That would be convenient, Sir Barnett.
The purpose of all these Amendments is an endeavour to maintain for certain children of beneficiaries the priority and the preferential treatment which have been given to them in recent years by the last Government. The Amendments relate, first, to widow's allowance, which is the payment made during the first 13 weeks of widowhood; secondly, to widowed mother's benefit; thirdly, to guardian's allowances, which are the payments made in respect of certain orphan children; and, fourthly, to child's special allowance, which is a payment made in certain circumstances to a child whose parents have been divorced and whose father has since died.
In all these cases in recent years, beginning I think in 1956, we have given preferential treatment to the children when there has been an increase in benefits. By far the largest group must be the children of the widowed mother. It has been felt on both sides of the House of Commons that the widowed mother is in a position which specially commands our sympathy, because she must accept the burden of bringing up her family—the financial burden of ensuring that there is enough money to keep it and the personal burden of standing in as both parents to a growing family.
Thus it was felt that the best way to help her—the help extended to the other two classes of children—was to increase the payments made for her children. She benefited when there was a general increase in the pension payment to all beneficiaries, but on several occasions in recent years there was added an extra amount to the children, which could never be withdrawn by the operation of the earnings rule and which was paid directly to the children who were her prime responsibility.
I am a little distressed that the Bill does no more than give to the children of the beneficiaries I have listed the same amount—2s. 6d. extra per child—as it does, for instance, to the children of a man on sickness pay, a man on unemployment pay, or, in cases where there are children, a retirement pensioner. I should like to feel that the Committee is prepared still to continue this measure of preferential treatment, which goes directly to the children concerned in all cases, is not affected by any outside consideration, and benefits the widowed mother, children who are accepted under National Insurance as orphans, and children who are accepted under National Insurance as having a claim for benefit because their parents have been divorced and their father has died having regularly paid his contributions until his death.
In the past the present Government have never voted or spoken against this preferential treatment for the children of whom I speak. I hope that tonight they will be able to agree that we should continue to keep these children ahead of the rates of benefit for other children who enjoy both parents, whatever their present difficulties may be. I should like to think that the whole Committee agreed with the principle of giving to children who must have lost at least one parent, in some cases both, the extra opportunity, however modest it may be, that we have been able to accord to them since 1956. I hope that the Amendments are acceptable.
The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was correct in saying that when we were in opposition we never voted against the preferential treatment that was given to the children of widows and the other classes covered by these Amendments. Indeed, not only did we not vote against them but we definitely supported this preferential treatment.
Two of the Amendments under discussion would increase by 2s. 6d. the rate that would be given for each child of a widow who was receiving the widowed mother's allowance or the widow's allowance. The other two Amendments would cover the children of those in receipt of the guardian's allowance and the special allowance for children. On the face of it, it would seem that the Amendments should be accepted in this instance.
From 1948 until 1956 the rates for all children were the same; in other words, for the categories we are discussing, for the children of the sick and unemployed, and for children of retired pensioners. It was in 1956 that the first change was made. Hon. Members should realise that if the Amendments are not accepted—and I will ask the Committee to reject them—the children of the widowed mother will still have 17s. 6d. of a lead over the children of the unemployed and sick—and 17s. 6d. is a considerable lead in these matters.
We have always agreed that it is just that there should be higher payments for the children of widows, as well as for the other categories covered by the Amendments. However, in framing the Bill it was not by any mistake that we decided on a flat—rate increase of 2s. 6d. We felt that this time—for good reasons, which I shall adduce—a flat-rate increase of 2s. 6d. was the correct thing to do. Only in March of this year there was an increase for all the widows' children covered by the Amendments, a considerable increase which raised the allowance from 30s. to 37s. 6d., but for the children of the sick and unemployed there was no increase in March.
When I had to decide what to do in the Bill, I naturally had to take into account the increase of 7s. 6d. given only in. March of this year to those children of widows and the others qualify- ing for the child's special allowance, along with the fact that no increase at all had been given this year to the children of the sick and unemployed. It seemed to me—and I hope that it will commend itself to the Committee—that as we are discussing the Bill in December it was right for us to give a flat-rate increase of 2s. 6d. to the dependent children of all categories.
I also draw the attention of the Committee to the need to have regard to the whole family in these matters. It was because, in giving consideration to this, that I had to take the whole family into account that I decided that a flat-rate increase of 2s. 6d. was the right course to take.
Under the Bill, the widow with one Child will receive £6 a week. A sick or unemployed man with a wife and one child will receive £7 12s. 6d.—£1 12s. 6d. more to keep his wife. A widow with two children will get £8 a week under the Bill. A sick or unemployed man with a wife and two children will get £8 15s.—only 15s. more with a wife to keep. A widow with three children will have £10 a week under the Bill. A sick or unemployed man with a wife and three children will have £9 19s. 6d.—6d. less than the widow with three children.
It may be said that sickness and unemployment benefits are short-term benefits.
The hon. Lady nods agreement. But that is not always so. What about the chronic sick? A man may be sick month after month and year after year, with all the expense that that involves. Should not we consider the wife and children of the chroncially sick man? In some areas in Scotland and the North of England and in some parts of Wales a man may be unemployed for a very long time. Again, it seems to me that there must come a stage in these considerations when we should consider the family of such people.
Therefore, because of the increase of 7s. 6d. given in March this year, and because of the comparisons which I have just made between the position of a widow with one, two or three children and that of a sick man with a wife and one, two or three children, I hope that the Committee will feel that the flat rate increase of 2s. 6d. is correct. That does not mean that in future there will always be a flat-rate increase of 2s. 6d. or of any other amount. It may be that we will have to make special provision for the children of widows. However, this time we felt, I think rightly, that the provisions which we were making were correct.
I hope that with that explanation the hon. Lady will be willing to withdraw the Amendment.
This is the point which I have been anxious to reach all evening, particularly since, when we were discussing early Amendments on widows' benefits, some hon. Members opposite seemed anxious to prove that we had done so little for widows during our term of office. Now the Minister advises the Committee to reject the Amendment on the ground that we, in our period of office, did so much for the children of widowed mothers. That is very true. The differential of 17s. 6d. existed before the Bill. Indeed, since 1956, with the exception of the increase given in 1958, the widowed mother has had a preferential rate of increase for her children to that given to the sick and unemployed. I had hoped that even this time the right hon. Lady would still give a preferential rate of increase in view of what she has done for other widows.
The right hon. Lady will remember the comment of the National Insurance Advisory Committee, in its 1960 Report, when the draft regulations were before the Committee. Discussing how best to dispose of moneys in the National Insurance Fund in a way which would help the widowed mothers it said:
Relaxation of the earnings rule will however mainly benefit widows whose family circumstances permit them to undertake a substantial amount of work or whose work is relatively well paid. It will not help the widow who cannot readily leave here children and go out to work.
What we were hoping was that as the right hon. Lady has already helped those—and I agree that she has—she would also help the widows who cannot go out to work to the same extent by giving them a larger increase for their children.
I think, incidentally, that she put, during her speech, an excellent argument for bigger increases in absolute terms for the children of the sick and the unemployed. As I pointed out twice already in comment on the Bill, it is a long time since such a small proportion of the increased benefit has been given in respect of children. I have the figures with me. In 1963, when there was a 10s. increase, children got 2s. 6d.; in 1961, when there was a 7s. 6d. increase, children still got 2s. 6d.; in 1958, when we gave a 10s. increase, children got 3s. 6d.
There has not been a time for many years when children have had such a small proportion of the total increase as they have got now, because it is not 2s. 6d. compared with 7s. 6d., it is not 2s. 6d. compared with 10s.; it is 2s. 6d. compared with 12s. 6d., the smallest possible increase in relation to children that could have been given. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, I think so. [An HON. MEMBER: "Carping criticism."] It is not carping to the children of the sick and unemployed. It may be to the hon. Gentleman. Hon. Members opposite have a chance to put it up. They are not preferring the children of the sick or of the unemployed or of the widows. I was dealing with an Amendment concerned with the children of widowed mothers. It was the right hon. Lady who brought in the children of the sick and the unemployed.
I accept her explanation that, as we have done so much for the children of widowed mothers, she does not think that they should be entitled to a preferential rate of increase now.
There are one or two points I should like to take up. It amazes me how the hon. Lady tries to belittle all the very great improvements which we have made in the Bill. "After all", she says, "we are abolishing the widows' earnings rule in the Bill. But what does that mean? It does not protect the children of widows". I wonder whether the hon. Lady knows what happens to working-class widows? They have to go out to earn, and at the same time they have to care for their families in their homes. These are the widows who—apart from any other widows—will benefit from this Bill by the abolition of the earnings rule.
When someone on this side of the Committee said that the hon. Lady should not carp about these things she said, "But surely one must carp for the sake of the unemployed", but my whole case was that these Amendments do nothing at all for the children of the sick or of the unemployed. Consider the 12s. 6d. increase and the 21s. increase. Like the widow, the sick or the unemployed do not say when they get their benefit, "This is the benefit for the man; this is the benefit for the woman; this is the benefit for the first child; this is the benefit for the second child".
What they say is, "Here is this sum which we are getting at the end of the week to keep the family". When we add these increases of 12s. 6d., 21s. and 2s. 6d. there is no single family in Britain which is not really benefiting greatly under the Bill.
I had not intended to speak again, but really the right hon. Lady must get her facts right. She has just referred to working-class mothers who will benefit by the removal of the earnings rule, who, due to their circumstances, go out to work. They are the women who will not benefit by the removal of the earnings rule. I said this in my Second Reading speech. The women who stand to benefit are the professional women who have high qualifications and who have thus high earnings and whose need for the present earnings rule—[Interruption.]—Well, if hon. Members on the other side of the Committee will tell me of many ordinary working women whose gross earnings are about £9 a week, which they must have to be affected by the earnings rule of £7 a week, I would be very glad to hear.
I am always glad to hear of women making progress, but in general the abolition of the earnings rule for the widowed mother is not going to benefit the women we should most like to help, the woman with young children who has certainly benefited in the past because the double amount given to her children is something which goes into that weekly sum to which the right hon. Lady referred. It was for that reason specifically that I hoped she would be prepared to reconsider the decision only to give the same amount to the widowed mother's children now as to other beneficiaries.
I agree that there are the chronic sick and even, I suppose, some unemployed, who are on National Insurance for a long time and whose needs grow as long as they are receiving National Insurance benefits. But they are not the majority. If we go back two Amendments, the right hon. Lady was very concerned to prove, in respect of the abolition of the earnings rule for widows, that it was because it was not the widow's earnings but somebody else's earnings that it was felt right to remove the rule for widowed mothers and to retain the rule for the ordinary retirement pensioner.
The right hon. Lady cannot have the argument both ways. If the widowed mother is not expected to have earnings which will be affected by the rule, we must assume that she stands in the same position as the average pensioner claiming sickness or unemployment pay or who is in work up to the time that he has to fall back upon the benefit and who in the majority of cases has every prospect of returning to work. I still say that the widowed mother, especially, is in particular need of all the help we can give her, and that is why I ask the right hon. Lady even at this late stage to look with a little more sympathy at the Amendment.