§ 2.52 p.m.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY rose to call attention to the serious extent of poverty which exists in Britain; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to draw your Lordships' attention to the extent of poverty still existing in Britain to-day, I am aware, not least by the number of your Lordships who have put their names down to speak in this debate, of the wide knowledge of and concern for this subject displayed by Members of this House. Nevertheless, I think it is true that the extent of poverty is not understood by large sections of the public as much as it might, and indeed as much as it should, be.
§ It is unfortunately true that, in spite of growing efforts of a number of passionately devoted individuals, largely 174 connected with the voluntary societies of one kind or another—and here one must mention the Child Poverty Action Group, Shelter, Disablement Income Group and others of this kind—a large portion of the British public does not really believe that there is any serious poverty left in Britain. This is partly because they do not want to know. That is a very human reaction, because people do not like to know about the seamier side of life if they can help it. But I cannot help thinking that to a certain extent politicians are to blame. Because people are reluctant to know, there is the more need for politicians, whose business it is, to highlight these problems. One of the tragedies of the poor to-day is that, partly because of the comparative success of the trade union movement in this country, there is really no longer any great interest or Party which identifies itself entirely with the poor. To put it bluntly, my Lords, we are reaching a situation where there are not very many votes in poverty, and this is a tragedy.
§ In saying this, I am not discounting or failing to recognise the large number of individuals, of all Parties, who have interested themselves in this field and who are dedicated to the eradication of poverty. I think one would here want to pay a special tribute to the Labour academics such as Professors Abel-Smith, Titmuss and Townsend, without whom our knowledge and concern for the poor in this country would be much less than it is, and also the individuals concerned both in this House and the other House, of both Parties. To name them would be invidious and there would, I am glad to say, be too many. But I feel that although one could name them, they stand out against a general background of apathy in this country.
§ It is not my business to-day to go into the details in the field of poverty. I hope that the speakers who follow, with their great fund of individual experience and expertise, will be able to bring the microscope to bear on a number of individual situations. For we must not forget in this debate, when we may be handling large statistics, that each statistic is a case of human deprivation and human misery. It is my business to-day, I think, merely to set the scene for the debate and possibly, if your Lordships will bear with me, to produce one or two broad 175 solutions to the problems. To start with, there is the definition of "poverty". To a certain extent, poverty must always be a relative concept. Neither our country nor any section of it can begin to compare, in terms of lack of goods and services, with some of the developing countries; and the levels of poverty, the levels at which poverty begins, will always be rising in the developed countries, and we hope also in the developing countries.
§ There is nevertheless a sense in which povery can be considered to be absolute, and you are poor in this absolute sense if you have not enough money, if you cannot afford to clothe yourself properly, to feed yourself properly, to warm yourself properly and to house yourself properly. About the numbers who really fall into this category there will always be dispute, but in our consideration of poverty we must bear in mind more people than actually fall strictly into this category. For instance, some people do not nourish their family as well as they might because they spend their money unwisely. "Unwisely", however, is a term we should do well not to use too freely in this context. The family which skimps on the right kind of food in order to have a television set is no doubt behaving unwisely, but it is hardly for us who do not have to live in the mind and soul destroying conditions of poverty to say categorically that these people should deny themselves a few things that make their lives bearable and which enable them to escape from the life they lead for a few hours.
There used to be a saying that to get drunk was the quickest way to escape from Manchester on a Saturday night. If I may take this is an analogy, at the risk of offending Mancunians who may be here, it may be the only way to escape from Manchester on a Saturday night if you do not have the money for the public transport, and to escape from Manchester on a Saturday night may be a psychological necessity as important as some of the physical necessities we are talking about. Equally, it is not for us to blame the people who do not plan wisely ahead. Anyone who has come into contact with serious poverty knows that on the whole a lot of these people do not plan ahead because hope has disappeared, because to-morrow will
be as foul as to-day, and the day after will probably be fouler, and they do not even want to think about it. In the words of Martin Luther King:
It is a cruel jest to say to the bootless, 'You must lift yourselves up by your own bootlaces'.
§ Again, there can be argument about whether a great deal of poverty is caused by the social inadequacy of families; but here it is an open question as to whether poverty causes inadequacy or inadequacy causes poverty, or whether, as to a certain extent must be true, it is a vicious circle. In this connection, I am glad to know that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, is going to mention the work of that most worthy and understanding of charities, the Family Service Units. As we will see, a certain amount of poverty is caused by ignorance—ignorance of steps that have already been taken by various Governments to relieve poverty, but that ignorance is in itself a factor which Governments must take into consideration.
Again, many old people are imbued with a pride that makes them reluctant to claim benefits. Anyone who has had to deal much with poverty, whether it be with constituents or through Government Departments or as a clergyman, has come across this. We also know that to a certain extent this ought to be deplored. From a Christian point of view, Charles Williams has said:
He who will not accept dependence cannot learn nor love and in the end he cannot live.
But this again is something which must be taken into consideration and it is not for us to knock away the prop of self-respect, however misconceived, from those who get little respect from the people around them.
§ In other words, there are two forms of poverty. There are those who are genuinely appallingly badly off under present arrangements and who, by using the maximum information available and by not wasting any of their money on physical non-essentials, would still be poor. This is a body of some size—probably bigger than the statistics show, for even to-day the number of down-and-outs estimated by the Simon Community is 100,000, a sizeable proportion of whom slip through even the statistical nets of our society. There is, in addition, that much bigger group of those who, if they 177 took the widest possible advantage of all the provisions that there are at the moment, would be above the poverty line but who for some reason or other do not take this advantage. For them, too, we must have a care.
§ Luckily the care of Governments of all complexions over a number of years has meant that we are not confronted with a large, amorphous mass of poverty. We are able largely to identify the groups into which almost all the poor fall, and therefore to produce, at any rate in theory, solutions to deal with the different problems of those groups. Exact numbers, as I have said, are extremely difficult to arrive at and figures are already out of date by the time they are produced, but working on the basis of the Townsend and Abel-Smith Survey of 1960 and the 1966 Report on Circumstances of Families it would appear probable that something in the nature of one in ten of the people in this country fall into the poverty bracket.
§ Following Townsend and Abel-Smith, the main categories are, first, families where the head is at work but where he either has a low income or a large family, or both; second, old age pensioners; third, families without fathers to support them; fourth, families with members who are permanently sick, and fifth, families where the father is unemployed. In all categories better organisation and publicity by the Ministry of Social Security would improve the situation to some extent. I am well aware that this is being worked on, but, if I may say so, I do not think it is being worked on quite hard and fast enough. For the low paid and unemployed the total solution would need changes in other areas of policy. In the field of social security, removal of the wage stop and relaxation of the rule that anyone working full time cannot benefit from benefits would be a considerable help. The obstacles to these changes are well known and therefore we must look for a different solution.
§ However, I would ask the noble Baroness who is to reply to this debate one question, and I apologise for springing this one on her without warning. I do not wish to press her for an answer to-day, but would the Government consider lifting the wage stop for a fortnight over Christmas? I am told that this might be administratively practicable, it 178 would not be difficult and would not really breach the principles concerned. It would make all the difference over this Christmas to a large number of families and, in particular, a large number of children. It is probable that there are half a million people living in poverty as a result merely of the fact that their wages plus any benefits that they may get in the way, for instance, of family allowances do not add up to the amount of money needed to keep the family decently fed, housed and clothed.
I suggest that one answer to this problem, as I am sure many of your Lordships will agree, is the minimum wage; but there is no reason why the minimum wage should be as high for the unmarried man as it is for the married ma a with several children, and I think there is a double way forward here. A great deal of the poverty of the low wage earner occurs where there are large families. Karl Marx stated an important principle when he urged the need to differentiate what people earn from what people need.
From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs
is to-day an idealistic social charter, but one need not go as far as that to realise that the principle can be usefully adapted to-day.
§ Let us separate what a job is worth in the open market and what a man is worth from what his dependants need to live on. If the State will guarantee a minimum standard of living for the children, then the minimum wage needed for the man himself becomes lower. This is an important way of applying selectivity to the basic wage. So the first solution which I am putting forward is that of a realistic increase in family allowances, to include the first child as well as the rest, at a rate which would ensure basic subsistence, varied according to age and carrying through to those children who stay on at school beyond the school-leaving age.
§ I am aware that this is political dynamite and is said to be highly unpopular with the electorate. I maintain that there is no other real solution, and the objection to it, that it encourages large families, must be marginal in a society where large families are becoming exceptional. As much money as possible to pay for this can be clawed back from tax allowances, and once it had been established there would be little obstacle 179 to the introduction of a minimum wage which, because the responsibility of children was dealt with otherwise, would be much less than it would be if children's allowances were not dealt with in this way. If these solutions were adopted, then the problem of families where the father is unemployed would disappear. Poverty here is often the result of the wage stop, and if there were a realistic minimum wage together with realistic family allowances this situation would not exist at all.
§ With old age pensioners the problem is largely one of publicity, although here a larger basic pension as a right, related to the average national wage, would carry us forward. A particularly difficult poblem has been raised by families with members permanently sick. As noble Lords will be aware, although there are special allowances for the blind and for those injured as a result of their work, others disabled or chronically ill are entitled to much less, both during illness and after, and cannot get any compensation for loss of earning power. Certain people cannot get any benefits at all—for instance, the disabled housewife supported by her husband. As we are now beginning to be aware through the efforts of the Disabled Income Group, this can cause extreme and harrowing poverty of the worst possible kind. It is extremely good news that the Ministry of Social Security has ordered an investigation into this problem and into the numbers concerned. It is nothing less than a national scandal that nothing should have been done about this before now, and it is to be hoped that action will be taken as speedily as possible.
§ There is much more that could be said and I hope much more that other noble Lords are going to say. I am no more unaware than the rest of your Lordships, including the noble Lords on the Government Front Bench, of the difficulty of paying for the schemes necessary to put these problems right. I am aware that it will take time. What I and my noble friends would ask for is two specific commitments. The first is the easiest: it is a commitment which would say that this Government, and indeed all political Parties, would establish a programme for the eradication of poverty from this country over a certain period of time, and 180 that they will pledge themselves to the attainment of certain goals which they will continue to put in the forefront of their programmes. The second is an acknowledgment that this is the first priority in our national life.
My Lords, I am not speaking as someone who has a particular axe to grind on the subject. As some of your Lordships will know, the subject I specialise in is education. Therefore I am not coming to you, as many of us are sometimes tempted to do, saying that whatever is our pet subject is the most important of all and everything else must give way. But even from the point of view of self-interest we cannot let this problem take a back seat. To wipe out poverty in this country would take a lot of the heat out of the racial question. It would also be a necessary preliminary step towards persuading the people of this country that we must make a massive effort to help the developing countries, one of the most important, if not the most important, of the aims of our foreign policy over the next fifty years. And even in education we know that poverty is one of the most important factors inhibiting the full use of the talent of this country. And so to those who say that we cannot afford to wipe out this poverty, my answer on this plane is the Chinese proverb:
It is no economy to blow out the candle early if the result is twins.
But more importantly, I say that no country which regards itself as civilised, no people who regard themselves as Christian, no nation which regards compassion as a worthwhile value in human life should put up with the kind of poverty which still exists in Britain and which has been wiped out in countries smaller and less great in any conventional sense of the term than our own. These statistics, with their heartbreaking individual stories of men and women and children warped and ruined for life by poverty, are a blot on our country, a blot paid for every moment of the day in suffering of individuals, and it should be the aim of us all to wipe it out in the quickest possible time. In the words of Professor Townsend:
The ultimate test of the quality of the free, democratic and prosperous society is to be found in the standards of freedom, democracy and prosperity enjoyed by its weakest members.
My Lords, I beg leave to move for Papers.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, it does not often happen that a debate in your Lordships' House is started off by two inferior clergymen in succession, but the occasion gives me special pleasure as it falls to me to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, on behalf of the whole House for having introduced this Motion. I think your Lordships would agree that he has done so in a thorough manner and focused our thoughts most effectively on this important subject, a subject which deserves all the attention that our hearts and minds can give to it. Before I start on my own speech I should like to mention to those of your Lordships who received the list of speakers earlier this afternoon that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has no intention of making two speeches; the noble Lord who is winding up from this Box from this side is my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn—a great relief to me and no doubt to your Lordships as well.
It is often our just boast that in your Lordships' unreformed House we can bring to bear upon almost every subject first hand knowledge of it, but I doubt whether this is actually true to-day. I must certainly disclaim it for myself because, apart from some few months as a very junior naval officer in Alexandria at the beginning of the war, when income certainly never came anywhere near to matching expenditure. I have always been reasonably comfortably off—and I doubt whether the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has any experience of the dole either. But if there are other noble Lords here who have such experience I hope that they will be able to bring themselves to speak of it, because this is a topic on which the voice of first-hand experience is needed to balance the voice of statistics, on which we all so much have to rely.
However, what we lean do—and I should like to go a little further than the noble Lord who opened the debate—is to get the problem into perspective: first of all, poverty in Britain in relation to poverty elsewhere in the world. It is certainly right for us to be concerned with our own poverty here because this is what we can influence most easily, and the acuteness of our own people's poverty is made particularly severe by the fact that they have to endure it surrounded 182 by affluence. But the point at which we draw the poverty line here in Britain is at an income level which is, in real terms, ten times higher than the income level of the poorest countries in the third world—Africa, Asia and Latin America. And this has to be borne in mind.
Secondly, our poverty now compared with our poverty in the past. It is as well to remember, I think, that it is only a generation ago, in 1931, that we had 3 million unemployed. At that time that meant one-fifth, 20 per cent., of our whole working force out of work; to-day what is causing concern is a proportion of 2½ per cent. out of work. Only just over another generation back beyond that, at the turn of the century, Charles Booth was reporting that in London he considered 30 per cent. of the population to be living in poverty, and Seebohm Rowntree, taking a rather more precise survey in York, described primary poverty as affecting 10 per cent. of the population and secondary poverty another 18 per cent. That state of affairs to-day would mean 16 or 17 million people deserving the dole. In fact about 2 million (in very round figures) are now receiving supplementary benefit.
Thirdly, another point of perspective, compare our problem in this country with the problem of poverty in another affluent country, the United States. For all its immense resources, the United States, a country which is certainly going to beat us to the moon, is way behind us in this race, with 18 million people below their official poverty line w rich is broadly comparable to our own. This is getting on for 20 per cent. of their population. We are talking to-day about people in Britain in a similar plight, a sector of our population which I would not put as high as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, did: I should have said it was something like 5 per cent. of our population. Shameful as it is to have 2 million people drawing supplementary benefit in these Gays of affluence, we have made some progress with the problem, and we have made it faster than some others. But if we have done this, surely it is a spur to make better progress now.
And so I turn to the problem itself. So far as we have accurate statistics, the problem before supplementary benefits and family allowances were raised recently was as it has been described by 183 the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. We have two documents to refer to. The first is, Circumstances of Families, and here in the Report (if I may just summarise) we had 145,000 poor families without fathers, 160,000 poor families with fathers out of work or off work, and 140,000 poor families with fathers working but unable to make both ends meet. That has all been improved by the recent additions in family allowances. But we are still left with something of the order (one cannot be sure, and if the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has further more precise statistics it would be helpful to have them early in the debate) of 200,000 to 250,000 children in families still below the poverty line.
To these we need to add the elderly. When the Report, Financial and Other Circumstances of Retirement Pensioners, was published a year before that, we had one and a quarter million elderly people in retirement and in receipt of supplementary benefit—I am not saying that is the same thing as living in poverty—and, in addition, three-quarters of a million whose pension and savings were not meeting their needs but who, for one reason or another, were not at that time receiving supplementary benefit though entitled to do so. Again, if I may suggest it, I think it would be helpful to have an indication from the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, at an early stage in this debate, as to the success the Government are having in reducing the numbers of people in this last category.
So much for the statistics. I will not go into any further detail now because the noble Lord who opened the debate has outlined the problem well and the noble Lord who is to follow me is in a much better position than I am to supply us with up-to-date statistics. The only other factor that I should like to mention, and invite Lord Kennet to correct if it is quite wrong, is that supplementary benefit is now running, I think, at the rate of a little under £400 million per annum. This is a point to which I shall return in a moment.
I should now like to spend a moment or two, after that reference to the statistics, in trying to get the problem into more personal terms. I am talking now about families known to me personally that I have had occasion to visit within the 184 past week or so. Here, in passing, I should like to say how good it is to receive in the annex in this latest Report from the Ministry of Social Security some case histories which give a personal note to what otherwise are rather arid statistics. This is a new feature, I think, and I hope it will be extended.
I deal now with two families whose story it seems to me might throw some light on and help to give a framework to this debate. I, of course, give them a little anonymity and disguise. Take Mrs. W. She has a husband on the disabled list, seldom fit enough to work, out of work now and for some weeks past, ill at home at present. There are eight children in the family. There are twin boys of three at home all the time, and there is one daughter at home sick at the moment. The Ws. are housed by a housing trust in property which is due to be demolished quite soon and has been suffering from planning blight for, I should think, four or five years. The basement has already had to be abandoned; the furniture is of the barest. Two items have lightened the load of this family: one is the increase in family allowances; the second the fact that the eldest boy has got work and he adds quite a bit to the family income without adversely affecting the scale of benefit. He has made himself responsible for his brothers' and sisters' pocket money and for his own clothes.
On the debit side—and this may seem a small thing—the last time the elder girl went to the chemist for a prescription he pointed out to her that she was no longer young enough to get one free. This has now to be sorted out. But Mrs. W. is cooking for eight children, looking after a sick husband and putting up the first bit of wallpaper that her kitchen has seen for many years, and she can ill spare the time to get away and do battle with officials about prescription charges or anything else. Yet it is small items like these that fatally upset Mrs. W's precarious budget and start things like rent arrears and everything else that follows from that. And the winter is only just beginning.
A family such as this illustrates, I think, the importance and urgency of further study of this question of disability and disablement, because that is what is affecting this family; and it will 185 be helpful to know from the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, when we can expect the result of the current survey in this field. At the same time, I should like to ask whether we can look forward to regular surveys covering all these different fields, on a continuing basis and not just on an ad hoc basis when some particularly severe problem arises.
Take another case. I will call him Mr. K. His wages are, at the best of times, never high. His work is seasonal, high in the summer and low in the winter at a time when fuel bills are beginning to mount up. He has been on short time for several weeks. He is not working at all at the present time; he is drawing supplementary benefit, but that is cut off by the wages stop before Mr. K's winter budget can be balanced. All the children are at school, and the increase in family allowance has therefore helped out there, too. But Mrs. K. has chronic bronchitis, which comes on in the winter and especially then, prevents her, although she is fit in other respects, from adding to the family income. Rightly or wrongly, Mrs. K. believes that all her children are prone to the same chronic illness, bronchitis, and when in cold weather it proves impossible to heat any rooms beyond the kitchen her anxiety about their health is naturally acute.
I could go on with these case histories, but I have mentioned only two as illustrating the importance of looking into this question of disablement and demonstrating that there is nothing dramatically wrong here, nothing newsworthy; no one has had had a gas explosion or anything really dramatic. The Ws. and the Ks. are typical of the families we are thinking about, just keeping their heads above water. But any further small setback may sink them and break them. Nothing in sight at present will set them up in life with any real sense of self-respect, security, freedom or choice.
One can consider some suggestions for improving the lot of our poorest families in the short term, and I will do that. But what I really want to do after that is to consider some of the underlying causes. I myself cannot complain, as some of my noble friends feel that they should, about the recent increases in the scale of family allowances. They have been a great boon to the poor families receiving 186 them, and, given the facts presented by these two reports on the state of our poorest families, coupled with the Government's mismanagement of the economy and their relative lack of really radical research and socialist Clinking about this problem, these measures are the best kind of crash programme that could be expected.
The harmful side effects, the duos and strain that is caused by the recoding work that has to be done in tax offices, which has had a bearing on some of these families, the fact of the resentment that this increase has to be borne by other families and not across the board, are not to be ignored. But it ought to be possible next time to devise a better way of paying benefits to our poorer families which will succeed more than this has in lifting all the families concerned in this group out of their poor condition and without these bad side effects.
The Conservative Party has prepared one scheme, Must the Children Suffer? which has attracted a number of comments from Government Benches in another place. But each time the criticism is of a different kind. It would be helpful to-day to know what the Government think about this particular way of dealing with this problem. But benefits to help the children are not enough. Is it not possible to allow greater discretion to the Ministry of Social Security and their officers in the distribution of benefits, and particularly of supplementary benefits? I could not at the moment go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and urge the abolition of the wage stop. I should have thought that the reasons for retaining it have been argued well enough, and the difficulties of lifting it for a short period seem to me at first sight to be extremely daunting, if not insuperable.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, when he reads Hansard to-morrow he will see that I did not advocate the abolition of the wage stop.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. But I think I agree with the noble Lord that it is bad economics, among other bad things, to apply the rules of the wage stop too rigidly. For example, if Mr. K, whom I was just talking about, were to desert 187 his wife, or Mr. W, whom I was also talking about, were to commit a crime in a desperate attempt to get out of his circumstances, the full scale of supplementary benefit would eventually become available to Mrs. K, and if Mr. W went to prison the cost to the taxpayer would be increased by something of the order of £10 to £15 a week. So is it worth striving for small economies of a few shillings here and there when a little more flexibility would go so far to reduce risks like these and to hold families together?
I hope that the noble Lord, when he follows me, or the noble Baroness, when she replies to this debate, may be able to tell us of the developments in this direction that have followed in the year since this Report on the administration of the wage stop was published, because I think the developments there are promising and helpful. The same applies to homes and housing. Is it right to be quite so strict and rigid in collecting rents punctually from these very poor families? In our courts it is mandatory, I believe, in some cases, and quite common practice in others, to receive a social report before passing sentence. Are our social services so unco-ordinated that action by local housing authorities against poor tenants in arrears of rent cannot also wait for a social report to see whether the action proposed is fair and sensible in all the circumstances?
This brings me to my last proposal for the treatment of the present symptoms of proverty. Surely it should be possible to bring into this problem more of the personal touch. All the devices available for maintaining income, and better and more selective ones, if such can be devised, are needed; but poverty, whether of families or of pensioners, cannot be cured over the counter. The more extreme it is the less can it be so cured. So many small sudden setbacks can so quickly become major and lasting disasters.
These very poor families and these very poor lonely old people really need a visit a week from someone. Many of them, thank goodness! get it from their friends and neighbours, and from their families; but all of them need it, and it should not be too difficult to ensure that they all get it. I am not asking for a visit a week from a doctor or a health visitor, or from a case worker or an official— 188 there are not enough of these professional people to go round. In any case it is not necessary; nor is it a good thing for the whole of this problem to be handled by officials. But a visit from someone who is in touch with experts like this, someone who can provide an early warning defence against the first onset of trouble, ought to be possible. Someone like this is surely worth more than all the experts and the benefits put together, if the experts and the benefits come into action too late. I hope that this is the kind of development that will gain encouragement from the implementation of the Seebohm Report which, if I may remind your Lordships, still awaits endorsement by the Government.
I should like now to turn to the question of prevention, as well as cure, because I do not think that tinkering like this is ever going to solve this problem. We need to go more deeply into it: we need to look further into the causes, and to tackle them, as well as treating the symptoms. Looking at the whole of the social work field I would say that this business of what the doctors call "prophylaxis" in social work is still really in the pre-historic age. For field workers in the social services it is as if doctors in the Health Service had to cope in surgeries and hospitals without any preventive action like vaccinations against smallpox, without any immunisation for diphtheria or polio, without any mass X-ray services, without any school medical services, without any measures of public hygiene. That, of course, the medical profession would now think of as being absolutely hopeless, yet almost all our social workers are in this sort of situation. They are grappling with social problems that are already serious, if not desperate. Only too few are engaged in studying and prevention of the causes, and what can be done to stop some of these problems from arising at all.
My Lords, let me just illustrate one or two examples of what I mean here. One underlying cause of poverty is an unstable marriage, a home in which husband and wife are at loggerheads, in which one deserts the other, or to take an extreme case (this accounted for 145,000 of the families which this Report found to be in poverty), families in which there is no father at all. I would judge—and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will correct me if I am wrong—that something of the 189 order of £50 million is spent in assisting fatherless families. Two to three million pounds is spent in legal aid helping couples to get divorces. How much is spent helping young people to understand and learn the difficult art of "living happily together ever after" when they are married? Compared with the figures that I have just given, the amount, although it is more than it has been in the past, is precious little. A grant of £65,000 to all the voluntary agencies—such as, for example, the National Marriage Guidance Council—who do the work in this field. And their efforts have to counter a massive campaign in marketing everything under the sun that encourages all the misunderstandings and illusions about sex that are possible.
Take another example. One underlying cause of poverty is disorganised, casual and seasonal working conditions. One hears a good deal about the economic damage done by unofficial strikes, for example, in the car industry, the docks, or the construction industry; but the domestic damage in the families of the lowest paid workers due to continuous interruptions and changes of job, and ups-and-downs in wages, is very serious indeed. There was once a time when the poor were the beneficiaries of industrial action. My Lords, I believe that they have now become the first casualties.
One further cause underlying a good deal of the poverty that we see to-day, which makes it much harder to bear, is the lack of community and community care. Some years ago your Lordships will remember the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, confessing that a survey he had had undertaken revealed that, because of this factor, people living in the slums of Bethnal Green regarded themselves as happier than those who were living in the New Town of Harlow, of which he was so proud. The noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, talking last week about slum clearance in the North West, warned us of the same thing.
My Lords, the concept of community care is a fine one. It has come into social work thinking in recent years, but ever since the war we have been bulldozing it into the ground with each group of slums that we have been clearing without the faintest thought or idea as to how to put it back again into tower 190 blocks of flats, new estates, or New Towns. The lack of this community care has the most serious effects on our poor families. Some of this will be corrected as the various priority programmes that the Government have set afoot get under way: priority programmes in certain urban areas for houses, others for schools, and another introduced last week for social need. But the figures involved here are tiny—of the order of, I think, £5 million per annum, in the case of the housing programme; £6 million per annum, in the case of the programme introduced last week, to be set against £400 million per annum being spent on supplementary benefits. I am sure that these proportions are wrong. I say nothing about housing, one of the biggest factors in the whole of this poverty field, because my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn will be dealing with that when he comes to wind up from d is side at the end of the debate.
I will end by saying that when the Labour Party came into power four years ago they led us to expect that they had new policies, particularly new social policies, ready to swing into instant action. Those were the words of their Manifesto and their speeches, so w have good reason to complain of the delay in bringing these plans and policies, which were supposed to be so ready, into action. We have no reason to complain now that, after four years of dither, they are introducing policies put forward years ago by the Conservatives. I quote from our own Election Manifesto:Combine the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Pensions, National Insurance and National Assistance".They have just done it, having taken two bites at it.Establish inspectors of welfare".They have just begun to do it, and the first reference to it is to be found on page 23 of this Report.Attach a research organisation to the Ministry of Social Services.That, also, is in the Conservative Manifesto. The Government need to do that next, and they have already begun by getting out some plans, about which we shall be interested to hear.Give special help to areas where there is the most need.Their Bill to do this was this week read a second time in another place. It is 191 a late, small, slow move, but we live in days when we have to be thankful for small mercies. Meanwhile, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has done well to remind us, the poor are still very much with us.