§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (LORD KENNET)
My Lords, if we may by general consent return to poverty within our own shores, I should like first of all—I am sure on behalf of the whole House—to thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for raising this matter to-day, and in no less measure for the balance and moderation and good information of his speech, which, if I may say so, exceeded those shown in a quotation from his writings printed in this morning's Guardian. He was more up to date this 199 afternoon. I think we may all look forward to a useful debate at what is well known to be a formative moment in Government policy on this matter.
For the most part, I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for his remarks. I know that the whole House will have listened with respect to what he had to say about prophylaxis. This is a field in which he is exceptionally well qualified. His ideas will merit study within the Government, and they will get it. The speech of the noble Lord was not entirely free of Party points, which I regret. But there it is; that is one of the things we are here for. I do not think I have ever heard this Government accused in the same sentence of both mismanagement of the economy and a lack of Socialist thinking by anybody from the Conservative Front Bench. The conjunction of these two reproaches more often comes from certain noble Lords who sit behind me. I wonder which it is the noble Lord would like more of first—better management of the economy or more Socialist thinking.
There are various detailed points in what the noble Lord said that I am able to take up now, and I think it may be convenient to do so before coming to the generality of my remarks. The noble Lord suggested that in rent collection cases councils should await a social report, as the courts do. I think this might be a cumbrous course to adopt. If somebody cannot pay the rent the right course is to give him a rent rebate. This is what civilised councils do, and the Government hope to see more councils do it in an intelligent way. In general, I can confirm the figures which Lord Sandford gave for this and that. There are now about 1,800,000 old people receiving supplementary benefit. This is 400,000 more than in 1966, before the scheme started. Noble Lords who know about this field will remember that it has many times been said that 500,000 more received it, and this was true in September of last year. Up to that time the increase was 500,000. But since then some no longer need it because the National Insurance benefits have risen. I confirm that the expenditure on supplementary benefit is now running at a little over £400 million a year. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, also asked when the survey 200 of the disabled would be to hand. We hope to get preliminary results into the Department about the middle of next year, and the final report should be published during 1970.
The House will know that the Government are engaged at this moment in preparing plans for the future development of our social insurance scheme, and this is the first thing I should like to talk about. Our proposals for a new and modern structure in which contributions will be related to earnings are now well advanced, and we hope to publish this winter a White Paper setting them out for public consideration and discussion. We believe that our new approach to social insurance will provide a contributory scheme not only set upon firm foundations but also—and this is what will be new—responsive to the developing needs of a dynamic economy. You have to have a system so that if the general wage level goes up in a given profession or trade after a man has retired, he should not be entirely cut off from that increase in general prosperity just because it has happened too late for him to get it in the form of direct wage earnings.
All this is going to be a matter of great and interesting debate next year, after the White Paper is out. I should not say much about it at the moment, of course. It is clear that, like any major reform affecting the whole structure of society, it is going to be full of transitional arrangements. There are at the moment earnings-related elements, and after the new scheme comes into existence there will be flat rates. It will be a great acceleration in the process of transition from the one to the other. Just how long it will take before the new scheme works up into top gear I cannot of course say at the moment. There is some reason to suppose—and this is a point of the greatest importance, because in all these matters we are reliant upon public opinion; no Government can do anything that the public do not want them to do for very long—that most people think that if there is any sector of the community in favour of whom they would be willing to forgo some good things for themselves, it is the old. This growing climate of opinion, which I think is fairly well known, will 201 of course make easier the far-reaching changes we are about to propose.
We have also made a start on the modernisation of the provision for sickness, unemployment and widowhood. The interim scheme, introduced in 1966, pays in the early months of these conditions benefits which are related to earnings and which therefore provide a considerably better level of compensation than before. This has been welcomed. Perhaps the greatest concern is about poverty among the old. For the vast majority of them, the National Insurance retirement pension is the staple part of their income, and it is of course understandable that our old people and those who speak for them should be worried in a time of rising prices. I have not heard this worry reflected yet in the House to-day, and I congratulate those noble Lords who have spoken so far on, I guess, knowing the true situation, but I may as well set it out.
I share the general concern about this matter of pensions vis-à-vis rising prices, and so do the Government, but we can look back with some pride on the advances made in the level of retirement pensions. I want to say this quite clearly, because it is sometimes said that these pensions are being allowed to fall behind the standards reached by the rest of the community. This is not true. The Government lost no time on assuming office. In 1965 retirement pensions, as well as other insurance benefits, were increased, and this was followed in 1967 by a further general increase. In all, those increases have raised the main rates of retirement pension by one-third. The advances made in 1965 and 1967 have already contributed to a higher standard of living for pensioners. The higher rates then established have been paid throughout the successive years; and, indeed, at the present time, even after allowance has been made for price increases since 1964, the real value of retirement pensions—and this is the measure of their real purchasing power—is notably better than that of the rates in payment when the Government came to power. The real improvement is, in fact, about 15 per cent. One-third is the absolute improvement in money terms.
But disablement and sickness—and do we not know it!—may bring financial as well as physical and social handicaps. 202 They may mean interrupted earnings, reduced earnings or the end of a useful working life.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would forgive my interrupting at that point. In giving the increase in the real value, is he able to say what is the position so far as concerns the increase in real value of earnings, if any?
§ LORD KENNET
Not at the moment, my Lords, though I hope that perhaps my noble friend who is to wind up the debate may be able to make this comparison to the House.
The disablement or sickness of someone other than the breadwinner—and this, I know, was a point which was exercising Lord Beaumont when he opened the debate—can obviously strain the whole family. Some problems are still unsolved, but we have made good progress through the increased benefit rates, through the earnings-related supplements, which I have mentioned, and through supplementary benefit. I think the main point here is that a disabled member of the family who is unable to work can now claim supplementary benefit as part of the entitlement as of right. This winter's White Paper, which I have just mentioned, will show the way to further progress on this front, too. I have just mentioned the survey of the chronic sick and disabled.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, may I just ask my noble friend whether that includes the housewife?
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
The disabled housewife who is not in gainful employment. She cannot claim supplementary benefit in her own right, can she?
§ LORD KENNET
May I return to that point later? I shall return to it, or my noble friend Lady Phillips will.
Illness and disablement require a co-ordinated approach; that is obvious. Medical treatment, rehabilitation or nursing aids would be no use if the sick person had too little food to keep himself alive to make use of them. Equally, cash would be of no use without the services needed to restore health or to reduce the consequences of disablement. 203 The new Department of Health and Social Security, the office of the Secretary of State for the Social Services, the Green Paper on the Health Service, the Seebohm Committee Report—these are the landmarks of our common concern to deploy our resources in the best way for the relief of suffering and to meet need, equally whether in money or in services and goods. I know as well as anyone that there is still a long way to go.
My Lords, so far I have talked of insurance schemes which help people by contributions during their working life to lift themselves out of povery in old age, sickness and other misfortunes. But we must also look at the supplementary benefits which for people not in full-time work provide a guaranteed minimum standard of life. This is a concept to which I shall return. The Government have done much since 1964 to improve the standard provided by the Supplementary Benefits Scheme and its predecessor, National Assistance.
It may be helpful if I explain briefly how the scheme works. First, one considers what a person already has to live on. This is referred to in the legislation as his "resources". These include part-time earnings, State benefits, private pensions and savings. In calculating the resources, parts of certain kinds of income and certain amounts of savings can be ignored, or, to use the statutory term again, "disregarded". Next one considers what a person needs to keep himself and his family. This is known under the legislation as his "requirements". These are calculated from the scale rates which are themselves laid down in the legislation for the ordinary needs of the family and take into account the actual rent he has to pay and any special needs the family may have. The scheme then pays the amount required to bring what he has, his resources, up to what he needs, his requirements.
My Lords, in March, 1965, the level of National Assistance requirements was substantially raised. In November, 1966, National Assistance was replaced by the Supplementary Benefits Scheme which was an advance in three ways. First, it provided a right (or, as the Act calls it, an entitlement) to benefit; in particular for old people, the Supplementary Benefits Commission cannot reduce benefit 204 below the level set out in the legislation. This means that old people are sure of a guaranteed income. I want to say more about the results of this when I talk about the old in more detail. Secondly, it improved standards by fixing higher levels for benefit by bringing in (through the "long-term addition") a higher level still for old people and certain others—typically the chronic sick, such as the diabetics, who, so long as they are sick, have more expenses than healthy people who are below the requirement level for some other reason than their own sickness. The standards were also improved, beyond the long-term benefits, by removing the rigid limit on the amount of savings the person could have before receiving benefit.
Thirdly, the scheme brought up to date and simplified the rules about income and savings which could be (to use the statutory term) disregarded. The aim of all this was to get a system of non-contributory benefit which could win public confidence and get people to come along because of the injection of the new element of "entitlement". It was epitomised by the bringing together of non-contributory and contributory benefits into one Department, the new Ministry of Social Security.
My Lords, the levels of requirements were raised again in October, 1967 and again in October, 1968. This last increase was to protect the most vulnerable people against price increases caused by devaluation. When all these increases are taken together, it is clear what considerable steps have been taken since 1964 in raising the minimum standard of life for people who, for one reason or another, cannot be expected to work or cannot find work. If one compares the levels of National Assistance rates in October, 1964, with the levels of supplementary benefit now, the real value, after taking account of price changes, has increased in the four years by 23 per cent. Even this does not include the additional improvements brought about by the new long-term addition that I have just mentioned, which is now running at 10s. a week, and the other beneficial changes which were made in the rules when the Supplementary Benefits Scheme was started in 1966.
Before I leave the subject of supplementary benefits I should like to take up 205 the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, on one word which he used. He said it was "disgraceful" that there should be now two million people on supplementary benefits. We are all entitled to our opinions; but for my part I would entirely reject that word. It is not disgraceful that there should be anybody on National Assistance or on supplementary benefit. The Supplementary Benefits Scheme is simply the means that we in our society use to ensure that nobody shall be too poor. Other means are thinkable. Each one of us could name three or four other means of doing this; and I think that those who know anything about it could name three or four objections to each of the other means. At the moment the means we have is the Supplementary Benefits Scheme. I should much regret it if it got around that this House, or anybody in it, considered it a disgraceful means. It is not disgraceful; it is an honourable means and the most convenient means available at this moment.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, may I just take the opportunity of accepting that comment, which I think my remarks deserved? What I was attempting to say was that we ought to regard it as a challenge to improve our policies towards the poor that we have something of the order of two million people who need this kind of assistance. It is not a disgrace that they are receiving it.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I accept that and thank the noble Lord for his words.
My Lords, I should now like to consider some of the main groups who have benefited from this rise in standards. First, there are the old, who form about 70 per cent. of the households receiving supplementary benefits. One of the main impetuses behind the new scheme was the Report of the Government inquiry, Financial and Other Circumstances of Retirement Pensioners. That Report said that large numbers of old people who could have got National Assistance did not know about it or were unwilling to claim it. The new scheme, with its emphasis on entitlement, its more straightforward rules, its higher standards and the publicity campaign with which we accompanied it when it was launched, attracted the half-million extra old people on to the supplementary benefits 206 list. These are the half-million that I spoke about just now. This figure has now fallen, for the reason that I gave, to 400,000. This speaks for itself. I would accept that there are sill old people who do not claim the supplementary benefit. But the new Supplementary Benefits Scheme and the Rate Rebate Scheme, which in 1967–68 benefited 700,000 poor people over pension age, have marked decisive steps towards removing poverty from old age.
Another large group receiving supplementary benefits are the sick end the disabled. Many of these are also receiving National Insurance sickness benefit, but an almost equal number are people, usually the congenitally sick and disabled, who have never been able to acquire an insurance record because they have never got to work. It is among this latter group that supplementary benefit is particularly important, and is likely to remain so, as a cure of poverty. For example, where parents have living with them a badly disabled child who has no prospects of working, they know that from the age of sixteen he will be entitled to supplementary benefit in his own right without regard to their resources. Then there are the unemployed.
At this point (I do not know whether the House will agree that it is not a digression) I want to speak for a moment about the present unemployment situation and to place on record some figures which I find are mysteriously ignored in public debate at the moment. On October 14 this year, there were 535,000 unemployed persons in Great Britair. This is a distressing number. It is higher than it was—the debate is very familiar—but it is lower than it was at the time of which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was speaking in the 1930s. But what do we mean when we say "an unemployed person"? It is a fact that that figure makes no distinction at all between a person unemployed for one week and a person who has been unemployed for three years. If a man goes along and registers as unemployed, he shows up in that list. The list knows no distinction between the long-term and the short-term unemployed. I should like to give the House a figure about this.
At that date, two months ago, 45.8 per cent. of the unemployed had been 207 unemployed for eight weeks or less. That is to say, just on half were unemployed for under two months—are at any given moment under two months; just on half get back to work within two months. This is what it means. I do not know what opinion each of your Lordships will form of this individually, but my own is this: that in a country with rising standards of living, often called "affluent", and in the most part justifiably called affluent; in a country with rather good unemployment benefit levels; in a rather civilised country, a modern country, it is not remarkable, I think, that a man who is looking for a new job should take eight weeks about it. I do not think that this is a matter for any distress to anybody. If it takes him longer than that, we may begin to worry.
If we call the remaining 54 per cent. those who are really unemployed, we find that the total is a little over a quarter of a million; and not the "somewhat over half a million" which is generally discussed. Why it is generally discussed is something which has always puzzled me: the true figure is nearer a quarter of a million.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I have no doubt that mathematically what he said is correct; but it did not convince me, in the way in which he said it. If I understood the noble Lord rightly, he said the fact that only 45 per cent. had been out of employment for eight weeks was a proof that everybody got back within eight weeks. That does not seem to me to follow, unless a point is taken at another period and you can show that the 45 per cent. have gone round once.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I do not quite follow the reasoning of the right reverend Prelate, and I am reluctant to get into one of these statistical haggles. Of course I did not mean to say that everybody got back at eight weeks, only that at any given moment half had been out of employment for under eight weeks; and in a situation where that is so, that is a pretty good indication that half of them are, on the whole, short-term people and that it is not all up at the long-term end—the year, or nine months, or a 208 year and a half, which is what is really worrying in a society.
My Lords, the last large group I want to mention are the so-called fatherless families. Here I think the House will know that there has been a fairly startling increase, from 85,000 fatherless families receiving supplementary benefit in 1955 to 176,000 to-day. The Supplementary Benefits Scheme pays benefit to any woman with dependent children not living with her husband, or with another man, without requiring her to register for work—provided, of course, that maintenance payments or earnings do not take her income above the supplementary benefit level for the family. The Government are very conscious of the special position of this group and the need to devote further thought to their position, if only because they are an increasing group. But they do not form a homogeneous group, and here the flexibility of the Supplementary Benefits Scheme is of value. Even within the three main groups of widows, separated wives and unmarried mothers there are important distinctions. A wife may be legally separated from her husband, or may have been temporarily deserted by him, or anything in between. The unmarried mother may be living with her parents, or may be married in all but name to the father of her child, or may be entirely alone. But in all cases where there is no man to support them the woman and her family are now able to have their income brought up to the supplementary benefit level. Thus people not in full-time work and their families are taken out of poverty by the Supplementary Benefits Scheme.
My Lords, there is one more smaller group of families whom we cannot help through the Insurance or Supplementary Benefits Scheme but who may need our help just as much. These are the families of people in full-time work who cannot qualify for benefit, however low their earnings; and linked with them are the people who, although they are on supplementary benefit, have the amount of their benefit restricted by the wage stop. The extent of this problem was shown by the inquiry and Report, Circumstances of Families in 1966, which has been referred to more than once this afternoon. This Report said that in July of that year there were about 160,000 families in these groups, containing about 209 500,000 children, who were living below the November, 1966, supplementary benefit levels, for what that is worth; that is a point to which I shall come later.
It was the main aim of the family allowance increase this year to help these families. Until then family allowances had remained unaltered since 1956. Within the last year the Government have, in two stages, increased them by 10s. for each qualifying child, thus more than doubling their value; so that the allowance is now 18s. a week for a second child and 20s. a week for the third and each subsequent child. The advantage of the increase was concentrated on those families that needed it by so adjusting tax allowances that the man paying tax at the standard rate paid back in extra tax the full amount of his extra family allowances, while at the other end of the scale the really poor man received the full increase—I say "man" but of course it is the woman and the family who receive the full increase without any tax reduction whatever. This ingenious means has, I think, met with little criticism since it has been in operation—though we heard a lot against it before it came in—and it appears to me to be a neat and wholly beneficial way of solving what would otherwise have been the extremely difficult and intractable social problem of how to get the money to these people.
My Lords, I will say this in conclusion. I have not attempted to define poverty because I think that above the level needed to maintain life itself there is no clear-cut definition. The nearest, perhaps, we can get is that poverty is whatever standard of life any community at any given moment finds to be intolerable to contemplate. What I would claim is that since 1964 the Government have markedly improved the standards of the poorest by means of higher insurance benefits and the new Supplementary Benefits Scheme for those unable to work or not expected to work; and by means of higher family allowances for people in work or where supplementary benefit is wage-stopped.
I might just at this point break off to say that we will look at Lord Beaumont's "Christmas Package" suggestion on the wage stop. It is a most attractive idea, but I wonder how far one could go in this direction. if that is cancelled for a couple of weeks, I can think of a great 210 many other things which everybody would like to see cancelled for a couple of weeks too—and there might be no end to it this side of a total income tax remission of a fortnight every year. For many people, too, the rate-rebate scheme has been an additional help.
But, despite what I have said, we on this side of the House—and I think that noble Lords opposite know it—arc not complacent. The White Paper is going to be the next big step forward, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, put down his Motion (in a way I regret that he did) just a little too early for us to be able to discuss that White Paper. I expect that we shall have another debate when it comes forward. Moreover, we are building up research into what needs to be done for the less well-off groups. Already a lot is done. I do not accept Lord Sandford's sneer about its being only in a Conservative Manifesto that you find research on social problems; there may have been a word or two about it in ours also; and we all know the political ideology which lies behind the great volume of immensely valuable research which has been done by private researchers outside Government: altogether.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, concluded by asking the Government for two pledges: first, to have a programme to eradicate poverty and, secondly, to make that programme the first national priority. I should like to say a word about both, because I think that they are extremely interesting and constructive suggestions. A programme to eradicate poverty should be very good indeed. We all know what a programme is and what eradication is, but none of us knows what poverty is. Here is a difficulty for any Government, one on which I should like to expatiate for a moment. We are all agreed that there is poverty above the starvation line, but once we get above that line, whit we call the poverty line is a floating value judgment.
There is also a floating political judgment, which may be changed and is always changed upwards and I have no doubt will be changed upwards again, of what is the statutory poverty line: that is, the requirement line in legislation. A Government can say that there are too many people: they must help some people by raising the statutory line. 211 This is very good. People who ought to have more money will begin to get it. On the other hand, the critics will be able to say, "Lo and behold, last year there were 1,800,000 old people" (or whatever the figure was) "below the poverty line; this year there are 2½ million. The figure is going up. Disgrace! The number of poor is increasing". Not a bit of it. The number of people who are as poor as they were last year has decreased because those officially below the poverty line are getting something done about it. So we are in a cleft stick. If we define poverty in statutory terms in a generous way, to help more people, we also make more people statutorily poor. It is hard to know what is the right thing to do. For this reason I should be a little hesitant about making a Government programme to eradicate poverty in any very precise terms. Of course, at the moment there is a programme to alleviate poverty. I have just outlined what it is, and it is a good one. If we do not have an Office for the Eradication of Poverty, it is only because we are addicted to slightly more pompous words than the Americans. But we have a Department of Health and Social Security which is doing just about that.
Turning now to the second demand for a pledge that we should make such a programme our first national priority, I would say, "Yes", except that I should have to say what is second and what is fifteenth, and then we should get one of these very unwelcome lists. We all agree—and I am glad we all agree—in all Parties in our political system, that there are various grave social difficulties, all of which must be tackled. So while I cannot give the noble Lord a pledge that we will make the eradication of poverty the sole first priority, I can give him a pledge that it will not be the second.
§ BARONESS BIRK
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend about the point I raised? He talked about bringing up the amount of supplementary benefit for fatherless families. Could he say whether the Government have in mind a special allowance for fatherless children? The fatherless child needs the same keep because he is in the same position.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I am not sure that I am getting my noble friend's 212 point. Fatherless children come in fatherless families.
§ BARONESS BIRK
If we take it from the point of view of the child's needs, then we should make an allowance for fatherless children irrespective of how they lose their fathers—through divorce, for example, as well as through death—because at the present moment there are anomalies.
§ BARONESS BIRK
I am speaking about children who are living with their mothers and who are fatherless.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I think I had better say that I will study this point and write to my noble friend about it.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for having answered almost all the points I raised and for having confirmed the ones I asked him to confirm, but there is one question I asked him to which it would be nice to have an answer. How successful have the Government been in persuading retirement pensioners, who seem to be entitled to supplementary benefit and are not receiving it, to accept it? Perhaps we shall hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, at the end of the debate about this matter, because I think it is important.
§ 4.35 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for drawing attention to the serious extent of poverty which still exists in Britain. In supporting the Motion, I would stress first of all the need for a proper perspective. As the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has already reminded us, we need to see such poverty as still exists in Britain within the wider context of world poverty, and although world poverty is not our subject to-day I hope I may be excused for recalling a few of the salient facts about the world situation.
I quote two sentences from World Poverty and British Responsibility, a Report published by a Working Party for the British Council of Churches in 1966. It says:In 1962, the average annual income per head of the 1,400 million people living in the 213 developing countries was less than £50. There has been little improvement in the position since then. In India, 470 million people had an average income of less than 10s. a week.In the light of this world situation, it is doubtful whether in speaking of human need in this country we are justified in using the word "poverty" without qualifying the word by the addition of the word "relative" or "comparative" for, as we have been reminded to-day, poverty is a relative conception.
Turning, then, to the relative or comparative poverty in Britain, I think that here again it is important that we should view the situation in a proper perspective. I refer, for example, to the pamphlet The Liberal Crusade against a Selfish Society. While it is not possible to exaggerate the appalling destitution of thousands of homeless and displaced families in this country, to which the Shelter Campaign has so rightly drawn our attention, I suggest that it is misleading to state, as is stated in this pamphlet, that:100,000 of our old people die every year as the direct result of hunger and cold.Such a bald statement, so it seems to me, does scant justice to our social services and to those who administer them. For is it not a fact that for several years our social security arrangements have been such that no one need die of hunger and cold, if benefits are claimed and if family and neighbours and the beneficiaries themselves are reasonably attentive?
This leads me to say that I hope that none of us will seek to make political capital out of this problem of poverty in our midst. Whether we belong to this Party or to that Party or, indeed, owe allegiance to no Party, let us give one another the credit of sharing equally a deep concern for the solution of this problem, and let us all together thankfully recognise the immense progress in eliminating poverty that we have witnessed in this country in this century through the efforts of successive Governments, and not least through the social legislation leading to the Welfare State as we know it to-day.
I have recently been reading Roy Jenkins's Life of Asquith and I cannot refrain from recalling the startling historic fact that 60 years ago—yes, only 60 214 years ago—when Asquith introduced a non-contributory pension of 5s. a week at 70 for those whose total income did not exceed 10s. a week and who had not disqualified themselves by being criminals or lunatics or by becoming with n the previous year paupers, the scheme was violently criticised for showing a reckless generosity. Lord Rosebery thought the planso prodigal of expenditure as likely to undermine the whole fabric of empire",and another Peer described it asdestructive of all thrift.We have advanced a long way in the last 60 years! Bearing in mind the Prime Minister in 1908, it is a great joy to see his daughter the noble Baroness s raring with us in this debate this afternoon. Again we have advanced a long way in the past sixty years.
What is the situation to-day? We are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for his reassuring statement on the Supplementary Benefit Scheme and the results already accruing to the great benefit of many thousands of people. Under this scheme, as I understand it, putting it quite briefly, pensioner; who are not in full-time work have a statutory right to have their incomes brought up to a guaranteed weekly level by means of a supplementary pension, and those who are under pension age and are not in full-time employment—the sick, disabled, unemployed, widows, mothers left alone with young children—are entitled to a supplementary allowance adequate to bring their income up to what is re3arded as a proper level.
It is well known, as we have been reminded already this afternoon, that there have been many who in the pas-. have hesitated to avail themselves of these supplementary benefits and have consequently lived below the poverty line either because they have not known how to apply for these benefits or because they thought it was not quite a respectable thing to do. I understand that a fairly recent Ministry survey revealed an estimated 850,000 pensioners who were entitled to supplementary benefit who were not drawing this benefit. I am glad to be able to say that the Church of England clergy, encouraged by a letter from the two Archbishops, have been endeavouring 215 to co-operate with the Ministry in encouraging those who are entitled to supplementary benefit to apply to the Ministry of Social Security.
It would seem to me, therefore, that if the statement in the Liberal pamphlet to which I have referred,that at least one person in eight of our total population lives in conditions of extreme poverty",is accurate, it should be qualified in all fairness by a parallel statement that much of this extreme poverty would not exist if those eligible were to apply for the supplementary benefit to which they are entitled. There is, however, an important question that arises in connection with many who are physically or otherwise disabled and are not entitled to a pension, as those are entitled who are disabled in industry or by polio contracted during service in Her Majesty's Forces. This matter has already been touched upon. I know that many disabled persons, with a courage and determination that win our admiration, equip themselves to be wage earners; but many are entirely dependent on social security and are forced to turn to voluntary societies for supplementary assistance. I would express the hope that Her Majesty's Government may give sympathetic consideration to the possibility of providing pensions for those who are totally or partially incapacitated by an incurable and permanent disability and who are not receiving pensions from other sources.
My Lords, I have tried to put the whole problem in its proper perspective, but a right perspective provides no justification for closing our ears to the. challenge presented by the gap between rich and poor, whether it be on a world level, the gap between rich and poor nations, or on our British level, the gap between rich and poor within our own nation. It would seem that without wishing to be unduly pessimistic we must accept the fact that there will always be this gap between rich and poor so long as men and nations remain fundamentally selfish and acquisitive in their attitudes and fail to respond to the redemptive influence of love—the love of God, the love which for a Christian is seen exemplified in the life of Jesus. History indicates that no political programme, 216 however revolutionary, can ultimately succeed on its own in narrowing this gap. Those of us who, for example, have visited countries behind the Iron Curtain have quickly become aware of a continuing gap between rich and poor, although the rich may not be the same folk as the rich before the revolution, and the poor may not be the same poor. Nevertheless, the gap between rich and poor continues.
This gap must always confront us with a challenge—a challenge which we cannot evade. The question that we have to ask in every generation is just this: What can we do to narrow the gap? It is easy enough to adopt a policy of despair, and to say the little that we can do is so little that we might as well give up the attempt. I am sure, my Lords, that we should all regard this defeatist attitude as wrong. If, however, we proceed to ask what practical steps we can take, then I think we are driven to recognise that it is a question of priorities.
Let us for a moment turn our thoughts to the world situation, with which I began. Without focusing our attention on particular nations, must we not all as world citizens ask ourselves whether it can really be right for nations of the world to spend thousands of millions of pounds on the exploration of space and attempts to land on the moon, or in the preparation of weapons of destruction, while two-thirds of the world's population go hungry every day and millions are dying each year of hunger and malnutrition? I am happy to recognise that this country is at present contributing about £200 million a year in aid to developing countries, but this represents under 1 per cent. of our total national income.
While on this subject, perhaps I may be allowed to draw the attention of your Lordships' to the fact that the Anglican Bishops at the Lambeth Conference endorsed the appeal of the World Council of Churches at Uppsala, that the Churches should do their utmost to influence the Governments of industrialised countries to increase annually the percentage of gross national products officially transferred as financial resources, exclusive of private investment, to developing countries, with a minimum net amount of 1 per cent. to be reached by 1971.
217 We are, however, primarily concerned this afternoon with poverty or comparative poverty in Britain, and nothing that we do to help developing countries overseas ought to deflect us from this problem of poverty in our midst. I have no ready-made solutions. I content myself with observing that each Government has the heavy responsibility of considering and deciding upon the question of priorities in the national budget in such a way that the gap between rich and poor within our nation is steadily narrowed rather than widened. It is not, I should think, that it is morally wrong to be rich or necessarily an evil to be poor. Everything depends on the use made of riches and the spirit in which material possessions, or the lack of them, is regarded. None of us can be complacent so long as there are men, women and children, equally with ourselves members of the human family, who are deprived of the opportunity of living a full life.
In this Human Rights Year, I would remind the House of Article 25 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.This, my Lords, is one of the "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" to which the Preamble of the Declaration refers. The ultimate aim of all our social legislation in this country must be to enable every citizen to live a life of dignity in freedom.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, if I may have the understanding of the House for one moment to intervene, I would say that the right reverend Prelate quoted, as Lord Beaumont did not, from the Liberal Pamphlet called, The Liberal Crusade against a Selfish Society. I should like to make, if I may, a couple of remarks about the figures which appear in that pamphlet. It builds up this picture of a very terrible situation. It says that 9 million people live in slums and substandard houses. To that, I would say that a slum is one thing, but a substandard house is another. A house may be substandard if it simply does not have hot and cold running water in a wash hand basin. Many of those substandard 218 houses are perfectly all right to live in, though something ought to be done to them. The pamphlet speaks of 100,000 of our old people dying every year as a direct result of hunger and cold. My Lords, I know of no evidence whatever that such a thing happens, and I do not know where the authors of this pamphlet got theirs. It speaks of 750,000 old people living below National Assistance level. To that, I would say that there were 750,000 old people who did not claim National Assistance, although they were entitled to it, three years ago. I would point out that of course there has not been such a thing as "National Assistance" in the last two years.
It speaks of 500,000 of our children being undernourished. My Lords, once again I know of no evidence that such a thing is so, and I wonder where the authors of the pamphlet got theirs. Finally, the pamphlet says:These figures imply that at least one person in eight of our total population lives in conditions of extreme poverty".I do not think that the figures, even if they were correct, would imply any such thing, but in any case the figures are not correct.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, I hope I may have the indulgence of your Lordships' House, because I have agreed to speak at another meeting on the same topic some long way from here. I recognise that up to now in this debate my noble friend Lord Kennet is the only lay filling in an otherwise exclusively ecclesiastical sandwich. If I am to be included in that sandwich I should like to justify my presence and what I have to say, not by claiming first-hand experience of poverty, except by inadvertence now and then, which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has indicated as a prerequisite of a really authoritative speech, but by saying that for at least forty years I have been cheek and jowl with poverty in my professional career. 'Therefore, perhaps your Lordships' House; will admit a reminiscence which I think helps to put the present situation in perspective and is corroboration to some extent of what the right reverend Prelate has just said.
Forty years ago you could debouch from the Old Kent Road to streets like Rivet Street and finds no houses with 219 doors upon them. You would find houses almost entirely bereft of furniture. Almost my first experience as a minister was being asked by my deaconess whether I could go over to a certain house in Rivet Street where it was said a man was committing suicide. "Would I go to help him?"—a slightly ambiguous request, which I endeavoured to follow. I found he was standing in the middle of a room in which there were two families, each huddled into a corner; there was no furniture whatsoever except a soapbox and some rags on the floor. That was not a particular and egregious exhibition of poverty in one particular street off the Old Kent Road, as I have every reason to know. People who talk about poverty to-day are talking about an institution and a curse which in many respects has been largely removed from our cities—and thank God for that!
If we are profitably to utilise the opportunity provided by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, we shall do well, I am sure, to look at those alternative forms of poverty which have taken the place of the endemic poverty, which are more miliary now than particularised in groups of people and in particular parts of London and other conurbations. The first great difference to-day is that poverty has moved West in the great cities and one finds it now behind the stucco of quite respectable West End terraces, where people are living in respectable poverty and are much less likely to seek the opportunities that a Welfare State provides for them. If it be true, as I have no doubt it is, that few of them will die of cold this winter, it is my experience as a practising parson that over and over again people living in such circumstances have not enough money to keep themselves warm, and only just about enough money to keep themselves clothed and housed. Although statistics are available which could be, I suppose, regarded as authoritative, I will not question them except to say that it is the experience of every social worker whom I have come across that this situation is very widespread.
The second characteristic of poverty today is that much of the poverty that could be alleviated is not alleviated because of a lack of take-up. I hope that this is not a piece of my own Party allegiance, 220 and I hope it is not a piece of Party bias, but the more I read both of the promise and of the performance of the present Welfare State as carried out hitherto by the present Government, and the new proposals and anticipations of the new scheme under Social Security as a whole, the more I am impressed by them. They have a magistral sweep, a comprehensiveness and an idealism, which all commend themselves to me. And I, for one, am profoundly grateful for the changes that they have enabled me, and every other social worker, to see in the general conditions, which once were deplorable.
It is necessary, I think, to remind ourselves that of the 900,000 who were entitled to retirement pensions and did not take them up, a great many did not want them or did not need them. It is assessed (and, here again, I cannot substantiate the accuracy of this figure, although it is authoritatively stated) that 250,000 of them in fact did not take up their retirement pensions because for various reasons they were unwilling to take the trouble so to do, or were unprepared to face what they regarded as a social insult or an exhibition of charity. Nothing seems to me to commend itself so much in the present attitude of Her Majesty's Government as this attempt to remove the social sense of some kind of charitable deflation of one's own personality present in the way in which these social benefits were acquired in the past. Of the 235,000 families which are, I believe, living below supplementary benefit level now, it is interesting that only 25 per cent. took up their children's meals concession, not because they were, as I think, already well fed, but because of this reluctance. Therefore, perhaps one of the most justifiable and one of the most encouraging of all the features of the present social security system is that if it can remove this allergy and unwillingness, then it will be doing something of prime importance.
I should like to mention, too, very briefly, two areas in which present poverty has become recognisable and is hectic. One of them has already been adverted to at least twice in your Lordships' House this afternoon. I am proud to be able to say a word of encouragement to the Disablement Income Group. I have read their literature with relish 221 and I acclaim them. I acclaim them for the care with which they presented their evidence and the exactness with which they have set out their programme. I would venture to quote from at least one of their pamphlets. Whatever may be the answers which hitherto have been given most clearly by my noble friend, I should like an assurance, if he can give it, concerning the 400,000 who are disabled and the families who suffer from that disablement. Here be it admitted that there is no more secretive and no more reticent person, in my judgment, than the one who has been disabled for a very long time; there is a humble pride about people of that character and of that background which I am very proud to recognise.
But is it, or is it not, true that those for whom no cash benefits whatever are available as yet come in the following categories of disabled people: people whose earning capacity has been reduced but not eliminated by injury or disease, or who, because of their disability, incur extra expense in order to perform their normal work; married women who have totally lost their earning capacity but whose contribution record does not entitle them to indefinite continuation of sickness benefit; housewives (mentioned by the noble Baroness), with injuries received or diseases contracted while not gainfully employed; and, above all, disabled children who, though they will of course receive their family allowances, will not be in receipt, unless I am misinformed, of benefit? Surely it should be the aim of this House and of Her Majesty's Government not only to provide for widows and pensioners a guaranteed income but also to provide a guaranteed income for those who are permanently disabled. These seem to me to be eminently reasonable propositions, quarried out of the present situation by the enthusiasm and persistence of the Disabled Income Group, and I hope they will be encouraged by what the noble Baroness will say at the end of this debate.
I conclude with another reference, which I make no apology for mentioning. If we are considering poverty in the general sense of the word then a great deal of it is idiosyncratic to-day and it depends for its relevance and general provenance 222 on qualities which are both economic and moral. I believe that alcohol is one of the prime causes of poverty, and I can give a great deal of evidence to support that belief, but I think an even greater cause is the increase—the fantastic increase—in gambling. It would be difficult to arrive at correct figures or a general knowledge of what in fact is the substance of such a claim n as I now make from evidence which comes to me from persons I believe to be valid.
I should like the Government further to restrict advertisements for drinking. I believe this would have a salutary effect. I believe it would be very much better if the Government would entirely repudiate the principle which led to the emergence of the betting shop. Let me make a confession. When the betting shop problem first arose I was one who felt that as a kind of rough justice the betting shop was a good idea—or rather a lesser evil. I do not believe it any longer; I believe the betting shop is an outstanding curse, a centre of squalor and one which radiates all kinds of poverty. I am sure this is happening, and if the true figures for the dispersal of our treasure in the ridiculous and anti-social behaviour patterns of gambling were available it would be seen to be a major cause of poverty. I hope Her Majesty's Government will bring themselves to look again at the whole question of betting shops.
I was brought up in a good Socialist background which taught me that poverty was a crime. I never quite believed it. It is a dangerous over-simplification. It is not a crime for those who suffer it, and in one sense it was not a crime communities where the solution of it was impossible. It is interesting to reflect that embedded in the Muslim faith is the obligation to provide alms, because there is no possible proposition that there should be the abolition of poverty. Also how often has the New Testament been misquoted—"The poor you will always have with you"—which, of course, is not what was said. In one sense if poverty is a crime it is only because society, being able to get rid of it, is nevertheless unprepared to make the effort so to do. In that sense I would suggest that for the first time in our human story we could obliterate the kind of poverty which is below what is usually known as the "poverty line". It is not 223 a fanciful piece of idealism, but a piece of practical statesmanship.
Therefore I will finish by referring to the concluding remarks of my noble friend. It may not be a first priority, but it dare not be a second; and if the modern community is fashioned in such a way as to lead to the abolition of this kind of poverty as its fundamental requirement, then it will necessarily demand such radical and revolutionary changes in the whole structure of that society as might well satisfy even the most Left Wing minded on this side of the House, and would certainly commend itself to those who believe that an achievement of the Kingdom of God as a reputable, decent, livable society is not necessarily postponed to another world but can be made here on earth.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I do not want to follow my noble friend Lord Beaumont in taking a broad look at the problems of poverty, but I want to bring forward one or two small points which I think could be considered and which, if properly implemented, could probably reduce a certain amount of the poverty in this country.
The first thing I wish to refer to is the kind of poverty which can be relieved from official circles by means of supplementary benefit, and so on, yet the people to whom it could apply just do not know that it is possible to get this help. In my view, this is partly because there has not been a great deal of propaganda or publicity about this work, and partly, in the second place, because quite often it means filling in a form which may be extremely complicated, and some people really cannot bring themselves to take the trouble to fill it in. To give one or two examples, there are a certain number of parents whose children reach the age when they normally leave school and who would like those children to continue their education. I believe it is possible to obtain financial assistance towards this end, but many people do not know anything about it and therefore they suffer as a result.
In the same way, fathers who try to do a full-time job and also take care of their children when the mother is away with a long-term or chronic illness can 224 get some sort of assistance. Unmarried mothers who are too young to have left school (there are not a great many of them, but cases do occur) sometimes do not get the benefits to which they are entitled because they, or the people in charge of them, do not realise what kind of things are possible. Then again there is the person who suffers an industrial injury, for which benefit can be obtained but who because, due to ignorance, they do not apply until after the time allowed has passed, may have difficulty in getting what they would have been entitled to if they had applied at the right time. Possibly it was not brought to their attention at the time when they could have applied.
Recently a leaflet has been sent out to some of the Citizens' Advice Bureaux called, The Short Step. That gives a lot of extremely good advice, and one would like to see it circulated on a much wider scale. It explains various difficulties, gives advice to people on how to obtain welfare food, free meals at school, clothing for schoolchildren, the various kinds of medical charges involved in obtaining spectacles and dental treatment, and that kind of thing. I am sure that there are a number of people who are entitled to these benefits but who do not know about them, and as a result they come into the poverty level. This pamphlet gives advice to the Citizens' Advice Bureaux about rent rebates and rate rebates, and those other reliefs which can make an enormous difference to a family living on the poverty line, if we may call it that. One would like to see a good deal more propaganda or publicity for these things.
I do not want to go into the question of the disabled person who is suffering from a disease, because my noble friend Lord Wade is going to refer to that when he speaks, but it seems to be a serious gap in our welfare services that those people who are disabled by illness, as opposed to those people who are disabled as a result of war or industrial injury, do not get any benefit at all. I believe that this situation is about to be changed. I am not sure, but I think the Government have in mind some legislation which will change that situation, so possibly the matter is not quite as serious as I thought.
There is another rather small anomaly which can cause trouble. I think I am 225 right in saying that when a workman goes into a new area to find a job he goes to the employment exchange; but in order to be properly registered there he must have an address. Before he can get an address he has to get lodgings; and, supposing he can find lodgings, he probably has to pay some rent in advance. For some reason he has got no money, and finds it difficult to get money from the social security services because he has no address. So there is a little vicious circle which can lead to quite a lot of unnecessary poverty. The same thing applies—and this has been referred to in this House on more than one occasion—when people come out of prison. They have trouble with their National Insurance card, the prison address, with the stamp and all that, which makes it more difficult for a prisoner to get a job. This brings up one more aspect of poverty which could be eliminated by some kind of administrative action.
We have had a good deal of talk about the question of retirement pensions. I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who said that the Government had put up the retirement pension and that the new rate represented a real increase, and not merely a nominal one, in the value of the pension. But we must keep the figure continuously under review, because if prices go up under the Government's present economic measures the increasing cost is very soon going to gobble up what the people got with their increased pension.
Here again I would put in one more plea—it is one that has been made in this House many times—for the old people who do not get the pension because they were born chronologically at the wrong time. I know that the number is not very large, and that it is falling each year as people die. I also know that, supposing the Government were to allow this, they would be breaking one of the "sacred cows". That is perhaps a curious statement to come from somebody on these Benches, but I mean that they would be breaking a Beveridge principle. But for people like that I should be prepared to see the Beveridge principle broken: because these people do suffer a lot. It is true that they can now get their supplementary benefit, but it has been brought out that some of 226 these old people who are entitled to supplementary benefit do not apply for it. I think that on the whole question of supplementary benefits there is a wrong idea of the psychology of people.
It is said that these old people do not apply because they are too proud, they do not want to accept charity. It is not that at all. They do not apply because they have not got the t me to apply; they cannot be bothered to apply, in the sense that their life is so taken up with living and taking care of themselves that they cannot go to the Post Office or the social security office to find out what they can get. It is not that they are too proud, it is just that they cannot be bothered to find out. I always refer to the Poor Law with a certain amount of kindness. The Poor Law had one or two good principles in it, one of which was the relieving officer whose job it was to know what was going on in his particular district and to visit his old people regularly. I know there was not a great deal to be had at that time, but here was one individual whose personal responsibility it was to see that people knew what they were entitled to and got it. Possibly when we get some of our new social workers coming along that situation may come back again. I am certain that you must bring the benefit to the people and not expect them to go and fetch the benefit from the office.
The noble Lord, Lord Soper, referred to the dangers of alcoholism and poverty. I am quite certain that if we could get proper treatment for alcoholics—I do not mean people who drink, but alcoholics—and for drugs addicts when the new treatment centres start, when the new clinics get going, people may be cured, and that that will make soma contribution, although perhaps not a very big contribution, to the diminution of poverty in this country.
There is one further thing that I would mention. I was very pleased to see, that the Government have put a sum of £15,000 aside to take care of the Czech students who were already here or who came over to this country at the time of the troubles in Czechoslovakia. They have put this quite big sum at the disposal of the students so that they can continue. I think the total number of Czechs is about a couple of hundred. 227 But there are 2,500 students from Nigeria and Biafra in this country now who have no money at all because of the civil war in their country, and one wonders whether the Government could not possibly give something towards their care. If they can do it for the Czechs, they can do it for them also. I am told that if something like that does not happen some 300 or 400 of these students will have to give up their higher education and go back to their country, which would be a great disaster, because one of the things Nigeria will need after the civil war has settled down is as many properly trained and educated people as it can get. I put that forward as one more aspect of the relief of poverty in general.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ LORD COOPER OF STOCKTON HEATH
My Lords, like the previous speakers I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for bringing this important social matter before the House for debate. There has been a great deal of speculation and judgment expressed as to the people who, through their own behaviour, may bring themselves into the sphere of poverty, and there has also been speculation as to who precisely are the poor. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, very correctly said that poverty was a very difficult thing indeed to define. I want to deal with one aspect of poverty which I think is very important indeed and which I do not think has so far been mentioned; namely, the poverty of fully able-bodied people at work who are badly paid or lowly-paid. Again, we have the same problem of definition.
The Government asked the Prices and Incomes Board to try to define the low paid, and because "low-paid" is justification for proceeding with wages applications all sorts of phrases have developed—low paid, lower paid, lowly paid and so on. But again the Prices and Incomes Board had difficulty in defining low-paid workers. They said that the term was relative, which is not very helpful, because, as I have heard in wage negotiations, the man earning £25 a week claims to be relatively poorly paid compared with the man earning £35 per week.
228 Of course, one danger of defining the low paid would mean the starting up of a whole series of applications for wage increases, and not only the low paid might benefit but all those above them who wanted to maintain their differentials; and if that happened we should be in a sorry state indeed. So this is a most difficult problem. But even though we can make only a sort of imperfect attempt at defining low pay because of the lack of detailed information (a matter which I think has been referred to in this debate and to which I shall revert later) I think it is possible to get a broad indication of what we are talking about. In fact, by inference I think Lord Kennet dwelt a great deal on this subject, because he brought it down to the question of needs. He started to talk about supplementary benefit, and I accept his inference that those who are at a level below what one would receive in supplementary benefit could be regarded as being below the poverty line.
If you take the position of a family who in the normal way do not get any social benefit—I refer to a man, his wife and one child, because as soon as you have a second child you are then entitled to family allowances and you get some help from the State—if the breadwinner was on social security benefit, with all the allowances to-day if he were away from work permanently he could draw something in the region of £12 in benefits and a further £2 rent allowance, an average of £14 a week. The basis of my contribution this afternoon is that a worker at work must earn £15 a week if he is to have the same income as a person permanently away from work on National Assistance or supplementary benefit, that person having a wife and child dependent upon him. It is rather interesting (because, in spite of all that has been said, the T.U.C. are a responsible body) that in the operation of their own incomes policy this is the level they put on the matter. They regard any person whose earnings—not wages—for 40 hours are less than £15 a week as being in a category in regard to which they can reasonably promote a wage increase.
It is interesting, also, to see the size of this problem. When you come to low-paid workers you have more statistical evidence to go on. There is not an 229 up-to-date, comprehensive survey of the distribution of earnings in Britain, but there are three sources on which we can base certain conclusions. The last survey on earnings was in October, 1960—eight years ago. This covered 73 per cent. of manual workers in 128 industries. We also have the annual return of the Inland Revenue and the Government's annual family expenditure survey. I do not think there is any doubt that we urgently need—and I hope that this debate may encourage this to be done—an up-to-date, comprehensive survey into the question of low earnings which would obviously cast a clear indication on some of the causes of poverty. In another place the other day a Question was asked about this point, and at column 264 of Hansard for November 19 it was stated that among men and women who were employed full-time (the figures do not include part-time workers) 1,700,000 men and 3,700,000 women were earning under £15 a week. It will be seen from this statement that the bulk of the women in the labour force are earning less than £15 a week, and that a sizeable proportion of men are under that figure.
I noted Lord Sandford's reference to what the Government have done. I believe—and I am glad that it has been said from the Liberal Benches—that the Government have done a great deal to try to solve this problem. But of course more can always be done. From what I gathered, Lord Sandford wanted a little more flexibility and a little better management, and he seemed to suggest that then everything would be right. I must apologise in advance for quoting this, but he reminded me when he tried to suggest how progressive the Conservatives are (I hope this is so, and I am sure changes have brought about many things), of those happy days when Labour was never in power, and we used to have a happy little village where the Conservative Party and the local parson were close together and I, as a choirboy, sang the famous hymn:The rich man at his castle,The poor man at his gate.God made them high and lowlyAnd ordered their estate.We have all moved from this state of affairs, and we do not now accept poverty as inevitable—as, of course, this debate indicates.
230 Nevertheless, it is useful to try to pinpoint who are the people who are on low pay and I suggest below the poverty line. Clearly, from these figures—so mush has been said about this that one almost hesitates to say it again—women particularly are in this very low paid b7acket, and all of us are anxious to get this problem sorted out. We all know that it will not be done in a day; but again more can be done. As has been said, a great deal of propaganda is now contributing towards the realisation that this is a most important and urgent social problem.
But if you analyse some of the industries where men are low paid you find that some of them are fit to do only light work. The partially disabled have been referred to, and there are the industries where typically the labour force is old. This is a roost interesting point and an indication of change. Two of the worst industries are Government industries; Government manual and local government. Here again, much has been done through the Prices and Incomes Board which has drawn attention to the situation. In the past these were most attractive places of employment because there was regular security, sick pay, superannuation and so on. The result is that to-day we find older men holding on to their jobs for their pension right; but these are jobs which cannot hold young men, who are in and out all the time. So this is one kind of industry where low pay exists. And of course we all know that, because of the attempt to try to get some regional influence, certain regions are places of poor pay.
It is easy to say these things, my Lords, but it is not easy to see the answers. It is an awful thing that the accident of where one lives should determine one's level of income. People talk about mobility, but they should not say that in a facile manner. After all, it is not so easy to move about, because when you move about you are not moving one person you are moving a family.
Another interesting point to rote is that the low paid exist in all industries. Among the 128 industries listed in the survey to which I have referred, in some of the more prosperous industries—printing, oil refining and motor manufacturing—the proportion of low paid was 3 231 per cent. In all manufacturing industries the average proportion of male full-time employees earning less than £15 a week is about 7½52 per cent.; and for all industries the figure is 9½25 per cent. Of those industries again, 56 have a higher than average percentage of low paid, and this ranges from 10 per cent. to 40 per cent. who are paid less than £15 a week.
This debate has revealed that there are special reasons for some of these situations. But again this only emphasises the need for an up-to-date inquiry into the number of low paid, who they are, and what remedial action can be taken. I would add that there is no single solution. It is a serious and complex problem, as has been demonstrated by the contributions to the debate. There are three possible approaches, and I appreciate that the Government are giving thought to these approaches. 1 would hope, indeed I am sure, that the debate will make a contribution towards giving attention to this serious problem. The first of these approaches is an increase in social benefit, particularly family allowances. Again this is a very considerable problem. It raises the question of taxation; how you allow for the children in a family; whether you should allow for them in taxation or whether you ought to avoid that problem and pay more benefit by way of family allowances.
Especially in regard to the low paid, there is the desirability of extending some form of negotiations in this field. It is absent, and it may well be asked, "Why don't the trade unions do something about this?" But it is particularly in these low paid industries where there is hardly any organisation at all. If you take the wages councils that cover a very large slice of low paid workers, the rates of pay are 20 per cent. less than the negotiated rates in other industries.
Another matter which has been referred to is the need to look closely at the position of the disabled. I was quite surprised recently to receive appeals for monetary grants from institutes where they were retraining the disabled. As I understand it, there are only about four large institutes in this country, and I should think that at the most they could cater for about 1,000 people. I visited two such places quite recently, and I 232 could not help but admire the marvellous work that they were doing. In the one I particularly asked about 95 per cent. are finding employment after training. This is marvellous, because apart from the social position the great benefit for the individual concerned cannot be measured.
The Government feed these centres either through the Ministry of Education, in the case of children going through the schools who have disabilities, or through the Ministry of Labour (or the Ministry of Employment and Productivity as it is now called) in the case of disabled people. The Government generously support these institutions, but the amazing thing is that if they want to change them from a workhouse appearance to modern hostel accommodation, then they have to find the capital themselves. I think this is a great pity. I do not think it would cost a great deal of money to help with the capital as well as help, as the Government already do, on the revenue costs. It is a great pity that these people are dependent on charity in order to modernise their own buildings. I think this is again a point worthy of examination, and that it is a possible way of helping these people to return to employment. I do not think that there would be many of these people who would be low paid, because the kind of work for which they are being trained, many of them for electronics and so on, are jobs where they could be very useful in the light of the technological changes that are taking place in modern industry.
As I say, I was very impressed with all that was being done in these centres, but when all has been done I still believe you will have the problem of poverty or, if you like, low nay. I am quite definite in my own mind about this. There has been a lot of argument industrially about this, but I think most people are coming round to the point of view that we must have a statutory minimum earning guarantee.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, the noble Lord is making a very interesting speech, and I wonder whether he would allow me to interrupt him for just a moment? He is talking now about minimum pay. Does he propose that there should be a fixed rate for the job, or 233 would it be a rate related to family responsibilities? I think he would agree that on a wage of £15 the single man might be well above the poverty line, but that a man with a number of children even with family allowances might well be below it.
LORD COOPER or STOCKTON HEATH
I thank the noble Lord. There was a time when I used to say that a single man is always a potential married man, but I do not think that is a fair answer to the noble Lord. I do not object myself to that kind of assessment, to have regard to the responsibilities. It is hard to discriminate between the two men in this respect but I think the most important thing is that the job should be such that the average person can earn—on earnings, not on rate—£15 a week for, say, a 40 hour week. The need for this is brought out very clearly because, as has been said, you cannot give supplementary benefit to a person whose wage is below what you yourself assess is necessary from the point of view of supplementary benefit for the person who is not at work.
I would conclude my remarks by a reference to the important Report that is becoming almost a Bible for some of us, the Royal Commission's Report on Trade Unions and Employers Organisations or, to give a briefer description, the Donovan Report. They examined this matter and they made a recommendation which sums up pretty well what I have been trying to say. In paragraph 278 they refer to low pay and they say:Low pay has from the beginning been one of the criteria under which exceptional pay increases have been permitted under the incomes policy.In paragraph 280 they say:Some of the lowest paid are not covered by Wages Councils. The possibility of a national minimum wage or of fixing statutory minimum earnings needs to be examined. In our view it is for the Government, having carried out a review of all associated problems, to formulate and state in clear terms what its policy is in relation to the lowest paid workers and how it is to be pursued.I think this is a very modest request. I am not asking for any more than that. I would close my remarks by once again thanking the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for bringing this question to the attention of the House. I am quite sure that the Government will give very 234 careful thought to all that has been said this afternoon.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I should like first of all to join with many other noble Lords in expressing our thanks to the noble Lord who has introduced this Motion this afternoon. It enables us to clear our minds and to sort out our ideas about the meaning of poverty and its existence in the Welfare State. I suppose that the first question that presents itself to us this afternoon is this: has the Welfare State, in its 25 years of existence, relieved our society of the stigma of poverty? If the Welfare State has failed to do this, then it has failed in its purpose and it would be better to turn from the Welfare State to something else.
I think that it is probably true to say that there is no class or section of our people who are living to-day in conditions of abject and persistent poverty. That has not always been the case. It was not so in the 19th century. It is the reproach of that great century of achievement that whole classes of the population lived below any acceptable standard of subsistence. The measures which were taken to relieve that situation, notably the Poor Law of 1835, failed completely in their purpose. Their failure was mainly founded upon an atmosphere of nervousness and uncertainty in which the spirit of humanity played a very minor part. Indeed, it was left to the great voluntary organisers of those days, Lord Shaftesbury, Dr. Barnardo, General Booth, to deal with the problems of persistent poverty. I think that to-day our problem is not to rescue from poverty some particular class of persons, but to provide adequate assistance in individual cases.
The circumstances of individual cases vary very widely. I think that it; important that we should understand how the benefits paid by the Supplementary Benefits Commission are estimated. There is an immense difference in the needs of different individuals and families. Take their rent alone. There are immense variations in rents in different parts of the country. In London, the average rent paid by the applicants for supplementary benefit at the latest date for which figures have been published was 37s. 4d. The average rent in Scotland was only 22s. 4d.; the average rent in Wales was 235 25s. 5d., and in the rest of England, outside London, 30s. 11d. So a person who received a flat-rate benefit in London might well be in poverty, although a person in Scotland who received the same amount would have his needs adequately met. It is important to remember that the great merit of supplementary benefit is that it adapts the payment to the needs and requirements of individuals and to individual circumstances.
It is not only rents that vary. The obligations of individuals vary, too. There are many people who have quite expensive diets prescribed by their doctors, and this must be taken into account if the need of that individual is to be adequately met. In the same way some people have clothing needs due to the fact that for some reason there is excessive wear and tear on their clothing. Those needs have to be met before we can say that a person's needs have been adequately met by supplementary benefit.
The former National Assistance Board followed this method of assessing allowances, each allowance being the result of separate assessment. That was one of the merits which it had. Of course, those advantages have now passed to the Supplementary Benefits Commission; but perhaps I may be forgiven if I look back with a certain nostalgia to the National Assistance Board. The Board enjoyed the confidence of the public to a substantial degree, and I regretted that the National Assistance Board was transformed into something else. I have never criticised the Supplementary Benefits Commission and I do not intend to do so now. It was a most ingenious and effective piece of administrative policy and it has been incorporated, I hope on satisfactory terms, into the Ministry of National Insurance. But when one looks back at the degree of independence which the Board enjoyed one begins to wonder whether its continued existence would not have been more in line with the Minister's new policy for the set-up of these Departments than the course which he apparently is going to take.
I should like to ask the Minister to consider having a body with the independent existence of the old National Assistance Board and not separated from the Minister by an intermediate Minister, which I think is a weakness—that is to 236 say, a Minister of the second rank (I say that without disrespect to him) who will have immediate supervision of the Ministry of Social Security. Could not something of this sort be revived? I put forward this suggestion without any real expectation that it will be met by the Minister. But there are great advantages in a body enjoying a substantial measure of independence, as did the old Assistance Board, whose sole task is to seek out individuals in need and to endeavour to remedy their needs.
If the Welfare State is effectively to relieve the poverty of those in need, some of us will have to change our views about the means test. Oddly enough, we have heard very little this afternoon about the means test. I think that the Party opposite are reconciled to it now. Indeed, there is no proposal that in the new Ministry of Social Security the means test should be abandoned; but that has not always been the attitude of noble Lords opposite. It was unfortunate that the Labour Party should have committed themselves to an undertaking to abolish the means test before they appreciated the practical administrative difficulties of taking that course. It would have been better if the Party opposite had contained themselves a little longer until they became responsible and found out the great difficulties of establishing that flat-rate scale of benefit which they had promised and which would meet everybody's requirements. You are at once up against the inequalities in need of which I spoke a moment ago.
I believe that the public now accept the means test. I am sure that the public accept the higher rates of benefit. They do not desire that old people should live otherwise than in modest comfort; they do not desire that deserted wives should suffer or that the low-paid should suffer. They are quite willing that the taxpayer should find the means to prevent these things. What they are insistent about is that the benefits should not be paid to persons who do not require them. Selectivity, whether we like it or not, has become one of the major administrative problems of to-day. The means test has spread from the central Government. To-day one encounters it in a great many different forms and in many different places. There is a means test for school meals, school milk, home 237 helps, some services in education, prescriptions of course, and in quite a number of other services, most of them administered by the local authorities. There seems to be a case for reviewing these means-tested services. It may be possible to establish some uniform standard of need, by which the need in all these cases could be measured. At the same time, it might be possible to examine the conditions of other services which are at present entirely free, with a view to seeing whether they, too, might be brought within the range of selectivity.
All these services appear to-day to involve a great deal of form-filling. In the old days the National Assistance Board made it one of their principal aims to avoid the necessity for filling-up forms. They sent a visitor to call at the house, interview the applicant and obtain the information, which he entered on the case paper. That was a very expeditious service. I do not think it gave as much offence as it was sometimes said to do. I have taken part in a great many of those interviews, and I never remember being present at one at which the person interviewed appeared to resent it; and, indeed, I do not think they do. I know that the noble Baroness is going to claim, as the Minister claimed, that the number of persons receiving supplementary benefit has increased by about 400,000 since 1964–65. I would only remind the Minister, and the noble Baroness who is going to reply, that of course the number of old age pensioners in the country has also increased, and we do not know how far the increase of 400,000 is due to different methods of collecting claims and how far it is due to the natural increase in the number of persons reaching pensionable age.
I should be very glad to think that the methods of propaganda and of application which have been followed have been successful in bringing into benefit a number of persons who were otherwise standing outside. The task of the Ministry has not been made easier by the way in which it has been received by the Press. I wish we could get rid of the expression, "the dole". A man may go on to unemployment insurance benefit during a period of unemployment, and may be quite properly drawing benefit, but I can think of nothing more disheartening than 238 to say of him that he is "on the dole". I wish we could persuade the newspapers to give up that expression altogether.
I have only one or two other short points to make. I was interested this afternoon in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. If I do not follow him into all of his conclusions, that does not indicate that I did not appreciate what he had to say. But I would endeavour to persuade him to drop his proposal that the "wage stop" should be remitted for a fortnight at Christmas. That is going back to the Guardians. The Assistance Board and their successors have always been a little cautious lot to do anything which was too reminiscent of the practices of the Guardians. This is "Christmas Day in the workhouse", and persons who are getting supplementary benefit would not welcome being confused with relics of the Poor Law which sometimes make their appearance, as this one has done this afternoon.
I was very interested in what my noble friend Lord Sandford said about allocating visitors and the need for visiting old people. That is, indeed, what used to be done. Certainly, when I had something to do with it, a visiting officer used to obtain the name of some sympathetic friend who lived near the applicant. He interviewed the friend and arranged that he should pay calls at fairly regular intervals, and if anything went wrong with the old person—if he was ill or sustained an accident—the "Pensioner's Friend", as we called him, would communicate with the office and the Board's, officer would make the necessary arrangements to deal with him. That was a regular procedure in those days. I wonder if the noble Baroness can tell us whether that practice is still being followed. It was a very useful and valuable way, not only of relieving the loneliness of old people, but of ensuring that any misfortune which overtook them was brought to the notice of the authorities without delay.
I think that is really all I desire to say upon this subject this afternoon. Somebody has said, "The poor are always with us". That is only half the truth. I do not think the poor are always with us. I think that modern society has gone a very long way to eliminating poverty in groups and classes, and what we are concerned with to-day 239 are these minor points—minor in comparison with the whole structure—which come to light from time to time, where for some reason the accepted system has not worked well. That is the problem to-day, and I am sure that it is a problem with which all of your Lordships are familiar and to which we shall endeavour, so far as we can, to draw attention and to suggest remedies.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords. I should like to thank the noble Lord who initiated this debate, because it has enabled noble Lords on both sides of the House to give a great deal of thought to a most important problem—probably the most important in the world—of how to relieve poverty. The approach of many of us is a little different. I feel that we have, perhaps, attached too much importance to discussing various aspects of the National Insurance Acts. While I do not agree with a great deal of what he said, I agree with my noble friend Lord Ilford—I feel that he is a friend, because when I was Minister of National Insurance he was Chairman of the Assistance Board.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord said that I had made great progress or whether he had, but let us say that we both had. But I agree with him that although two families may be receiving the same amount of money to relieve their poverty, nevertheless their standard of living must depend upon their needs. "Needs" is, of course, the key word. I have always felt, and I still feel now, that there is one category in our midst who must be suffering from abject poverty, and that is the individual or family which is entitled to supplementary benefit but which still does not claim it. There are certain old people who remember their childhood, when their parents had to resort to what was known as the Poor Law. That so shocked the family that some of these old people utterly refuse to ask for supplementary benefit, although they are fully entitled to it. I should say that one would find abject poverty in those families to-day.
240 Of course, poverty can be relative. I was very glad that my noble friend Lord Cooper of Stockton Heath spoke about the poverty which existed in those families where the wage earner had only a very low wage. I should like to speak to-day of the poverty which exists in the world of working women, who seldom make a fuss, who never indulge in sit-down strikes and who never parade in protest marches. Those are workers who have problems but who are reluctant to tell the world of their great needs. I do not know whether one should praise them or blame them for their civilised conduct, but the fact is that their passive behaviour enables their employers to exploit their cheap labour without fear of retaliation.
The degree of poverty which exists can be estimated only by an examination of the wage rates which are revealed in the Government's Social Survey of Women's Employment, published this year—and it is a reflection on our present civilisation that such figures can be published in 1968. According to this, there is a very large number of women working long hours whose earnings are very low. Ten per cent. of those paid weekly and 9 per cent. of those paid monthly worked 41 or more hours a week and earned less than £6 a week. We have been hearing to-day about allowances, supplementary benefit and so on which, in the aggregate, are much higher than the wage earned by these women. My Lords, £6 a week for 41 hours at routine, soul-destroying jobs! And these sums represent their full, actual earnings, including bonus and piece-work, before off-takes. I do not know how many of your Lordships have been in a factory and watched women at piece-work. Many of them scarcely lift their eyes from their work—it is absolutely harrowing—because they know that in order to make this miserable sum by the end of the week on piece-work and bonus they must not relax. My Lords, 31 per cent. of these women earn less than 4s. an hour and 53 per cent. earn less than 5s. an hour.
I would say that if poverty is relative, as indeed it is, then we have sweated labour in Britain to-day. It is argued—and oh!, how often I have heard these arguments—that women do not have dependants and do not have to contribute 241 to the family income, and even that they do not have to keep themselves. This argument is absolutely fallacious. Many women, including widows, divorced and separated women and unmarried mothers, have dependants. We have heard to-day that an unmarried mother can claim supplementary benefit and need not go out to work; nevertheless, that girl has to go from house to house before she can get accommodation, because the landlady always feels that her rent will be assured only if there is a man there in a regular job. We therefore cannot dismiss some of these problems because supplementary benefit is forthcoming.
Then, again, there is the single woman who has to look after elderly parents. To show the size of this problem 1 would remind your Lordships that some 10 per cent. of all the families in England and Wales fall into these two categories of women without the support of a husband and single women who have to look after their elderly relations. Furthermore, the argument about dependants is irrelevant, because wage rates are not related to family responsibilities. Men without dependants are paid the same as those with dependants; and I have yet to meet somebody who supports the argument that dependants are the key to this question who is prepared to agree that bachelors and spinsters should be paid at the same rate. The noble Lord, Lord Cooper, said that we must have a minimum rate, and that the question was whether this should be related to dependants. I listened very carefully, but I did not hear a complete answer to that question. There is no doubt about it, though, that the trade unions—and, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Cooper, is an eminent trade union official—are moving just a little in the direction of more equality between the sexes.
Taking industry as a whole, however, I believe that the gap between men's rates of pay and women's rates, far from lessening, is widening. The Ministry of Labour returns show that between 1956 and 1966 the average weekly earnings of men increased by 72 per cent. while those of women increased by 68 per cent. Yet it was in 1888 that the Trades Union Congress declared that women should enjoy equal pay. Only a few weeks ago, in the Department of Employment and 242 Productivity, there was a meeting of the engineering employers and employees. One woman trade unionist was allowed in. The discussions went on for some days, and during that time women's rates were not mentioned. At the end, this woman, her patience exhausted, cried out, "You have sold us down the river!". This is 1968, my Lords. I remind your Lordships again that t was in 1888 that women were promised that they would be given equality.
Employers argue that Britain could not compete in world markets if labour costs were increased by equal pay. This kind of argument has been used for generations to oppose improvements in women's pay. It was used, indeed, to justify the employment of tiny children in the mills. The cry of the employer in the 19th century was, "We must have the 5, 6 and 7-year olds; otherwise, Britain will no longer he great." The prejudice still exists, and it seems to me extraordinary that to-day, still, the men in places of power are completely incapable of ridding themselves of this prejudice which dooms women to this kind of sweated lababour—£6 for a week of 41 hours.
I should like to say something about the married woman who is not gainfully employed outside her home. I do not have to remind some of your Lordships, perhaps, that there are many hazards in married life, but they include some which are not of a kind that your Lordships have to face. For a woman there is the whole question of sickness, widowhood or divorce, against which she has no adequate financial protection. The condition of the fatherless child has been mentioned to-day; and the child has been ably described by that wonderful writer Margaret Wynne. But the mother of such a child has to fulfil the roles of both parents. She is not only financially handicapped: she is denied the comfort and support of the father of her child. Therefore, when one is thinking of giving supplementary benefits one must recognise that this woman wants help of a kind which sometimes money cannot necessarily meet. She wants help, she want friendship, she wants comfort. On the other hand, the fact that she can now get supplementary benefits without having to go to work will enable her to care more adequately for her child.
243 Then there is the wife who is disabled but who was not in gainful occupation at the time she developed her disablement. That is the category I was asking my noble friend about. Let us say she develops multiple sclerosis. If she develops that when she is in gainful employment, then, of course, she can receive an allowance. But if a married woman develops multiple sclerosis as a housewife, she is not given any supplementary help. Let us picture the man, perhaps in a low-paid job, with a family and with a wife who is unable to do the household chores. In these circumstances, if he cannot afford help, and particularly in those houses where there are dependent children, he may have to give up his work and rely on supplementary benefit. The alternative is for him to stay at work, for his wife to go to hospital and for the children to go into the care of the local authority, at great expense to the community.
My Lords, we are asking the Government to speed up consideration of these cases. When I say "we", I am referring to the little group called D.I.G. (the Disablement Income Group) organised by that wonderful, and herself disabled, woman known to many noble Lords. The Group is focusing attention on the plight of the disabled housewife in the home. I would ask my noble friend to try to speed up these considerations. Despite the fact that the plight of such a woman, disabled and incapable of caring for her family, should have the attention of the Government, we were told to-day that no report is to be made until 1970. I know my noble friend's capacity for prodding in the right direction. Will she prod on behalf of such women? The case is recognised—that is the most important thing—and the Committee is working on it. Do not let them have to wait for another two years. I would remind my noble friend that the misery of this woman is threefold. She must bear her disability and the financial difficulties of the home and the mental anguish of helplessly watching while her family undertake those household chores she feels are her concern.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGSBRIDGE
My Lords, I cannot 244 follow my noble friend without saying how entirely I agree with every word she has said. I shall be talking about one of her instances, the mother of a family in trouble. I want to begin by making an apology. I had apologised to my noble friend Lady Serota, but as my noble friend Lady Phillips is to reply, perhaps she will accept it that I may not last out this debate. I have something that I cannot avoid doing.
I want to confine my remarks to one part of the problem of poverty and that is the family in trouble. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford—whom I shall follow, with the exception of one or two political glosses, particularly in the first part of his speech—referred to the families that manage to keep their heads just above water. I wish to speak about the families who do not. The antidote to poverty is usually thought of as money; but unfortunately the difficulty here is that money by itself will not do the trick—at least, not in the kind of cases that I am speaking of. I am proud to be closely associated with the Family Service Units which have for the last twenty years specialised in working with and for families in trouble. Just as the Salvation Army or the Simon Community are places of last resort for the solitary vagrant, or the meths. drinker from Skid Row, so the family service units are called in by the local authorities and others when all normal means of help have failed. They set no store by whether the trouble is due to the family's fault or not; they are concerned only with the future.
It is superficial to talk of success in an area so confused and difficult to assess as this, but I think the family service units have made a considerable impact in this area and that their experience is worth examining. At the moment we have centres in eleven provincial cities, as well as six branches in London, with a total case load of about 1,200 families. We do not keep waiting lists but we understand from those authorities who refer people to us that they could send a great deal more if we could take them.
One of the commonest problems found is that referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford: that of the father with several children who has been unemployed or sick for a long time and whose 245 sole income is the supplementary benefit allowance, usually reduced by the wage stop so that he is virtually without financial incentive at all to prefer work to unemployment. In spite of this, these men are often under considerable pressure to accept work. If they refuse low wages they are called malingerers and thought of as work-shy. In our experience, however—though there may be individuals of which this is not true—most of these men, like all other classes, from the very rich to the very poor, would be happy to work provided that this made some difference to their income. Putting money aside to meet fortnightly rent or gas or electricity bills is extremely difficult on a minimum income of this kind, particularly as these families never have enough clothes, bedding, furniture, food, domestic utensils or anything else. If the wheel comes off the pushchair, or Johnny goes through the seat of his trousers, there are no savings to fall back on. The unemployed head of the family who has scraped along from crisis to crisis, and who is frustrated and depressed by his failure to provide properly for his family, may well "jib" at going to work for a net increase in income of no more than "a few bob.".
The only real incentive to such a man is to earn enough extra to make a noticeable lightening of the depressing poverty of his family. The trouble is that he may be worth less to any prospective employer than it costs the Supplementary Benefits Commission to keep body and soul together in his family. It might be possible to solve this problem if we could extend a man's right to take part-time work and to get a reasonable benefit from working while still drawing his supplementary benefit allowance. At present, an unemployed man cannot earn more than £1 without his supplementary benefits allowance being reduced by the full amount of any additional earning. If he could keep even £3 or £4 from part-time work, he could help his family, restore his self-respect and save the public purse. I hope that my noble friend will look carefully into this suggestion and not be too much put off by talk of scroungers and malingerers.
My Lords, there are various lessons that we can learn from the experience of the family service units. In the first place, families and children as they grow up 246 must be cared for generously. Parsimony here is false economy. The work of the social service is bedevilled by people to whom not enough was given in their early years and who spend the rest of their lives trying to even up these deficiencies. This, of course, means that more money is needed for the growing family. The increased family allowances, to which my noble friend referred, have had a real effect here.
In the second place, it is very clear to our workers that money by itself is not enough. Poverty is more of en a symptom than a cause. Psychological, social, marital—even physiological—difficulties underly the situation. Money is necessary, but by itself it is far from sufficient. Thirdly, I think that in all our cases we see the need for personal concern and active support, in the form of a visit once, twice or three times a week, as an essential ingredient of any planned rescue work. This was pointed out by the noble Lords, Lord Sandford and Lord Ilford. This may go o d for months or years—or even for the family's full lifetime as a family. One can see that there is a real difficulty in having the Supplementary Benefits Commission give extra money to families just because they do not use it properly. But this could and should be done through the social worker concerned. He should be able to go to the statutory authority and say: "If I could halve this family's outstanding debts I could pull them through. They will never pay the lot. Can I have £x to help them do it?" Every social worker needs to be able to lay hands on small sums of money at critical moments. But, my Lords, these social workers should not be asked to waste their time, for which they are hopelessly underpaid and which is in very short supply, going round drawing rooms and running bazaars to make the money.
I have said that these people are hopelessly underpaid. Social workers are underpaid—and no one really disputes this. But I wonder whether it is widely realised that the other most important contact which the deprived family makes is even worse paid, though admittedly his skills are not so high. The clerical officers at the Ministry of Social Security, of whom there are 40,000, who make the first and vital contact with the customer at the counter, begin with £455 a year, 247 at 17, and work up to a ceiling of £1,100 a year, at 32. The executive officers, who have a most difficult and exacting role, handling the complex case work which comes up to them from the counter, authorising payments and making home visits, are not much better off. They get from £625 to £1,559 a year according to age and length of service. Some clerical officers, indeed, earn less for their tiring and difficult job than they pay out to the families they are looking after. Clearly, to have anomalies of this kind is simply asking for trouble. It seems to me a curious and rather daunting indictment of our society that everyone connected with this particularly sensitive area of trying to help the under-privileged families, whether social worker or public servant, should be equally undervalued.
The course which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services must pursue to alleviate the distress in this most painful of all kinds of poverty is quite clear, and it is threefold. First, he must channel more money into these families as of right. He should maintain and extend his present excellent policy of increased family allowances. He must find some way of increasing the level of supplementary benefit allowances, and he would do a great deal for the low earner—who is the source of a great many of the most intractable cases—if he could follow my suggestion and make part-time earnings more possible. But however he does it, he will not meet with success without more basic money.
Secondly, he must tackle organisation. The way to do this has been well laid out in the Seebohm Report, as was once again pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. I hope that my right honourable friend will implement that Report rapidly to ensure proper co-ordination of the social services at local level, with first-class officials in charge, to see that they are not neglected. Thirdly, he should grant special allowances to local authorities for employing additional social workers, including bodies like the family service units and others with power to draw, in a controlled and modest way, on funds made available to deal specifically with this problem of distressed families. The Seebohm Report suggests, in paragraphs 601 to 604, that local authorities should have powers to 248 give discretionary grants to families with children and to adults where necessary. This seems to cover my point, particularly the recommendations in paragraph 604, which on this subject is quite specific.
I should like to put forward one suggestion which might help in catching families on the way down, so to speak. One of the main functions of our field workers, and indeed of all social workers dealing with families in trouble, is to try to find out the total liabilities which have to be met week by week, and to make a plan to see that enough money is put aside to meet them. I believe that nearly always this is done much too late. I think that there is a case for setting up in this country an organisation similar to the Credit Counselling Service of Toronto.
This Service was founded in 1966 and is there to give advice to people of all levels of society who find themselves sinking under an unmanageable weight of debt. It is not designed to help only the problem families. I heard of it first in quite another context through the Consumer Council, but it is evidently highly appropriate to the cases we have been talking about to-day. Every social worker and probation officer is familiar with this situation of hopeless indebtedness, but not necessarily sufficiently well equipped to analyse and advise his client on this often fairly technical point. The existence of an expert body to whom they could turn and to which they could refer cases would be invaluable.
The Toronto Service is already dealing with between 100 and 150 cases a month. It has been able to give direct and immediate help to 70 per cent. of the cases referred to it, and has referred the other 30 per cent. to other agencies. In the first 14 months it dealt with 1,842 cases involving more than 15,000 creditors and 6 million dollars. This is a joint effort by the commercial community and the social work agencies, both of whom have everything to lose from bad debts. I have spoken to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, who as your Lordships will know is chairman of a committee on Consumer Credit, and he will look at this; but I hope that my noble friend will look at it, too. It seems to me an idea that we could pursue.
249 My Lords, I know that it is no use crying for the moon. If I ask my right honourable friend to "jack up" social workers' salaries; raise the level of supplementary benefit allowances and increase the pay of 40,000 public servants, I shall not get very far. That is part of the long-term plan which my noble friend Lord Kennet told us about, and to which we look forward in due course. But I am asking for something much smaller to be given to us immediately. It would cost nothing to let the low earner on supplementary benefit allowance get some benefit from part-time work. The objections are not financial but social: that it would be abused. Well, my Lords, so are death duties and income tax abused. In my opinion that is not a reason for not doing it. Otherwise, I ask only for the rapid enforcement of the Seebohm Report and a generous interpretation of its recommendations in paragraph 604. Quite frankly, this would very nearly do what is needed.
My Lords, poverty in a family with young children is the most grievous of all forms of poverty. So long as men are feckless and women inadequate we cannot hope entirely to eliminate it. But experience shows that skilled support, with money behind it, can do a great deal. I hope that we shall not be deterred by financial arguments of uncertain validity from spending the modest sums needed to maintain and expand this service and thus to protect our distracted mothers and defenceless children. In conclusion, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for opening up these questions. I apologise to your Lordships for speaking only about a tiny corner, but it is a tiny corner which it is within our power enormously to improve, and quite quickly, by the expenditure of quite a small sum of money.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, with enormous pleasure. I agreed with every word the noble Baroness said, and if I may reinforce everything she said in order to back her up with the Government, I should like to do so. No one knows more about this matter than the noble Baroness. 250 She puts the arguments far better- than any of us and hits the nail on the head in a way which makes me quite envious. Now that she has hit this nail so hard, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, who I know is very sympathetic, will put these things before her Minister in as strong a way as she possibly can.
My Lords, I entirely agree that what has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, is enormously important. I should like to support him in his plea for the implementation of the Seebohm Report which, it seems to me, would lead to one of the most important reorganisations of our social services. I know that it will be difficult, and that it will not be accepted by many people. We in Scotland are to put the Report into effect in 1969, and I shall be engaged in that work myself since I am a member of a local authority and chairman of two of the committees which will be involved. I know that it is going to be an extremely difficult task, but I am determined that it shall be done because I am quite sure that it will be of enormous benefit to the administration of the social services in any given area, which is, after all, the best way to help the people about whom we are talking.
My Lords, I have a feeling that poverty in 1968, not to say 1969, should in all reasoning be an anachronism. We live in an age of mass production and distribution in which goods that are cheap and often very good are available to the public. Yet in spite of this and in spite of the efforts of both political Parties over many years, we still have problems of poverty. I have listened to all the speeches, and I do not think that any of us can really say what leads to poverty. We cannot put our finger on one particular thing. In my field of experience, which has mostly been in child care, youth work and probation work, it is difficult to know whether the behaviour habits of people reduce them to a state of poverty or whether it is poverty that starts off the behaviour which leads to so many troubles. But I am certain that there is a close liaison between poverty and the families whose way of life has brought them in one way or another into the hands of the local authority services—or not into them because those services do not cover a wide enough field of work.
251 Obviously, broken homes are a source of unhappiness and lead to poverty. Quarrelling and maltreatment of children lead to broken homes. It is not only lack of money coming into the family that makes for unhappiness, because I have known many families who have come into our categories of care who have been quite rich but who, for one reason or another, did not manage to live either happily or wisely and to some extent their standard of living had gone down because of their incapability of managing their lives.
I have an interesting book in my hand by Sir Alec Clegg, who is, as many of your Lordships will know, Director of Education in the West Riding of Yorkshire. It is entitled Children in Distress. In this highly populated and, I should have thought, fairly prosperous area of England, some 5,000 children receive help, described here as "curative help", for conditions which bring them within the ambit of the social services, and Sir Alec reckons that there are 25,000 to 30,000 who need help of one kind or another but whose particular difficulties the social services do not cover. I think that this is an enormous number. Such facts should make us realise that these conditions show a deterioration and degeneration of family life.
There are many children who fall within the range of children's officers and of the services for the mentally ill and handicapped. But there are many who do not. The children who come into the care of the existing social workers will be helped, but how are we going to get at the children of families who do not fall into the categories where social helpers come in and where it is difficult to see what is going to happen? This book gives a number of heart-rending cases of what happens to children of broken families where there are no services to deal with them.
The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, said that more money would be a help. That is so, but it is not only a question of money. I think we would all agree about that. We really cannot say to any Government that they must spend great sums of money to raise family allowances, because we know that we do not have the money; and if we are 252 already spending £400 million on supplementary benefits, it is asking a lot to raise this sum. Although naturally I should like that to happen, I feel that I cannot ask for that. I believe that it is by trying to make the existing services more effective that we can help people at the present time.
This is where the Seebohm Report comes in. If it is implemented, a range of services will be provided in every given area (we have not yet had the Report on the reorganisation of local government), so that far more will come within the orbit of social work than ever before. And this is what I would like to see. I am sure that much could be done if there were more preventive measures available. Already the change in the Children's Act has meant that a great deal of preventive work is now being done by children's officers which could not be done before because they were not allowed to do it. The voluntary organisations, whose work we all know, could be brought into a co-ordinated scheme under the Seebohm reorganisation. If the social services dealt not only with individual groups of people but with the whole care of the community, that would be enormously helpful. And it goes without saying that increased and improved housing is one of the things which would help.
Our real difficulty is the fragmentation of treatment and of preventive measures. The results of this have to be seen to be believed. At page 15 of his book, Sir Alec Clegg writes:…if a child does something which is obviously an offence, a bench in town A may send him to an approved school for which the Home Office will be responsible if the identical offence is detected in town B, committed by a similar youth drawn from similar circumstances, the bench there, after receiving a report showing the child to be maladjusted, may try to find him a place in a special school maintained by the local authority but for which the Secretary of State for Education and Science is ultimately responsible. If a youngster stole food and ate it, he would be dealt with by the Home Office: if he stole candles and ate them (as once happened), the bench would insist on an inquiry and the boy would be likely to be dealt with by the Department of Education and Science. If, however, he is only nine years old when he steals, the Department of Education and Science will continue to educate him, and only if he steals a year later will the Home Office undertake this task.One can imagine that this jungle in which the social services are organised 253 at the present time must lead to enormous complications and an inefficient form of service. I would plead with the Government—and it is their own policy I am asking for—to do their best to implement as soon as possible the Seebohm Report, particularly those recommendations easy to implement, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, suggested, because I believe that this is one of the ways by which we could prevent some of the tragedies which happen to-day and also prevent the poverty we all want to see eliminated.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ LORD WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for introducing this debate, which I think should rank as one of the most important debates that this House could possibly have. I cannot think of anything more important than the question of poverty. Unfortunately, it does not exercise the minds of as many people in the community as I think it should. and I am sorry to see so few noble Lords in the House during the debate this afternoon. I could follow the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, a good deal of the way, but I am bound to say that I cannot accept that many causes of poverty are due to social conditions—marriage breakdown, and so on—although I accept that things like those aggravate the situation.
I think we are in danger of wanting to believe that much of the poverty in this country is caused by factors outside the financial field, but I do not accept that for one moment. Many people were astounded and shocked at the disclosures made by Professor Abel-Smith and Professor Townsend in their Report entitled, Poor and the Poorest, published in December, 1965. While it is not my intention to deal at length with some of their conclusions, for they relate, I agree, to the year 1960, I should like to quote one sentence from their summary which reads:In 1960 approximately 18 per cent. of the households and nearly 14.2 per cent. of the persons in the United Kingdom, representing 7½ million persons, were living below a defined National Assistance level of living.That meant, my Lords, that in 1960 about one-seventh of the total population of the 254 United Kingdom, involving 2¼ million children, were living in povetry.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, would the noble Lord yield for one moment? What he quoted was, "living below a defined National Assistance level", and a moment later that became, "living in poverty". I am wondering whether the noble Lord has anything more to say about that shift of wording.
§ LORD WELLS-PESTELL
Indeed I have. I do not think anyone would accept that the National Assistance level payable at that time could amount to anything more than poverty, so I do not withdraw the use of the word "poverty". We cannot, unfortunately, take any comfort from the fact that this was in 1960, for I know of no evidence which leads me to believe that the situation is appreciably better to-day. I would accept the fact that there is not available It the present time a great deal of statistical information concerning poverty or the plight of the poor now, in 1968, but in June and July, 1966 (I think that is the year for which we have the latest information) the Ministry of Pensions and the National Assistance Board, as it titer was, carried out a survey of families with two or more children. Their Report, Circumstances of Families, has been referred to already this afternoon. It disclosed what was already know to professional social workers; namely, that poverty is more widespread than people realise—and, as I said at the beginning, perhaps more widespread than many of us want to know, otherwise we may have to do something about it.
It may appear difficult to refine poverty, but many attempts have been made, and perhaps the most realistic have been made by Seebohm Rowntree, Beveridge, the National Assistance Board and, last but not least, the British Medical Association. Rowntree gale it as a family whose total income was insufficient to purchase the necessities to maintain physical efficiency, taking into account the nutritional levels recommended by the British Medical Association, plus a modest amount for conventional needs.
If I may return to the Report, Circumstances of Families, that Report showed that nearly 500,000 families, involving 1¼ million children, were either 255 on supplementary benefit or had incomes below supplementary benefit level. It showed that those below, but not getting supplementary benefit—and I emphasise that I am talking about those who are not getting supplementary benefit—included about 140,000 families which could not get supplementary benefit because the father was working full time. We hear so much these days about men refusing to work because they are better off living on the dole or on the Welfare State, but here are 140,000 men who are husbands and fathers and who are working full time for less than they would get if they were out of work. These 140,000 men, with families, accounted for nearly 500,000 children, who suffered as a result of their father's low wages and from the fact that their fathers preferred to work rather than to live on the Welfare State.
§ LORD KENNET
And who have benefited, perhaps, from the introduction of the new family allowance scales.
§ LORD WELLS-PESTELL
I shall be happy to deal with that in a moment or two. This is what makes me say that money does play an important part in understanding and relieving this problem. The Report disclosed that tens of thousands of families or fatherless families who were entitled to supplementary benefit were not receiving it, either because they were too proud to apply for it or because they were ignorant of their entitlement to it. Nearly two-thirds of all families of working fathers—and I emphasise again "working fathers"—living below the supplementary benefit level had only two or three children. If I may at this stage slightly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. their plight was not due to their having too many children. Strangely enough, and probably contrary to normal thinking, it was found in that survey that it was not the very large families who were in circumstances of poverty, for the large families accounted for only a minority of the poor. I thought I should mention that, in passing.
The really serious matter, to my mind (this is probably a point that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was making), is that married couples about 35 years of age, with young children, are, with the possible exception of the aged, the hardest 256 hit financially in our community at the present time; and they can do nothing about it if the husband is in full-time employment. But for the mothers' earnings, many more families would have been in poverty, for about a further 50,000 families, involving 150,000 children, would have fallen below the National Assistance Board level. It is interesting to note that more than one in five fathers with six or more children —20 per cent. of the fathers with six or more children—work 60 hours a week or longer in order to make ends meet. I think that this point ought to be made, in view of the criticism that is sometimes made against people who are working. It is true that since 1966, when the Report was published, the subsistence-scale level, based on the essential needs of a family with three children aged from 5 to 10 years, has risen from £10 17s. per week, as it was in November 1966, to £12 5s. to-day. However, the fact remains that this increase, plus the increase in family allowances, has been absorbed by higher food prices and devaluation. I want to suggest to my noble friend Lord Kennet that, because of these increases, these people are not substantially better off to-day.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, to take up the noble Lord's suggestion, I do not think he was here during my speech, otherwise he would have had the figures I gave about this.
§ LORD WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, it is perfectly true that I was not here when the noble Lord made his speech, although I have read it since. But this is a view that I take, having gone into the matter very carefully. If £12 5s. a week is required by a family with three children between the ages of 5 and 10 years to keep them from falling below the subsistence level, it is not surprising that the number in poverty is still very high to-day and that husbands who are working find it necessary, as often do their wives, to do part-time evening and week-end work in order to maintain a decent standard of living. One can see at once the effects that this kind of family life must be having upon the children.
It is only fair to say that the Government have never claimed that the increases in family allowance were sufficient. When the increase in family allowance was made in July, 1967, Mr. Gordon 257 Walker admitted, if my recollection is accurate, that about half the children in families below supplementary benefit level would remain in that situation; in other words, 300,000 children would remain below the supplementary benefit level. To refer to the household income in 1967, the Family Expenditure Survey showed that 1,800,000 men in full-time employment in the United Kingdom were earning less than £15 per week gross, their take-home pay after deductions being much less. In other words, their take-home pay was not much higher than the level of supplementary benefit. Of those 1,800,000, 1,500,000 were manual workers.
I live in a rural and farming area—I am not a farmer—and it is in rural areas where many of the lowest paid workers are to be found. I believe that many people think that poverty is to be found only in the large cities, but this is not so. Some two years ago the Prices and Incomes Board Report on the pay of workers in agriculture in England and Wales exploded the myth of the affluent farm worker living rent free and receiving many benefits in kind. The Board found that about one-third of the male general farm workers earned less than £12 a week including overtime. Even allowing for the recent award, which does not come into effect until February 1, the minimum wage for farm workers now I believe is £11 11 s. per week. The Report showed that about 25 per cent. of the general farm workers in the United Kingdom are earning less than £13 a week including overtime. Yet the level of subsistence has been fixed at £12 5s. So a farm worker with a wife and three children between the ages of 5 and 10 years, after normal deductions and after paying the normal rent for unfurnished accommodation, as many of them do these days, are below the subsistence level. It is perfectly true that the occupation of a tied cottage is a benefit and its low rent makes a considerable difference, but it must also he borne in mind that we can no longer argue that the cost of living in rural areas is lower than in urban areas. This is no longer true. It would be true to say that sometimes the cost of living is higher.
Most of us would agree that poverty is soul destroying, humiliating and can be devastating to family life. I should 258 go so far as to say that it is an offence to our society. I do not entirely blame the Government, for I am not unmindful of the difficulties they have had to face and are still facing, I believe through no fault of their own. But I cannot escape the feeling that in recent years tie poor have become poorer and the rich have become richer; that the gap between the richest and the poorest has widened and not narrowed. I do not think it would be unfair to state that Government policies—and I fully understand the reasons for them, although they are sometimes a matter for argument—of economic expansion, rationalisation of industry and aids to investment, and the incomes policy, plus devaluation, have tended to increase private wealth to exceptional levels. Our taxation policy tends to hit the lowest paid rather more than the better off members of the community. A comment in this week's issue of the New Statesman says:In 1968 alone any ordinary, prudent investor has increased his capital by "75 per cent. and many more have doubled it.I think we must make a sincere and sustained effort to narrow what seems to be an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. It is said that the poor are always with us, but it seems to be more true that the rich are always with us. I cannot accept that enough is being done to help the less fortunate members of our society.
This will not be popular, I know, but I say that too many people in our community have far too much money. On Saturday, November 23, the day following the Chancellor of the Exchequer's announcement of price increases, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported individuals spending as much as £350 in one go on wines and spirits in order to escape the increased tax. This Christmas, the new "Queen Elizabeth 2" was due to take about a thousand passengers on a cruise for four days and three nights at a cost in some cases of £1,000. I quote, if I may, from yesterday's Guardian, which says:more than 600 passengers, some of them paying as much as £1,000 for option suites on the four-day trip".Do we realise, my Lords, that £1,000 for a four-day trip represents roughly what we give one person for four years as a retirement or old-age pension?
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend. I agree with a great deal of what he says, but I think in fairness to the shipping line concerned he should point out what he may have forgotten: that this cruise was being made in order to benefit a very worthy cancer society.
§ LORD WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, it was my intention to draw attention to that as well. But it does not alter the fact, so far as I am concerned, that there are a large number of people in the community who can spend £1,000 on a four-day trip. I am wondering whether they would have given a thousand pounds to Cancer Research if there had not been a four-day trip on the "Queen Elizabeth 2". I wonder how many of the thousand passengers would have provided a Christmas dinner for a needy family before they embarked. Very few of them, I imagine. It is not surprising that there is widespread dissatisfaction and a growing feeling of hostility on the part of a large number of people in the community when they see such inequality of income. Some of us believe that the redistribution of wealth, the narrowing of the gap between the haves and the have-nots, is a basic political issue about which there will be fundamental differences of views and approach in your Lordships' House, but I believe that this Government will have to deal with this particular matter in a more determined way in the future than has been possible since 1964.
I ask the Government to consider a wealth tax, the proceeds of which should be devoted exclusively and entirely to easing the lot of those in poverty. I think the Treasury recently estimated that the yield from a one per cent. wealth tax on all wealth above £20,000 would yield £180 million. I think a more accurate estimate would perhaps be in the region of £300 million. If we do not do this, if we do not come to grips with this problem—and I accept that there are all sorts of psychological and social reasons for poverty, though that is not the complete explanation: nor do I believe that Seebohm is going to be the saviour or the solution of this problem—in the last analysis it will mean increasing the level of subsistence, it will mean paying higher wages, in order that people may live a decent life with a decent standard. If we do not do this, the line between the 260 haves and the have-nots will become even more defined than it is at the present moment, and if that happens there is always a danger of increased social and industrial unrest.
Those in the community who are more fortunately placed financially than many others (and I believe them to be numerous) will have to agree to take a little poverty into their own lives, for I feel that we are under a moral obligation and are morally responsible for those less fortunately placed in the community.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, the noble Lord said at an earlier stage that he would be happy to deal later with the new family allowances system. I wonder whether he would like to do so at this point.
§ LORD WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friend, but I thought 1 had dealt with that matter. I thought I said that in my view the increased allowances have not improved the situation because they have been absorbed by higher food prices and a higher cost of living generally resulting from devaluation. I was under the impression that I had dealt with that point.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ LORD WADE
My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, on introducing this debate and on his choice of subject. It has been an extremely interesting and thoughtful debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Soper, I commend the work of D.I.G. and other voluntary bodies; and, having said that, I propose to limit my few remarks to the subject of disablement. I think the case for reform has been made out and I wish merely to add my own testimony. In doing so I wish to make particular reference to those disabled by polio. I could very well cover a much wider range, but I am anxious not to repeat what has been said by other speakers in this debate.
For many years I have been interested in the subject of polio, in the realm both of research and also of assistance for those affected by it. In his speech the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, appealed to noble Lords to speak from personal experience. I had not intended to introduce a personal note but I will just mention, in passing, that I was myself a 261 polio victim and it took me more than two years to re-learn how to walk.
Polio involves long-term, and often lifelong, disablement. Fortunately very great advances have been made in research, and the numbers who suffer serious consequences from polio have been greatly reduced by modern vaccines. Nevertheless, there are numbers of people living to-day who have been paralysed by polio, and there are still cases of persons who suffer seriously from polio contracted either in this country or abroad. The sudden paralysis often involves a complete change in a person's way of life. For some it is difficult to become reconciled to that change, although I am bound to say that the great majority respond to the challenge cheerfully and with a remarkable determination to overcome the disability. There is no doubt, however, that the process of reconciliation is made more difficult when the disablement is accompanied by the hardships of poverty, that poverty being a consequence of the disablement.
I recognise that poverty is relative. That phrase has been used by several noble Lords during this debate. A man who is earning a good wage or salary, and who suddenly finds himself solely dependent upon social security, may yet be nominally much better off than some starving peasant in one of the underdeveloped countries, but the hardship is none the less real. I should like to give a few examples which have been provided for me by a body known as the British Polio Fellowship.
The first case concerns a salesman for an export firm who was earning approximately £50 a week. He contracted polio when abroad, within a year of his appointment, and became totally paralysed. He receives no disablement pension, because of course polio is not an industrial disease. I believe that if he had contracted polio when in the Forces he would have been provided for, but in these circumstances there is no disablement pension, as I understand the matter. His savings were soon used up. His wife was in poor health but she went out to work, and then, unfortunately, she had to give up that work owing to her own ill-health. They had one young child. They are now dependent on sickness benefit and supplementary benefit from 262 the Ministry of Social Security. There is also a small grant available from a charity, but it is difficult to make ends meet—and one has to recollect that a little time ago that man was in good health and was earning £50 a week.
The second case is one of a husband and wife. It does not often happen that both husband and wife are afflicted with polio, but I know of a few cases. In this case the husband was a chartered accountant, and he died in March 1967. His widow is paralysed, though she manages to get about with the aid of a calliper and two sticks. She hay three young children, aged 7, 5, and 15 months. In a way she may be comparatively fortunate because she owns a small bungalow; but there are heavy outgoings. Her income is the widow's pension and the family allowance. This widow hopes to go out to work when the children are a little older; but at present it is a hard struggle.
The third case relates to a teacher who was working in Nigeria. He had a university degree and very good prospects. He caught polio in 1965, at the age of twenty-six. He was an only child and unmarried. His father was killed in the last world war. His mother had remarried and had a family by her second marriage, and therefore other commitments. He again is one who ha; had to face a combination of severe physical disability and the experience of poverty. He is dependent on social security and some financial assistance from his n- other and stepfather. These are just bare facts, but when one knows all the human circumstances I think one appreciates the seriousness of the problem.
In some cases the circumstance; are exceptionally complex. For example, there is the case of a man of thirty-two years of age who caught polio, and the worry, not so much of the disablement but of the financial consequences, led to a nervous breakdown; and this in turn had serious psychological effects on his wife and daughter. The case is one of those taken up by the British Polio Fellowship, and if the circumstances had been known earlier, and help had peen given earlier, much of the tragedy night have been averted. I agree that it would be a mistake to assume that all t lee problems can be solved by remedying the financial anomalies. Nevertheless 263 there are grave financial anomalies in the present situation.
Finally, since I have been talking about disability, I should like to pay tribute to the report of the B.M.A. Working Party on Aids for the Disabled, but I think this shows clearly the need for greater coordination in the provision of aids, and this adds point to the view which I think many have expressed in this debate; namely, that there are still serious imperfections in our social services, and the sooner they are remedied the better.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ LORD ARCHIBALD
My Lords, I apologise for intervening at this late stage without having put my name down, and I thank my noble friend Lord Gifford for agreeing to stand back for a moment. I felt impelled to intervene because of a remark made earlier in the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, about Members of your Lordships' House who had themselves experienced poverty. I think I can claim to have had that experience. When I was born, 70 years ago I admit, my father was earning £1 a week, and even allowing for the different value of money of to-day as against that time noble Lords will agree that that was pretty well on the poverty line. Later, in the big trade depression of 1907–8, of which one very seldom hears because no statistics of unemployment were kept in those days. he was unemployed, partly from illness and partly because of the trade depression, for the best part of a year. There was no unemployment benefit, so that during that period the small amount of savings were used up, household goods were pawned and finally there was the indignity of going for Poor Law relief.
I do not want to make a big, colourful story of this, but I should like to tell your Lordships of my father's reaction the first time that he went before the parish council to apply for Poor Law relief. He came back furious with indignation, not on his own behalf but on behalf of the man who was before him in the queue going up to the table where the councillors were sitting. The chairman had said to the man in front, "That is a very good jacket you have on", and the man stripped his jacket to show that he had 264 nothing under it. That is how the poor were treated 60 or 65 years ago.
There are only two points I want to make. One is that enormous progress has been made since the days of my childhood. I am not going to evaluate which Government did what, which Government deserves the credit. What I am going to claim quite boldly—and I know that noble Lords on the other side will resent this—is that the improvement has been due to the tremendous propaganda of the Labour Party against poverty in the midst of plenty. That propaganda has created a climate of opinion which no Government dare disregard, with the result that improvements have been made by Governments of different political colour. That is the main point, that there has been an enormous improvement.
My final point is that the improvement is not yet good enough, and I am particularly indebted to my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell for the information that he put before us with regard to the situations in which to-day it is not yet good enough. I therefore hope that the climate of opinion for improvement in social conditions will grow, that there will be no let-up; and I think the discussion this afternoon indicates that there will be no let-up in the drive towards the final and complete elimination of poverty in a wealthy country.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ LORD GIFFORD
My Lords, may I begin by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and to the House for not having been here at the beginning of the debate. I was at work at my trade and I was quite unable to get away. Poverty is a subject about which I could speak with very great passion. I live in the heart of North Kensington, one of those grey twilight areas where poverty lurks behind the elegant facades of which the noble Lord, Lord Soper, spoke; a community beset by all the worst results of poverty, appalling housing shortage, appalling conditions in the houses that exist, overcrowding, racial tensions, and almost total lack of facilities for play and recreation. It is an area favoured only by the devoted men and women, churchmen, volunteers, social workers and ordinary citizens, who give up their time to try to solve the problems. They can do no more than scratch 265 at the surface, and their experience of an area like that emphasises that whatever the progress of the past, if we look into the future nothing but a crusade against poverty can bring any kind of opportunity to the inhabitants of a community like that; and there are many all over the country.
I shall limit my remarks to a more particular aspect of the problem, and speak as a lawyer. As a lawyer, what appals me about an area such as Notting Hill is the failure of those who live there to exercise their legal rights, to obtain the legal advice and representation which they need. The poor, like everyone else, have rights guaranteed by the law, some of them, many of them indeed, introduced in the last four years, such as security of tenure, the right to a fair rent, the right to improved social security benefits. But in case after case one finds that, whether through ignorance or apathy, fear or sheer financial hardship, the protection of the law somehow passes people by. The rich man with a legal problem consults his family solicitor as he consults his doctor. The poor man, thank goodness! has a doctor to consult, but he has no family solicitor or any kind of adequate substitute. Indeed, when one bears in mind the kind of problems which confront poor people, the traumas involved in the kind of injustices which attend a poor community, one realises that there are always people ready to take advantage of the poor, and to take advantage, one might mention most particularly in this connection, of the immigrant—Irish, Asian, or West Indian. The need for someone to fight for his rights is imperative.
I may be asked: how can this be, when we boast one of the finest legal aid systems in the world? I pay tribute to that legal aid system—it was one of the finest creations of the post-war Labour Government—but in spite of that, this situation exists. It exists in the first place because of ignorance. Take, for instance, the Rent Acts. The Rent Act 1965 was a magnificent piece of legislation. A recent survey published in New Society on September 12 of this year showed that in eight streets in Islington nearly half of the tenants had never heard of the Rent Acts, and of those that had about one-third had no idea what they were about. In other fields, I have no 266 doubt that there are thousands of victims of road accidents, victims of shoddy consumer and trade dealings, who have no knowledge of the possibilities of redress.
In the second place, even if the need for legally qualified advice is recognised, it is rare that it will be sought. In many deprived areas there are simply no solicitors at all. I do not blame the solicitors, because of course they go to areas where a commercial or monied clientele can be found, and not to areas of poverty. But, more significantly than that, one finds again and again that there is a deep-rooted suspicion in the minds of people living in poor communities of the whole legal process, which so often seems to favour and to be the handmaid of the dominant class in society—the landlord, the hire-purchase company or the police.
There is a fear that the solicitor "will not be interested in my case", a fear which indeed is justified, because naturally there may not be the same interest in a poor man's £20 claim as in a rich man's £200 claim, even though to the one man the claim is as important as to the other. There is a fear, too, that vast sums of money would De involved, a fear often justified because there are many big gaps still in the legal aid system: appearances before tribunals, appearances in small cases before magistrates' courts and in prosecuting small claims in the county courts.
The inadequacy of the legal services provided and available to the poor their failure to exercise those rights and the fact that those rights do not get exercised is something which has been recognised this week in the publication of two significant reports, one by a group of Conservative lawyers and one by a group of Labour lawyers. Both groups recognise the urgency of remedying this need. If you look upon the legal aid system as the protector and guarantor of the rights of the individual and as a weapon in the hands of those who are subjected to injustice, then on those report: you will agree that this is a situation which must be remedied.
How can it be remedied? Not, I think, by merely extending the ambit of the legal aid system or strengthening its powers. It would require an enormous financial outlay to cover all 267 the small claims which the poor need to have maintained for them and to make it not only attractive but profitable for solicitors to practise in this kind of area. The outlay would be enormous. Even so, I do not think that you would get people going to lawyers and seeking their legal advice. A much more effective remedy would be the establishment in the heart of these areas of legal centres or offices staffed by high quality, full-time lawyers committed to the needs of that community, and devoting their time and energy and brains to it. This idea was put forward in the Labour lawyers' report which has been published by the Fabian Society under the title Justice for All. It is a scheme, too, which ought to be financed by the State as an ancillary and necessary service to the legal aid system.
I think it could make a substantial and vital impact on the morale and prospects of a poor community if lawyers, trusted by the community, could be readily available, giving the same skilled advice and representation to tenants as, for instance, their landlords so assiduously and successfully seek; devoting the same kind of brainpower into securing for poor people the maximum legal benefit under social security as is devoted—and how successfully !—by skilled lawyers to enabling the rich to pay the minimum legal taxes. Indeed, however, well staffed a social security office is, inevitably there are injustices, some of which have been pinpointed by the Child Poverty Action Group. No real bureaucracy can be without injustice, and one needs legal thinking brought to bear on the problem.
Of course, the existence of a service such as this would not end the poverty; but if success in the battle against poverty lies, as I believe it does, not merely in making available generous security benefits but in the capacity of people in poor communities themselves to fight as individuals for their rights when they are denied them and against the injustices to which they are particularly prone, then such a service could provide a real remedy. It is now, and has been for the last few years, a shining beacon of the legal profession in the United States. The existence of services like these has been an essential feature of the war 268 against poverty in that country, and it could be so here as well.
One of the essential features of a healthy society is that the law and the legal process should be known and utilised and respected. In areas such as Notting Hill it is little known and little utilised, and it is hardly to be wondered at if sometimes it is little respected. As a lawyer, I am ready to fight to see ended the present ignorance and apathy, unhealthy as it is to the community and often tragic to the individual, and to bring the law and the machinery of law into the areas which need its protection.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF GRYFE
My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for introducing this subject to-day. While he may have felt discouraged from introducing this debate because of the imminent publication of a White Paper covering this field, I am glad that he decided to go ahead; because before any White Paper is acceptable to us—and to the country—I am sure that it is essential to create a public opinion that will welcome the extension of social services which I believe is envisaged in the White Paper.
I am glad, too, that we have had the opportunity in this House of making a contribution to changing public attitudes in relation to poverty, and that the noble Lord, by this debate, has been able to create an atmosphere in this House of acceptance of the State's responsibility in this field. While we have discussed various forms of organisation for the administration of social services, it must be faced, in the light of the extension of poverty in our midst, that this extra effort will probably cost more money. I have been alarmed in the past few days to hear the speeches that have been made about cutting Government expenditure, and I feel it is important that, whatever economies are contemplated in Government expenditure, they should not be at the expense of the social services, of which we are so proud.
I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, quote the experience of the United States of America, the most affluent of our affluent States, in which he said that 18 million Americans were living below the poverty line, because America is the classic 269 example of regarding public expenditure as something wicked and private expenditure as something virtuous. As a result of this there exists the situation which John Kenneth Galbraith described as public squalor alongside private affluence. It is good to-day that in this House we have accepted the State's responsibility for meeting some of the great social needs that confront us. I hope that in the campaigns which are being waged for cutting Government expenditure it will be recognised that a good system demands that we make provision for the needy, the aged and the sick in our midst.
It is often assumed that there is no poverty in our midst, and perhaps today's debate, and the publicity which I hope it will receive, will help to change that belief. I shall not repeat the statistics which have been given, and which have been accepted by all who spoke in this debate. One figure remains with me, however. It is the statement that nearly half a million families and one and a quarter million children were either on supplementary benefit level or had incomes below that level. Half a million families, my Lords!
Earlier to-day in this House—a very full House—there was generated a good deal of excitement, with questions. Members were lively and excited about the future of the Falkland Islands. I am not going to enter into that controversial field, but what we have been discussing subsequently is the case of half a million families and one and a quarter million children. The total population of the Falkland Islands, according to Whitaker's Almanack, is 2,164 persons. I wish them well, and I hope that we shall be able to solve their problem. But let us get a sense of proportion about the matters which generate our attention and our concern. I believe that this problem of poverty is one of the problems which this House has done well to discuss; and, as I have said, I hope that it will create a public opinion which accepts the State's responsibility in this field.
Perhaps I may be excused if I quote some statistics about Scotland. These are not statistics of which Scots are proud, but I think I should highlight the degree of poverty that exists in this somewhat underdeveloped area. An analysis of all adult male earnings in Scotland, in all 270 occupations, shows that 24 per cent. were under £15 per week, as against 11 per cent. in South-Eastern England and 15 per cent. in the Midlands. In Scotland, 10 per cent. were below £12 7s. Od. per week, while in the South-East the lowest earning 10 per cent. were below £14 14s. 0d. per week.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me if interrupt him for a moment. He will not forget that rents in Scotland are exceptionally low compared with those in England.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF GRYFE
My Lords, I accept that rents tend to low, particularly in the large housing estates in Scotland. But there are other additional costs which have to be met by people in Scotland because of the distances—for transport, and so on. However, I accept the noble Lord's point.
Let me just give your Lordships some more information which will perhaps put a proper balance on the picture. In the City of Glasgow almost 50 per cent. of the population have been rehoused. This is a city of nearly one million inhabitants. Despite that tremendous programme, at the moment nearly two-fifths of the remaining dwellings in Glasgow are without a fixed bath or shower; on,-fifth lack an internal water closet; two-fifths do not have hot water supply to three points; that is, bath, wash-hand basin, and sink. The number of totally unfit houses in Glasgow is 11,000; and 75,000 are sub-standard and not improvable. In other words, my Lords, 41 per cent. of the City's stock of housing is estimated to be below standard.
I can recall that I had the distinction, which I believe I share with the noble Lord, Lord Archibald, of representing the Bridgeton Constituency on the Glasgow Town Council (it is not many yean ago, and it still exists) and it was not uncommon to visit homes where five or six people were occupying a single room; to see the dampness in the walls; to see the baby in the pram because there was no other place for the child to sleep in houses that were rat-infested; and it was not rare to see the children's faces scarred by the vermin bites. There has been a review, a more recent review than my own personal experience in Bridgeton, by Dr. Arneil, who has been examining 271 the recurrence of rickets in Glasgow. Rickets is a disease which we thought had been cured, but rickets are appearing in children in the City of Glasgow. In Bridgeton Dr. Arneil found that only 15 per cent. of the families had their own inside W.C. and only 6 per cent. had a bath. Over half had no hot water, and nearly 90 per cent. of the people lived in one or two rooms. In that part of the City not one family on National Assistance lived in more than two rooms, and the average density in the single apartment dwelling was 4.8 persons per room.
I used to listen with great interest to a very great man, Mr. Victor Gollancz, who used to make appeals to the conscience and charity of people. Before he made an appeal at a public meeting, particularly in relation to the victims of the concentration camps, he used to sit quietly for an hour and try to imagine the sufferings of the people for whom he was appealing. We have discussed poverty so much this afternoon that I think the word "poverty" has almost become a cliché, and it is extremely difficult for us to imagine precisely what it means to have an average of 4.8 persons per room living in single apartment dwellings in the heart of Glasgow. It is a situation of growing hopelessness, and there is inevitably escapism in gambling and drinking, and even gangsterism. But these are the products of that kind of situation. In Scotland, deaths in the first year of life in children of unskilled workers amount to 37.2 per thousand live births, more than three times as frequent as deaths of children of professional men. A child born into the home of an unskilled worker has much less chance of surviving than the child who by accident of birth has been born into the home of a professional man. These are the facts of poverty in Scotland and the City of Glasgow, and I am sure that they can be repeated in examples given by other noble Lords taking part in this debate.
It is right that, although one finds it necessary to draw attention to the conditions which exist, one should pay tribute to the Government for what has been achieved. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has to-day given details of the improved scale and outlined some of the enormous improvements in social benefits over the 272 past two years. It is to be hoped that in the new scheme to be contained in the White Paper the standards will be maintained and that other benefits will be introduced which will avoid some of the discrepancies and difficulties which I have mentioned.
One sometimes imagines that poverty is strictly related to the poor housing conditions which I have described, but in examining cases in the books of social workers in the West of Scotland in the past few weeks, I have been impressed by the fact that poverty is not so prevalent in the Gorbals as it is in the new housing estates. When families move from low-rental slums into high-rental local authority housing they face the additional burdens of the all-electric houses to which they move. In some areas in smokeless zones their fuel bills jumped by 10s. to 18s. a week. I have heard of proceedings being taken against families who, because they could not afford the smokeless fuel, had burned the usual type of coal. Because of these changes in their life, because they have to furnish a greater number of rooms, their hire purchase debts accumulate, and they have to pay more for their heating, lighting, and their travel to and from work. All these things, plus an increasing burden upon families who move into the new housing areas, mean that low-earning workers find it difficult to maintain a reasonable standard of life and meet their commitments.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soper, that alcohol and betting are contributory factors to poverty. I commend his advice to the Government that there ought to be some control of the advertising of alcohol, and that we should look again at the spread of the opportunities for gambling caused by the extension of betting shops. Although these people live in the sort of drabness which I have tried to describe, they are surrounded by an advertising industry which spends £500 million per annum in telling people to take "Get away holidays for get away people", telling people about holidays in the sunshine, creating needs which are not real. I think this creates tensions in our society. Children are influenced by advertising. and if they are denied many of the things which are advertised in the glossy magazines or 273 upon the television screen, they feel rejected, as do their parents.
Although the State will inevitably play an increasing part in meeting the needs of social welfare, it would be a great mistake to neglect the great resources which are available in our country and the desire to help on the part of many people who are active in the voluntary agencies. It would be a great mistake to regard social service and community welfare as being the province of middle-aged, middle-class ladies who have a bit of time to spare. I admire the work of the Women's Voluntary Service and other agencies of that type, but at the same time as we glamorise for our youth the Voluntary Service Overseas, we should also glamorise the opportunities for service by young people in their own communities. Therefore, I hope that the Government not only will be concerned to extend their own responsibilities in this matter but will encourage in the community the idea of service.
We must be very careful about the whole idea of "giving" service. When I was engaged in post-war relief in Europe at the end of the war I recall working alongside a great veteran of relief work. She said, "What we have to do is to see that we preserve the self-respect of the people who are receiving clothing and other goods." I was inclined to be somewhat impatient in my rush to get things done, but I realise that it is terribly important in any welfare work not to humiliate people just because they are needy or poor. We must conduct our services, whether they be State or voluntary, in a spirit of working together in the interests of establishing and creating a better community.
Furthermore, in a great many of the policies which the Government must devise to meet the existing economic problems we must also be careful not to legislate unduly in favour of indirect taxation, selective employment tax and other impositions which add to the total cost of food and other essentials. I was interested to hear in the other place speeches suggesting that there should be a switch from direct farm support to a levy on imports, or that there might be some other value-added tax. We must he extremely careful that all the measures which are proposed to meet the current economic crisis are not levied in such a 274 way that the poorest in our midst are hurt. I hope that that will be accepted.
I accept the point of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that the gap in our community is growing greater. Figures were given in the New Statesman two or three weeks ago. I hope that we shall not too easily accept the inflationary pressures of the Trades Union Congress, because there again inflation is at the expense of the poorest sections of our community. I hope, too, that we shall not accept the demands of the C.B.I. that greater opportunities and incentives should be offered to the high-earning minority. We must be careful about the kind of society which we are trying to create, and recognise that while there are poor people in our midst who are badly organised, who are perhaps an ineffective pressure group, who have no political funds like trade unions or private companies to donate to political Parties, who may not even be important in terms of voting power and who cannot withdraw their labour, they have a claim on our country and on our people. Their appeal is to the Christian conscience of our people, and our people will be poorer spiritually if they do not recognise that claim.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I promise to be brief. When St. Francis preached about poverty he preached naked and he reduced the people of Assisi to tears, but I do not think your Lordships have taken quite enough clothes off. I mean, of course, metaphorical clothes. In fact, as a community I do not think we have taken quite enough clothes off. As I see it, there is nothing inevitable in poverty. There is nothing that one ought not to be able to avoid. It has no moral justifications, at any rate nowadays, except one given by my noble friend who has just sat down, and I think it was that which made St. Francis think it beautiful—that it was, as it were, a way towards working for the community. Be that as it may, let me go a little further in what I am saying to-night.
We have had a very interesting debate, for which we ought to be extremely grateful to the mover of the Motion. '3ut it has ranged far and wide. There have been all kinds of things considered—such-and-such a report, polio, and half-a-dozen other things, all properly related of 275 course to poverty, but none of them looking at the fundamental problem of what we are going to do about it. We are told that the Government are doing splendidly. I am sure they would all get up and say so. But Governments have been doing splendidly for generations now and, as my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell said, they have made astonishing little difference. I make no apology for giving your Lordships one or two of the facts about this. They are quite simple.
I should like to quote from a book called The Wealth of Britain which was published this year. On page 264 the authors come to this conclusion:If full employment, the action of powerful trade unions and the political struggles of this century have been unable to affect the share-out of incomes since 1920"—and that they have shown to be the case—the main reason lies in the power of one factor working the other way—the uneven distribution of property. There are calculations which purport to show that the inequality of property holdings has also been lessened"—and then they refer to a table which shows the proportion of the national wealth possessed—and I draw your Lordships' attention to this—by the top 1 per cent. of the population. According to the table, it has lessened from 65 per cent. to 70 per cent. in 1911–13, to 42 per cent. in 1951–56 and 42 per cent. again in 1960. But the authors point out, and I think quite rightly, that the inequality is still strikingly great—much greater, for example, than in the United States of America—and that since rich people receive higher returns on their capital than poorer people the income derived from this wealth is even more unequal. At least it appears to be declining, yet even on this showing there was no progress in the 1950s—and, my Lords, there were 13 years of Conservative Government.
Then the authors refer to another calculation:The main criticism against these estimates is that, with a greater or lesser degree of sophistication, they depend on the returns of death duties and, therefore, neglect the growing efficiency with which large estates avoid these payments.I will not trouble your Lordships with the next part. The book goes on:Taking all these factors into account, it may well be that the years since the Second 276 World War have seen a change in the other direction—a growing inequality of property.That is what my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell said. This book agrees with him, and I agree with him.
It has been a growing inequality, not only of property but of power, too; and at present the rich in this country are getting richer and more powerful. That does not accord with any moral standard whatever; it does not accord with ordinary sense, and it does not accord with political stability. Time may be rather short. I am getting on in years and I do not know what I shall see towards the end of my life. But I feel that the present society in which we live, with those figures moving as they are, is essentially unstable; and it is unstable because it is wrong.
I cannot think that the House of Lords in 1968, rather late at night, is going to do much about it—I do not expect it to. But one may at least just make this point: that the absolutely grossly unequal distribution, the growingly unequal distribution, of property in this country is probably one of the main factors—possibly the main factor—that cause poverty among us, and it cannot be right. It is a perfectly simple proposition. If we did not all live in a rather complicated society, if we had not all been brought up to accept a great many ideas which seemed necessary for that society, we should say to ourselves, "How can people live together like this?" It is a wicked thing as I see it, and have spent my life saying so. I see no reason to alter my opinion now.
I feel that a certain change has occurred. A few years ago one could have said, "There is a possibility that the position may be changed peacefully without too much convulsion." But the chances of that happening are getting smaller and smaller, and in this country we are approaching, with the orderly respectability of British conventions, a revolutionary situation which we do not really recognise. It must be a revolutionary situation. Something as wrong as this cannot go on. It may lead to what we were told about polio. It may lead to all of the things we were told about to-day. It may, at least, lead to what we were told just now about the present state of Glasgow. Those are the symptoms. Those are the spots in the 277 measles, and you do not cure the disease merely by trying to cure the spots. By all means deal with the spots; but, sooner or later, if this society is to continue as it has been built up since the Industrial Revolution, we shall have to face the problem of the gross wickedness of the maldistribution of property in this country.
We were told that the percentage for the poor was to be 50 per cent. There is good authority for that. Capital gains tax is only 30 per cent. We might perhaps begin with that. There are other taxation measures—wealth tax, and things of that sort—but what I should like to see is this Government (or, if not this Government, some other Government) facing up to the question of what they are going to do about the incredible inequality in the distribution of wealth in our society. I say this to them as a candid friend. I suppose, but at any rate a very old one: "If you lose the next Election, my boys, you will lose it because you have done too little, and not because you have done too much."
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, we are approaching the end of an extremely interesting debate and one which, as the noble Lord said, has ranged over a great number of subjects. We are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. I think he must be almost embarrassed by the thanks which have been expressed to him for introducing this debate, but they are none the less real, and not least because he made such a brief though comprehensive speech and pinpointed the main problems so admirably. My Lords, one of the things to which he drew attention was the duty to see that, so far as possible, nobody lives in poverty; and, of course, one then immediately has to decide what we mean by that. There seems to have been fairly general agreement in this debate that the only yardstick, the only way we can discuss this matter, is to take the level of supplementary benefit, which is supposed to ensure that people can meet their essential needs, and to say that if they cannot meet their essential needs then they are in poverty.
I was very much interested in the speech that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made. If I may say so, I thought it 278 was a very good one. One of the points he made was that the higher one draws the line of the poverty level the greater the number of people who will fall below it, and therefore the greater the number of people who will, by definition, appear to be poor. This has undoubtedly been happening in recent times. Anyone who has ever been at the Ministry of National Insurance at a time when benefits have been increased is well aware of this, because it has invariably happened, and whoever has been at the Box has been a real target for just this very reason. So I have every sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said in this regard. It is not that it is therefore disgraceful that there should be two million people on supplementary benefit. This is certainly not the case, as my noble friend explained. But there is a general feeling, I think, that in the long run National Insurance benefits (and this point was thrown at me when I was in the Ministry) ought to be enough to cover all normal needs. Indeed, I thin it is true to say that, originally, National Assistance was intended to be transitional; and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has said that we are to have more transitional arrangements. Transitional arrangements tend to persist. I am afraid. The real nigger in the woodpile here, of course, as my noble friend Lord Ilford has said, is rents.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, in a very interesting speech, made two points of which I made a note. One was when talking about Mr. Asquith's arrangement;—the scheme that he then introduced and the criticism of it, that it was a destruction of all thrift. I am afraid that to some extent this is true of any means tested scheme. Of course, Mr. Asquith's was a means-tested scheme, and in the end we got away from it. The curious thing was that I think for thirty years before Mr. Asquith introduced his plan this whole question of whether one should hive a contributory scheme or a means-tested scheme had been discussed. In the end, of course, we came to a contributory scheme, and I think we would all consider that to be right. It makes people feel that they have a real basis of entitlement, by virtue of their contributions, to what they are going to get. The right reverend Prelate also spoke about the disabled who have never been insured and 279 therefore get no pension. This, of course, is a particularly difficult problem. As in the case of many of the problems which have been raised to-day, we shall look with some care to see whether the Government's new scheme covers this kind of case—that, for example. of children who are disabled from birth and therefore have never been insured in their own right.
Then, of course, there is also the case of wives—and here I am not quite so sure what is the right course to pursue. It is sometimes argued that cash benefits as of right in respect of a wife cannot be included in an insurance scheme. I am not sure about this. I do not see why not. I see the great difficulty of including them in an insurance scheme so far as judging whether they were ill enough, within the meaning of some rules which one would have to make, to be entitled to the benefit; but, generally speaking, a man is insuring his ability to earn, and to the extent that his capacity to earn is impaired through the illness of his wife this seems to be an insurable risk. It is simply a question of establishing the right in each particular case; and I wonder whether it would not be possible to provide for a constant attendance allowance in some way out of the National Insurance Fund.
I look forward to what the noble Baroness will have to say about the very interesting proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. that part-time earnings in such circumstances, at any rate where the wife is ill. should be made up to supplementary benefit level. I think this is a point that is worth considering. There is already, of course, one breach in the rule that those who receive benefits must have paid for them by their own insurance contributions, and that is the case, which has already been mentioned in the course of the debate, of unmarried mothers, whose earnings can be made up to supplementary benefit level. So this is not an absolute rule even now, and perhaps the breach could be widened a little as breaches always can be, though with great resistance from the Treasury.
My Lords, I do not want to pursue the course that noble Lords have taken in considering the distribution of wealth rather than the distribution of poverty 280 to-day—indeed, I would doubt whether the two are wholly connected. After all, we are concerned with the proceeds of wealth, the distribution of incomes, rather than with the distribution of capital. I know, of course, that people can dispose of their capital and spend it, but to the extent that incomes are now very much levelled down when compared with what they used to be I think that this may have been one of the causes of the fact that poverty as we used to know it—and I think everybody has agreed with this—hardly exists to-day. There are not the great blocks of poverty that there used to be.
I would put it in this way: that there are really three sources of poverty, given the definition of poverty that anything under supplementary benefit level counts as poverty. There are three elements: first of all, there is inability to work or to find work; then there is inability to earn enough to cover one's essential needs; and then there is inability to go to work because of family circumstances—a point which I have already covered. So far as cash needs are concerned, the inability to work or to find work would appear to be adequately covered already, and has been further covered by the graduated unemployment and sickness benefits scheme.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him to ask him when he gets Hansard to-morrow to look at the first sentence I quoted which dealt exactly with the point he is now putting?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I will certainly do that but at the moment I am not quite certain of the point the noble Lord is referring to.
My Lords, if a man is unable to work or to find work, then social security provides enough by definition in normal cases to keep him from statutory poverty. It will, by and large, ensure that he receives allowances for himself and his family plus his rent and rates. Provided that he can manage his affairs, the present levels of benefit, including supplementary benefit, should enable him to get by without great hardship, certainly for a time—I shall come later on to the question of housing. He may at that point have to abandon some of the things he is buying on hire-purchase. This is one of the 281 facts of life; that is the nature of the contract of hire-purchase.
The main problems of poverty arise with those who are not entitled to claim supplementary benefit—there is no doubt of that: it has been amply illustrated in the debate: those who are in full employment but earning less than the supplementary benefit levels of payment, and those affected by the wage stop; those not working but who, if they were, would be earning less than the supplementary benefit. If one eliminates what I may call self-induced poverty, excessive spending leading to debt, or sheer bad management, there seem to be three main factors to be considered: first, earnings; second, family circumstances; and, third, rent and rates. Obviously, a combination of low earnings, a large family, high rents and rates lead to the worst cases of poverty. If sickness is added, the cup is then full; or, to put it another way, the larder is empty.
The Supplementary Benefits Commission Report on The Administration of the Wage Stop, which I do not think has been mentioned in the debate so far (it was presented just a year ago), found that in about one-third of the small number of cases examined—it was only a small number—the family was unable to manage and a further one-third could only just manage: but many of those were falling into debt and half the total had rent arrears. In one-third of the cases the deduction from the normal supplementary benefits was over £2 10s. a week and in two cases out of 52 it was at least £6.
To some extent, the Supplementary Benefits Commission can mitigate hardship by discretionary payments for fuel, clothing, bedding and food; and one-third of the cases had had their gas and electricity cut off at some time. This is a very typical case, because these payments come periodically, and the system of weekly benefits or of weekly supplements does not really cater for this situation. I know that in some cases arrangements can be made; but this is an important factor in poverty. It tends to increase the anxiety of poverty.
Secondly, the Supplementary Benefits Commission can mitigate hardship by helping to ensure that families receive the concessions to which they are entitled—rent rebates where they occupy 282 local authority housing, free school meals, welfare milk, and so on. This is of extreme importance. But the Supplementary Benefits Commission can operate only where there is an entitlement to supplementary benefit, where the wage-earner is not working. And, as the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, said, the Report Circumstances of Families showed that this means that in only one in eight cases, 20,000 out of 160,000 families, can the Supplementary Benefits Commission help. The remaining cases are those of low earnings.
The doubling of the family allowances has helped a lot but it has not yet solved the problem. There are still. apparently, some 230,000 to 250,000 children living in families with means below the supplementary benefit levels. The noble Lord, Lord Cooper, advocated a minimum wage in order to get over this difficulty. But this does not give the flexibility needed. The minimum wage is much more than minimum for some and not enough for others. If we had a system like the French system where the employers pay family allowances on a much greater scale and side by side with that you have equal pay as the base. then, I of course, you get a different set of circumstances altogether. If we are ultimately to go into the Common Market we may have to come towards that kind of arrangement.
How can we rescue the remaining 250,000 children from poverty and what is now the extent of it? It is rather typical that in this debate we have had necessarily to quote figures which are well out of date. Surely this illustrates the fact that, just as on the basis of that Report into the circumstances of families it was possible to introduce increased family allowances—and I give the Government full credit for this and particularly the Minister of Social Security at the time, because I know that it is very difficult to get the Treasury to do this—then we ought to have a continuing operation and to look every three years into the situation. In that way, each time we may be able to halve—we cannot do it all at once—the number of those in real poverty and so come down to a bare minimum.
The main variables in all cases are I rent and the size of the family. The basic 283 need in all cases is the same. The incomes are all limited by what they can earn plus the family allowance—and that is why family allowances are so very important. They have a crucial role to play in the relief of poverty—and not only in the case of the 2½per cent. or so with joint earnings below the supplementary benefits level. I do not know whether this is the correct percentage, but obviously 160,000 families was roughly 5 per cent. and it seems now to be approximately half.
Family allowances differ in essence from all other social security payments in that they come direct from the Exchequer and are akin to retirement pensions in that they are taxable. Like the basic retirement pension they must be universal if only because to administer them on a means test would be both unfair and inefficient. A means test would penalise thrift and penalise the effort to improve one's own circumstances. Being universal, the cost of them should, it seems to me, also be borne by the whole community, and it seems to me wrong to put any extra cost on those who have children. It seems wrong that children's allowances should be reduced in order to pay for higher family allowances.
Children's allowances and married allowances are, I should have thought, too low already and will have to be considerably increased if equal pay is enforced. Either they should be paid for by the employers—which would mean what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has been talking about: the prices of goods and services would go up and the cost would be met in proportion to the consumption of the goods and services—or out of general taxation or, perhaps, out of a mixture of the two. That seems to me to be the essence of the matter. Family allowances are, as Sir John Walley has said, "a practical expression of our common citizenship", and are the biggest single factor in the relief of poverty due to the size of the family.
There is another factor which is much more intractable, I believe, and that is rent. Of three people with identical low earnings, one may have the good fortune to occupy a local authority house in an area where rents are subsidised by rates; 284 the second may be paying a high rent for so-called furnished accommodation and the third may be literally homeless. A family which is homeless is certainly in poverty. I believe that last year the number of people in part III temporary accommodation in England and Wales was over 15,500, compared with fewer than 11,000 at the end of 1963. Of these 15,500 nearly 10,000 were children. As to overcrowding there is something like 400,000, I believe, who live in such conditions—I think that figure is right. In Glasgow there are some 90,000 living at least three to a room. I think this bears out the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe.
The Inquiry into family circumstances found that 12 per cent. of families and 17 per cent. of children were living in overcrowded conditions. Nearly one-third of families with four or more children where the father was in full-time work were overcrowded, and over one-third of fatherless families. So long as these conditions subsist it is wrong, in my view, that subsidised local authority housing should be under-occupied. I am told that in London alone there are 30,000 G.L.C. houses where there are two spare bedrooms, and 6,000 with three spare bedrooms. Surely it is wrong that people should be able to make money out of letting spare rooms in subsidised local authority housing. It is also wrong that private houses should be allowed to fall into disrepair because the rent is kept down and the landlord is forced to subsidise his tenants.
The steps proposed by the Government to renovate and modernise private housing are certainly welcome in themselves, but they are bound to lead to increases in rent. Until there is once again an adequate supply of houses I see no reason why there should not be some means devised to help people whose earnings fall below supplementary benefit level to pay a fair rent for their houses, given the control of fair rents which exists.
My Lords, so far I have dealt with family poverty, and this leads to the further question of care. I should like to say a word or two about that. In general, care is provided by local authorities with power to make such charges as they think fit in particular circumstances, and they have to judge whether care is 285 necessary. If it is necessary, say where a wife of a family is sick, why should not the charge be met by a National Insurance payment? It is a perfectly insurable risk. The growing burden of the rates is one of the greatest handicaps to meeting the needs of the citizen in a local authority. One way of dealing with the growing rate burden, especially in the bad areas, would be by spreading the liability over the whole country. Certainly the growing burden of the rates will continue to be an increasing problem, and I should have thought this was one way in which the rates could be kept down.
Of course, the question of the care of the aged looms largest of all. The retirement pension is calculated on the basis that an old person can look after himself or herself. If he or she cannot, care has to be provided or else that person will be in poverty and unable to meet his or her needs. The report issued in March by the Office of Health Economics estimated that while some 268,000 people are getting home helps there are some 348,000 people who feel that they should be getting home helps. While 69,000 people are getting hot meals from mobile services there are 361,000 people who would like to get them. This gives some indication of the gap here. The Social Work (Scotland) Act should pave the way for meeting more of the need in Scotland. The Seebohm Report has made similar recommendations for England and Wales. The main recommendation, I believe, is for a single local social service department. I wonder whether the noble Lady is yet in a position to tell us whether the Government have accepted this in principle.
May I conclude by saying that the more we keep families together the better. Not only is it socially desirable but it also would save money. The cost of keeping a child in a remand home now works out at about £1,000 a year; the cost in respect of a residential home is about £625 a year. Yet a qualified worker earns between, say, £1,000 and £1,500 a year; so on pure mathematics, provided that the qualified worker can look after two or three children, it is quite a good bargain. I hope that we shall not over-institutionalise and over-professionalise (one or two people have made this point) on our care services. The Scottish Act provides for co-operation with voluntary services, yet 286 there is always the danger that when responsibility for care is laid on a local authority, they will feel that they must discharge it for themselves and by themselves. However comprehensive we may seek to make our State and local authority services, there will always be gaps to be filled.
There is a tendency for people who could help to feel that they ore not needed, and in any case that they are doing all that they can possibly be required to do by paying their ever-growing rates and taxes. The extended responsibilities laid on local authorities are bound to cost more, even if their unification should result in economies. Yet they cannot wholly solve the problems of poverty, and I would join in the hope which has been expressed that the Government will start giving positive encouragement to voluntary and, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, suggested, and will remove some of the disincentives.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, spoke of apathy, but I think that the apathy is due largely to the fact that so much has been taken away to officialdom, which makes us feel, "Well, this is looked after; let them get on with it." The right reverend Prep to the Lord Bishop of Winchester asked what we could do as individuals to narrow the gap. Well, my Lords, the larger the units of local authority social services become, the more necessary it is to have voluntary organisations to deal with small community areas so as to mobilise the goodwill and desire to help those in need. The Churches do much, and I think they could be helped to do more. Perhaps one of these days we shall have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who will help them to do more and help other voluntary organisations—local, general, specialist and national—to do more.
My Lords, in some ways poverty in a Welfare State is less bearable than it used to be, precisely because it is more scattered than it used to be. Poverty isolates, poverty needs friendship so that, in the words of the Report on the Wage Stop, the unrelieved dreariness of life in poverty can be eased—instances of no holidays for five years, for example, and no prospect of one, and not least the constant anxiety that poverty imposes.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, we are indeed grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for his powerful speech in introducing this splendid debate and also for the subsequent contributions from noble Lords on both sides of the House. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who said that we have here a fund of individual expertise and this has surely been demonstrated to the full by the contributions which followed his opening speech. I would say at once that the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, should be replying to the debate, but unfortunately she is ill. If I may declare an interest, at least I can tell the noble Lord that I have spent practically all my working life in trying to do something to make the conditions of the poor a little better in varying degrees.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred to the history of this problem and to the position in other countries, as did the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Winchester, my noble friend Lord Soper and my noble friend Lord Archibald, who spoke very much from the heart. While I cannot claim to have suffered poverty in the sense in which my noble friend Lord Archibald spoke, in my days of amateur drama I remember taking a role in Love on the Dole. When we recall that this was written less than thirty years ago, and that the fears depicted in the play were those with which ordinary people lived—the fear of unemployment, of the workhouse and (begging the pardon of the noble Lord opposite) of the family means test, we realise that all that is still in the memory of people now living. I would say at once that, according to our Socialist philosophy as I understand it, what we feared then was not a test of means—because we all have to undergo this at times in our lives—but the family means test, where if a relative was living with a family that relative had to leave home in order that the family could receive a little more. Of course I am not referring to the noble Lord's distinguished service with the National Assistance Board, but he will know that this happened in our own time. This is a kind of poverty from which I believe we have moved away.
I am bound to say that I found one or two comments of noble Lords a little 288 depressing, particularly those of my noble friend Lord Mitchison. I am sure that it was a brilliant exposition of society as he sees it and I am certain that some of the facts he gave we must look at seriously. Nevertheless, I am afraid that I cannot accept that ordinary people are not living in better conditions than they were. The noble Lord said that things were not very much better now. Living as I do in a working class district, I see women of 60 and 70 wearing good clothes for the first time in their lives: ordinary people driving in cars and ordinary people taking their children for holidays. All this must make the quality of life better.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, my noble friend will not remember, but fifty or sixty years ago wealth was very badly distributed. All I was saying is that it is still.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, I accept my noble friend's point. Perhaps he will also take from me that wealth—or incomes; it depends which way we like to refer to this—is perhaps a little better distributed than it was. And, of course, ultimately we take nothing with us.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandford. put a question to my noble friend Lord Kennet on his remark that the supplementary benefit scheme at the beginning covered about half a million more old people, and that in 1967–68 about 700,000 other old people were helped by rent rebates. Unfortunately it is not known exactly how many of these people were not previously claiming National Assistance, through ignorance or reluctance; but what is clear is that the number of those benefiting has substantially increased. It is equally clear that the Minister aims to deal with this question of publicity—a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree.
When the entitlement campaign was first initiated the Ministry published a leaflet—The Short Step. I never know whether I am entitled to show things of this kind in your Lordships' House, but if I were entitled to show it this is what I would have shown to your Lordships. As your Lordships will recall, the entitlement campaign was launched by the then Minister and there was a national distribution of leaflets. The campaign has continued in different ways. It was in 289 the nature of an experiment, and the then Minister, and certainly our dynamic new Minister, is very anxious that people shall know of the various entitlements they have. I have here an extract from a message which Mrs. Judith Hart, when she was Minister of Social Security, wrote for the old people's welfare journal, in which she makes an appeal to those not already receiving benefit to come forward.
I am not sure that anybody has the answer to how to get people who will not come forward to claim benefits. As has been said, those of a certain age associate benefit with charity. We can get over to them only by a process of education. As the right reverend Prelate said, these days nobody should die in a room through lack of warmth or food, because they can be helped. I believe that this is one of the areas in which volunteers, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred and on whose work he will know I am as great an enthusiast as he is, can do a great deal. I cannot help thinking that perhaps this is associated in some way with the break-up of church-going. People went to see what was happening to the lady next door. It would be much more simple for friendly visitors to convey to old people some of these facts which at the moment have to come through an official source.
Every Minister has emphasised how important it is to contact these old people. I have had a letter from an old lady who describes herself as a "satisfied client: she tells me that the 90s. she receives is more than she has ever had for herself at any stage in her life, and she is typical of many working-class women. But she has drawn my attention to the leaflet at the beginning of her pension book, which says:Please arrange for someone to call at my home to talk over any extra benefits that I may receive.What could be more straightforward and simple? I hope that this is very productive.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred to the wage stop, and the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said that we had made no reference to it this afternoon. I am happy to tell noble Lords that the wage stop beneficiaries have received considerable extra help, and this is probably what they had in mind. Not only have they benefited according to 290 family circumstances from the increases in family allowances but they have had the advantage of several other easements under the recent report of the Supplementary Benefits Commission on the administration of the wage stop—the introduction of local authority rats for labourers who were formerly on regional rates, the abolition of the previous 7s. 6d. deduction for intangible expenses, the substitution of three months for six months as the measure of temporary sickness, with a corresponding reduction in the case of prisoners' wives and the discontinuance of the practice whereby a wife's earnings were deducted in full from the husband's wage-stop benefit. These are four very practical pieces of assistance. I will not weary your Lordships by going through ill the figures, but from January, 1967, 24,500 were in this wage stop category, and in August, 1968, there were 22,000.I hope that this answers the point raised by the noble Lord.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I am sure that the House will be most grateful to the noble Lady for that full reply.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, referred to the fact that social security officers had not been helpful in the case of one man who could not get supplementary benefit as he did not have an address. I am happy to tell the noble Lord that this is not so. I rather thought this to be the fact. Supplementary benefit is payable whether a person has an address or not. If a person without an address calls at the social security office he will, if he has no resources, be given a payment to meet his immediate needs and to enable him to put down a small deposit on lodgings when he has found lodgings. Full supplementary benefit will then be paid, and will take account of the rent that he has to pay. I am happy to be able to give that piece of information to the noble Lord.
There has been a great deal of reference to the Disablement Income Group—and perhaps here I should declare re an interest, because I was one of the people instrumental in launching this organisation, and it is somewhat ironic that I am now called upon at this Despatch Box to deal with this matter. Neverthless, while, unfortunately, I cannot tell the 291 noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, or noble Lords concerned, that there is an immediate result from this very active and able campaign, I am able to say that the Government's Social Survey, which at the moment is carrying out a survey of chronic sick and handicapped, is taking account of this and will have something to say; and, equally, the White Paper on the Social Structure of Social Security which will be coming out, incidentally, in 1969. My right honourable friend in another place said that the Report of the Survey will not be available before 1970, but a lot can be done by local authorities in this matter with the data that we shall be able to send them earlier. So I am hopeful that something will come out of this.
I was interested to hear Lord Drumalbyn's suggestion of a way in or out of this problem, because if I were to level one accusation against Lord Beveridge it would be that he seemed to base the whole of the scheme on earnings—either you were earning or you were not earning—which put the wife, since she has no recognition within the wage structure, in a difficult position; and, of course, in another sphere the difficulties of the widow spring largely from the fact that her pension comes from a recognition of her husband's contribution and not her own. I well recall going to see the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, when he was the Minister and appealing to him for widows; and I expect he will have noticed that some of the things for which I then asked, though not all, have been given by the present Government. There is little doubt that the problems of the disabled wife are directly related to the structure of the scheme, but I am equally certain that the Survey and the White Paper will have something to say on this. In this connection, too, I would say that the Survey will have a great deal to say on the problems of the physically handicapped generally.
I was very touched by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Wade (I do not know whether he is still here), because I remember that when my own husband had a terrible disabling stroke, which rendered him speechless and unable to move on the right side, the process of rehabilitation was cushioned by 292 the fact that there was some money to pay for taxis and to make everything as easy as possible. I can see the horrible situation of the polio victim whose recovery would be retarded by lack of money. But there is little doubt that this Survey is going fully into the problems of the chronic sick and the handicapped. I was glad, also, that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, made reference to the B.M.A. Paper, Aids to the Disabled, which will help the Government in their studies in this aspect.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, inquired about fatherless families, and for the Record I should say that she was trying to make the point that the children should have an allowance as of right. I think we come back again to the same point; namely, that the structure of our whole scheme will need to be re-thought. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, referred to alcoholics. I cannot elaborate on previous replies on this subject, but the noble Lord will appreciate that by constantly referring to this matter, particularly in a debate of this character, he is doing just what he hopes to do; namely, bringing the constant attention of the Government to this problem.
My noble friend, Lord Cooper of Stockton Heath, in an interesting speech, referred to the low-paid worker. I would merely quote what my right honourable friend said in a speech to a body in which I am particularly interested. He said:Unfortunately to-day there are far too many family men whose wage is so low that they cannot maintain their family even at the modest level which the Supplementary Benefits Scheme lays down as our national minimum. Ten per cent. of men earn less than £14 a week.That is a point made by the noble Lord. My right honourable friend went on to say:It is a delusion to believe that low wages can be got rid of simply by passing an Act of Parliament or introducing a national minimum wage.I will not dilate further on this subject, because I think it is one on which we may be able to have an interesting debate at a later date.
The noble Lord, Lord Ilford (we recall his tremendous contribution in this field, and are always delighted to hear what he has to say) made some reference to the visiting of old people, and suggested 293 that perhaps the officers of the Supplementary Benefits Commission were not carrying out the work in quite the same way. I am happy to tell him they visit old people quite regularly and periodically. At the risk of appearing to be ungracious, as we often have little chats on various things, I would ask whether he remembers that 73 per cent. of the retirement pensioners during the period of the National Assistance Board did receive the discretionary addition. So perhaps things are not too different, although we have a different structure for assessing means. I hope the noble Lord will accept that the scheme of visiting, begun so admirably, is still continuing.
I think we saw from the salaries quoted by one noble Lord how, as always, people who work for people seem to have such inadequate rewards. This is an extraordinary thing. I often wondered as a social worker whether I was paid a low salary to keep me in the right frame of mind for dealing with people—perhaps, as the noble Lord, Lord Archibald, said, the necessity to undress in order to show that people feel cold without a coat. There is little doubt that people who deal with these individuals are of a varied kind and character, as the noble Lord knows, and have great skill, sympathy and patience. I think we should pay tribute to them at this time, because it is rarely that one gets an opportunity to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, whom we again recognise as performing a wonderful work in the family service units, referred to the idea that anyone receiving supplementary benefit which was restricted under wage stop provisions should be allowed to take part-time work. At first glance this seems to be quite a viable proposition. I would not say that my right honourable friend rejects it. I would merely say at this point that anyone who is working full-time for a wage might be put at a disadvantage if in fact this were done. But this is not to turn down this suggestion out of hand. A debate of this kind is looked at very closely, as noble Lords who have been in Government will know, and therefore at this point of time, I say no more than this.
On the point of the Credit Counselling Service (and I am sorry that no other 294 noble Lord made reference to this), the Citizens' Advice Bureaux have for years done a valuable work in this field, almost literally on a shoestring, long before the Government helped them, and mainly with spendid voluntary workers—although they now have to be paid workers. While, again, I am not saying that this Credit Counselling Service is not an excellent idea, I think it would be right to make this reference to those people who have been doing just this for a long time, and, if I dare suggest it, with a little more help could possibly do a little more.
The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, mentioned—"Don't bother", says a voice behind me. I remember that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, told me once that if a noble Lord was not present at the closing speech we did not reply to him. I must say that I find it a little difficult to take up the Papers and then to put them away again. However, I expect that at this time your Lordships will not wish me to go into things too deeply.
The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, in a very interesting and lively contribution, brought to our notice something which would probably not have been brought into the debate had he not don e so; as I recall, no other noble Lord touched on ii. I am sure he will appreciate that both these pamphlets are very new and therefore have not been considered by the Government. And it would be embarrassing and a little difficult if I were even to suggest anything on behalf of my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack, other than to say that of course there are two Reports of the Legal Aid Advisory Committee which show exactly what these pamphlets how that there are people who need legal aid but are not at present receiving it. In a dialogue of this kind, I would say that this point, again, will be looked at, and the noble Lord may rest assured that the ideas contained in his speech will be considered.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, made a very splendid speech and, I think, touched us deeply. Those who read the Supplement to a Sunday paper last week which referred to case historic s in Glasgow will feel, I think, that it more or less underlined everything the noble Lord said. Indeed, those in poverty are 295 always in danger of being delinquents, and from this poverty stems many things. The noble Lord will not expect me to comment in full on the various points he put forward.
My Lords, I hope that I have covered the speeches of all those who have spoken. I always feel quite certain that I have not covered the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, who is usually so brilliant in the way he covers the field. I come to his speech at the last when I am beginning to feel a little tired, so I hope that he will forgive me. I would say only this: that in the counselling in connection with electricity bills I think he again has a very valid point, which I hope the people visiting for the Supplementary Benefits Commission, and so on, will bear in mind.
My Lords, the definition of poverty will always change. It will change according to the society in which we live; it will change according to the cultural patterns by which we are surrounded. What I can say—perhaps because the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said that politicians did not seem too concerned about the poor—is that the Socialist philosophy recognises not only the dignity of the human being but that all men shall have equality of opportunity, that they shall have freedom from poverty, from degradation and from fear; and this is something to which the Government will set their hand.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, noble Lords will all be sorry to hear of the illness of the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, but we are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for such a brilliant and full summing up of the debate, after which there is very little to say. I should, however, like to make just two quick points. First of all, nothing I have heard to-day makes me feel that the combination of a basic wage and adequate family allowance is not the right way forward. Indeed, a certain amount of what I have heard, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, makes me think that it is. Secondly, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for saying that he would take up this question of the Christmas stopping of the wage stop, and 296 I hope that he will not allow himself to be too put off by the argument that this might be the thin end of the wedge. As we all know, if we paid much attention to that argument, nothing at all would get done.
The figures in the pamphlet which was published by Mr. John Pardoe and myself were mentioned. I had them checked at the time. I have not had time to-day to have them rechecked, since I did not know that they were going to be brought into this debate and I did not want to leave the Chamber too much for fear of missing what your Lordships had to say. There is a new edition coming out, and I promise that I will either justify or correct the figures in that. One or two figures may be wrong. Undoubtedly in one or two cases quoted there is merely a difference of interpretation; for example, where Lord Wells-Pestell says that something is poverty which Lord Kennet says is not poverty. This has led me to a feeling at some moments this evening that we might have been debating the wrong subject. In the briefs that I had been given I came across a memorandum from one Liberal research assistant to another, which reads:Jim talks about the elimination of poverty. I object. Discussion should, to my mind, he centred more on the rights of all citizens to equality than on trying to define their minimum needs and meet them from a sense of charity".I think that that is something which the noble Lords, Lord Wells-Pestell and Lord Mitchison, particularly, would agree on. I personally, although I did not bring it into my opening speech, think not only "Down with poverty! Abolish it!" but, "Down with riches and abolish them, too!" And if anyone thinks that comes ill from me, I will explain it privately afterwards.
We have heard appeals to get the problem into perspective. In the sense of poverty at home as opposed to poverty in the world, I entirely agree that we must get it into perspective. I hope I made the point in my opening speech, but I should like quickly to make it again, that it is only when you abolish poverty in one country that you can, as they are beginning to do in Scandinavia, raise the whole question of world poverty and positive action about it as something which 297 people will get "enthused" about and the ordinary electorate will begin to support. As to looking at poverty in the perspective of what has been done and what progress we have made, no, my Lords, I cannot, I will not, and I hope that I never shall. For what we have done has no doubt been good, but the present needs are so many and the solutions so urgent to be found that I do not think we can spend much time looking at the problem in perspective.
298 Finally, I should like to thank all your Lordships very much for the great wisdom and the number of very good suggestions that have come out of this extremely useful debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at two minutes before nine o'clock.