HL Deb 17 April 1978 vol 390 cc906-39

4.22 p.m.

Baroness MACLEOD of BORVE rose

to call attention to the problems of widows; and to move for Papers. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper on the problems of widows. Widows come in all shapes and sizes and ages; they come from age 16 to the end of life, which might well be 100 plus. There are very rich widows, albeit very few of them, and there are a great number of very poor widows. In all, there are 3 million widows; 200,000 women become widows every year. Fifteen out of every 100 women are widows, but only 4 out of every 100 men are widowers.

When you ask somebody what they think of widows or the state of widowhood, it is, in my view, quite understandable that nobody wants to know. It is one of those words, in fact the word, the connotation of which nobody wants to take any notice. Therefore, when I was lucky enough to have my name drawn out of the hat for this Short Debate, I asked some noble Lords whether they would help me in the debate. A few who are here today—and I am very grateful to them all—said that they would, but others said: "We do not know; it has nothing to do with us". That is absolutely understandable because anyone who has formed a partnership, one female and one male together in marriage, does not want to contemplate the fact that, except in very unusual cases, one of them will die before the other. It is, luckily, very unusual for both to die together.

My Lords, my experience, the reason why I have initiated this debate today, is not only because the people of this country do not know the problems of widows, but also because, if I might say so, I have been widowed twice, once when I was I think 23, and the second time in my fifties. Also I have the privilege of being the National President of the National Association of Widows. It was formed in 1971 by one specific widow in Stafford called June Hemer who realised from all her experience that the widow, shall we say, on the ground was not really catered for, and that there was no way in which widows were able to talk to each other. So she formed the National Association of Widows in 1971.

I have called this debate "The Problems of Widows"; not the needs but the problems—they are different. We had a small survey done throughout the country—because we have 75 branches—and we asked 248 individual people to answer a questionnaire. Seventy-eight per cent. of those 248 put first among their problems that of loneliness. I am sure every noble Lord who has come across a woman living by herself, having lost her spouse, will agree that that is the most difficult problem to overcome. The next problem—which might be a surprise to your Lordships—was coping with house maintenance; 60 per cent. of the widows put that second.

The reason, I gather, is this, that when something needed doing in the house, be it mending a fuse or digging out a drain or seeing that the house has to be painted, the husband had been able to do it for the family, and when he died there was nobody to do it. But it goes deeper than that. If there is just a woman alone in the house, I am sorry to have to say that there are many people in this country, trade people, who will take advantage of the fact that she does not know as much about digging out a drain, or even painting a house, as does the man of the house. I know this from my own personal experience. I am an avid car driver, but occasionally my car goes wrong. Although I should not like to say specifically that, because I am a woman alone, I am charged more; but this does happen to widows. That is why widows put house maintenance as one of the priorities of difficulty.

One-third of all the women interviewed had financial problems, and it was estimated that well over 70 per cent. of widows would be found to have incomes below the supplementary benefit level. One-third had also moved house without really thinking it through in depth and then had deeply regretted it. I am sure your Lordships will realise, too, that one of the problems of being a widow is the income tax situation. I am fortunate today in having my noble friend Lord Cullen to tackle as best he may the problems of income tax and child benefit. If any noble Lord would like further information, an excellent book came out eight weeks ago dealing with this specific problem.

Another problem, one which perhaps does not stand out, is that of overlapping benefits. Anyone who has tried to get two benefits from the State will realise that he cannot, and certainly a widow cannot. A widow cannot draw anything other than her widow's pension. For example, let us take the case of two houses next door to each other, one occupied by a married couple with growing children and the other by a widow with equally growing children. Let us suppose that both women decide to take a retraining course for teaching or any other subject that they have done in the past. If the widow asks for a grant for that course she will be unable to get it unless she gives up part or all of her widow's pension. However, the wife next door who is supported by her husband can get a grant for the retraining course. That must be unfair.

The same applies to invalidity pensions. I must point out that in all the cases that I am quoting both the husband and the wife have always worked and have always contributed fully to the National Insurance scheme. However, as regards the invalidity pension, if a wife, for example is taken ill and is put on an invalidity pension, and the husband then dies leaving the wife still ill, she cannot draw the invalidity pension as well as the widow's pension, despite the fact that she has to send in quarterly medical certificates to say that she is still an invalid. The same applies to industrial injuries. A working widow has to contribute a stamp towards industrial injuries benefits, but she cannot draw any benefit because that would be an overlapping benefit.

Another problem is pensions. I shall not dwell very long on pensions, but I have a certain amount of up-to-date knowledge about pensions on the Continent. Last week the National Association of Widows was invited by Germany and France to attend an international conference at Stuttgart. It was the first conference to be held and we were very pleased to be asked to represent Great Britain. It was necessarily a small conference, because at the time there were only three countries taking part. However, as one can imagine, one of the subjects put forward for discussion was pensions. In Germany 60 per cent. of the husband's earnings are given to the widow as a pension. We think that it is about 20 or perhaps 25 per cent. in this country. In Germany widows are encouraged to remarry, to such an extent that they give a widow two years' pension as a lump sum—one might perhaps call it a dowry—when she remarries.

Pensions can be lost so easily in this country. One does need to have great knowledge of the subject to know about the way that the social security people have been known to sit outside a widow's house hoping—and I am afraid it is hoping—that they can catch a widow having a man in her house. Men have been known to go into widows' houses, and sometimes a widow will encourage or invite a man to stay as a lodger in her house. In such circumstances it is very difficult for a widow to persuade the social services that nothing untoward is taking place and that the man is just a financial lodger. As your Lordships will imagine, it is very difficult to prove that to be the case. I have it on the authority of those who have done research into this matter that the normal reason for taking a man into a house is one of finance and also the extremely difficult problem of companionship.

We also realise that a woman, when a widow, is much more likely to be a drain on the Health Service. There are a great number of mental breakdowns among widows. There are a great number of attempted, and sometimes more than attempted, suicides. Dr. Colin Parks, who is the chairman of Cruse, reported in the British Medical Journal in 1964 that: Patients who had lost a spouse shortly before the onset of mental illness were five times more frequent among admissions to the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospitals than would have been expected if bereavement had not been a cause of the admission. Dr. Lynch, slightly more up to date, in 1977 wrote that the evidence was startling in linking heart and other diseases with the need for human companionship. Dr. Phylis Silverman of Harvard Medical School initiated, established and monitored a widow-to-widow programme in America. She found that neither clergy, doctors nor family were able to give to a widow the sort of support that was needed.

We in the National Association of Widows have found the same thing; that is why we have set out to try to remedy the situation. We now have 75 branches and six voluntarily staffed widow-to-widow advisory services. We desperately need to increase that number because we realise, as Dr. Silverman realised, that the widow-to-widow service is the way to help a woman deal with these problems. Of the 254 people asked about whether they thought that the widow-to-widow service was helpful, 67 per cent. said that it was invaluable and 75.8 per cent. said that they had asked all sorts of other organisations for help including the Churches, but had preferred to come to a widow.

At the end of our Short Debate it may well be that some people will say: "There are a great number of these women around but we cannot recognise them. They do not go along with a white stick or with two sticks. They are a quite unrecognisable block of our society. What can we do to help?" I shall put forward one or two thing that I think we can all do to help. First of all, companionship. Anyone who can help by offering friendship; by talking to some body, who they know lives alone, perhaps in the shops, in the streets, when coming out of church or at any time; or who can draw these people into meetings or involve them in going to places where other people meet, will be of great service, because widows need to be wanted.

I hope that the Churches will do more than I have reason to believe they have done in the past few years, and that the voluntary organisations will also reach out and draw widows in. I also hope that the families of widows will help. The other day I was in a train when a man who was very distressed got into the carriage. As is my wont, I said; "What is the problem?". He said, "I am sorry, but I have just buried my father: and my real problem is that I don't know what to do for my mother". I said: "Is she on the telephone?". He said: "Yes". I said: "The thing that you can do for your mother is to telephone her at the same time once a week. That will keep her in touch. I assure you that she will derive more benefit from you ringing her up once a week than from almost anything else".

As I have said, this voluntary service for the widows needs to be encouraged and enlarged. We hope that in the foreseeable future the Government will be able to help us with a very small amount of finance. We have received a little from the Voluntary Services Unit, which helped us to produce this book, and a report that we have now sent to the Government. But needless to say, telephones, occasionally the hiring of a room, fares, et cetera, need to be paid for.

I was trying to think how to wind up my few remarks this afternoon. All I could think of was to say that we are all mortal. Even in the happiest of marriages someone has to go first. At the end of the day perhaps those who have not decided to take a partner in life are the best off. However, I am sure that after this debate anyone who realises the deep troubles that those living alone experience will do all he or she can to help such people. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, may I from these Benches thank the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, for raising this important subject. The unfortunate position of widows has always aroused sympathy and a need for understanding. Any measures taken by the Government to improve the financial position of widows must be welcomed, but despite what is being done, I believe that their position needs improving.

Before the recent Budget measures, a widow received £17.50 per week, which after tax came to £15.73, and war widows received 30 per cent. more. The fact that that is taxed surely is a totally unfair measure. I believe that the threshold is much too low. By comparison, a Service widow whose husband died after 1973 receives £38 per week. Why is there one rule for one and a different rule for someone in exactly the same position?

I realise that there are benefits, such as child allowance, and that claims can be made for rent and rates rebates. But I put it to your Lordships' House that, even under the new proposals outlined in the Budget, the position still puts the widow at a level far below that which any one of us would think satisfactory. Under the new scheme a widow with one child receives £28.85 per week, with a taxable allowance of £18.94. Within the EEC the situation is more realistic. In Germany a widow claims 60 per cent. of her husband's income, which is not taxed. I think that it should also be noted that the new basic figure of £19.50 is applicable only to women over 50 years of age. A widow who is younger than that receives a smaller pension as the sum is age-related.

Another anomaly is the fact that a widow is classed as a single person and is taxed as such. The widows to whom I have spoken feel very strongly about this and are angry. They point out to me that, having been married and, in the majority of cases, having borne children, as soon as they are widowed they have to revert to their single status due to the tax laws. I should like to ask the Government whether this change in the tax laws could be rectified. Would not that be a fairer measure Surely the cost of doing that would not be such a drain on the Budget figure when one compares the amount spent in other areas.

The question of parity between Service widows and other widows has been raised many times, both in this House and in another place. The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, in a debate on 30th June 1977 said: The time has come to tidy up Service widows' pension schemes by levelling the whole scheme step by step until eventually parity or equality is reached".—[Official Report; col. 1285.] I agree with the noble Earl in principle, but I do not know how long the phrase, "step by step until eventually", means. I hope that it means sooner rather than later. My noble friend Lord Banks in the same debate said that he supported the principle of parity for war widows' pensions and would continue to press for its establishment at the earliest possible date. In conclusion, we welcome the increases in widows' pensions and the child allowances outlined in the Budget last week, but with the reservations that I have stated.

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve for initiating this debate. So, too, will be the large number of widows in this country who represent over 5 per cent. of the population. I am sure that all noble Lords will have sympathy with the problems to which my noble friend has drawn attention, particularly with the way in which she did so.

The question is: what can central or local government do to help solve the widow's problems, and what can be done by voluntary organisations? It has been suggested that we have forgotten the widows, as men do not accept that they are likely to pre-decease their wives—which, of course, they are. It is well known that generally women live longer than men, as is shown by the fact that there are four times as many widows as there are widowers.

I do not believe that the widows have been forgotten, but rather that it may be difficult to provide special Government assistance for people in many different circumstances, of different ages, varying from teenagers to centenarians, without inviting criticism from other groups, such as single women, that widows, who have enjoyed the support of husbands, are receiving unduly favourable treatment. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of groups or categories of people who have problems today. With 1½million un employed, a rate of inflation which is still at a level which would have seemed inconceivable not many years ago, and with industrial output no higher than it was during the three-day week, problems abound for nearly everybody.

But great strides have been made by Governments in the last 30 years in helping the disadvantaged and a plethora of social benefits has been made available. The task of Government is to be fair as between different groups. It is a matter of perspective and judgment. Have we been too concerned over other groups, such as the handicapped, and not concerned enough over widows? I suspect that we have, but I do not think it is possible to answer this question without having an encyclopaedic knowledge of the social benefits, tax allowances, and so on, that exist today—and that I do not possess.

Quite apart from the natural sympathy that we all have for women who lose their husbands—or, for that matter, vice-versa—I am inclined to believe that to some extent we have the balance wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, who is a mine of information on these matters, will help us in our judgment today and I look forward to hearing what he has to say. No doubt he will remind us that several of the proposals in last week's Budget will be helpful to widows. The tax allowance for single persons has been increased by £40 to £985 a year, and a widow with a child will receive an £80 increase to £1,535 a year. The reduced band of tax will help widows on low incomes. Widows' pensions are to be increased from £17.50 to £19.50 per week next November, and child support has been substantially raised. But I see nothing here that recognises the disadvantaged circumstances of widows as the increased benefits are in conformity with those increases given to others. Furthermore, not all these improvements are quite as good as they look, as I shall try to show.

All parents, including many widows, will welcome the Budget proposal to increase child support, and it is certainly welcome on these Benches as we have been pressing for this for some time. There is, however, a snag. This will mainly benefit those who arc not in receipt of National Insurance benefits since any increase in child benefit is matched by a reduction in the National Insurance widows' child allowance. So as I understand the position all widows with children who are receiving their widows' allowance will fail to benefit by the higher rate of child support. Incidentally, I wonder why the child benefit has not been inflation proofed in the same way as tax allowances and most social benefits. Perhaps this anomaly will be remedied during the passage of the Finance Bill.

There is also a catch over the increase in the single persons' allowance. A childless widow aged 50 to 65 with no income except her pension plus a pound a week from savings, making £1,000 per annum altogether, will be liable to income tax as her tax allowance will be £985. The reason for this absurd situation is that the single tax allowance has fallen short of the present equivalent of the rate ruling in 1973-74. At that time the rate was £595; the present equivalent is £1,260, so that there is a shortfall of no less than £275. The amount of tax payable will of course be small, but this is no encouragement to save. In parenthesis, it is noteworthy that the shortfall of the married tax allowance is lower at £118. This is perhaps owing to an overdue recognition of the importance of the family, and I suppose there is no justification for treating childless widows better than single women who have never had the advantage of a husband's support.

In view of this shortfall in the single tax allowance it is a little surprising that tax thresholds are proposed in the Budget to be increased by only 4 per cent. to 5½ per cent., while social security benefit levels are to he raised by 11.4 per cent. In 1977-78 there was a reasonable headroom between adult tax thresholds and social security benefits, but this has now been seriously eroded. In 1977-78 there was a difference of £249 between the single income tax allowance of £940 and the social security benefit of £696. This difference has now fallen to £198. Returning to the example of the childless widow of 50 to 65, her tax threshold in 1978-79 will be only £35 above her pensionsable income, while in 1977-78 it would have been £70 higher at £105, so last year she could have had £105 of income from savings tax free while this year the figure will be only £35.

I have tried to show that there is nothing in the Budget proposals to make the widows feel that they are receiving any special consideration. Rightly or wrongly they feel that they are harshly treated by Governments. "Is it fair", they ask, "that a widow who receives either the full rate of widow's allowance, widow's pension or widowed mother's allowance, is not entitled to sickness or unemployment benefits owing to the overlapping benefits rule? Is it fair that a widow takes home less pay than a married woman doing exactly the same job? Why does a widow under 40 receive no pension? If she is over 40, she does not have a male friend without risk to her pension". These are some of the things that the widow finds hard to understand.

Quite a good example of the difficulties comes in a letter to the Daily Mail of 4th April, where a girl writes: My mother, who was widowed nearly six months ago, was away ill from work for a week. Having worked full-time for more than 30 years and paid a full National Insurance stamp all that time, she expected to be paid sickness benefit. She received a letter from the Department of Health and Social Security informing her that, as she was already receiving a widow's pension she was not entitled to two payments, so no sickness payment was due to her. As a National Insurance stamp is something she has been paying for in her own right, I do not see how it can be related to a widow's benefit which, after all, has been paid in by my father, in a country that can pay men large amounts of money a week for not doing a day's work"— and so on.

Alternative methods of alleviating the position of widows have, I am told, been submitted to the Chancellor to no avail, as follows: (a) granting to widows an additional personal allowance similar to that given to single retirement pensioners and subject to the same income limits; (b) exempting a proportion of the widow's pension from tax, as was decided by Parliament in respect of war widows; (c) granting additional relief to widows who work in a similar way to the treatment afforded to married women even though their husbands receive higher personal allowance. These suggestions were made by the National Association for Widows and the Parliamentary Committee for Widows and One Parent Families. The National Association for Widows not only pursues the cause of widows, so well championed today by my noble friend Lady Macleod; it also provides an advisory service which has been of inestimable help to many thousands of widows.

I would ask your Lordships to imagine for a moment or two the position of a woman who has just lost her husband. Let us assume that she has, in the normal way, never had anything to do with the family finances, taxation, et cetera, apart from doing her best with her housekeeping allowance. She is suddenly alone with a numbing sense of loss. She may have friends to help her, or she may not. She knows that there are a great many things to be done, but where to start? If she knows about the National Association for Widows she will he wise to obtain the green handbook which my noble friend has shown the House. Here she will read what to do immediately—obtaining the death certificate; registering the death; making the funeral arrangements; applying for a death grant; claiming widow's allowance, and perhaps supplementary benefit; possibly applying for rent and rate rebates, and so on. The handbook explains how to do all these things.

Next comes the situation after the funeral. Simple information is given about wills, probate and intestacy, and the various widows' and other social security benefits are explained. This is very helpful, but it is pretty complicated to anybody who has given no previous study to the subject, as I have discovered over the last few days. Included is information on the widow's allowance; widow's pension; child benefit; sickness and unemployment benefit; family incomes supplement; maternity allowance; maternity grant, and much else. And this is when the Widows' Advisory Service is so welcome. She will be able to visit one of the 67 branches in the country where she can learn to which benefits she is entitled. Thus, widows have formed their own national association and I have a feeling that they will continue to press for better treatment from Government, and this is not the last time we shall be debating this subject.

The problems need careful consideration and I think that what we have been told already about the treatment in Germany—and I believe to a lesser extent in France—provides at any rate prima facie support for the widows' arguments. No doubt the Government are aware of the position in other countries, and if it is a fact that they are treated better there than they are here, now that we are a Member of the EEC perhaps this is a sphere in which there could be some harmonisation.

More should be done to help widows and I hope something will be done. I realise that social benefits have to be paid for out of taxation and that a limit is imposed by the sluggishness of our economy. I hope, however, that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will make it clear that the Government are fully alive to the problems of widows, that they have not been forgotten and that they can look forward to some amelioration in the future.

5.2. p.m.

The Lord Bishop of DERBY

My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, for raising this matter, I must apologise to her and the House for being late; I was caught out by the shortness of the last debate. My experience of pastoral work as a clergyman and a bishop suggests to me that in this matter there are two particular areas of need, one personal and the other financial, and that they are closely linked together. On the personal level, there are many essential things at a time of bereavement which need to be done by relatives, friends and the community. Shock and grief are present and there is a need to express bereavement, yet society at the present time is not particularly helpful over that; it tends to say, "Conceal your bereavement", and many widows and others who are bereaved are often forced into an unnatural position of being unable to express their bereavement naturally.

The time varies in this respect, but a return to social life is particularly necessary. Here again, there are problems with our present society and the churches are partly at fault. We stress so much the family as the natural unit that those who do not fit into the family are easily left out, and this happens a great deal to widows. To begin with, they were related to others and now they seem to be cut off from others. This thinking of human beings just in pairs or in the small families that mostly exist now is a great hindrance to those who face bereavement, and particularly to widows.

There are different groups who come to my notice, first women at work with arrangements already made for their children. Comparatively speaking, things are easier for them than for some others. Secondly, there are the older women without possibilities of work; perhaps their husbands retired and they themselves have retired from such work as they may have had. In this situation, others need to give the greatest possible encouragement to the widows to be active, to be involved in life. As one of them said to me recently, "We need the companionship of men, women and children. We need to be encouraged to use our own initiative, to accept and give invitations". Doing this is easier in rural than in urban communities, but always there is the question: How can life be shared with others when financial resources are very restricted indeed? Here is a particular part of the problem of older widows.

Then there is a third group, women with dependent children who cannot, unaided, get themselves to work, and this is where they need real help. It has been suggested to me that the most essential thing is that women in this situation should find or be given work to do because this is the way in which their morale is restored, the way in which they recover a personal identity which previously has been so much bound up with the identity of their husbands. Often they need work to gain a fresh self-approval and confidence, and often they need work to bring the world outside into the home; if they are tied to the home, so many opportunities of recovering from loneliness and distress are removed

This can be achieved only by going back to work or training for new work. This demands a change in the outlook of society which is prepared to accept the fact that widows in this situation need the opportunities of work and the opportunities of training or retraining. But this also demands Government help because so many of them are without the resources they need to do the training, and indeed to go out to work at all. The principle of this has been accepted by successive Prime Ministers and leaders of other Parties in this country who have enhanced the dignity and usefulness of this House, and at the same time given a new role and new work to widows of public figures, by inviting some of them to accept Life Peerages. This has given a new opportunity to many and we and others have benefited from it, and this expresses a principle which needs to be put into operation much more widely.

How are widows with dependent children to be put in the position of going back to work or being trained? In many instances this will be possible only if there is a grant for a housekeeper to be employed, and this plea has come very strongly to me. If retraining is to be done, it needs to be done in the area where the widow and her family live. Long journeys can impose a great strain on them and their children, and while local authorities have discretion over the giving of training grants, along with the widowed mother's allowance which is given, in some instances there seem to be on the part of local authorities very serious restrictions on this. It is almost as though the widowed mother's allowance is treated as a disqualification for the receiving of a grant for training.

A point which may have been mentioned already is that the threshold of tax for widows, particularly those with families, should be nearer to that of a married man than to a single person. The present position has been described to me as being very wrong indeed. There is a sense of grievance among some widows that so often their benefits are subject to tax. This may be strictly fair in a fiscal sense, but one must remember that most widows have enjoyed a standard of living attained through their husband's earnings and in a sense a widow's benefit is given to replace something of a husband's earning capacity.

Similarly, a widow does not profit by an increase in child benefit because her widow's benefit is reduced accordingly. Of the 96,000 widows who receive a widowed mother's allowance, some 18,000 widows with dependent children receive a reduced benefit because their late husbands had not paid sufficient contributions, while 6,000 receive no widows' benefit at all but receive supplementary benefit. There is, therefore, a case for making widows' benefit a noncontributory right to ease these cases when hardship may well be suffered. One point in this connection which has caused a lot of pain is that many widows have only discovered later that their first 26 weeks of widow's allowance is subject to tax. I am asked whether it would be possible for Post Office books to be stamped to this effect.

Here of course we come across the great problem of communication of information which vexes so many of us for a great part of the time. I know something of the efforts that this Government, like their predecessors, have made to spread information through clergymen—information of value to people in society who are open to receive allowances of one kind and another. I wonder whether the Government could do more to spread information more freely to widows through the various voluntary organisations that exist.

The noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ash-bourne, made reference to the imparting of knowledge about various allowances and to the various financial responsibilities that come to widows so severely on bereavement. There is literature, but one problem is that there are so many people who do not read even pamphlets, and their opportunities and rights need to be interpreted to them in other ways. This is something which cannot be done by Government alone. It is something in which we are all involved, and there is a need that, somehow, through our society, we should create a much greater awareness of widows' needs and problems and set ourselves individually, and through the various organisations to which we belong, to give the kind of information and the kind of counselling which are needed. This brings me back to the point at which I began: the personal and the financial needs go closely together. The Government can help so far, but they cannot by any means do all that is required. Here is something for our society as a whole; something which, as a community, we should grasp.

5.13 p.m.

The Marquess of TWEEDDALE

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness for allowing me to take part in the debate, and to thank your Lordships for listening to it with your customary sympathy and attention. The noble Baroness must, by sheer misfortune, be the most suitable person in this House to speak on this subject. She has suffered the tragical double misfortune, of being widowed twice, once during the war, and a second time on the death of her brilliant husband, whom we all admired.

When a woman is suddenly widowed a stigma is placed on her. In addition to this, she is most likely to be at her weakest and less able to cope with any day-to-day situation. That is why I feel that the whole machinery for widows' pensions, whether they be Service or civilian, should be thoroughly re-examined and clarified, and a serious attempt should be made to iron out certain anomalies which appear to be biased against, if not totally unfair to, a widow.

On the death of her husband, when the widow is in a state of distress and shock, she has to apply for, or go and obtain, the following forms, and leaflets, if she is to receive her full entitlements to benefits. Some of the forms and leaflets overlap, and some have financial variations. They are as follows: CHIB, FB1, NI.13, NI.51, NI.146, NI.196, NP.30, NP.31 and NP.34. These are nine in number, and I have been told that there are a further four, which I have not been able to obtain. How on earth a bereaved woman is expected to understand the phraseology of even one of these pamphlets is beyond me, and yet apparently she is expected to read through, and comprehend, no less, and probably more than, 13. My Lords, is this fair? I think that it makes out a very good case for what was mentioned by my noble friend; namely, the handbook for widows, which has been printed by the National Association for Widows and which apparently takes in nearly all these subjects.

Other major points which would appear to be unfair are as follows. Very few, if any, women can expect to be in a normal state of efficiency after the death of their husbands, yet it is categorically stated in leaflet NI.13, clause 8, paragraph 1, that the widow may lose her benefit if she does not claim within three months after her husband's death. I am sure that your Lordships' House would be interested to know how often this harsh treatment has been meted out. Clause 10, on the same page, emphasises that the standard rate of widow's benefits are payable only if the late husband had fully satisfied the contribution conditions. Why should the widow be held responsible for what her late husband did or did not do? In other words, the widow's pension appears to depend upon her late husband's National Insurance contributions, and her own contributions carry no weight at all.

One also wonders whether, if a woman is divorced or her marriage is annulled through no fault of her own, it is just that, should her previous husband die almost immediately she is not entitled to any benefit at all. It also seems to me to be unfair that the entire scale of the widow's benefit is originally based on the husband's National Insurance contributions, and on the age at which he dies. For example, if he dies at the age of 50, or over, and has fully contributed to National Insurance, the widow will receive 100 per cent. of her weekly pension. If, however, he dies at the age of 40, she will receive only 30 per cent. These percentages are drastically reduced if her husband has not paid full National Health contributions. This information is contained in pamphlet NI.13, and there is further information on this on page 3, Schedule 1.

We now come to the one-parent families, of which widows must form a fairly substantial part. Leaflet CHIB—that is, on child interim benefit—lays out how to apply for assistance. This is where it becomes extremely hard on the widow to decide which is the better course. She can claim for the child benefit through form CH.501, or she can stick to her widow's allowance, as stated on the same form at clause 2, paragraph 2(b). She cannot have both.

Another anomaly which I fail to understand—and I am unable to find in any of these documents an answer that may clarify the situation—is the fact that a widow loses her pension if she is found to be living with a man as his wife. Your Lordships' House is not a court of morals, but it sounds completely contradictory if, as I understand it, this situation does not apply to the single woman who is drawing benefits for a single-parent family. Why is there this discrimination against the widow? Leaflet CHIB is the one relating to this situation.

Lastly, but of no less importance, is the situation of Service widows. The same dreadful mental situation affects them as much as, if not more than, the civilian widow, as their widowhood might be more brutal and sudden. They are immediately hurled into the humiliating experience of almost having to grovel for pensions and supplementary benefits, and, like their civilian sisters, are too dazed to understand or appreciate these unnecessarily complicated pamphlets. Their treatment is in many cases doubly insulting. Not only have, their husbands been killed fighting for the Establishment, but they then have to go begging back to the same people. Like her civilian counterpart, the Serviceman's wife is used to her husband taking charge of the finances and the paperwork. I should like to add, too, that I was informed over the weekend that in Germany, regarding rank for rank, the Service widow's pension is very nearly four times what it is in this country. I have not had that confirmed in writing, but was merely told verbally.

However, thanks to the work of the Officers' Association in the year 1946, there has been some improvement and a little more compassion. A Service widow no longer has to write every six months about her pension starting with,"I beg to be allowed". I think it is an excellent thing that that habit has been stopped. What could be of great benefit to the Service widows in particular and to the civilian widows in general would be if the adjustments to the pensions and benefits were back-dated and not promised for the future, as is the present practice.

There is, however, yet another disadvantage to some widows. There are some widows who have managed to save up and who have a small amount of private money. With the new pension adjustments they find, so I am told, that because they go into a different tax bracket they are now slightly worse off than they were before. Some widows are so badly off that even a matter of two or three weeks can make a substantial difference to their comfort and wellbeing.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my gratitude to my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve for giving us the chance this afternoon to consider the problems of widows. As she herself stressed in her opening speech, it is an important subject, and she brought that home to us by telling us that the group we are discussing today is 3 million strong. Much has already been done, both at Westminster and in local communities, not only to ensure that the sudden and often unexpected reduction in the widow's living standards on the death of her husband is mitigated, but also to help her to continue to take her full part in the life of the community. They are what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby described as the personal and the financial elements. On the financial side, it must also be acknowledged that the recent Budget has given a welcome increase in the widow's pension; and it is well appreciated, I think, that one of the greatest causes of anxiety to widows centres on the amount of spendable income they receive and the purchasing power of their income.

On the personal side, also, a great deal has been done in local communities. I am going to give only one example, but I think it is a good one. It is the scheme initiated by the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, the WRVS, called Meals-on-Wheels, by which the elderly widow living by herself is enabled to have a regular hot meal she might otherwise not be able to provide; and, of course, there are many other similar schemes in the community to deal with the personal element. Now it must be acknowledged that, in spite of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which aimed to minimise the differences between the rights and privileges of the sexes, it is still the case, and is unlikely to change, that the standard of living of a married woman is firmly linked to the skill and hard work of her husband, and to his success at this trade or profession. But—and this is the point I want to make—this link is again further emphasised in the pension which his widow receives when he dies.

However, not all the problems of widows are financial. Many are what I would call administrative, and many are social. I should like to say that a widow suddenly finds herself having to cope with matters which she barely understands and with which her husband has always dealt; and this has been referred to by a number of speakers already. Rather surprisingly, Lady Macleod mentioned house maintenance, which I am inclined to think belongs to another department, at least in my household. Also, there are the problems of dealing with the Department of Health and Social Security. Certainly the first time you do it, if you do not know your way around, it is a rather alarming experience; as are, perhaps, even the problems of claiming a TV licence or of insuring the car, although it is quite likely that these two last luxuries may have to go on widowhood.

I should like to give three examples of what I mean. One is an administrative example; one is an example in which I recommend a tax concession; and one is an example requiring a pension increase, albeit to a very few and, at that, the most elderly. Your Lordships will understand if at least two of my three examples are concerned with war widows and Service widows, because my connection with ex-Service organisations gives me more chance to draw examples from this quarter, although I think they are exactly paralleled by their civilian counterparts. Indeed, one of them, I think, is an exact parallel. My first example concerns the case of a woman widowed while her husband is still serving in the Armed Forces. Let us say, for this example, that this couple have been constantly moving from station to station, both in this country and overseas, since they got married. Let us say, too, that they have two young children. They have no home of their own, and at the moment they are in married quarters in the South of England, let us say, remote from botn his and her parents' home. He dies suddenly and unexpectedly.

The Services are as generous and sympathetic as they can be in this situation, but the married quarter provided by the Defence funds is urgently needed by other married families on that station; and, of course, inevitably, there is a waiting list. Now the widow will not be covered by the Rent Act 1977, although I must say that that Act itself produced as many problems as it solved. She will be allowed to remain in the married quarter for a reasonable time, but eventually she will have to go. Not only will she find herself, at that moment of her loneliness, cut off from the very close-knit. Service community in which she has lived during her married life, but she will have to start searching for a home.

Although there are notable exceptions—and I am certainly not saying it is general—it is well-known that most local authorities are reluctant to add a Service widow to their housing list. They do not turn her down because she is a widow, but they have rules of residence and employment within the area before housing can be considered, and these provide a very serious problem and mitigate against her at the time she needs help most. This is just one example of what I mean by the need for understanding and consideration by officials and authorities who have to play a part in our daily lives. I should add that, if the married quarter had been abroad, of course, her problems would have been even greater.

My second example has been well covered by my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve. It is the need for a widow's earned income allowance. If you take the case of a widow working alongside a married colleague, she is made to realise at once that her married colleague also has the benefit of her husband's pay packet and tax allowances which are not available to her. In the case of the married couple, we know he gets his married personal tax allowance and his wife, if she is working, gets the earned income allowance. The widow gets a personal tax allowance, but I am proposing that she should also get a widow's earned income allowance, thus equating the two situations more fairly.

My third example proposes a more generous pension rate for the most senior widows. By "most senior widows", I mean those who have been widowed the longest. Service and war widows' pensions are a jungle of incomprehensible anomalies, and pensions are based not only on the rank and length of service of the husband (as in the case of all occupational pensions) but also regulated by a series of cut-off dates which are applied by the date on which the husband died.

At the Second Reading in June last year of the pensions Bill introduced by my noble friend Lady Vickers, which has been referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Grey, in his speech this afternoon, I proposed that we should start now moving towards parity. I suggest that as a first step we should level forward the pensions of the most senior war widows; that is, those widowed in the 19 I 4-18 War and during the 1920s, so that as a first step parity is achieved at, let us say, the 1929 level. In that Second Reading debate, the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, was good enough to acknowledge that my proposal to achieve retrospection by, as he called it, "jogging forward rather than jogging backward", was an important point and one that should be considered. The point that I want to stress now is that nobody should look with envy if the more elderly, more senior widows are treated with a measure of generosity. I hope that the Government can consider my scheme of levelling pensions forward from the past until a degree of equality is reached.

Finally, my Lords, there is considerable anxiety that the word "war" has recently been removed from the cover of the pension books. War widows are immensely proud of that title. There is a special anxiety in the War Widow's Association of Great Britain, which is a strong association and which watches the interests of war widows. There is also some anxiety that this step of deleting the word "war" from their pension books may become the thin end of the wedge to abolish war preference. In a debate in your Lordships' House, I once described the war preference element of a war widow's pension as a memorial to her husband for his sacrifice for our country at a time of need. And that is what it is. I hope that the noble Lord who is going to reply can tell us whether it was an act of policy or of omission that the word "war" has been removed from these pension books.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome for two reasons this opportunity of being able to reply to noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. One is that I should like to make it perfectly clear that, when a Government are responsible—regardless of the Party responsible for the Government—for fixing pension rates over a very wide area covering a number of quite separate groups I think it is almost impossible to be able to do this in an acceptable way to all the groups concerned.

I think that our pension schemes must, of necessity, be like a ready-made suit. It fits (if you like) where it touches and does not look too had when it is on. I doubt very much whether it can ever be a made-to-measure garment that will measure up adequately and properly to every group in the community. I also welcome this opportunity because, if I may say so, I rather got the idea that perhaps some noble Lords were not really aware of what is happening so far as widows are concerned at the present time.

Since the beginning of the present National Insurance scheme, successive Governments—and I mean successive Governments—have recognised the special problems of widowhood; and the present Government, as I think everybody will concede, have given very special consideration to those problems since 1974. There is a limit to the kind of help that a State scheme can give to the widow, faced as she is with all the difficulties of adjusting to a new way of life, as was spelled out very clearly by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart. The benefits provided by the National Insurance scheme are specifically designed to recognise these difficulties and to help widows of different ages and in different circumstances. The benefits paid to widows include the widows' allowance. Let me say that this is an allowance of £24.50 per week for the first 26 weeks to help them face the added expense, the added difficulties and the amount of money which one has to spend to meet that. The noble Baroness shakes her head. I do not know why she does so.


My Lords, I was shaking my head only because it is all fully taxed. If it were untaxed, it would be of more help.


My Lords, is it not better than the £17.50 that she gets at the end of the 26 weeks? Is not £24.50 a recognition of the extra money that she needs? I will come to taxation in a moment. I think that the noble Baroness ought to look at the picture as a whole and recognise that a good deal is being done for widows at the present time—which, as I say, is intended as a resettlement benefit in the early days of widowhood and the widowed mothers' allowance which compensates a widow with young children for her inability to go out to work.

Then there is a pension payable on a sliding scale to the woman without dependent children who is aged between 40 and 50 when her husband dies or her children have grown up. The noble Marquess, Lord Tweeddale, was in error. I may have misunderstood him. If I did so, I apologise. I understood him to say that when a husband dies under the age of 40, his widow gets nothing at all. I think that the noble Marquess has confused the positions of the husband and the widow.

If a widow is under 40 when her husband dies, it is perfectly true that she does not get a widow's pension because it is assumed, rightly or wrongly—and this has been the assumption of successive Governments since 1945—that she is more able to follow her previous occupation or to get a job than if she is over 40. If she is over 40-41 years of age to be precise—when her husband dies, it is true that she gets only 30 per cent. of the widows' pension, but it is her age when the husband dies and not the husband's age which counts. I think the noble Marquess got it the wrong way round. I think he wanted to say something and I gladly give way.

The Marquess of TWEEDDALE

My Lords, the noble Lord has explained it.


My Lords, because we realise the pariicular difficulties and anxiety which widows have to face, procedures are designed to give priority to claims for widows' benefits and to cut out as many complications as possible. Again, I think it was the noble Marquess who said that a widow would be required to fill in something like 13 forms. This is not so. There are different forms for different circumstances and different ages, and not all of those forms have to he filled in.

The Marquess of TWEEDDALE

My Lords, she has to read through 13 forms if she wants to acquire the full benefit she is entitled to—not to fill in 13 forms.


My Lords, there is no need for her to read a single form. When a wife becomes a widow all she need do is to go to her local DHSS office and say, "I am widowed and I wish to make an application for my widows' pension". They will advise her, guide her and select the appropriate form or forms and help her to fill them in. There is a DHSS office fairly accessible to most people. Failing that there are two widows' organisations; failing that, there are the CABs and there is no reason why she should feel at a great disadvantage in the sense that she does not know how to do it.

Since this Government came into office in 1974, widows' benefits along with other National Insurance benefits and supplementary benefits have increased five times. The most recent increase was last November. The effect of these increases is that, since October 1973, when the previous Government last raised benefits, widows' benefits have more than doubled in cash terms. The widows' allowance has increased from £10.85 in October 1973 to £24.50: the widowed mothers' allowance for a widow with one child has gone up from £11.55 to £23.60, £25.90 including child benefit. The widows' pension paid to a woman who is over 50 when her widowed mothers' allowance ends has increased from £7.75 in 1973 to £17.50. Increases on the same scale have been made in each of the rates of pension payable on a sliding scale to widows without dependent children who are between 40 and 50 years of age when they were widowed or when their children grew up. Even allowing for the great increases in prices, the actual purchasing power of a widow's pension is now some 14 per cent. higher than when the Government took office. It has been said—or it has been implied—that very little is being done for the widow. I wonder how many other pensions that we pay, in cash terms, in actual purchasing power, are 14 per cent. higher than when the Government took office.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Cullen, who was critical. I hope he is listening; I am making criticisms of the noble Lord and I should like him to hear what I say rather than read it. I think the noble Lord, Lord Cullen, was a bit sceptical about what the Government were doing for widows. But one of the first things that this Government did when they came in in 1964—I know it is ancient history—was to abolish for all widows the earnings rule. Nobody else has had the earnings rule abolished for them. Everybody else who is in receipt of a pension. a retirement pension, has a clawback if they earn, as from this coming November, more than £45 a week. But for 13, nearly 14 years, the earnings rule in relation to widows has been abolished.

As evidence of the Government's concern to protect the most vulnerable sections of our community from the ravages of inflation, we can point to the massive increase in public spending on pensions and other benefits in the last four years, amounting to something like £1,000 million in real terms. The noble Lord, Lord Cullen, said it may well be that we are going too far in one direction and not far enough in the other, and he instanced the two directions in which he felt we may be going too far and paying too much. He mentioned the physically handicapped. The physically handicapped would not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cullen. They would say, "The Government are not doing enough for us". But then every group in the community is complaining that the Government are not doing enough. It really is a very difficult task to think out a system of pensions and benefits that is going to be acceptable to every group.

Since October 1973—I am sorry to go on mentioning 1973 but the noble Lord, Lord Cullen, and others are so anxious to take the beam out of my eye and now I want to take the beam out of theirs—widows' benefits have gone up by 125.8 per cent., while average earnings have risen by only 85 per cent. Now think of that. The pensions have risen almost 50 per cent. more than average earnings, and it has been our deliberate policy to keep public spending cuts away from the social security area. We are determined to go on protecting the interests of widows, which is why we have amended the law so that their pensions as well as retirement pensions and other long-term benefits are increased in line with net earnings or prices, whichever is the more beneficial to them.

I want to say a word about the new pension scheme. While we have been protecting the interests of widows in the present situation, we have also been considering how their position can be improved in the future. Under the new pension scheme which began in April 1978—namely, this month—employed people will be able to build up rights to earnings-related pensions over the following 20 years.

This new scheme will bring many improvements for widows. In the first place, women widowed over 50 and widowed mothers will be able to inherit the whole of any rights to the new earnings-related pension which their husbands have built up. For the widow whose husband had average earnings of about £75 a week, this will mean, in current values, about an extra 75p a week for each year her husband had contributed to the new scheme. This means that, after the full 20 years' contribution to the scheme, this would come to about an extra £15 a week. Then there is the woman who is widowed between 40 and 50 or whose widowed mothers' allowance ends between 40 and 50. At present she receives a proportion of the full widow's pension depending on her age when her husband died or when her children grew up. Under the new scheme, she will also receive a proportion of the full amount of the new earnings-related pension.

Then, when a widow reaches 60 and retires, there is a new provision to allow her to combine the widow's pension on her husband's contributions with any retirement pension she has earned by paying contributions herself up to the maximum that one person could have earned by paying contributions. If I may give an example, it is this: if her husband earned about £75 a week and she earned £30 a week, she could qualify, when she retired, for the additional pension related to both sets of earnings for each year that they both contributed to the new scheme. At present, if a widow has more than one entitlement, she can receive only the most favourable. Under the new pension scheme, she will get the benefit of £105 a week which they earned jointly.


I wonder whether I may interrupt. I hope that people listening to the noble Lord—and I am listening very sincerely to him—realise that this is not coming about for 20 years, and for some people that is a long time to wait.


My Lords, I thought that I had given your Lordships abundant evidence that over the past 20 years Governments—particularly this Government—have considerably improved the pensions of widows. I agree that a lot of this is probably long-term; but the fact is that this is a progression going from the point that we have reached now to a point in the future, indicating that widows have not been forgotten. On the contrary, very adequate provision is being made for them.

Another new provision which will help the younger widow is this: If she cannot go out to work because of the responsibilities at home, such as bringing up children or caring for a sick relative, her basic pension rights can be protected. It means that for all the years that she has been looking after children or a sick relative, these will give her some credit towards—shall I say?—an enhanced widow's pension, provided of course that she, at some stage or other, either before she did this or after the children had grown up, has a number of years of insured contributions in her own right.

I should like to try to answer some of the questions which have been put to me. The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, said that a number—I thought she said 70 per cent., but I may be wrong —of widows have a standard of living below supplementary benefit level. If she said 70 per cent., then that staggers me. The point I want to make is not whether it is that percentage but that there is nothing to prevent—in fact there is everything to encourage—widows, as well as other members in the community, from applying for supplementary benefit.

The noble Baroness also referred to a widow living with a man. Another noble Lord accused the Government, and my Department in particular, of making a moral judgment. This is just not so. Widow's benefit is not payable for any period during which a widow is living with a man as his wife. The purpose of this provision is not to make a moral judgment but simply to ensure that a widow in these circumstances is not at any advantage over the widow who remarries and who, as a consequence, ceases to be entitled to a widow's benefit. One cannot have it both ways.

It seems to me to be perfectly reasonable in the circumstances that when a widow is living with a man, as husband and wife, she cannot really be regarded as a widow in the sense whereby she can go on drawing that benefit. It puts her at an advantage over other women who are not doing so. If she ceases to live with the man, that is another matter entirely. The matter of a full-time Government sponsored training course was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, and certainly by the noble Baroness. The position in law is this: A widow who takes one of these courses can forfeit her National Insurance widow's pension and rely on training allowances if she prefers to do so; or she can keep her pension and allowance for children and get the abated training allowance.

If a widow takes the second of these options, she will receive first her personal widowed mother's allowance at the current weekly rate of £17.50, secondly, an abated training allowance of £8.20—the balance needed to bring her benefit up to the standard personal rate of training allowance; namely, £25.70. So it does mean that there is nothing to prevent her from applying for and undertaking a full-time Government sponsored training course; but she does not get the £25.70. She only gets £25.70 after it has been made up by the addition of £8.20 abated training allowance. Furthermore, the National Insurance allowances for her dependant children at the higher rate of £8.40, including normal benefit, continue. Those children's allowances normally paid for training allowances are at the lower rate of £4.50, including child benefit.

The point was made also about overlapping benefits. The restriction on a widow receiving both her widow's pension and the full amount of the training allowances stems from a long-established overlapping benefits principle which does right throughout our social security scheme. It would not be fair to make an exception for widows, because it is a long-established principle—and, as I say, goes right throughout our social security scheme—that a person who qualifies for two or more benefits provided for his or her maintenance at the same time, cannot have them both. Thus a widow who becomes unemployed cannot receive unemployment benefit in addition to her widow's pension, since she is already receiving through her pension a maintenance allowance of the kind which unemployment benefit is intended to provide. The same argument applies to the training allowance and also to a whole range of benefits.

The noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, and others raised the question of widows' tax as single persons. Our tax system has to apply to many millions of people and it is impracticable to attempt to reflect in detail personal circumstances or expenses. The system therefore tries to distinguish between people's ability to pay according to certain broad categories of family responsibility. This is the basis of the structure of personal allowances The personal allowances are fixed amounts and do not pretend to cover the actual living costs of those for whom they are given. It would not be feasible to do so, but they do provide some general measure of how much tax a person should pay in relation to his family and other commitments. This is why there is a single person's allowance, a married man's allowance and allowances for children and certain other dependants. Under this system, a widow is given a single person's allowance, like a widower, like a separated or divorced person or someone who has never married. There is nothing unfair to widows in this. After all, many divorced or unmarried people often have equally heavy living costs, their own homes to maintain or lodgings to pay for. To single out one group of single people for a special tax allowance could well be seen as unfair to others. Not only would it be wrong in principle, but it would give rise to considerable difficulties among other groups.

The only other matters I need deal with are those which were raised by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart. What I want to do is to read very carefully in Hansard what he has said. I shall consult my colleagues on these matters and, if there is anything I can say that is likely to be helpful, I shall write to him and let him know. But I want to make the point that the Government are not unmindful of the needs not only of widows but of all sections of the community, and of necessity must try to maintain a balance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, mentioned the need for a good deal of information and help. We in the Department are alive to the quite magnificent effort which the organisation known as Cruse is making at the present time. We know that the National Association for Widows is also wanting to do something similar, though perhaps in a different field; and may I say that the Association has published a marvellously informative booklet. The noble Baroness said she hoped that the Government would make them a grant. The Voluntary Services Unit at the Home Office did make a grant to the National Association for Widows for two years. Whether it will be possible for the Government to make a further grant through my own Department, I cannot say at this stage. However, I think I must say that, while we recognise—the right reverend Prelate drew our attention to this—that there is a growing need for help in the community that in many ways can best be done by voluntary organisations, they must remember that they are voluntary organisations. The whole point, purpose and principle behind a voluntary organisation is that they themselves find the money to do the work that they want to do.

It is perfectly true that Governments make grants, but I do not think any organisation that suddenly springs up because it sees the need to do something should automatically expect that a Government Department is going to provide all the money for it. I would say, rather facetiously, to the noble Baroness, who reminded us on more than one occasion that there are 3 million widows in the country, that if she could get 5p a year for each of them she would get £150,000, and she would have more money than she would know what to do with. What I am saying is that voluntary organisations must realise that they themselves must raise a good deal of the money they want, because I do not think it would be reasonable to expect a Government Department to maintain, either wholly or mainly, the voluntary organisations in this country. What is more, I am sure the voluntary organisations would not want to be under such an obligation to a Government Department.

6.4 p.m.


My Lords, it comes to me to thank everybody who has taken the trouble to be present at this debate this afternoon and also to thank those who have spoken. I am not worried, but I am amazed, that I am the only woman taking part in a debate on the problems of widows. I had hoped for more help from my female colleagues in this House, but I feel that perhaps most of them were not able to he here. So I am all the more grateful to those noble Lords who have taken the trouble to be here, and should like to thank them for their sympathy and for their understanding—except perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, to whom I will come in a moment—for their encouragement, and certainly for the fact that they have taken the trouble to learn about the problems of the 3 million widows in this country.

I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Grey, and to the noble Lord, Lord Cullen, who in a few minutes both gave us more knowledge of the problems of taxation than certainly I knew before. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate, who was not able to be here at the beginning but who gave us a great deal to think about. I should also like to thank the noble Marquess, Lord Tweed-dale. He mentioned the Sex Discrimination Act and the fact that it has not worked at all to the advantage of widows; and I agree completely with him. The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, has always known a very great deal about the Services and he drew our attention to the problems of widows there.

In winding up, the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, said that with 3 million widows, of course, we should be able to help each other ourselves; but I believe another noble Lord also said that it costs money not only perhaps to get to a meeting but to pick up the telephone and talk to people. This all costs a great deal of money. As the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, knows very well, the National Association for Widows has been helped for two years to produce this book. I and other members of the Association are most grateful for the complimentary remarks that he made about the book. I know they will go a long way to encourage us to help others in the future.

His remarks about financing perhaps will not be received quite so happily as his other remarks, because we see this as a social need and a social service that can be equated with many of the other social services that his Department deals with so adequately. I am sure we shall have long discussions in the future about that aspect, and I hope that he will perhaps give us a more hopeful answer when we talk outside this Chamber. But I am grateful to him for the understanding that he has given to this debate. He is known in this House as one of the most understanding of all the Ministers, and I am grateful to him. I am, as I said also deeply grateful to all the speakers—all of them male—who have taken the trouble to talk about widows today. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.