HC Deb 13 March 1967 vol 743 cc60-104

3.54 p.m.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

I beg to move, That this House notes the burden of maintaining dependent relatives, usually elderly parents, borne by thousands of single women, and that in carrying out a filial duty the daughter is performing a service which otherwise would have to be undertaken by social security and public welfare services; that this frequently involves many years of financial and physical strain; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take early action to lighten these burdens by providing new social security benefits, and urges welfare and housing authorities locally to assist single women in this situation with such help that they can go on caring for their relatives at home without undue stress. It is a matter of great good fortune to me to be selected first for the third time in two years in the Private Members' Ballot. On the last occasion I moved a Motion relating to the needs of mentally handicapped children, and today I have the pleasure of moving a Motion relating to the needs of another small group in our society who are often forgotten. It is a good thing that in this House we should remember those small groups in our society whose social needs are so often neglected.

Today in social security we face the break-up of many of the old considerations relating to the Poor Law. I am reminded of the Minority Report to the 1909 Commission on the Poor Law which advocated the break-up of the Poor Law and the substitution of a system whereby individual necessitous groups in society ought to have their need considered in their own right. This is one of those groups. Society today is more and more identifying special categories of need.

There is another point relative to this consideration, and that is the changing nature of the population. One hundred years ago it might have been said that one of the most necessitous groups in our society were children in need of care, and particularly orphans. I have in mind the fact that in 1857, in the Liverpool Workhouse, the largest single group was of 1,000 orphans. That situation has changed and we now face a society in which children are cared for but where old and ageing people are not cared for as well as they should be. This is particularly relevant to this Motion.

There is another general consideration, too, and that is the status of women. The first public speech that I ever made was over 40 years ago on the need for equal pay for women.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Exeter)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Hamling

That was before my hon. Friend was born.

Today, we carry on the struggle for women's rights. This is a continuous struggle. I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) has left the Chamber. Her mother was one of the pioneers in my home town in this sphere of women's rights. Today's debate is part of this struggle for women's rights in a man's world. How often a woman's career is sacrificed because there is a family to be cared for, and it falls to the daughter to do it and not the son.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Social Security knows about this from personal experience. We in this country have a pattern of family life very different from that of peasant communities with extended families where the care of old people is part and parcel of the ordinary day-to-day family life. In the English family the young leave home, leaving the caring of the elderly to others, either to the State or perhaps with a sister who does not get married.

This bears very heavily upon women, particularly professional women, because a great many of these women have to continue with their jobs, very often at salaries inferior to those of their male colleagues, and at the same time have to look after a house and an ageing relative. They have two jobs for the price of one. A great many working-class women do this, and I would say that very often the financial sacrifice and financial hardship is greater than that of the professional woman.

Many women work for very low wages. I understand that the average wage for women is £9 2s., which is very inferior to that paid to men. They have to cope with this low income, and they have no money to spare. They are living in poverty, the kind of concealed poverty about which a great many people have become agitated recently.

I have to declare an interest in the debate in that I am a member of the committee of the National Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants. The National Council has drawn considerable attention to these needs since its foundation a short time ago. It began its work largely as the result of a survey of the co-operative estate, the Progress Estate, in my constituency in Eltham, in June 1964. It set out to discover the number of single women living either alone or with dependent relatives. Out of 1,100 families contacted, there were 100 single women, 83 of whom were interviewed. Of these, 65 lived either with one or more relatives or with a friend, and 18 lived alone. Even among those who lived alone, 14 had at some time or other looked after one or more relatives. I think it right to say that the people who conducted the survey were surprised at the large number of women who had to look after relatives or had at some time or other had to do so and who were themselves single.

The National Council is here blazing the trail for the statutory authorities. Those of us with experience of the social services know how common it is for a private organisation to carry out social experiments and to find the facts, so that the statutory authorities can later on come in and help, in co-operation with the private charity or even on their own.

There was another survey in my constituency last year, in New Eltham. This was a general social survey, but one of the facts discovered in an area covering about 11,000 people was the very large number of people living isolated lives. Thirty-five per cent, of the sample covered in the survey experienced some degree of isolation. This is part of a pattern which confirms that the extended family is always the first line of defence in time of difficulty.

In the older working-class areas of this country we still have the extended family, but it is noteworthy that the extended family is disappearing. The older working-class areas are being broken up. Families are being broken up, as Peter Town send discovered in east London. It has been a familiar occurence in my home town of Liverpool for many years. In the London suburbs there is an enormous amount of isolation. It is all part and parcel of the problem of caring for elderly people, and it underlines the responsibility which so many single women bear.

What are the facts of dependence? In 1965, the National Council identified about 13,000 people who received National Assistance because they had to stay at home to care for sick or elderly relatives. Most of those 13,000 were women, and most of them were single. There was a sample inquiry in November, 1964, which showed that over 10,000 of the 12,000 discovered by the sample were single women. Over 5,000 of them were between the ages of 50 and 60, 3,500 between 40 and 50, and 1,500 between 30 and 40. We see, therefore, that there are many elderly single women looking after even more elderly people. To my mind, this connotes a double social problem. Very often, the people who are doing the caring will themselves very soon need care. At that time, over 3,550 single women had been in receipt of National Assistance for five years or more because they stayed at home to look after a sick or elderly relative or relatives.

There is also the caring in human terms. There is the permanence of the responsibility. There is no let-up. There are no holidays, no eight-hour day, no five-day week. There is the sacrifice of friends, the sacrifice of independence, very often the sacrifice of marriage prospects. We talk about filial duty, but we should not batten on the filial duty of a few.

There is the length of time in years during which the care is undertaken. Some of the elderly relatives live until they are 80 or 90, and they may have to be cared for over a period of 40 or 50 years. Many of the relatives to be cared for are muddled in their minds, they are sick, they are incontinent, they are crotchety, they are difficult, they are impossible.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

They are human.

Mr. Hamling

Yes, they are human, and that is why they are cared for. But they are still difficult. I should hesitate to lecture other people on their filial duty in this sort of circumstance.

There are the financial burdens, too. There is the extra cost of fuel, the cost of light, the cost of extra food, and all against a background of low incomes. The consequence is that the single woman doing the caring is very often not looking after herself properly. She is suffering from poor nutrition, which may well lead to bad health in her.

What needs to be done? I shall not today say anything about Income Tax allowances, although I regard this as a promising subject for discussion on another occasion. My right hon. Friend is not responsible for that. I shall speak about changes in the social security system. There is a constant review taking place, and in the last two years my right hon. Friend has brought forward many useful reforms. It is a continuing review, and we very much hope that in the next few months or in the next year or two we shall have more reforms, and in this field as well. When the Beveridge Report was being considered, we all thought that the new scheme would be comprehensive. We used the phrase "from the cradle to the grave" to cover all sorts of eventualities.

We now know that the Beveridge system was incomplete. There is a need for elderly, infirm or sick people to have more than a basic pension, because of their special health needs and their special social needs. There is also the need for single women to have an income of their own when they are asked to give up work in order to look after a dependent relative. They should not be dependent on the mother or father or any other relative. Very often, when this happens, they are still treated as children. It so often happens that there is a suspicion on the part of the parents that those caring for them are "spending my money". The single woman should have an income of her own. There is always the fear in the elderly that they will lose all their money. This is endemic in the state of growing old.

The National Council has suggested that a continuous attendance allowance should be granted to single women doing this sort of social service. I call it a social service because they are, very often, doing a job for the community. If they were not doing it, it would fall on the statutory authorities, and the burden of caring might then be far more expensive than it ever is when a single woman cares. We have suggested that £5 might be a reasonable figure. Everyone knows, however, that when elderly people go into homes or into hospital it costs a great deal more than £5 a week to keep them. The single women in this case are taking on a job which otherwise the community would have to do.

We suggest that the continuous attendance allowance should be paid to the daughter and not to the relative who is being cared for. I know that under the industrial injuries scheme a continuous attendance allowance is paid to the person who is actually dependent. There is a difference here for the reason which I have stated. We would be paying the daughter for her care, especially if she gave up her job.

Another point in that connection concerns the insurance stamp. When a single woman gives up work, very often she no longer pays the stamp. This means that when she herself becomes of pensionable age she has sacrificed her insurance rights; because she is carrying out a devoted task, she is penalising herself later. This is certainly something which I hope my right hon. Friend will consider.

There are also the social needs on which I want to spend a few minutes. There is a need for special care to help women to keep relatives at home and not send them away to institutions. There is so often a deterioration when elderly relatives go into hospital or into a home, when they think that they are forgotten or have been cast aside. There is a physical and a mental deterioration. That is why we want to encourage people to keep their elderly relatives at home.

There is a need to relate this care by single women to the geriatric services in the local neighbourhood. There is a need to assist single women with home helps and the district nursing services. There is a need so often to provide an incontinent sheet service to help the single woman with the burden of laundry. Then there is the need to give the single woman a little time off now and again. In Eltham this was provided by the National Council when it organised a holiday for many of these dependent relatives so that the single women could get a holiday themselves.

There is a need for the housing authorities to provide sheltered housing schemes. I am aware that this is not the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Social Security, but it will be seen, if the House looks at the Motion, that not only do we expect my right hon. Friend to accept her responsibilities but we also urge other welfare services outside to consider what responsibilities they have in this field. Local housing authorities can assist by providing schemes for sheltered housing for single women—for example, two-bedroom flats with, perhaps, a resident caretaker or somebody near at hand who can go in when the single woman is away at work.

Some people might think that this is not a very large problem—what are 13,000 people when viewed against some of the other problems—but I suggest that a great many other people who are doing this sort of work in our society have so far not been discovered. It may be that there is a need for somebody—I am not sure who—to carry out some sort of inquiry to find out just how big is the nature of this problem. I said earlier that these women are very often forgotten. I am very glad to think that this House today is not forgetting them.

4.15 p.m.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I should like first to congratulate the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), not only on being so lucky in the Ballot but on his excellent choice of subject and the very sympathetic way in which he put forward his Motion. I should also like to thank the Minister for being present this afternoon, because I know that she has experience of caring for people and therefore she is particularly understanding towards this subject.

We might say that this is pioneer work which has been going on for only a comparatively short time. I should like to pay tribute to the Rev. Mary Webster, who founded the organisation which was started in the hon. Member's constituency but which has now spread throughout the country and now includes, I am glad to say, a branch in my constituency. If the Minister had had the opportunity, which some of us had last week, to attend the annual general meeting of the organisation in the Grand Committee Room, she would have been gratified to find that that room was more than filled with people who really are worried about this subject and are interested in the problem.

The approach by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West was, I thought, just the right way to get sympathy and to highlight the problem. He said that too little was known about the subject and that only 13,000 people are known to be affected. This debate today does highlight the problem and will bring it to the attention of many more people. As the Minister is always trying to find those who are in need, I hope that as a result of this debate those in need in this category will now know that such an organisation exists to help them.

A reason why the Minister should welcome this debate is that so often when Motions are presented they call for the expenditure of further money, whereas the Motion this afternoon could represent a real saving. As the right hon. Lady knows, the cost of local authority homes and sending people to hospital is infinitely more than that of keeping people in their own homes, which has the added advantage of helping to maintain family life. Although we may not have the same splendid family support that we used to have, we in this country still value family life.

Chaucer said: What is bettre than wisdom? Womman. And what is bettre than a good womman? No-thing. Thackeray said: When I say that I know women, I mean I know that I don't know them. Every single woman I ever knew is a puzzle to me, as, I have no doubt, she is to herself. We understand why many women are single—not only because of the First World War, but because many of them, from the very early age of 16 or even younger, have decided to devote themselves to a single relative, perhaps to help in some way their widowed mother or sometimes to keep house for their father.

Washington Irving, who had an understanding of women, said that A woman's whole existence is a history of the affections. This debate today shows a real history of affection among these many women who care for their elderly loved ones.

This whole situation, however, is likely to be only a passing problem, lasting, perhaps, only another 25 years or so, because the single woman is a dying race. The Registrar-General has said that by 1993 there will be 1,700,000 more men than women of working age. We shall not, therefore, have the women to undertake this work in the more distant future. I should have thought that it was advantageous now to spend any money we could in helping such people look after their relatives rather than building special accommodation.

I have received a letter from a constituent of mine which sets out some of the problems and indicates how little they are realised and what little help can be obtained from the Welfare State. Part of that letter reads: My mother is senile, immobile, deaf, almost blind, and extremely incontinent. My dear father is very ill indeed with heart trouble, high blood pressure, hardening arteries, and complete physical exhaustion. The doctor has been to see him today and said he is 'a very sick man', and that ' it won't be long'. He admits that he is a hospital case, but says he cannot take him in because he ' hasn't got a bed'. My dear father collapsed a week ago, and nobody has even been sent to wash him yet. He is a very heavy man ", and she goes on to say that she cannot move him herself because she is incapacitated.

That woman gave up a good job in London and took a job at £5 less a week in order to be near her aged parents and to look after them. Until the organisation which I have mentioned was started, she had no idea that she could get any sort of home help. I am glad to say that I have been able to be of some assistance, and, thanks to this organisation, she now has home help. She had been told that because she was a daughter residing at home, and as she lived in a separate flat, she was not eligible. I should be grateful if the right hon. Lady would contact her right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and ask him to send a circular to local authorities to make sure that they see that everyone knows of the facilities which are available, because there is often considerable discrimination against single women.

I wish to support what the hon. Member for Woolwich, West said about a constant care allowance. It is already given to other categories of the industrially disabled, and I should have thought that it was quite a reasonable request. It is not given at the moment, and it would be of tremendous help.

The society to which I have referred has also had a gift from a charity to undertake further research, which means that the Ministry will not have to undertake the work to the extent which it might have had to do. When such an organisation tries to undertake research itself, not only does it show the great efforts which it wishes to make and the fact that it is recognised by a charity that such work is necessary, but it also shows that there are still independent people who do not rely on the Welfare State to start such services.

There is also the problem that older people themselves are living longer. They need more nourishment and particularly more heating. I would be grateful if the right hon. Lady could say how far her officers have complete freedom to judge for themselves how much extra money they can give to keep such people with comfort in their own homes. I am thinking particularly of two elderly people who, because of their physical disabilities, are forced to live in two different rooms. They both need heating and lighting. Can the right hon. Lady ensure that each one is dealt with as a separate individual and given adequate heating for their individual needs and not necessarily for their combined needs, as is so often done at present?

I notice that the hon. Gentleman did not mention Income Tax. I gather, therefore, that it would not be in order for me to refer to it. However, there is the question of a housekeeper's allowance, particularly in the case of a non-resident housekeeper, because there is not always sufficient room for a resident housekeeper in certain homes.

We are particularly anxious that home helps should be allowed to be paid for, as and when they can be found, and paid for to allow individual single women to go away for holidays. It was stressed at the meeting the other day that very often the elderly people themselves do not want to go away because they have become used to their surroundings, but it is essential that the individuals looking after them should have the chance of a holiday of some kind. Therefore if it were possible, either through local councils, the Guilds of Social Services or the Red Cross, for arrangements to be made for someone to go into such a family for, say, a fortnight every year, this would be a tremendous advantage. At present, that is being done for the disabled in quite large measure. In the Plymouth area we have a country home for the disabled where they can go while those who care for them get a rest. We should like to see a similar organisation for single women.

In supporting the hon. Member for Woolwich, West in the very adequate speech which he made, I would say that the evidence has been forthcoming in just over one year of pioneer work, and it is not just a localised problem in the hon. Gentleman's own constituency, but the work has spread throughout the country, as was seen at the recent annual general meeting.

The general need has been found, and if we are to give some support to the aims of this body, the National Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants, I hope that action will be taken quickly, because it is a need which may gradually die out. It may be that in future men and women will be looking after the elderly, because there will not be the single women available to do this job.

If the right hon. Lady will see that additional allowances can be granted to make life easier for the people whom we are discussing she will do a really great service for the community.

4.26 p.m.

Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

I welcome this Motion dealing with the plight of a certain section of women in the community, first of all, because it was moved by a man. In that way my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) is a rare and unique type of man to involve himself in the isolated problems of single women.

As we are endeavouring to point out in this debate, this is a much more general problem than is realised by most hon. Members. There cannot be many hon. Members who have not had correspondence from single women with dependent relatives seeking to find out what they can possibly do about their situation, and every hon. Member who goes on house-to-house canvassing is bound to come across these cases in his visits.

It is only recently that some sort of body has been created to represent the views of these neglected women. It is a new body, but it is one which is rapidly growing. The fact that it has been so successful in its first few months indicates the real need that there was for such an organisation.

I was glad to note that my hon. Friend mentioned in his opening sentences the basic economic discrimination against women in the fact that they are not paid the rate for the job. Only 10 per cent, of women working today receive equal pay with men for doing the same work. Single women with dependent relatives are among the 90 per cent, of women who are discriminated against, when they have the same financial commitments as a married man. But how often does one hear a presumably intelligent man saying, "Surely single women do not have dependants"? That is the stock excuse for not giving women equal pay. We hope to explode this myth in today's debate.

It is always assumed that women are kept by their husbands or, if they are not married, are independent career women with only themselves to think about. Completely overlooked are widows with young children, unmarried mothers and single women with dependants. These women are working at a cut price and are being exploited at their work.

There is a false picture of a career woman as someone who is independent and carefree, often earning a large professional salary and with only herself on which to spend it. The fact is that the number of women earning over £1,000 a year is only 5.1 per cent, of those making an Income Tax return. The average net income for women is between £200 and £550 a year. This is simply not enough on which to support dependent relatives. I would urge the Government, through my right hon. Friend, yet again to introduce urgently legislation granting equal pay for women, because this is not a privilege but a right. Even a single measure such as has been mentioned, extending the housekeeping allowance for women, which now includes widows and divorcees, would go a long way toward relieving the burden on these women.

There should never be any question of their having to rely on charity for support. As the terms of the Motion clearly state, these women are … performing a service which otherwise would have to be undertaken by social security and public welfare services … The Government have a clear responsibility towards them. Their social problems are just as innumerable and insuperable as are their financial ones. We have to remember that "dependent relatives does not necessarily always mean parents. It could mean physically or mentally sick or handicapped brothers or sisters.

In every case it is so often an unmarried daughter upon whose shoulders the burden rests. As a practising doctor I have met horrifying cases where it is the daughter who is left to carry the burden while a married son, with his family, is living only in the next town. Usually, he never comes to visit his parents or brother or sister who are dependent on the daughter, though he might come at Christmas time. It is very interesting that if there is a death in the house a whole shoal of relatives suddenly appear from all corners of Britain and even the world, people from whom one has not heard for months and years, and who have never offered to help.

These people justify their behaviour by saying, "Oh, the daughter is best suited to take care of the parents, or brother or sister. After all, she has no ties. She has no qualifications to do any particular job of work. What else is there for her to do? How will she spend her time?" Often an aged parent rationalises in this way and says, "Well, I am giving my daughter a home", and feels no guilt that he or she is keeping the daughter housebound. Parents selfishly exploit their unmarried daughter, often without realising it. Very often the daughter is treated like a child for the whole of her adult life. She becomes submissive and resigned to her fate, and reaches the stage when she never expects to have a full life.

There are thousands of these women all over the country. As has been pointed out, to deal with a demanding, temperamental or obsessional person, as many of us will become when we get old, is an even greater burden than dealing with somebody of ordinary middle age or dealing with a young person. We do not know how many of these women there are. A doctor sees only the women who are looking after sick relatives. He does not see the ones who are looking after fit elderly relatives. The National Assistance Board sees only those in grave financial difficulties. The problem very often is being fought out behind closed doors, because a single woman has her pride which prevents her from seeking help. She feels that she is morally obliged to do what she is doing.

We know that 10 per cent, of women over the age of 40 are single, that 10 per cent, of women in Britain are unmarried. But these are only estimates, and the Government have a duty to obtain statistics un this matter. The problem will increase and not decrease. We shall all live far longer than did our parents or our grandparents. Women live longer than men, but I will not go into the reasons for that. Medical authorities are discovering ways of keeping us alive longer. The tragic thing is that final illnesses, instead of lasting weeks, are now lasting months or years due to the new drugs that are being discovered. It has been shown that women have a greater tendency to chronic ill-health than men. Old men are either very well or very ill. Women, when they are old, very often seem to stagger on as chronic invalids.

There is the increasing cost of domestic help. The wife of any hon. Member who has tried to obtain domestic help, resident or daily, knows that it is a battle. Domestic help is not something that one can find automatically, and one has to pay far more for this valuable form of labour.

The Ministry of Health will not help the situation. In my constituency of Halifax the Minister told us that he could see no immediate prospect of a large increase in the number of geriatric beds to cope with the increase in the elderly populations. He wants to encourage old people to be cared for at home rather than in hospital. That is a very worthy aim, but we know that there is a chronic shortage of home help, of district nurses, and, particularly in Halifax, of family doctors.

The burden will fall on these people and on single women, who will be asked to nurse their relatives at home. As any doctor knows, the chances of getting a sick elderly patient admitted permanently to a geriatric bed or into an old people's home is extremely difficult if there is, living with that person, a daughter who is capable of caring for the patient. The immediate priority, quite naturally, is for old people who live alone. It is always assumed that somehow the daughter will cope.

We have a picture of these women who during the day are wage-earners and in the early morning and the evening fulfil the multiple rôles of unpaid nurse, domestic help, and companion, often with interrupted sleep at night. This leads to mental stress and anxiety and often to a breakdown of their own physical health. They do not meet people of their own age. They are pursued by a fear that they will not be able to keep up their strength to cope with their job, and at the same time they wonder what will become of them when they too grow old.

This type of woman often faces a lonely future. Who will care for her? With whom will she be able to live? What money will she be able to draw on in her turn? Her feeling of filial duty keeps her at her job, and until the organisation which has been mentioned was set up she did not expect help and never asked for any. It is for us, as Members of Parliament, to ask on her behalf.

One thing which can perhaps be done is to set up some sort of organisation to allow these single women more free time and possibly the prospect of a holiday. I knew one woman who had not had a holiday for 15 years. The reasons given were varied—that the dependent relative did not wish to be left, lack of money, anxiety on her part about leaving the relative, or inability to find anyone to look after the relative.

Perhaps it will be possible to arrange holiday homes for the relatives to stay at together with their daughters, or a relief service, or even a sitting-in service rather akin to a baby-sitting service. After all, many of these people are in their second childhood. We should provide something to make it possible for the daughter of the house to go out for the evening or to take a holiday.

I think that we have shown that this problem is a Government responsibility, both financially and socially. It involves the Ministry of Social Security, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. They cannot work in isolation. I hope that they will take the example set to them by my political neighbour the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) who, when he was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and co-ordinator of the social services, took this problem very much to heart and was extremely sympathetic. Above all, co-ordination between the Ministries involved is needed to deal with the problems which we have outlined.

4.41 p.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) on having put this Motion on the Order Paper. I congratulate him, too, on the many years of hard work which he has put into supporting the Rev. Mary Webster and her gallant body of voluntary workers in trying to bring to the notice of the House of Commons, the appropriate Ministers, and the country, the issues which he has so ably covered in his Motion.

Perhaps I might, with respect, say a few words to the hon. Lady the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), whose very sympathetic and knowledgeable speech I enjoyed very much. She spoke as though this association for single women with dependants had just been created. The hon. Lady is wrong about that, because this association which was started by the Rev. Mary Webster, certainly five years ago, is not a new concept or a new organisation.

The problem is that a woman of the Rev. Mary Webster's capacity, knowledge and human sympathy has taken a o very long time to build up a general interest in the problems which she has been bringing forward, and I should like, in my opening remarks—and I am sure that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, who has so ardently and consistently supported her would agree with me—to say that it was the Rev. Mary Webster who saw the problem in its entirety and started in Woolwich and in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, together with a remarkable band of voluntary workers, to create this organisation with a view to doing what could be done—as has been pointed out by the three hon. Members who preceded me—to find a way of helping the single women who undertake the very heavy and arduous work of looking after their relatives.

I am very proud to say that I interested myself in this organisation from the very beginning, partly because I went to a meeting which was arranged and organised by the Royal College of Nursing, and heard the Rev. Mary Webster putting the case. Of course, she was putting the case to interest the nursing profession in the problem which we are discussing. I then got in touch with her. I heard of the remarkable help which was being given by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, and from the beginning I have watched the growth of what has been done. I hope that one day the initial work and inspiration of the Rev. Mary Webster will be suitably acknowledged.

I am very glad to see the right hon. Lady the Minister here, because I agree that she will take a tremendous interest in this whole problem because of her knowledge of it. I was very sorry indeed that I could not accompany the deputation from the National Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants which the right hon. Lady graciously received one day last week, but I agree with everything that has been said, with all the points of view which have been put forward, with all the different angles which have been brought to light, and with what has been said about all the different Ministries which can become involved. But I am bound to say to the right hon. Lady—and I do not think that she will disagree with me—that she has to fight the battle with the Treasury, because although it is true that vast expenditure is not involved in the Motion, in certain directions the right hon. Lady, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will all be involved.

I am tremendously proud that I took the first deputation which was organised through this very important voluntary organisation to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, at that time, happened to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the Conservative Party, which I am always honoured to serve. I tried to be very realistic. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has great charm, listened with tremendous interest to all that was said by the Rev. Mary Webster and those who were supporting her on the deputation. When he had listened to everything, he said—and I think that this almost sets the seal on what has been said this afternoon—" All these issues which have been raised are issues which I have never had put to me before".

I am not in the least surprised that my right hon. Friend had not heard about this before, because when I try to sum up the machinery of government I realise only too well—and I say this with great regret—that the kind of problems which are being discussed here this afternoon are always at the bottom of the priorities of any Government Department, except the Government Department over which the right hon. Lady presides. Certainly, when the Minister of Health produces what he requires at Cabinet level, when the Minister of Housing and Local Government produces what he requires, and when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is being pressed by various Ministers, this matter is at the bottom of the list. I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, like his Conservative predecessor, has never had to face these problems, because until the Rev. Mary Webster started her campaign there was not a co-ordinating body to argue with the Chancellor.

This is a great weakness of government. It was a great weakness when my party was in power and it is a great weakness now. I suspect that in spite of the advocacy which the right hon. Lady will put forward this problem will find very few supporters when it comes to arguing about money at Cabinet level. It is, therefore, tremendously important that we should debate the matter now. It is slightly more difficult for a Government—whatever their political complexion—to dismiss the problems involved in a Motion once it has reached the stage of discussion on the Floor of the House and the Ministers concerned are faced with the problem of what they are going to do.

Sometimes the question of departmental responsibility almost drives me mad. I agree with the hon. Member for Halifax that the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was 100 per cent, behind the suggestion being put forward today. Various deputations appeared before him. but he no longer has a position of responsibility, and I doubt whether the new Minister has the same interest in this matter. His interests have been widened, and he has other responsibilities, whereas the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) was able to concentrate on these problems. I am sick of the repeated answers given by the Government Front Bench about the everlasting review of the situation.

We should not have to go on reviewing these matters when the ordinary backbencher knows that there is no need to do so. The issues that require solving are there to be solved. We do not need any more reviews. I hope that the right hon. Lady will not be forced into saying that this matter is under close and continuous review. We almost need a new dictionary to discover what the word "continuous" means in relation to Parliamentary procedure.

As the right hon. Lady knows, the allocation of houses and the building of homes to accommodate families is a matter for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The housing shortage continues, in spite of the tremendous efforts made by all Governments. Sometimes, when a single woman is responsible merely for a mother or sister, and that single woman is working to support her relative, a local authority nevertheless will not allocate a house with two bedrooms. In the case of the single woman who is doing all she can to help her dependent relative by working, the Minister of housing should see that local authorities are given more guidance.

Ministers should be more emphatic, and should see that elderly relatives are not required to share a bedroom with a single woman who are caring for them. I want to see a common policy adopted throughout the country, so that when people reach a certain age and are being maintained or looked after by single daughters, local authorities will provide them with rooms of their own.

As for home helps, much depends on how many can be recruited. There is a great difference between areas. Some areas have lots of home helps to carry out the necessary work, while others have very few. We have never been told the make-up of the various areas. This problem requires careful consideration.

I remember a single woman living in my constituency whose mother, by all accounts, should have gone to a mental home. Her daughter was determined never to let her mother go there—and we can all admire such a woman. The daughter had a very good and reasonably highly-paid job, and she had also managed to accumulate a lot of savings over the years. As soon as she gave up her job to devote her life to her mother she had to draw on her savings to keep herself up to date in her stamped contributions, so as to be eligible for pension.

One problem in social security concerns people who do not pay stamps because their incomes are too low. Many single women come into that category, and they present a great problem, in terms of making arrangements for their future lives.

These are the problems which need examining. I realise the difficulty. In a large, overall scheme, there is little room for exceptions. This is a problem of a section of the community. In terms of overall departmental responsibility, it is difficult to find room for exceptions. This is what the Motion is about. We are trying to find how, in justice and humanity, we can find a place for those who do not conveniently fall into the categories which have already been laid down by Acts of Parliament.

Taxation reliefs can be given and money found for constant attendance allowances, which is an important matter, but perhaps one on which we must approach the Chancellor. However, during all the years that I have been in the House of Commons and have taken part in debates on various forms of a new Clause—when we can persuade Mr. Speaker to call it—to deal not only with the special taxation reliefs for widowers and widows, but also for single women and bachelors with responsibilities which they try to meet, the argument against it has always been on the basis of money expenditure.

But—this ought to appeal to the right hon. Lady—it does not matter how much money a widow or widower may have, he or she can still get taxation relief for a resident housekeeper. We have never been able to persuade any Government—I can hit both parties on the head—that this is not justice. I remember—

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

I will be very happy to reinforce what the hon. Lady is saying, because I have, a number of times, made this same plea to Governments of both parties, who have always had a blind spot on it. Therefore, I support what she says about taxation reliefs.

Dame Irene Ward

I am very grateful for that. I hope that, as a result at least of this debate, this kind of justice in our taxation system will be introduced in the Finance Bill which follows the Budget on 11th April.

I remember also talking to a Chancellor of the Exchequer during the Coalition Government—Sir John Anderson, who became Lord Waverley. His explanation was that, at some time, this provision for widowers and widows had somehow slipped into a Finance Bill without anyone knowing and that, therefore, the Government would not extend it because it ought never to have been there.

That, of course, is no argument. I should like the right hon. Lady to give me an assurance—if she can do so without transgressing on another Department's responsibility—that, when the next Finance Bill comes forward, she will have an argument with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, using all her charm, to persuade him to put at least this injustice right.

I was delighted that the hon. Member for Halifax made the point that this Motion was introduced by a man. Men are very susceptible if one can get at them. The trouble is, one never can. We can see an example of that today when there are so few Members here; they rush out because they are terrified of being involved in something which they do not understand. I therefore hope that there will be a real result from the Motion, which I wholeheartedly support, for the National Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants, organised by the Rev. Mary Webster with support of all parties and all types. This is a growing need in the country today.

5.5 p.m.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) is wrong in her view that, because we are males, we take no interest in a subject of this kind. This is a quite unfounded allegation. I have been interested in this for many years—

Dr. Summerskill

I pointed out that males who do take an interest are unique and rare; my hon. Friend falls into that category.

Mr. Wilkins

That is the first time that I have been called unique or rare, but I am delighted to hear it from my hon. Friend.

I want to state a further case of even greater hardship than either of the instances cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), to whose speech I listened with such interest and attention that I was reluctant to intervene at that time. He referred constantly to single women, as have almost all hon. Members except the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward).

I speak from personal experience of a case which is in my hands at the moment and with which I am immediately concerned. This type of case can be even harder than anything mentioned this afternoon.

This prompts me to remind my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax that, if she had been in the House longer, she would have known that we used to badger my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) on every Budget about this, because we thought that something could be done in the Budget about it. Perhaps we may have a chance in the discussions on this year's Finance Bill.

The case I wish to describe is of a married daughter of aged parents who has been left a widow with a house on which the mortgage is almost, but not quite, completed. There is therefore both the attraction and the necessity for her, as a widow, to try to retain this property and liquidate the mortgage. Her aged parents, who are both over 80, with one unfortunately becoming senile and "mental" though not "mental" enough to be put in an institution, were physically incapable of looking after themselves and the doctor said that they should live with their daughter. She is ready to have them and indeed now has them in her own house.

However, this, of course, involves her in tremendous financial difficulty, because a part of her aged parents' pension must be used to maintain, at least for the time being, the property from which they moved. They cannot just dispose of a property out of hand. It is not known what will happen or whether they will recover and be able to go back. At the same time, the daughter wants to maintain her own house.

The hardship arises because she is a widow of over 50 and does evening work to help meet her expenses. But she can no longer do this and the time is bound to come when this employment will cease. I do not know what the answer to this is. I simply pose it as one of those problem cases which one might ask to be considered to see whether any help can possibly be given. If help cannot be given by the Ministry to a person in this situation, I suggest that my right hon. Friend ought to "get at" the Treasury to see what they can do, either by way of taxation relief or by some other means, so that these people might at least have some financial help towards doing an extremely difficult job.

5.9 p.m.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Exeter)

I am delighted to be able to take part in the debate. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), I am not in the least surprised at the warm concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) for single women and their relatives. I know him to be—if I might use a slightly un-Parliamentary term—an absolute lamb. He is just the sort of hon. Member who would be concerned for this section of the community.

If I feel at all inhibited in discussing the Motion, it is because we should be stressing the positive side of the problem. The Welfare State throws a wide net over our people. However, the net has a wide mesh and many people fall through it. The woman who looks after a sick relative or a relative whose health is deteriorating has a great many problems to face. She receives the assistance of the district nurse, but the most sympathetic district nurse, while being able to deal with the medical care of the patient, cannot give assistance which should be given by the taxation authorities. A woman who is looking after an incapacitated relative is really often doing two full-time jobs at once. This aspect of the problem should be concerning us. In other words, we should be anxious to keep single women in jobs because we should be concerned about what happens to them when the relatives for whom they are caring die.

Under the Welfare State an extraordinarily large sum is paid out for people in geriatric units who would be happier in their own homes if they received domiciliary help. We do not concern ourselves sufficiently with the single woman who gives up her job to look after her parents and finds, after many years of taking care of them, that she has no work, no immediate family and many problems. This aspect should be concerning us as much as the problem of looking after the patient.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will give due consideration to this point because if this matter were handled properly the State would be saved a great deal of money. Ever-increasing sums are paid under the National Health Service for the care of geriatric patients. We should be sympathetic to the idea of giving considerable grants to enable single women to keep their jobs, to be able to pay people to do the domestic work involved —there should be laundry units, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West pointed out—and so that they can carry on with their practical work.

The sort of women about whom I am concerned are often those with a highly developed sense of duty and, therefore, are probably doing important jobs like nursing and teaching. I hope that, in considering the terms of the Motion, my right hon. Friend will accept that there are too many arbitrary lines already drawn in the welfare services. We already say that the National Health Service requires a certain amount of money and that the local authority welfare services should be given a certain amount in grant, but there is not sufficient flexibility in the way in which this money is paid from one service to another. There is still too little co-ordination between the local authority and the Ministerial services.

I absolve the Minister from having any unfeeling attitude towards this issue because hon. Members on both sides of the House acknowledge that she is one of the most sympathetic and considerate Ministers we have. I am sure that she accepts that none of us is getting any younger. Indeed, I am looking forward to being an absolutely foul mother-in-law three times over, and, in that respect, perhaps I should declare an interest in this matter. When considering the single woman, we should remember her need to stay at work. We need as many women doctors, teachers and nurses as we can get. The community loses if a woman possessing one of these skills is allowed to give up her job to enable her to give the domestic help needed to maintain her parents.

I urge my right hon. Friend to realise that we are discussing a positive Motion. I appreciate that she may not be able to give categorical assurances today. Nevertheless, we hope that, when she is considering the matter, she will remember that, apart from a definite saving of money to be made by enabling single women to continue at work—more than that, the saving in people's happiness is a side of the Welfare State which should be receiving our concern today.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

So many rude things are said about Privy Councillors intervening in debates that I thought I would delay trying to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, until it appeared that most, if not all, of the hon. Members who wished to speak had done so. I hope that, by speaking now, I will not be thought to be prolonging the debate unduly, but after two-and-a-quarter years of enforced silence in this House on questions on which I have felt deeply, I wish to take what opportunities occur in future of speaking my mind on them.

Dame Irene Ward

Hear, hear.

Mr. Houghton

I hope that, in doing so, I shall not embarrass my right hon. Friend, for whose capacity, zeal and combative qualities I have great admiration. The hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) need have no fear on one count: so long as my right hon. Friend is there, these matters of social security and the social services will not be neglected.

The National Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants must be feeling proud of its sponsors this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), who so ably moved the Motion, is one of them. My special hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), is also one of them, and the hon. Member for Tyne-mouth is another of them. Any voluntary organisation with such a list of distinguished sponsors which can get three of them speaking in one debate is doing very well indeed. I cannot claim to be a sponsor of the National Council, but I admit that I was asked to be one and I believe that I made a speech when it was inaugurated in its present form.

Many of us who have been going into the Ballot year after year without having drawn a place of any kind must feel envious of our hon. Friends—more envious still of hon. Gentlemen opposite —when they draw first place. We ask ourselves what sort of Motion we would move if this fortune came to us. It is to the credit of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West that when this rare opportunity—an opportunity which comes once, if at all, in a Parliamentary lifetime—

Mr. Hamling

Three times.

Mr. Houghton

Even if my hon. Friend had come out lucky in the Ballot 33 times, he is to be congratulated on having chosen this subject for his Motion.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North-West) rose—

Mr. Houghton

If the hon. Gentleman intervenes, it will be that much longer before his Motion comes on. He had better sit quiet and wait his turn, which will come before 7 o'clock if he behaves himself. If he intervenes in my speech he will probably rise at about three minutes to 7 o'clock, and I give him that warning.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax and I come from neighbouring constituencies. We rarely speak in the same debate, but when we do we set a slight problem for our esteemed newspaper, the Halifax Courier,as to which of us should be reported the most and what it is we have said that will strike the eye of its readers. We both share in our constituencies a proportion of old people much above the national average, where the problem mentioned in the Motion is, and has been, conspicuous for many years.

It was not accidental that the Spinsters' Association, which some of us remember, led by the late Miss Florence White, came from a textile area. In that area single women had opportunities for employment denied to single women in many other parts of the country and who, therefore, did not throw themselves away on the first men who asked them to marry them. Many of these women have found that they have had to devote a great deal of their lives to looking after elderly relatives. It is for this reason that I take part in this debate.

The National Council is a pressure group, and I believe in pressure groups. Although they necessarily take a narrow view of the wider problem, they concentrate attention on a feature of our social services and social need which might otherwise receive less than due regard. It is for the rest of us to put the whole thing in proper perspective and to look at the interests of particular groups in the wider context. I want to put this debate in the wider context, because the circumstances facing single women looking after dependants are a small part of the problems of women generally in social life and in the social services.

My right hon. Friend has heard me say many times before what I am about to say, and I shall therefore excuse her if she goes out for a cup of tea. Social security is mostly about women—all sorts and conditions of women; single women, married women, separated, deserted or divorced wives, unmarried mothers. The social provisions and social problems that will arise in the future are enormous. Of the present 6½ million retirement pensioners, two-thirds are women. No fewer than 600,000 widow pensioners and those on allowances are under the age of 60. Out of a total of 7½ million people on long-term benefits, 5¼ million are women. Another surprising fact is that of the elderly in residential accommodation—Part III accommodation—nearly two-thirds are women. On the books of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, we find 120,000 women—separated wives, single and other women with illegitimate children, divorced women—costing over £40 million a year in social benefits. All women are vulnerable in nearly every form of society. The struggle for emancipation and equality is by no means won, not even in Britain. It surprises me in this articulate age that women will put up with so much. If only the women's organisations were today as vocal about the defects in the social services, in the status, legal and social, of women, as they were years ago on the fundamental rights of women, we should get some of these things remedied far more quickly. There is more social insecurity amongst women than in any other section of the community.

Our so-called Welfare State was built on pre-war thinking and experience, and reflected the conditions of 1939 and earlier. Beveridge could not foresee that one-third of the nation's work force would be women, and that nearly half of those women would be married women. In the days past of larger families and fewer opportunities for the employment of women there was always someone who could stay at home to look after the aged parent, the frail mother. It was usually the last to remain at home who got caught in this filial obligation, and in many cases they remained single for the rest of their lives.

The boundaries of fundamental thinking about social security stopped short in the past at wives, mothers and widows. We see this in the structure of the social security scheme, which puts many millions of women at risk because their social security as of right depends on the contributions of their husbands. I frequently say that social security for married women in this country depends on a faithful husband or the National Assistance Board, and in many, many cases that is almost literally true.

One can pretty well say that perhaps only the married woman is given full status in social and legal life in Britain —and that is lacking in many respects. Widowhood is a respectable condition. Separation, divorce or desertion is not a respectable condition. Nor is a spinster in a really respectable condition—at least she does not have full status. I know that I speak in the presence of hon. Ladies, but I also know that they do not mind plain speaking—they probably say the same thing themselves on the platform when urging what I stand for on the question of the full freedom of women and their proper place in society.

Single women, when householders, are taxed as if they were teenaged girls paying an inadequate sum for board and lodging and spending a good deal of money on themselves. If they give up their jobs to nurse a sick parent and fail to pay National Insurance they will be in trouble, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West has said. If there is a gap in their contributions, there will be a reduction in their own retirement pensions when the time comes. Many single women are in and out of insurance because of emergency calls to act as home help or day and night nurse to some bedridden relative.

It has been said that brothers and married sisters are rarely called on to act in long emergencies like this; it is from the woman who is supposed to have no ties, who can give something up and go home at once, that an undue amount of self-sacrifice and devotion is expected. It is those women on whose behalf we speak today. They may work much harder in the home than ever they did in the office or factory, but they get nothing for it. They are treated as non-persons, as non-employed persons, and unless they pay their contributions as non-employed persons their own social security is at risk.

Nothing has been said of whether the term "single woman and her dependant" includes a single woman with a child, but we must not ignore this aspect. The dependants of a single woman are not always elderly and frail parents. Unhappily, 70,000 illegitimate children are born each year. The single woman who has a child will not experience or hear much about the happiness and joys of motherhood. She may be grateful to the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child and to the adoption societies—they do splendid work—but it can be said, without being too cynical, that the wages of sin may not be death but they will not be enough to live on.

We should not ignore this side of the problem in looking at the question of the single woman and her dependants. We must not be too prim about this. Elderly parents and sick relatives arouse our emotions, but not always illegitimate children. Yet this is part of the social security problem of women. We neglect the unmarried woman and her child, but in many cases that child is as much or more a dependant than is the elderly relative.

But, getting back to those mentioned in the Motion, we must all recognise that single women over 40 are largely the casualties of two wars. Their future husbands were killed or died of wounds or disease, and we hope that that will never happen again. But there are hundreds of thousands of older women who are as much war disabled as many men on war pensions. Because they remained unmarried they were still at home when parents became aged or frail. In many cases, these women had to turn down opportunities for marriage because they felt that devotion to their parents came first.

Happily, as the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) mentioned, this is likely to be a diminishing problem. Not many women of the younger generation will have to endure the lonely and dull life of many spinsters of today and yesterday. It is not generally understood how significant it is that this the first generation of young men in this century who have not been sent to war. This is responsible for much manifestation of the social disturbance that we are grappling with and trying to understand. If we can keep the peace, we can expect the number of unmarried women to fall.

But one or two little warnings should be given. First, the teenage girls should be warned that the death rate of young men in the early twenties is nearly 2½ times that of girls. That is the toll of the motorbike, of pot-holing, of mountaineering and other causes of violent death. Even in the thirties and early forties, when men tend to behave more responsibly, the death rate among men is more than 1⅓ times higher than for women. In the fifties, the death rate for men rises to more than twice that of women. That is when thrombosis and strokes mow down overworked, over-fed, and under-exercised men of late middle age.

There is another factor which already tends to reduce the size of the problem in future—that is the relationship between males and females in the young population. Since men tend to marry women who are, on average, two and a half years younger than themselves, it follows that the young men born in 1947, which was a peak birth year, will be looking for girls born between 1949 and 1951. The chances of these girls getting married will be greater.

Looking at the problem of provision for the single woman and her dependents, there are, as my right hon. Friend will no doubt mention, some important questions both of equity and of administration. That is why I am not going to be dogmatic about what should be done or what can be done within the context of a reformed social security scheme. On the welfare side of this matter, the possibility of imprisoned women getting released for holidays and rest must still largely be a matter for the welfare services. I have great hopes that, when the Seebohm Committee reports later this year, an indication will be given to the Government and this House as to how the personal welfare services at local authority level can be improved and coordinated and made more effective and more efficient.

Of course, one must not overlook the fact that some men also give up work to look after sick wives and children. We must not forget them. Further, single women are not the only ones who do this The National Assistance Board said, in reporting some figures that I saw, that a proportion of the women described as single are separated or divorced and, of course, widows can be called upon to undertake this task as well. We thus have a range of claimants for some consideration when they are called upon to do this work.

Another thing we find is that a very large proportion of children in care at any time have been taken in care temporarily because of difficulties at home, perhaps sparing the father the need to give up his job because his wife is ill and there is no one to care for the children. This is another aspect of social provision. It should not always be necessary, and probably is not always desirable, that people should be dragged away from their normal jobs to go home and look after sick and aged people for whose care and treatment they may have no special qualifications. We have to keep that in mind.

Finally, there is the problem of the test of qualification. This is the most difficult part. In benefits as of right, entitlement has to be very carefully and clearly defined because it is the Act of Parliament which will bestow entitlement. Discretion does not arise. One has to be precise and the more one has to be precise the more difficult definition becomes. But, if this is to be left to the discretion of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, then there is greater flexibility. The officers can look at the whole circumstances of the case and not be hidebound by regulations, still less by Act of Parliament.

I still dream the dream that it will be possible to introduce into the structure of our social services a guaranteed income scheme which will provide a universal and acceptable means test which will take care of a large range of social needs which, at the present time, are sometimes provided for unnecessarily by benefits as of right and inadequately by benefits by need and discretion.

This, I believe, is going to be the fundamental question of the development of our social security scheme in future. We see it referred to time and again and only this weekend, in the Observer,there was a further reference to it. This, I believe, is the direction in which we have to go, otherwise we shall have this mounting cost of indiscriminately distributed benefits, for which full contributions have not been paid and never will be paid. If we could only find the means of adjusting benefits more acceptably to circumstances, we could get very much nearer to equitable and adequate provision in a great variety of cases.

This is the end of what I want to say on this subject and I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for permitting me to stray a little widely of a Motion rather narrowly drawn. I have already made my apology and given my explanation but I hope that I have said something which may cause the House to think of some of the problems that were engaging my mind and the minds of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Social Security and other colleagues in the Government in the last two years.

5.40 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Worsley (Chelsea)

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) would have excited our gratitude if only for the speech of the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) which the hon. Member stimulated by this debate. We were all delighted to hear the right hon. Gentleman, back in his place on the back benches, speaking with great enthusiasm. I do not propose to travel quite so widely, but I should like to say how much I agreed with his concluding remarks.

In what the right hon. Gentleman said there was room for a great deal of agreement on both sides of the House and I can only hope that as the months and years go by the ideas which he has dropped into the Government machine, and the iconoclasm and energy which he has shown this afternoon, will be reflected in Government action. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, too, will wish that.

We are also grateful to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West for the specific matters which he has raised. I am sure that he is right in thinking that in our present circumstances there are what he called special categories of need and what the hon. Lady the Member for Exeter (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody) called holes in the net which should properly excite our attention. Like every hon. Member, I am pleased to note that so many of those special categories have special defenders among whom I would certainly include the National Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants.

I have long believed that in our National Insurance system there is a prejudice against single people, most of whom, of course, are women. It is a prejudice against single people in both the sense of people living alone and in the sense of people who have not married. I have argued in the past that the basic scales, which provide that a single person in both supplementary benefit and in pension gets 60 per cent. of what a married person gets, are not fair ratios. I do not believe that a single household needs only 60 per cent. as much as a double household. I have been assured by the right hon. Lady that the figure is based on research, but I hope that she will forgive me if I still have my doubts.

I want to confine my remarks to the category which the hon. Member for Woolwich, West mentioned. As he said, single people who look after dependants are beyond praise. There is nothing more depressing in one's constituency work— although one does it with great pleasure —than going round the wards of a geriatric hospital and finding there the many elderly people who are never visited. What a contrast that is with the situation, which the hon. Gentleman described, of the many people who, at great sacrifice, are kept in their own homes! I fully agree that the State should do all it can to make it possible and even easy for single people to do this work.

I very much agreed with the hon. Lady the Member for Exeter, who stressed the need for everything possible to be done to enable the single person to continue at work, preferably in full-time work. There will obviously be occasions when that is impossible and in those cases the person concerned must continue in part-time work, if that is possible. It is a characteristic of modern medicine—thank goodness—that many people, who only a short time ago would have been bedridden and medically almost forgotten, are now ambulant, able to do a bit for themselves and yet not able fully to look after themselves. In other words, there are now many more people who, with a little help but without constant attendance, can lead independent lives in their own homes.

Given the right conditions there are many single women who could look after such people, but if a daughter gives up work altogether she is almost certainly storing up trouble for herself, a trouble which no State insurance scheme, however generous, can fully compensate. To begin with, she obviously reduces her income, but that is short-term. The trouble is that when the parent dies or has to go into hospital, the daughter's difficulties do not then end.

If she is under 60, she will probably find that she has lost her ability to find employment if she has been out of work for a long time. The National Insurance Scheme specifically provides for that eventuality for a widow who is over 50 and accepts the principle that a woman who has long been in domestic work to that extent finds it difficult to get employment. But that principle is not applied to a spinster who, in effect, is in exactly the same position.

Because she has not been earning over those years, she will find herself with little saved in terms of cash or possessions and, like other people who have been earning low incomes for a long lime, she will find that the circumstances of her life, the actual physical possessions, will be already run down before she starts on her retirement. Even apart from the economic and physical conditions of her life, if she has been cut off from ordinary life for a long time and leading a very restricted life, she may find that she has lost some of the interest in life which a job would help her to keep.

I want to quote to the House a quotation from a letter written to the National Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants, for which I am grateful to the Council, written by a woman such as I have described a year after the death of the dependent relative. She writes.

What has been brought home to me in this last year of freedom (so-called) is that all those lovely things one vaguely dreamed of doing ' when it is all over' just don't materialise out of a hat. One just cannot pick up the threads where normal life left off years ago, and a frightening and perplexing period of rehabilitation has to be lived through There is a tremendous case for trying to keep a single woman in employment, even though it is only part-time, so that she does not become dissociated and disconnected from life.

To do this—and I now have what I hope will be some constructive suggestions to make—the first thing we have to do is to remove what can only be called the built-in prejudice against part-timers, a prejudice which runs right through our insurance system. This is something which has been made much worse in the last year by the introduction of the Selective Employment Tax. Over and over again from these benches we warned that if S.E.T. were introduced, it would be made more difficult for a part-timer to get employment, because if a part-timer works more than eight hours, there is the same S.E.T. and the same insurance stamp as if he or she worked full time. This is a concept from which we have to get away.

Even before the introduction of S.E.T., the National Insurance system militated against the part-timer for the reason I have given. Yet we ought to be encouraging, and not discouraging, the single woman to do part-time work in these circumstances.

Secondly, I think that we should look at the earnings rule as it applies to the dependant's allowance payable to a sick person—£2 10s. a week for the dependant looking after him or her. This particular allowance is subject to a really harsh earnings rule. As I understand, there is no gradation. As soon as the woman begins to earn she incurs this earnings rule and loses the allowance. Surely that is highly inequitable. In the not very dissimilar case of the widowed mother, we have now—and we thought this was a very good thing done by the present Government—decided to remove the earnings rule, as, in the previous years, under the previous Administration, it was gradually relaxed. Why, then, is it necessary to have a rule of this character in this case? I myself do not see the reason for it.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich, West and others have referred also to matters of housing. I do not intend to follow them in great detail because I think that most of the points have been made, but, nevertheless, the importance of housing is absolutely critical, and I think that the hon. Gentleman is right in his Motion when he refers specifically to housing.

One of the most important sorts of housing which needs to be provided in the future is the sort of what one may call semi-independent accommodation attached to the family home. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Dame Joan Vickers) has pointed out that there will be fewer spinsters available for this work, and I would say that even today we should be providing the sort of accommodation where either the parents or a parent could live in a semi-independent way, because in that case, even although the daughter may come in on some occasions—may be available round the corner—nevertheless, it is the mother of the family who can just keep an eye on things. Or there may be a situation in which there is a warden available, at the push of a bell, if an emergency should arise.

Then, as has been mentioned, there is the holiday home. Many local authorities already reserve in their old people's homes a certain number of places for old people in these conditions. I think that this should be done more.

I would now mention a provision which has not been mentioned so far in the debate, but which helps enormously I visited recently in my own constituency a rehabilitation centre, originally started by the L.C.C. and now run by the Kensington and Chelsea Borough. There the elderly and disabled people, not only the physically disabled but also simply the elderly, go, and are given useful work to do. They are taken in a special bus which takes account of their disabilities, and are taught to help themselves as useful members of society. As well as doing that, they are helping also whoever it was at home who was looking after them. We have talked already about domiciliary help, and about district nurses. All these services count.

We have not said a great deal about tax reliefs, and I would say a little about that. I realise, of course, that this is primarily a Budget matter, but since it is my thesis that as far as possible we should keep these single women in work there is a direct relevance with Income Tax provisions. We should do everything, surely, in terms of tax relief to see that these single women are enabled to stay in work.

To last year's Finance Bill we put down some Amendments to increase the housekeeper allowance, and I think that this is extremely relevant, to extend it to single people in full-time work and with dependants. I know that the right hon. Lady cannot answer about this. I know that she will be just as cagey about this issue as the Chancellor himself would be this afternoon, but I ask her, since she has a month for her charm and persuasiveness to work on the Chancellor— would not this be a really constructive way of helping the single women whom we are talking about?

We also put down to last year's Finance Bill a new Clause to increase the dependent relative income limit. This is another means which would be possible, and I hope that perhaps the right hon. Lady's persuasiveness may be applied to that, too. We put down another Clause suggesting constant attendance allowance payable to a single woman herself—and this accords with what has been said in this debate. I think that it was the hon. Lady the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) who particularly made the point that it was important that the single woman herself should feel she had an income, but I think that it is also true that the tax allowance should be applied to the single woman.

We very seriously bring these considerations to the attention of the right hon. Lady not because we expect an answer now, but because we believe that in keeping a single woman in work it is very important to look at the tax situation in which she is; and let no one suggest for a minute that this is something which applies only to the well to do. The tax begins to bite on a single person at a pretty low level.

My final point refers to what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich, West, discussed, namely, the National Insurance system itself. The Government should seriously look at this contrast. I have already referred to the attendance allowance payable to a sick person if he or she has a dependant looking after him or her. There is no such allowance payable, as I understand, to a retired person. This is a very important point, since in a very large number of the cases the hon. Gentleman referred to the person who is being cared for is, after all, a retired person.

The Minister of Social Security (Miss Margaret Herbison)

The constant attendance allowance is payable only with industrial injuries benefit, not with sickness benefit. So it is payable to a fairly small number in the country at present.

Mr. Worsley

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. I understood that constant attendance allowance was payable only with the Industrial Injuries Scheme, but that there was payable in the case of sickness benefit a payment of £2 10s. which could be paid either to the wife, if looking after a sick person, or to another dependent relative in the house.

I think that I am right. Perhaps the right hon. Lady will correct me if I am wrong. It is not the constant attendance allowance. If I used that phrase I was wrong, but I think that it is an attendance allowance which applies to a sick person and not to a retired person and that the Government might very seriously look at the possibility of extending what, I understand, applies to sick people to retired people as well.

I know that there are great difficulties. We wish, of course, that there had been set up in the Ministry, a research unit which would have done these things. We have argued that before, and I shall not argue it again now, but what I urge is that the first priority, in dealing with this matter, should be to try to make it easy for the single woman to remain in work. I think that by putting the priority there we shall be putting the priority in the right place.

5.59 p.m.

The Minister of Social Security (Miss Margaret Herbison)

I want to join with all the others who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) on his choice of subject when he was fortunate in the Ballot, and I should like to thank him for the most constructive way in which he dealt with the problem. I should also like to join all the others who have paid a very great tribute to the Rev. Mary Webster. I am certain she has highlighted one of the real social problems in our country today. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) is all for pressure groups. So am I. I think it important that these groups should be continually showing the need where need exists.

I was also delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby took part in the debate. I knew long before I worked with him over those two years what a deep interest he had in all matters that affect women, not just single women and their problems that we are discussing today but women generally. It was like a breath of fresh air to hear him giving so vividly and so well his points of view on the many problems that affect women.

In the time available to me, I should like to deal with the matters contained in the Motion. There is no doubt that for the single woman who has to care for an elderly father or mother, or both parents, or who takes on a responsibility for some other elderly near relation, the social problems involved are very great. I have the very greatest sympathy with these women, and with the case that has been made for them today.

I sometimes think that if families would accept greater responsibilities than they do the position of single women would not be nearly as serious as it is. I had an elderly mother. It was a great joy to me to be able to ensure that she was cared for and had the affection and love that I should like to see all such old people having. I was fortunate in being a member of a very closely-knit family. The moral support, apart from anything else, that I got from my brothers was very great indeed.

But I also know of the experience of many of my friends. Many of them have to accept not only financial responsibility for their elderly parents, but all the other responsibilities, and the rest of the family sit back saying that those who are taking on the responsibilities have no other ties. I hope that the debate, if it gets any publicity at all, will bring home to people the moral responsibilities that families have for the care of their parents. They should not be left completely to the single daughter who so often has to carry the burden.

I think that we might sum up the discussion in this way. What we are really asking today is how the community can best discharge the responsibilities that it is increasingly coming to accept towards old people who are in varying degree helpless or dependent on help, and how far that help should be in kind—we have, of course, provision in hospitals and old people's homes and by home nursing and home helps—and how far it should be in cash support, or a mixture of both.

I was very interested in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody). I feel with her and others who feel that, if it is at all humanly possible, the single woman should stay at work. I believe that for many reasons but particularly from the point of view of the good of the single woman herself. If we have as our primary object keeping the single woman at work, we have to ascertain how this is possible within the present set-up or what can be done more than is being done now to make it possible.

First of all, I would refer to the difficulties faced by the single woman who is at work. She carries out her own job during the day, and then very often during the evenings—and, indeed, during the nights and during weekends—she has the whole responsibility of the ageing parent or relative. She is trying to cope with two jobs. Very often when it comes to her annual holiday from work she uses the period to give relief for such domestic help as she may have, and allow her to have a holiday.

I agree with those who have said that provision ought to be made to meet these cases. It might be provision in geriatric units, as in some areas. Perhaps the ageing parent or relative could go to a home for old people for a fortnight or three weeks so that the daughter, whether in work or out of work, could have a complete break away from the problems that she constantly faces.

I was interested in the reaction of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), who has always shown great interest in these problems, when an hon. Friend of mine talked about "difficult old people". Whatever age group one takes, one does not find every single person in it sweet and angelic, and that goes for the elderly also. From this point of view there are very great difficulties for whoever is caring for elderly persons. Single women bearing these responsibilities ought to have greater provision made for them by local authorities and the hospital services so that for a fortnight or three weeks they would be able to get away for a holiday completely on their own.

There are other ways of helping. In the case of the single woman who is out at work and has a parent who needs to be cared for, we have various services available apart from the hospitals, geriatric units, and so on. There are the home nursing services. I know that in some areas they are very fully stretched. We also have the home helps; some areas are much better supplied with them than other areas are. Both the nursing services and the home help service can be of very great assistance in caring for old persons if their single daughters are out at work.

If the old person is in need by supplementary benefit standards, extra help can be provided. If extra domestic help is needed in that person's home, that is taken into account and the Supplementary Benefits Commission can add to that person's weekly supplementary pension.

Sometimes, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby said, it is not the single woman who is faced with this kind of problem. There may be a married man with an invalid wife. No matter how low a wage the man may be earning, he can get no help at all from supplementary benefits for the care of his wife. If there is an ageing parent, however, who, because of her financial circumstances needs help, not only will she receive a supplementary pension, but if there is a big cost for domestic help that cost will also be taken into account.

The daughter caring for the ageing parent might be a professional woman, earning a very good salary, yet none of her income would be taken into account in assessing the needs of the ageing relative. There is not a family means test in this country.

I hope that this debate will let the single women know what help is available. The hon. Lady the Member for Devonport raised the point that there may be two old people living together, requiring separate rooms, which will mean separate lighting and heating. Under the Supplementary Benefits Scheme, in the discretionary allowances, that double cost would be taken into account in assessing the weekly needs of that old couple. I hope that this kind of help from the Supplementary Benefits Commission will be publicised as widely as possible.

There has been mention of the need for the co-ordination of various services. My right hon. Friend mentioned the Report that we would be expecting soon from the Seebohm Committee. Now that an old person is in receipt of supplementary benefits and we have a standard long-term addition, our representatives who visit the old persons do not have to spend such an amount of time on the smaller discretionary allowances that can be paid. Because of that, they have greater time available to give attention to the welfare needs of the person. In other words, they can let the old person, or the daughter who is taking some responsibility, know what facilities are provided by the local authority and voluntary organisations.

I am hoping that my officials in the Supplementary Benefits Commission, just as the officials of the National Assistance Board did, will do their utmost to ensure that there is this measure of co-ordination and that whatever facilities are available are brought to the notice of the old person, the daughter, or the husband who is responsible for the care of the person concerned.

I want to turn to the single woman who has to give up her job. Sometimes, with the best will in the world, even if one is willing to pay for domestic help, it cannot be found. Local authorities cannot find the necessary numbers of home helps. Sometimes there is nothing else for it but that the daughter must give up her work and look after the ageing relative. When that is the case there can be great difficulties of isolation, and that is why I am so keen that the women should remain at work if they can. There are the difficulties of suffering a drop in one's income and having to eat into one's savings, and there are insurance difficulties.

I wish to tell the House what facilities are available for these women. First of all, if they do not have an income from savings, then, in their own right, they can receive benefit from the Supplementary Benefits Commission. What is important is that those women who will be expected to go out to work at some time later in their lives, can receive, during the period when they are caring for the old person, an extra discretionary allowance in addition to their supplementary benefits, with which to pay their weekly National Insurance stamp.

The introduction of supplementary benefits on 28th November last has also been a great help to many of those women who will have to give up work. Previously, if they had over £600 in the bank they could not get a penny under the old National Assistance scheme. Great changes have been made and they can now have up to £800 in savings, which will be totally disregarded. If that were all of the savings they had, they would then receive the full weekly supplementary benefit. That must make a very great difference to those women.

Matters have been raised which do not affect my Department, and housing is one of the most important. The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) spoke about the need to provide houses for old persons with two bedrooms, not just one. This is very important. I have always felt it wrong that, where local authorities provide houses for old people, they should provide them with a living room and one bedroom. For many reasons, particularly for the sanity of the daughter, who has given up her work to look after the aged person, an extra bedroom is a necessity.

Whatever has been said in this debate on the subject of housing will be taken to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Different local authorities deal with this problem in various ways. One local authority, not far away from my own, tries to ensure that its old people are housed by it as near to a close relative as possible. That is a very great help to these old people. Other local authorities have what one might call "sheltered" housing for old people. There is a resident warden, able to take care of them. This, too, is a great help for the daughter who has to go out to work, since it gives her peace of mind.

On the question of taxation, I can say no more than a word or two. The hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley), who made a most interesting speech, will not expect me to be able to give an opinion on his proposals this afternoon. I know that the National Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants has brought this matter very much to the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am sure that it is a question which, among all the other matters which he is examining, my right hon. Friend will take into account. I cannot guarantee what the result of his consideration will be.

I know from my own experience, which was not such a difficult experience as that of many of my friends and many of those who write to the National Council, that there is a grave social problem here. It is one which we should be trying in every way we can to solve. We should search every avenue for ways to give help, and how best to give it, for the sake of all the single women, for the sake of the man with the invalid wife and for the sake of the old people themselves. We have to take them all into consideration in trying to find the best means of setting about it.

All that has been said today concerning the affairs of my Department will be taken into account, and the rest will be passed to the Ministers concerned.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House notes the burden of maintaining dependent relatives, usually elderly parents, borne by thousands of single women, and that in carrying out a filial duty the daughter is performing a service which otherwise would have to be undertaken by social security and public welfare services; that this frequently involves many years of financial and physical strain; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take early action to lighten these burdens by providing new social security benefits, and urges welfare and housing authorities locally to assist single women in this situation with such help that they can go on caring for their relatives at home without undue stress.

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