Clause 2. — (Widows' Benefit.)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1951.

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Photo of Mr Gilbert Longden Mr Gilbert Longden , South West Hertfordshire 12:00 am, 9th May 1951

I beg to move, in page 2, line 39, to leave out subsection (1), and to insert: (1) Paragraphs 5 and 6 of Part I of the Second Schedule to the principal Act (which specify the weekly rates for a widow's allowance and a widowed mother's allowance respectively) shall be amended as from the appointed day by substituting for the entries of thirty-six shillings and thirty-three shillings and sixpence respectively in the second column thereof entries of forty shillings.

expenditure this year. Is she still proposing to add 4d. to the contributions of the employers and workers in October? I can see very little justification for that and I would ask that that matter be now reconsidered. If I am alone in thinking this to be a most shameless breach of contract, at least the Government should consider whether they will demand the extra contribution in October from employers and workers. I believe that the foundation for that demand no longer exists, and I hope that this matter will receive reconsideration.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 2, line 23, leave out "paragraph (a) of."

In page 2, line 26, leave out subsection (2), and insert: (2) For Part V of the First Schedule to the principal Act (which sets out the amounts of the Exchequer supplement) there shall be substituted, as from the said first day of October, the following Part:

The effect of the subsection as it now stands is to increase the widowed mothers' allowance as from the appointed day from 33s. 6d. to 40s. The effect of my Amendment would be not only to make that increase, but to increase the widows' allowance from 36s. which it now is, to the same figure of 40s. As hon. Members know, the widows' allowance is paid to a widow for the first 13 weeks of her widowhood and it seems to me anomalous that during that earlier period of widowhood the widow should benefit only to the extent of 36s. and not 40s. The Minister may have a good explanation for that, and if so I would ask her to give it. If not, then I would ask her to accept the Amendment.

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

The hon. Gentleman has been commendably brief, and I hope he has set an example to the Committee for the rest of the day. I feel that he has not read the Bill properly, because I have gone nearly all the way to meet him in what he asks. All of us have the interests of certain beneficiaries at heart and he has the interest of the widows at heart. On Second Reading I said very clearly that I had to choose certain categories, because our resources are limited, and as this is an interim scheme I felt the resources should be directed to certain categories.

The hon. Member may recall that I said that in my opinion widows, particularly widows with children, have a very difficult time. I therefore considered very carefully all the widows' allowances, that is the allowance to widowed mothers and the allowance to widows—the one particular allowance to which the hon. Member has referred—and their other pensions. I came to the conclusion that the best thing to do would be to increase the widowed mothers' allowance and the children's allowance.

The hon. Member has directed his attention to the widows' allowance which a widow receives for the first 13 weeks after her husband has died. That is a very important allowance, because during that time she is readjusting herself. Of course that allowance covers widows without children and widows with children. So, if I increase that allowance, at the same time I would be increasing the allowance to widows without children, who so far have been excluded from this provision. So what I did for that category was to increase the children's allowance so that that widows' allowance would increase at least by the amount of the increased children's allowance. The hon. Gentleman asks me to increase the widowed mothers' allowance from 33s. 6d. to 40s. I have done precisely what he asks, and it is in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Longden Mr Gilbert Longden , South West Hertfordshire

I merely re-worded the whole Clause, because I thought it was a simpler way of expressing it. What I am referring to is the widows' allowance.

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

If the object of the hon. Gentleman was to help with the drafting of the Clause, it is very difficult for me to interpret that from his Amendment. I thought he wanted me to increase this amount and that that was his object. Apparently he wished to help me and I would like to thank him. But if he will consider these figures a little more carefully he will realise that I have gone a great deal of the way to meet him.

Photo of Mr Richard Fort Mr Richard Fort , Clitheroe

Would the hon. Lady give us some idea what sum of money would be involved in carrying out the proposal of my hon. Friend? We should then feel a little more satisfied about her objection to it than we can from the rather general terms in which she has so far expressed herself.

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

I feel that if the hon. Gentleman was so interested in the drafting of the matter, he would have asked my Department for that figure, if it would have strengthened his case.

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Mrs Eirene White Mrs Eirene White , Flintshire East

I beg to move, in page 3, line 20, to leave out: a widowed mother's allowance or. I move this Amendment to increase the earnings allowance of a widowed mother from 40s. to 60s. a week, because it seems to me that a woman with the responsibility for bringing up children is in quite a different category from the other classes of persons subjected to an earnings limit, namely widows without children, or persons who have reached retirement age. I think we all recognise that it is in the national interest that widows without children and elderly persons wherever possible, should continue in full-time employment, and that insurance benefits should not be used to subsidise wages or to encourage part-time work when full-time work is possible.

4.30 p.m.

The widowed mother with children to look after is in a quite different position, and the public interest is different. We do not wish to encourage her necessarily to take full-time employment. She should be encouraged to earn as much as she can in the shortest possible time. No one will pretend that the increases allowed for in this Bill, which we all welcome, mean that we are offering the widowed mother and her family more than a subsistence level of existence. Any mother worth her salt would wish to do her very best for her children if she possibly could, and if some cannot, it is no reason for stopping the rest.

The Bill, unamended, cuts into a mother's earnings at what seems to me to be a peculiarly disadvantageous point. At present wage rates, it is quite easy for any woman of reasonable competence to earn half-a-crown an hour in domestic work, and many households are very glad indeed of her help. That means that she can earn £2 10s. a week by working four hours a day for five days a week, which is not an unreasonable time, if she can make arrangements about her children. A shorthand-typist at present can earn £3 a week in a part-time job and still have reasonable time to devote to her family. What the Bill as it now stands provides is that a woman may earn up to £2 a week and keep her allowances; if she earns more than £3 10s. a week she may keep all she earns beyond that figure, but, in the range between £2 and £3 10s., she loses every shilling she earns.

It does seem to me that the Minister should earnestly consider whether this is not a very unsatisfactory way of dealing with this special problem of the widowed mother with children. I have no doubt at all that the administrative mind likes to have an earnings limit of 40s. for all classes; it is much tidier and easier to remember. But, after all, people are not all the same, and circumstances are different. The public interest in this particular class of person is entirely different from the public interest in the other classes of persons whose earnings are limited.

I am not suggesting for a moment that the earnings limit should be raised for everybody, or that the earnings limit should be entirely abolished. I can see that it has some value, but I do consider that it has been fixed in this Bill at a level which will bring quite unnecessary hardship. I do not know myself, and I do not think that the Department, if I had asked them, could tell me either, how much this concession would cost, because nobody knows how many women would wish to avail themselves of it, but I do not believe that the cost to the Treasury would be very great. I do believe that, if the Minister feels that she can meet this very reasonable request, she will be making an investment in the younger generation which will be very well worth while.

It does not take much imagination for anybody to understand the feelings of a woman who has been left to bring up a young family without the help of her partner, or her feeling that she is frustrated in that task by a policy which is due to a false idea of administrative consistency. I do ask the Minister to consider this proposal sympathetically and to accept the Amendment. I think it is in the best interests of public policy and of the women with children who are concerned in it.

Photo of Mrs Bessie Braddock Mrs Bessie Braddock , Liverpool Exchange

I wish to support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), and to add one or two reasons why I think this concession would be particularly useful, especially in view of the fact that we are in such great difficulty in regard to the hospital and mental hospital services throughout the country.

Although we are not all anxious to send women who have children dependent on them out to work, there is a desperate need at the moment for women with some experience of mentally defective children, who have not actually been trained to nursing, but who could give other services and do little things for mentally defective children and people of that type and thus relieve the pressure on the general nursing staff of which there is such a shortage at the present time. In the area in which I live, there is a big hospital in which there is the greatest difficulty in looking after the patients. We have tried every kind of method to persuade people to go into the hospital service on a part-time basis. We have tried to get hospital orderlies who will be prepared to work six or seven hours a day, and sometimes only four hours a day, and we have tried to get women with experience of children.

One of the reasons why we cannot get them is that the amounts which are laid down in the Bill do not give them the required incentive, from the money point of view, to go into the service. In most of the schools, children get a free meal in the middle of the day, and many of them can remain at school and do not need to go home between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., so that the mother who has children at school is relieved of the responsibility of looking after them between those hours. Those are the hours during which assistance is needed in the hospital service in a part-time capacity, and I am certain that, if this concession could be granted, there would be a tremendous amount of support for it. I have had people come to see me, and others have written to me, who say that, if it was not for this difficulty of having to give up part of their earnings, they would be willing to accept part-time service. They say that it is much better to stay at home and not bother about making any extra money.

If the allowances are not touched in the case of these earnings, I am certain that it will give a tremendous fillip to the recruitment of the people we require in the hospital service. It will be an added incentive to get them to go into that type of work. We are in great difficulties over nursing staff, and our trained nurses are run off their feet in the wards. There are many things which a sensible woman who has been married and left a widow could do in the hospital service which would relieve the trained nurses. There is also the fact that part-time workers are required in industry, and one industry in my area, although many people may criticise it—I refer to the pools industry in Liverpool—is responsible for the employment of about 16,000 people, including widows and married women, both in a part-time and a full-time capacity. I am certain that they have gone into that kind of work more because of the earnings which they may receive, and that this deduction is the reason which prevents their going into the hospital and mental hospital services.

I believe that there are a great many people with experience in looking after the sick or children who would be ideal people to take on this sort of work. The younger people are taken into the nursing service for training, but older people, such as the widow with children, are those whom the hospitals are anxious to recruit. We are having the greatest difficulty, not only in Liverpool, but other places, because earnings are taken into account in this way. If this £3 limit is agreed to—and it is a suggestion which has only been made after very careful consideration—it will assist us in that direction, and will, at the same time, add to the opportunities of widowed mothers to look after their families.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

I only rise to support in a very few brief remarks the two hon. Ladies who have spoken. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to accept this Amendment, because I feel that it is very necessary to encourage widowed mothers to work. In the majority of cases, they have to work to support their families, and the particular bracket between £2 and £3 is, as has been said, a very important one for them.

If I read the Bill aright, there is at present no incentive for a woman to go out to work if she is going to earn over 40s. and less than 70s. a week. That is something which ought to be rectified. Even if the Minister feels unable to accept this particular form of Amendment, perhaps she might consider reducing the reduction, that is to say, instead of reducing the pension by the same amount as that earned by the widowed mother she might consider reducing it by only a proportion of that amount.

Photo of Mrs Eveline Hill Mrs Eveline Hill , Manchester Wythenshawe

I, too, would very much like to support this Amendment, and I hope that the right hon. Lady will be able to accept it. I can confirm from my own experience, as can so many hon. Members in this House, the very real difficulty there is—to use only that service as an example—to get women to work in our hospitals. I am quite sure that if this Amendment were accepted we should all be immensely grateful for the encouragement it would give to those women who are very anxious either to work in our hospitals or to perform other suitable work in industry generally in order to earn that little extra with which to help their families.

Photo of Major Lyall Wilkes Major Lyall Wilkes , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) for moving this Amendment and for inserting in it in concrete terms a suggestion which I made on Second Reading. As I looked at the Bill—my attitude was that it was simply absurd to have the same level of undeducted or untouched earnings in the case of, say, a widowed mother with no children and no responsibilities as in the case of a widowed mother with two or three children. That position seems monstrous. If it is right in the case of the one, it cannot be right in the case of the other, because the needs of the two are entirely different.

The Committee will, I think, be cognisant of the fact that when today a woman is left a widow with two or three young children, she is faced, owing to high prices, with a grim task in keeping her family supplied with clothes and footwear. I suggest that the very least we can do is to allow the widowed mother to earn up to £3 a week without any of her not very adequate and not very generous pension and allowances being touched. I hope that the Treasury watchdog, whom I saw sitting close to the right hon. Lady, and who has now, I think, departed, will not have frightened her into denying what seems to me to be only basic justice in this case. If this Amendment were accepted, the cost involved would be next to nothing. Indeed, I do not know whether it would even be possible to compute the cost—it may well be too small for that—but I hope that what seems to me to be basic justice will be done, and that the Amendment will be accepted.

4.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon East

I will be very brief, because I have already lost half my voice and I am afraid of losing the other half. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I made that observation for the purpose of attracting that cheer. I think the Amendment deals with much too narrow a point. A pension is either a payment for past services or a form of compensation. Therefore, I do not see why, because a person receives a pension, he should not be free to earn all he needs. If I had my way, I would delete the figure in the Amendment, and I would also leave out the consequential Amendment.

A woman who has been left a widow and who receives compensation for that fact should, in my opinion, be free to render what economic service she can. Why deprive the nation of her productive capacity? I think the whole thing is sheer unadulterated nonsense. We are living in the shadow of Lord Beveridge. I never much approved of that plan, and said so in 1943 when we first discussed it. We are also living under the shadow of the constant fear of unemployment; at least, that is how many in the party opposite view it. Their real reason for objecting to people working when in receipt of a pension is because they fear it will deprive somebody else of a job. That is one of the economic delusions; I have heard it said so often. I am going to support this Amendment, and if the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), takes it to the Division Lobby, I will vote with her. My only regret is that the Amendment does not go further. I would like to have made much more of a speech, but for the reason already indicated, I will leave it at that.

Photo of Miss Jennie Lee Miss Jennie Lee , Cannock

I wonder if my right hon. Friend the Minister could give us her opinion on this Amendment because I know that the Committee does not wish to extend the debate on it unduly? It is not often that I agree with even a minor point of the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), but it is true that at one time these pensions did frighten people. They were afraid that in a period of unemployment they would be used for under-cutting. The Chancellor of the Exchequer reminded us only yesterday that profits and prices are rising. A widow with children to look after is in a particularly exposed position, and I think that, without incurring any undue risk, the Government would find very wide support in the House for their acceptance of this small point.

Photo of Sir Barnett Stross Sir Barnett Stross , Stoke-on-Trent Central

I, too, hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will consider sympathetically the views expressed by this Committee. It is not only on compassionate or moral grounds, but on very strictly economic grounds that one can support this Amendment. We are very anxious to increase production, and we know that a limit of 40s. on the earlier pensions was, if I may use that dreadful word, a disincentive to people of this type to go into industry.

In areas such as those which I and my colleagues represent in North Staffordshire, the pottery industry suffers very greatly from the shortage of labour. For that reason, we have tried to bring in so-called skilled labour from Italy. But that is very expensive, and we have found that such labour is not easily adaptable, and that there are no people like our own people, who have been brought up and trained in the industry as decorators of pottery, for serving our purpose. We would like to be able to say to them that they can earn this 60s. It is just about the amount they would receive for their 25 or 30 hours' work. If they can only earn 40s., however, employers will find that the tendency is for their presence to disrupt the even flow of normal production. But at 60s. it would mean that they could still do their 25 hours' work and yet have time to look after their domestic affairs and to care for their children.

There is one other argument which might be remembered from a financial point of view, and which might be put to the Financial Secretary by the right hon. Lady. It is that if these women do not go out to work and try to live on their pensions, they very often have to ask the State for further assistance through the National Assistance Board. This would be a much better way, and for these and many other reasons, I hope my right hon. Friend will seriously consider what we are asking.

Photo of Alice Cullen Alice Cullen , Glasgow Gorbals

I hope that my right hon. Friend will accede to this request, although I am not one of those who believe that a widow who has a pension and an allowance for her children should require to go out to work. I hope the day is not far away when a widow who has children to look after will be able to remain at home and rear her children.

Photo of Mr William Keenan Mr William Keenan , Liverpool Kirkdale

My experience in dealing with a very large number of these cases in industry is that it would be valueless to limit the earnings to 40s. Anyone who does part-time work receives considerably more than that, or at least ought to receive considerably more, because otherwise it would not be worth their while working. I know of a case of a woman who had two advances in wage of 2s. 6d. in the last six months and as a result had her pension reduced by that amount. If the question here is one of financial tidiness I suggest that the figure might be 60s. instead of 40s. throughout.

Photo of Viscountess Joan Davidson Viscountess Joan Davidson , Hemel Hempstead

I am anxious to hear what the right hon. Lady has to say, but I should like to support the Amendment. One realises from the many cases of widowed mothers brought to one's notice, how glad they would be if they were allowed to earn up to £3. I believe that £3 is the right amount, not because it is the figure between £2 and £4, but because it is a reasonable sum and will make a great deal of difference to these people.

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

I think, Major Milner, you will agree that you do not very often find the Committee on both sides agreeing on a proposed measure. I should be very nervous if I felt I had to get up this afternoon and oppose both sides. I want the Committee to recognise that if I accept the Amendment, we are departing from the principle embodied in our present earnings rule. Hon. Members have no need to remind me of the plight of the widow with children. Most women with children look upon the widow and say, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." When I was a young woman I said, "Thank heaven I am a doctor. If ever I am left a widow, I can go out to work."

Here we are discussing this particular widow and I want to emphasise that, because if I accept the Amendment there will be people who will say, "If you accept that earnings rule for the widow with children, why not accept it for everybody else?" I am sure hon. Members realise that the widow with children is in a special position. Overnight, she suddenly becomes the wage earner, the home maker and the protector of her children. All the responsibilities she used to share with her husband suddenly fall upon her shoulders. I feel sure she is in a special position and I want to put it on record that we must always regard her as such. Because I believe this I want to accept the Amendment.

May I say, however, to my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), that I think we can draft this a little better, perhaps with the help of one of the hon. Members opposite who is we know an expert. If she will accept that, I will see that it is done by the Report stage.

Photo of Mrs Eirene White Mrs Eirene White , Flintshire East

May I express the thanks of all hon. Members who support me in this Amendment and also my personal thanks to my right hon. Friend? I should be happy to accept the draft she may wish to bring in, and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

I beg to move, in page 3, line 26, to leave out "thirty," and to insert "twenty."

The purpose of the Amendment is to reduce the total amount of the reduction which may be made in a widowed mother's allowance from 30s. to 20s. I rise in a happier frame of mind to move the Amendment, because I must confess that the acceptance of the previous Amendment has met a great deal of the general point I had in mind when I put down this Amendment. I put the Amendment down for the same reason as has been expressed from all sides of the Committee in the discussion on the last Amendment, that is to say because, as the Minister herself said, a widowed mother with children is in a very special and difficult position and perhaps her position is getting more difficult every day.

I felt that the provisions in the Bill did not go far enough. I absolutely accept the Minister's argument that we must regard the widow left with children as a very special case deserving of special treatment. I understand that when 20s. was written into the Bill the idea behind that figure was that the widowed mother would be always left with 10s. for her children. I felt it might be reasonable to leave her with 20s. Everything for her children costs her more today and she cannot take a full-time job. She is bound to try and run her home at the same time as she tries to make some money to keep her family. I would be grateful if the Minister would consider this Amendment, even though she has gone a great way to meet these people by the acceptance of the previous Amendment.

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

I am quite sure the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has not fully appreciated what he has asked me to do. All hon. Members who have studied this scheme must understand by now that it is very detailed and complicated. Under the present Act, of course, the earnings rule operates in regard to the widow in this way. It takes into account the whole of the widow's allowance, including her children's allowance. I thought that was wrong and we have departed from that in this Bill. The earnings rule now only applies to the widowed mother's own allowance and does not apply to the children.

We propose that the widowed mother's allowance should be 40s. for herself and her first child. Her 30s. will be taken into account when we apply the earnings rule, but the first child's 10s. will not be taken into account. If I accept the hon. Gentleman's Amendment, what he will be doing is raising the child's allowance from 10s. to 20s. He has only to examine the scheme and he will find all kinds of anomalies are created. Immediately he establishes a child's allowance of 20s. everybody who is entitled to receive an allowance for a child will say, "If you have done it in this case why not in ours?" I ask the hon. Gentleman to reconsider this in that light. I am only too happy to help this category but I should be a very bad administrator if, by allowing my sympathy to run away with me, I should thereby create these anomalies.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

I always appreciated that this Amendment increased the child's allowance. That was my intention. I realise it might lead to claims for an increase in other child allowances. But to my mind the widowed mother is a special case, as I stressed, and as I understood the Minister agreed.

Photo of Mr Niall Macpherson Mr Niall Macpherson , Dumfriesshire

I wonder if I may put forward a small argument to reinforce that of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). Normally, widowed mothers are in the special difficulty that during school holiday times they have much more difficulty in working than they have during school time. The result of that is that their earnings are not evenly spaced over the year. Therefore, if they are to be able to avoid hardship during the school holiday times they must be in a position to save during the rest of the time when they are themselves earning. I wished to put that case on the last Amendment, but I did not have the good fortune to catch your eye, Sir Charles. However, it seems to me to reinforce this Amendment as well. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Lady will consider the position of the widowed mother as compared with other categories.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

5.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Molson Mr Arthur Molson , High Peak

I should like to ask the Minister a question of some importance. The right hon. Lady will remember that in the Second Reading debate there was considerable discussion on the earnings rule in so far as it applied to retired persons. I would like her to explain the reason for the entirely different principle which she has applied in this Clause to widows. In the case of retirement pensions there is a fixed amount which is allowed, and everything thereafter is taken into account. In the case of these widows the principle is different. The earnings are taken into account subject to the proviso … that the total amount of the reduction… shall not exceed thirty shillings or, in a case where the allowance… is payable at a weekly rate of less than forty shillings, such smaller sums as may be prescribed. These are two entirely different principles, and I think it would be useful when the Committee is directing attention to the whole of the insurance scheme if the Minister would explain the reasons why different principles are applied to retired persons and to widows.

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

I thought I had already explained this matter. The position is this. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that most retired pensioners are childless, but in the case of the widowed mother her allowance includes an allowance for the first child. Previously, in assessing the widowed mother's income for the purpose of the earnings rule, we took into account the whole of the 33s. 6d. which was her allowance for herself and one child. That included her child as well. In the Bill we are increasing the 33s. 6d. to 40s., but in assessing her income for the purpose of the earnings rule we only take into account 30s., leaving 10s. intact for her child.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.