the Unemployment Statutory Committee, but until that time comes we are creating a very remarkable anomaly by giving this increase to one class of unemployment and refusing it to the other. I welcome these small increases for what they are worth. Before we pass this Regulation I should be glad to have a further assurance on the points which I have raised.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I regret that I was not present at the earlier part of the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. I came in when he was about half-way through. I cannot promise him my entire future support; all I can promise him is a certain amount of criticism, as in the past. I want to raise one point under these Regulations, and that is the continuing difference between the position of the woman and the man. I could never find a reasoned defence why an unemployed woman with a record of long unemployment should be paid 1s. less than a man. Indeed, I think I could argue reasonably well that the average woman requires the same sum as a man in order to live. One of the features of modern industrial life in the great cities is that an unemployed woman has always to care for her outward appearance, good dress, character and style, even more than a man. I want in the first place to raise my voice in protest against this continued existence of the differentiation in these scales. One of the least things which we have a right to expect in any reform we carry out now, in view of the present situation, is that a woman should not in any way be treated in an inferior manner.
The next question to which I wish to draw attention is that referred to by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot)—the question of the stop-gap in the wages clause. I have examined these Regulations, and as I understand them the man governed by the wage stop can get nothing. As far as I can gather from the explanation which has been given, the Ministry have taken steps to deal with the 26s. as the benefit rate, and not only have they brought in Regulations increasing the amount, but they have amended the previous Regulations to allow an increase from 24s. to 26s. If they had not done that they could not have given the 1112 2S. increase, but they have made no amendments in the original Regulations concerning the wage-stop clause. Therefore, those who are governed by the wages clause must be governed by the wage that they earned when they were last in employment. Unless these Regulations are altered large numbers who are governed by that clause will be affected. I should have thought the Government would have taken steps in this matter. A man may have last earned a comparatively low sum of £2. With the war situation he is either certain to have received an increase or to be in the course of negotiating for an increase. The Minister should have taken steps in this Regulation to alter the wages clause, and I trust he will reconsider the matter.
The next matter to which I wish to refer is the question of the treatment by the Board and the application of these Regulations to a class that is fairly common at the moment. One of the things that strikes me is how lucky the present Minister is. In my native city of Glasgow we have a river called the Clyde and there is a saying "If he fell into the Clyde he would come out with fish in his pockets." If the Minister fell into the Clyde he would come out with cork in his pocket; he would float. Even the war seems to have had this effect on him, by bringing in some kind of an increase or another. I would only say this about officials. I do not wish to praise them; I know most of them intimately, especially those in my own part of the world, and I get on reasonably well with them, but I think they are best left alone and that it is best neither to praise nor to attack them if it can be avoided. I would, however, point out that some of those people are getting £700 or £800 a year and the man who receives £800 a year does not need much assistance; he is getting all he wants.
With regard to the method of administration I would raise this point. One of the classes of cases which have been dealt with is the class of persons disqualified from standard benefit. As the Minister knows, when that class of case is examined by the insurance officer and by the Court of Referees a man can apply for an allowance, and this is the practice that the Board adopts, that before the man's case is heard by the Court of Referees they say "You must be punished." No decision is come to, and 1113 they give the man a weekly grant which is much less than the weekly grant he would have received on standard benefit. It is a scale even less than the Board's scale, because they take the view that this class of case should in some way be punished. Whatever may be said, the general practice and the law of this country has been not to punish a man until his case has been heard. I take the view that this practice of the Board in cutting down in the interim period the allowances paid to men or to women whose cases are in dispute is quite wrong, and that it should not be tackled in that way at all. I would ask the Minister, is that the class of case, apart from the wage stop clause, which the Minister means will not get the increase which is asked for?
I want to raise one other matter. I know of a considerable number of men who have been out of work for five, six, seven, eight and 10 years. The longer a man is out of work the more difficult ii is for him to get his mind back to it. When I used to knock about the streets there was a saying, "The first year is the worst," meaning that after the first year you have served your apprenticeship in unemployment. I used to follow a highly skilled trade and I am still amicably associated with it; I am associated with moulders. One of the problems of the 10-year man is that his tools have gone; one of the difficulties of the ordinary tradesman is that in order to start employment again he needs tools. A moulder receives about £2, a pattern maker may receive £5 or £6 and a joiner about the same. A man may find himself in the midst of a very busy period for his particular trade but he has no tools. If I go to the Board and say, "This man can start work but he has no tools and therefore nobody can employ him" the Board say, "We cannot grant him tools, we cannot give him the money."
It seems to me to be the silliest thing possible. Here is a man offered work, the country needs his services or is alleged to be needing them, and he himself is most anxious to start work. In two or three weeks the Ministry would save the whole of the expenditure on tools; yet they say they cannot give them. I know of a case connected with the sunken "Athenia." A musician lost his tools—his musical instrument. It went down with the ship. I came along, 1114 thinking that the Board were the appropriate people, and asked them to give him a grant to get his tools back again. They said, "No, it cannot be done; we are not allowed to do it." I would say to them that if the Board exist for any purpose at all, surely one of the purposes should be to rehabilitate a man in decent ordinary employment.
One matter which needs improvement is that connected with a woman's pride in dress. I want to see women proud of their attire. One of the requisites for a person who wishes to get a job is a decent pair of boots and decent clothes. I know numbers of cases of men who need boots and women who need decent clothes, and I would ask the Board to consider the possibility of helping men and women to get jobs by supplying them with the necessary clothes in addition to their allowance. There is one matter which needs consideration and it is this. Frequently, when the Board grant a man or a woman a sum for clothes, or it may be bedclothes or household things, they do something which is wrong and indeed in Scotland is not allowed. They come along and take it back in the form of a shilling or two shillings a week. Once a man has made out his case for these additional things this practice of collecting a shilling a week from the person should be stopped. This creation of a debt is annoying to the official and to everyone.
I now wish to refer to the treatment of relations of soldiers in the Army. There has been an outcry in this House and in the country generally about the treatment of officers in a submarine at Liverpool; certain people were paying Income Tax and there was an outcry about it. I have a good deal of sympathy with that sort of outcry, but if the outcry was justified there an outcry is more justified to-day with regard to the treatment of people associated with men in the Army. A widow may lose her husband while serving in the Army; I know of one whose husband was lost in the "Courageous." She receives 35s. a week for herself and her children. There is a son who is unemployed, and part of the 35s. has to keep him because he only receives the income for being one of the household and instead of receiving the full 15s. or 16s. he receives only 9s. or 10s. No man living with his mother in such a case can live on 9s. a week with- 1115 out eating into the pension of the dead man, no matter how economical he may be. What is the position now about the counting-in of soldiers' and sailors' pensions and allowances? In the case of a mother who gets an allowance from her son how much of that allowance is taken into account—all, or part, or none? This counting-in is one of the cruellest things I know; one of the grimmest tragedies in our everyday life.
The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) properly said that one of the worst things about this is the ruination of family life. One of the things that I feel most about the means test is the way in which it hunts people about, people who have nothing to do with it. There are hosts of cases of this kind. A city typist works for what she considers a first-class firm of stockbrokers, solicitors or something like that, and earns a comparatively decent wage. Her father is on the means test. She has to declare her income, and to let everybody in that firm know that her father is on the means test. You may say that it should not be a matter for shame, but that type of girl feels it; it hurts her, and it holds her back. Often when it is a question of handling money it is felt that the responsibility should not be given to a girl whose father is unemployed. One of the tragedies of the thing is this laying bare of the whole family life.
One of the strange things about this war, which is supposed to be a strange war, is that after 14 weeks, with £6,000,000 a day being spent, this Government have not yet been able to solve the problem of putting 1,500,000 men and women back to work. This House may well be reminded that there are distressed areas and distressed people here still. I trust the House of Commons and the Minister will apply their minds to two things: to meeting the conditions of these people to a greater extent than the Minister has done to-night, and to solving this grim problem as a whole.
§ 7.5 P.m.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill
I cannot let this Debate pass without protesting against what I consider the totally inadequate concession which the Government have made. I join with my colleagues in congratulating the new Parliamentary Secretary, but I feel that the Minister of 1116 Labour was a little cruel in allowing the Parliamentary Secretary to make his maiden speech at that Box on these Regulations. Surely this is not a matter for mutual congratulation. This Debate simply focuses the attention of this House upon what I believe to be the shamefully low allowances to the unemployed. In fact, I believe that the new Parliamentary Secretary has spoken on the worst feature of the unemployment problem—that is, the treatment of the unemployed by the National Government. I do not charge the Parliamentary Secretary with being a little cynical, but when he says that this is a proper time to make this grant because we are nearing Christmas, that surely is matter for thought. Can one suggest, for instance, that an allowance of 3s. 6d. per week during the Christmas period—for that is what the new allowance will be for a child of under 16—can be regarded as a Christmas present from the National Government to the child of the unemployed man? What will this extra 6d. do? It will simply be swallowed up in the rise in the cost of living. It may be that the Parliamentary Secretary is the father of a growing family.
§ Mr. Assheton indicated assent.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Then we share that experience. [Interruption]—though not the same family. One surely must remember that these are human problems we are discussing, and relate these things to our own lives. How would the Parliamentary Secretary or I feel if we knew that 3s. 6d. was the amount we were allowed by a beneficent Government to feed, clothe and shoe our children for Christmas week and give them a Christmas Day treat? I believe that the Minister of Labour in the past has been a very kind man—in the past. I have been told that his background was a very humane and tolerant one, and often I watch him, sitting on that bench and nodding his head. I ask him seriously, does he believe that this extra 6d. a week can be regarded as being in any sense adequate, or will he honestly admit that it really means permanent malnutrition for every child of the unemployed? I simply cannot think how I would keep a child of eight and another of 12 alive on 3s. 6d. a week. This is the time to ventilate these problems. Are the Government going to continue these shamefully small allowances to the un- 1117 employed and this cheeseparing at the expense of the most helpless section of the community, the children? I cannot understand who advised the Minister on these allowances.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am thinking in terms of the Advisory Committee. I am a member of a local authority which administers many institutions for the children, and when we are buying food in bulk for something like 200 or 300 children, in every instance with an eye to giving these children a nutritious diet—and, after all, the very simplest of diet—we cannot cater for them at a cost of less than 6s. 6d. a week each for food alone. That is buying in hulk for 200 or 300 children. Is the Minister going to continue this system, or can we hope that perhaps in a few months' time he will realise that it is in the best interests of lie State to look after the next generation?
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I want to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) in his general condemnation of the basis of these scales, and also to associate myself with him in paying tribute to the officers of the Board for the very excellent way in which they are handling what is a very dirty job. I come in contact with them very frequently, and I think their service to the State should be noted with considerable harks in that they are doing a job that is extremely difficult.
I would like to raise a number of points with the Minister with regard to the Draft Regulations that are before us. On page 7 of the Memorandum it is stated:Under the proposed Regulations, the normal allowance for a man and wife without resources and in the absence of any special circumstances will be 26s., and, as this is equal to the appropriate benefit rate, no addition would fall to be made.The point I want to make is that the present benefit rate is 27s. We have under the Regulations and under the operations of the Board two scales being applied in cases where there are no other resources. There are the old cases which get 26S. under the first proviso, and the new cases which get 27s. The Minister shakes his head, but that is the practice which I have seen adopted in spite of 1118 appeals to his appeal tribunals. That is a point which he ought to put right. The Parliamentary Secretary, in making his statement, said the purpose of these Draft Regulations is to meet the changed conditions. I want to contest that and to say, in the first place, that only 400,000 claimants are to get benefit. What is to happen to the other 600,000? This is like the Winter Adjustments Regulations; a proposal to give more relief to the unemployed, but to give it only to 50 per cent. of them. Is the same thing to operate here? You are now coming along as a sort of Father Christmas and saying that you are going to give the unemployed something additional, and we find that you are going to give it only to half of them. That is not playing the part of Father Christmas, but is rather mocking their misery and want. Take the case of a man and his wife, with a son who is earning 40s., and ignore the rent factor. For the normal assessment purpose, on one side of the paper you have 24s. under the first proviso, and if there, are other reasons, and on the other side, 40s., the earnings of the son. Twelve shillings of the earnings of 40s. are taken as being a contribution to the maintenance of the father and mother, and the unemployment allowance for the father is accordingly reduced to 12s. If there had been no son or no other resources, 26s. would have been the calculation of the need, but because he has a son at home he not only loses 12s., but also an additional 2s., making 14s.
Let us follow out this case still further, and I trust that the Minister will follow this example. This son, on 1st November, received an increase in wages to meet his increased cost of living of 4s., making his wages 44s., and because of this the Board come along and say to the father, "Because your son has had an additional 4s. to meet his increased cost of living we will take 2s. off your allowance." The Board use the addition of the 4s. given to the son to meet the increased cost of living in order to rob the old man of 2s. and save the State from its liability to maintain him. There is also the question of the winter conditions. The Unemployment Assistance officer looks at this case and says, "This man is entitled to 2s. winter addition if half of the income going into the house is derived from the boy, but because more than half the income is derived from outside they tell the old 1119 man and woman, "You cannot even have the winter addition," and they are therefore robbed of another 2s. This is the use of Regulations for the purpose of making the means test worse than it was originally intended to be.
Apply Section 2 of the new regulations and what happens? In this case you give an extra 2s., and the father gets 12s., exactly the same amount as he was getting in October. You say that you have done something to meet the changed conditions, but actually you have not. If the son is at home, all that this man and woman will get is 12s. a week, and if he leaves home they will get 24s., and under the first proviso the old man will get another 2s., and a winter addition under the new regulation of 2s. 6d. He will get another increase under these Regulations of 2s., making 30s. 6d. a week, If the son goes away from home these old people will have 18s. 6d. more from the Board. Out of the son's 44s., you are taking 18s. 6d. a week in order to help to maintain that man and woman. Is that a thing that can be justified under the original Regulations? You said that the provision to be made was to be decided by the old calculation, and you have used the subsequent Regulations in order to increase the penalty imposed under the first Regulations. This is the consequence of trying to make an iniquitous means test fit into regulations which are drafted in such a way as to pass an unsuspecting House, and in dealing with this problem political probity has been entirely set aside. How do you propose under these Regulations to deal with the dignity money? Officers have 12s. worth of discretion for the purpose of giving 5s. Do you propose that there should be added to the 5s. the increases under these Regulations? Are you going to apply the old calculation that you apply in connection with rent, that is, to calculate the dignity money on the old basis? If you are not going to do that, it means that these people will stay where they are.
One hon. Member raised the question of the wage stoppage cases. What is the intention of the Regulations in regard to those cases? Are we to take it that irrespective of the family conditions and the increases provided for in these draft Regulations they shall be applicable to this type of case? We ought to have 1120 some information on that point. Is it the human needs of the family that are to determine the right to these increases, and not some prejudice at the Board, which seems to take the view that even children may be starved, if necessary, in order to drive their fathers into uneconomic employment?
I received a letter on Saturday morning from a woman in the Rhondda, which deals with this position, and I want hon. Members to picture the woman writing the letter in a cottage kitchen in the Rhondda. Some hon. Members may say that it is sob-stuff. Here is a woman who is sobbing her heart out. She says:I am writing to you to see it you can do something about this means test. It is awful, with the cold weather coming on when you want more fires and bedding and you cannot get anything. I got my husband home three years with bronchial asthma. He used to get the dole arid then public assistance, but owing to my two little boys, one 17 and the other 19, they have stopped everything. I was getting 3s. for nourishment. They have even taken that off me. I am paying 2s. 9d. a week for powder for my husband, and you know that boys' money isn't much. I pay 12s. 6d. rent, no apartments, 3s. for coal, and insurance, without light. I haven't got much left for food and other things.You cannot expect boys to work and not give them anything. It isn't fair. This means test is terrible for everybody. The poor class have got to suffer every time. If the old people get a rise and somebody on the dole is living in the same house, they count it all up, and he gets his dole stopped, and they have to turn round and help keep them. So, whichever way it is, they are no better off. If some people are living with son or daughter and they are on the dole, it will be taken off to answer the old people's allowance.I feel very often on a Saturday night, when I see how much I have got left in money and food to last till the following Friday, that I would like to gas myself and husband out of our misery. Only misery it is. To think these two boys have got to keep us or send the oldest, who is 19, from home, and he is very delicate, with a had chest. If you could do something, it would be a Godsend for everybody. It has hit the poor people. The suffering it has caused only us mothers know, but we have got to show a smiling face when we are half starving. If we go on public assistance, my boys that are married have got to help keep us, and they don't earn enough for themselves, with families to keep. It is awful the suffering and unhappiness it has caused.When I see my husband looking at me with his eves full of tears it finishes me. I know what he is thinking, that my boys have got to keep him. I cannot get what I ought to get for him. I have bread and tea, to keep what I have got for the boys who are working, because they want some- 1121 thing when they are working hard. I say to myself, what I would give to get a good meal, because I don't know what it is. How many mothers are the same? We go without so that our husbands or children can have what they can. So the rise won't do the old people much good after all. It will be more worry all through the means test. I hope you will excuse me writing to you, but you are our only hope. May God bless you in, your fight to get rid of the misery of the means test.She signs herself as a broken-hearted wife and mother. If the right hon. Gentleman is short of a testimonial I would present him with that letter. These are the conditions which we say ought to be removed. The draft Regulations are a mockery to the unemployed in the country.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
We have been considering in this House during the last few weeks various aspects of the question of allowances and remuneration to various classes of the community. This is only one aspect of them, and we should relate anything we are doing to-night to the other problems, such as the payments to soldiers, their dependants, unemployment insurance, the question of the abolition of the means test, etc. I should not like it to be thought that in advocating an increase in the amount of these allowances that are before us to-night we have not very strongly in mind the necessity of increases on the same lines in connection with all these other matters which arise and have arisen on different occasions. I hope that we shall have very prominently in mind the matter to which we should first address ourselves when we come back, namely, the question of old age pensions.
The new rates that have been fixed are, of course, an increase, but they are still far below, substantially below, the primary needs of the population. If you take these primary needs, which have been so carefully estimated by expert committees, and take into consideration only the bare living necessities, with nothing extra for things like fares, stamps, insurances, and so on, we shall find that the British Medical Association have gone very carefully into the question as far as food standard is concerned. The other part of the question, such as clothing, feeding, light and fuel, has been carefully investigated by the well-known Mersey Survey Poverty Line. In these 1122 estimates rent has been assumed to be the scale allowance under the Unemployment Assistance Board. In considering these figures we have to remember that they are pre-war prices, so that the position is substantially worse to-day than when the estimates were made.
What do we find? Let me take the example of a man, his wife and three children. The estimate of the primary needs of those individuals is 44s. a week. That is the very least that five human beings can carry on with. The Unemployment Assistance Board scale is to be increased from 35s. to 38s. 6d., provided there is no wage stoppage, but that is still 5s. 6d. below the primary needs standard. The question I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this, and I hope he will be good enough to give a definite answer: Why is it that a scientific basis of this kind having been arrived at, the Government are fixing a standard substantially lower? I can give four possible reasons, and I hope the Minister will say what is the reason. He may say that the estimate is inaccurate and has not been properly worked out. He may say that he does not dispute the estimate but that there is not money available. There is always money available if it is very urgently wanted, as we know perfectly well. I cannot think of any case for providing national money more necessary than for primary needs of this kind.
The right hon. Gentleman may say that having regard to the rates of wages paid in different parts of the country these allowances would be too high and that they would compete with wages. If that be so it is a very strong argument in favour of legislation—it might have to be by trade boards or other means—for raising the standard of wages throughout the country. That is the way to deal with a question of that kind. He may say that nothing is perfect in this world and that we can only approach perfection by degrees and that this is a step forward; that he would like to see other steps taken in due course, and give everybody what they ought to have. I do not think that will be a very satisfactory answer. I want to raise the point, and I think it is important, that if you can bring in a scientific test, if you can relate what you are doing in the way of allowances to a scientifically-worked-out standard, you have something to go upon, and some- 1123 thing to answer. I hope it will be the policy of the Minister, who, I know, would like to do everything he can, and the Government, in the matter of allowances and all these other problems, to give to the people of this country everything in the way of allowances to which scientific tests have proved they are entitled for their sustenance and maintenance.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
I should not like this opportunity to pass without a member of the party I represent in this House saying a word about the matter under discussion. To me the Unemployment Assistance Board has always seemed to be an unfortunate way of dealing with this question. I have always had a feeling that in the Debates on the matter there is a certain unreality, because the Board is so much out of the control of the House of Commons. I sympathise with the Minister of Labour who, in relation to the Board is little else than a messenger boy coming to the House of Commons with a message from the Unemployment Assistance Board as to what is going to be done. One does not like to be ungrateful when a certain improvement is being made, but with regard to this improvement I wonder that the Board did not show more imagination and did not realise the position of their fellow beings in this country who are unemployed, when they bring forward such a pitiful improvement in view of the rise in the cost of living and the difficulties which people are called upon to face. The whole Debate has been an exposure of the utter inadequacy of the scales which are being provided. I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) on the way in which he presented our opposition to the means test and the work of the Unemployment Assistance Board.
One point in connection with these Regulations is the fact that standard benefit will now be less than the unemployment assistance allowance in many cases. The result of this disparity between standard benefit and the unemployment assistance allowance is going to result in a tremendous addition of work for the Unemployment Assistance Board, for people who are now in receipt of standard benefit will be making an application for 1124 supplementation to the Unemployment Assistance Board. If half a million unemployed are going to the Board for a supplementary allowance, it is quite evident that a tremendous additional burden will be thrown upon the Board at a time when so much additional work has already been thrown upon them owing to the war in connection with the administration of pensions and the investigations and provisions for allowances for dependants of soldiers. I wonder that the Minister of Labour, when he was faced with this recommendation from the Unemployment Assistance Board, did not see to it that there was synchronisation and got the Unemployment Insurance Committee to deal with the matter so that there might have been an addition in the rate of standard benefit in harmony with the new rates provided for unemployment assistance. It is obvious that there is going to be a great waste of money in connection with these matters in administration, which might very well have been saved if standard benefit had been increased at the same time in respect of children's allowances. I regret that the Minister did not take the necessary steps in this direction.
Sometimes when I listen to debates on the treatment of the unemployed under the Unemployment Assistance Board, I wonder who these people are. One would almost think that they are the worst people in the country, whereas they are our brothers and sisters who, through no fault of their own, are placed in this unfortunate position. The very fact that they are drawing unemployment assistance shows that they have borne more than their share of unemployment, and yet they are to be subjected to so many indignities. The Board and the Government, instead of bringing forward these new Regulations with their pitiful little increases, should have shown more imagination and have swept away the means test altogether and provided decent treatment for these people.
Who are the unemployed who are being dealt with under the Regulations? In a large percentage of cases they are men who are in the Services, soldiers, sailors and airmen who protect this mighty Empire. Yet their parents, their brothers and their sisters, are put in a miserable position owing to the operation of the means test. I wonder the Government 1125 have not shown the capacity to deal in a totally different way and in a drastic way with this question, and to make adequate provision for these people. Extraordinary things happen in these days of war. Perhaps I may be allowed to give an illustration by referring to what has happened in Glasgow, and the way in which the Public Assistance Committee, which works alongside the Unemployment Assistance Board in making provision for people, deals with blind people in the present circumstances. I know of one case of a woman whose son gave her £2 a week when working. He was in a good job, and then he joined the Army as a motor driver. She had her old age pension of 10s. supplemented by 17s. a week. Her son in the Army allotted her 7s. a week, and the Public Assistance Committee deducted 3s. 6d. a week from the 17s. because of that allotment. She received 7s. a week instead of the former £2 a week from her son, and from that 7s. the Public Assistance Committee in Glasgow had the cheek to deduct 3s. 6d. a week.
It is the same with the Unemployment Assistance Board. They seem to be willing to take the services of men to carry on the work of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force; they are willing to call upon them to make the greatest of all sacrifices; and yet, when the relatives of these men are in need, they treat them in the miserable and mean fashion exemplified in the Regulations before us to-night. I am sorry that the Government have not seen their way, in the circumstances of the time, to see that every person has an adequate income and that every individual in the community has the opportunity of having full means of subsistence. The position in which we are at the present time is all wrong. There is this miserable little sum for the unemployed, and yet the country is spending £6,000,000 a day in carrying on the war. It is absolutely wrong. I hope that the unemployed people and their friends throughout the country will see to it that the Government feel the pressure of public opinion, and that this will result in sweeping away the means test and giving decent treatment to the unemployed.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Brown
I wish, first of all, to thank the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) for their kind refer- 1126 ences to my hon. Friend. I am sure we all look forward to the time when the hon. Member for Gorbals will give my hon. Friend no quarter in our Debates on these subjects, which are the constant preoccupation of the House, and to which my hon. Friend and I are constantly forced to listen and answer.
We are debating a problem which is ages old, and although I need not say much about general questions, I hope to refer to them before I come to the end of my speech. There are one or two special points with which I should like to deal at once. I was glad that the hon. Member for Gower and other hon. Members paid a tribute to the actual working out of the system of the Unemployment Assistance Board. Whatever may be the views of hon. Members on the basis or structure, they all agree that the work is being done with great understanding and humanity. I must, however, enter a caveat about the qualification mentioned by the hon. Member for Gower, who said that the officers of the Board were doing better than their masters. That is really not so. It is often overlooked in Debates in the House that one cannot assess the value of the system of the Unemployment Assistance Board for the prevention and relief of distress without having regard not merely to the scales that are put down in figures, but to the wide discretionary powers in more than one direction which are contained in the Regulations governing the whole work of the Board. The very happy things we have heard about the fine work done by individuals would not have been possible but for their masters' consideration in drafting these Regulations. Subject to that small caveat, I am happy to have heard these tributes to the working of the unemployment assistance scheme. I am sure that a great many Members were surprised at the way in which it has worked out in the matter of the relations between the applicants and the staff of the Board.
With regard to the Regulations themselves, I had quite expected that I should be told that what we are doing to-day is not enough. There is one word that I have missed. I had quite expected to hear what we propose called a crumb, but it was not. I mention the word myself in order to add this, that those who have to deal with the problem of relief of the poor, whether able-bodied or not able- 1127 bodied—and here I reply to the remarks of the hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) about the National Government and 3s. 6d. for a child, with the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) sitting on the Front Bench opposite listening to her speech—must have regard to two things, not merely the individual sum given to each person, but the sum total every week, every month, every year, in relation to the whole structure of our financial obligations. When the hon. Lady, in her genial, her very friendly and personal way, put to me the question whether I thought 3s. 6d. was enough, I saw sitting opposite the right hon. Member for South Hackney—who I regret is not here now—and I took from my file the particulars of the standard of the London County Council. What did I find? Precisely the same figure.
It is not enough to make the party point which the hon. Lady was making. She must realise that we must have regard not merely to one problem but to many problems, not merely to one 3s. 6d., 4s. or 4s. 6d., but to hundreds of thousands of them every week. The fact that this addition, which has been described as insufficient, amounts to £2,500,000 a year illustrates the difficulties of those in responsible positions, whether in the local government or in the National Government, when they have to deal with this problem, which is older than Elizabeth and which has perplexed the minds and touched the sympathies of men of all sorts and kinds for hundreds of years. Let me here add that we have in this country a system of unemployment relief for able-bodied people which will bear comparison with that of any nation in the world. So much for the general points.
As usual, hon. Members have been very precise in their speeches, dealing with different passages in the draft Regulations with regard to the practice of the Board and the instructions of the Board. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) and the hon. Member for Gorbals summed up the main points. The hon. Member for Dundee asked about winter relief. He broadly stated the method by which relief is given, but not quite. Although the hon. Member has, broadly, stated the basis on which winter additions are made, cases in which the other resources exceed 1128 the allowance by a small sum are given additions. It is not an arbitrary or rigid fixed percentage. The hon. Member and also the hon. Member for Gorbals, asked me about the precise practice which the Board intends to follow after the regulations have been approved, if they are approved by the House to-night, and I will answer them in precise form. The additions now made to the Board's allowance will be taken into account to decide on which side of the line the case falls. It means that the applicants will get the advantage of it and of course, as I have said, it is not an arbitrary, fixed percentage.
One or two hon. Members have raised the question of the wage stop. It is generally overlooked that there is a discretion and that the Board can waive the wage stop in cases where there are special circumstances. Again, the suggestion is that the practice is arbitrary, but that is not so. The Board realise that the question of the wage stop will assume greater importance in a small number of cases, in view of the increases now given. Instructions will be given to the officers to pay special attention to such cases and to see that the operation of the wage stop does not give rise to hardship. It is not the intention to make an arbitrary application of the wage stop. Any increases of wages given as a result of the rise in the cost of living, will be taken fully into account in determining the figure to be taken for wage stop purposes, and that, I am sure, will reassure hon. Members who have raised the question.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Will any increase of wages given as a result of the increased cost of living raise the ceiling where the wage stop has been fixed prior to those increases?
§ Mr. Brown
I have said that it will be taken fully into account, and I am sure the House will not expect me to go further than that in replying to this Debate. One other specific point was raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals in a powerful passage in his speech about widows' pensions. I have made inquiry about that, and I am assured that no part of a widow's pension is taken into account in the case of an unemployed son. He would be given the scale rate of 10s.
§ Mr. Buchanan
That is the point. I said he would get the 10s., but I also say that the scale rate of 10s. does take into 1129 account the widow's pension, because no man of that age could live on 10s. a week. Where there is only a widow's pension coming in, that man should be treated on the same level as if he were a lodger outside the family.
§ Mr. Buchanan
When you follow that practice you take into account the 35s., but if that man was a stranger and a lodger, the 35s. would not be counted. But because it is his mother who is getting 35s. you reduce him from 16s. to 10s. It is treated as part of the family income. I say you have no right to do it, and that it is a mean thing.
§ Mr. Brown
That is the general case which has been put up all along by those who have objected to the family basis for the test of need.
I was asked also by the hon. Member for Dundee what was meant by the phrase in the explanatory memorandum "small number of special cases." This is not meant to be, as I think one hon. Member suggested, a form of words to enable us to defeat the general object of the Regulation. All those who have had to deal with this difficult problem know that there are some very difficult cases, cases that come up before the advisory committees, for instance, of men who have refused employment or of men who are living in unsatisfactory circumstances, and who make no attempt to change. There is a small number of special cases of that kind.
§ Mr. Brown
No doubt if the question were put to the advisory committees which have had to deal with these cases they would be able to raise the strongest objections to them. The next question which has been raised by several hon. Members although it does not strictly arise on this Debate, is that of the rela- 1130 tion of benefit to need. Benefit has never been paid on the basis of need. The Board's powers give, as the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) hinted, an opportunity for supplementing from other sources, if benefit is reckoned in any case to be insufficient.
§ Mr. Brown
I understood that the hon. Member was complaining of certain action by the Glasgow authority with regard to that matter. The fact is that for years before the setting up of the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee we had the most unsatisfactory conditions in connection with the Fund. It never had until the last five years any reasonably settled basis and we do not propose now to alter the procedure. At the moment the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee are taking evidence from all kinds of persons and organisations as to what they think should be done at the moment. I would add this, in order that the figures may be put on record in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Certain newspapers are treating the present balance in the Fund as a surplus, but balances are not surpluses and the House will determine whether there is a disposable surplus in the Fund or not when I tell them that on the 9th December the balance in the Fund was £56,314,000, but, on the other side, it must be remembered that on 9th December there was a debt outstanding of £77,082,000. Those who talk about the balances on the one hand seem to forget about the debt on the other and you cannot treat the £56,000,000 as a surplus to be disposed of, as some controversialists outside the House have tended to deal with it.
The rest of the Debate has turned on three general issues. The first was put in a particular form by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), who asked why we did not adapt our standards to certan theoretical calculations that have been made. He called them scientific calculations but I call them theoretical and the fact that some scientists have made these calculations does not necessarily mean that they rest on a basis of ascertained facts. People of various kinds and various bodies, including a number of able men, have inquired into this difficult problem of the standard of living but you find very few of them in complete agreement. 1131 There are half a dozen different sets of figures which I could give to the House, and the fact is that it is one thing to make these calculations, but it is an entirely different thing to change the whole structure of the national life in the light of social and industrial considerations, and say that the standards that have been drawn up by particular bodies for the purpose of particular investigations should necessarily be adopted by the Government of the day.
§ Mr. Grenfell
We admit the variations in these assessments of the needs of individual and family life, but can the Minister point out a single one in which the assessment of need is lower than the scales adopted by the Government?
§ Mr. Brown
I know of some that are not so high, but when regard is had, not necessarily to the scales themselves, but to the allowances, to the discretionary power with regard to rentals, and so on, I would say that I do not know of any system of relief anywhere in the world which will compare with the system which we apply to our able-bodied unemployed. That is not to say that I am saying the last word that will be reached in this matter. It has been said that I was tender hearted at one time, but that I am now hard hearted. [Interruption.] It was the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham who said it, and I am quoting her. How she knew, I do not know, but she said it, and when things like that are said, I can only say that since I have been in office there have been continuous adjustments, and they have all been upwards. I have no doubt that as time goes on we may perhaps come to a point where we may even satisfy the theoretical standards to which the hon. Member referred, and I am sure that then there will be other theorists who will set higher standards, and the same complaints will be made all over again.
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer one question? One of the standards which is always quoted as far higher than his is the standard set up by the Ministry of Health. Why does he not set up his own standard, if he is not satisfied with that?
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Lady knows that she will lead me into a controversy. 1132 [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite had better not cheer that too loudly, because if we did get into that controversy, we should at once come to the problem of family allowances, and there their agreement with the hon. Lady would end at once. The hon. Member for West Fulham might agree, but I am not at all sure that the industrial Members sitting below her would agree.
§ Dr. Summerskill
In 1930, when this question was before the Executive, the political members agreed with us on family allowances.
§ Mr. Brown
But the hon. Lady does not say the industrial members or the industrial trade unions. Let me say one other thing. Hon. Members who have raised the question of the means test would not expect me to say anything more than this, that having surveyed the whole field, having carefully followed the Debates in the last four and half years, having put to the House in the early days the questions involved in changing to a family means system, the Government see no reason to change the present basis. There may be adaptations, but more than that I cannot say.
§ Mr. Grenfell
Will the right hon. Gentleman please tell the House whether these draft regulations or anything that is contained in the provision for the next period will make it possible for the dignity money to be altered in any way?
§ Mr. T. Smith
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Board are considering the question raised about sons and daughters working at home, and whether the Board are prepared in the immediate future to allow more than is allowed now? You are standardising poverty and causing a good deal of distress in some homes by your present policy.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Will the right hon. Gentleman put up to the Board the reconsideration of the question of taking in, say, a pension such as I have described, or a soldier's allowance? Surely, when the Board last considered these matters they were not in the midst of a war and all its attendant difficulties, 1133 and I would ask, whatever else you do, that you should cut out completely any association of allowances of pensioners with the question of allowances from the Unemployment Board.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Draft Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) (Amendment) Regulations, 1939, made by the Minister of Labour and National Service under the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, a copy of which was presented to this House on 5th December, be approved.