By Fr. PAUL CRANE, S.J. 'Large family in the middle range of income is cruelly penalised'
HEADERS of T H e CATHOLIC HERALD Will remember the prominence given in its columns to Sir David Maxwell Fyfe's speech on the family. It is good to see such statements made by members of Her Majesty's Government.
One would feel happier about them, however, if they could be set within a framework of governmental action sufficiently pronounced in favour of the family to lead one to believe that public authority in this country really had its true interests at heart. As it is, the reverse would seem to be the case and one is forced at times to the reluctant conclusion that the bias of modern government against the family and the contribution it must make to any healthy society is dangerously heavy.
First let us consider the middle range of incomes: Whilst not questioning the just necessity for a good deal of redistributive taxation, one may be permitted at the same time to question one of its leading assumptions. This would seem to be that the purpose of income is the fulfilment of needs which are assumed to be the same in every family. This assumption is due to the fact that the basic needs of the family, which are its physical needs and which can be considered as roughly the same for every family, are the only ones taken into account by modern redistributive legislation.
In other words, the family is considered by the legislator merely as a consuming unit whose consumption can be considered in terms of the satisfaction of basic physical need. Increasingly he sees the members of a family simply as a cluster of citizens to be fed and the purpose of redistributive legislation as that of equalising the flow of fodder to all.
THE purpose of the family,
as the heart of society, is not merely to people a nation but to give to its life the values and variety without which it can make no claim to be civilised. In this very real sense the family is essentially productive and, because of this, its income should be allowed to vary with its productive capacity : if not, it will be deprived of the opportunity of contributing to the richness of social life through the individual accomplishment of its members.
It is one thing to keep the nation's families physically fit : it is quite another to keep them fit for the variety of social functions they are called upon to play. Concentration on the former at the expense of the latter can serve only to impoverish a civilised existence.
This, one feels, is what much redistributive legislation fails to see. Concentration on the equalisation of family incomes in a well-meant endeavour to satisfy the claims of social justice has long since reached the point where the claims of distributive justice—demanding that net incomes should be in proportion to social contribution and standing—have been overruled.
rr HE process is illustrated
-1°at present in the plight of many a middle-class family whose standard of living has been so reduced that its structure of living is now broken up: consequently, it is capable no longer of sustaining the distinctive contribution it once made to the life of the society of which it forms part.
Increasingly the middle-class family is denied the circumstances it must have if it is to fit its members adequately for the performance of those diverse social duties for which the life of a healthy society insistently calls.
It is not that the State is unaware of the need it has of equip ping itself with the leadership and varied accomplishment which are essential to the richness of its life and which it must have if it is to survive. it is, rather, that the purposeful expenditure essential to such equipment is no longer thought of as something which it is within the competence of the family to provide.
The attitude is shown most clearly in the field of higher education, whose private provision is made impossible for most middleclass families by the present height of taxation but which the State is willing to provide on its own terms and in its own time.
The implication would seem to be that the State, not the father of a family, knows best how to equip its members for life.
LITTLE sympathy is felt for the father of a family who beggars himself to provide for his children's higher educational needs.
On the contrary, he is rapidly being stripped by the present height of taxation not merely of the inducement but of the ability to do so; for taxes are levied in England without any reference to special family need and without any regard for the varied accomplishment of its members and their varied contribution to social life.
In this respect, the English family stands at a grave disadvantage when compared with the firm which is not taxed progressively and which is taxed on a basis of net income, i.e., after special allowance has been made for depreciation and operating expenses.
In other words, in the case of the firm, special allowance is made because it is thought, quite rightly, that it has a special contribution to make to the welfare of society.
However, in the case of the family, which is taxed not on net but on gross income, no such allowance is made (except an inadequate easement where there are children).
0NE is left with the somewhat melancholy conclusion that the father of the middleclass English family is regarded very much at the moment as little more than a maintenance man; held responsible by public authority for the satisfaction of that part of his family's basic biological needs which are not looked after by the Welfare State, but considered incompetent to provide for his family's higher needs and for the advancement of his children.
Happily for us all, the middleclass family is far from accepting the status which the modern legislator has tried so hard to thrust upon it. Its determined endeavour, despite crippling taxation, to retain in its own hands the charge of its own affairs and to continue, at the cost of enormous sacrifice, to make its specific and invaluable contribution to English life, represents a most valiant accomplishment for which none of us really can ever be too grateful.
THERE can be no doubt 'I but that, throughout all the ranges of this country's social life, the large family, whatever its income, stands at a considerable financial disadvantage,
The State, it is true, makes some allowance for the needs of the large family in its assessment of taxable capacity; but it is still true to say that in the middle-class range of income the large family is cruelly penalised.
To see this one has only to recall what Mr. Cohn Clark has re
cently pointed out, that at the moment "a childless couple living on £600 a year pay only a little more in taxation than a family with four young children living on £900 a year. Yet, in the latter case, the family income is £150 per person whereas, in the former, it is £300 per person, or twice as much" (Wel fare and Taxation).
Mr. Clark's suggestion that income tax should be assessed not on total family income but on average iliC0111C per person in the family is one that should receive support from all those who have the interests of the large family at heart. So, too, is his further suggestion that school fees should be treated as a deductible expense for income tax purposes: this supports the contention that in the case of the family, no less than in that of the firm, taxation should be levied not on gross income but on net income.
IN the lower range of in
"-comes, as well as in the middle, the large family is unduly and, at times, cruelly penalised in Britain today.
Despite the ministrations of the Welfare State there can be no doubt but that, at the present time, in this country, there is a good deal of poverty due solely to family size, even where the head of the family draws a wage which in normal times would seem adequate: where the wage is low and the family is a large one, its members at present are subjected to real want.
A recent investigation in a Northern town quoted the case of a general labourer living there with four children to support and whose wage was £5 12s. a week. The three allowances brought his gross income to £6 16s., which is still well below the minimum requirements of a decent sufficiency.
Had it not been for the fact that the rent was low-13s. 3d. a week —this family's plight would have been exceedingly bad : as it was, it was spending each week only 14s. per head on food, which represents an amount far below the reasonable requirements of health and stamina and happiness.
That family is living below the poverty line and its case is not an isolated one. Further enquiries in the same area told the same story of the penalisation of the large family at a certain level of income. The story would repeat itself, I venture to say, in any part of the country at the present time.
WHY is this so? In the first place, family allowances at their present level are still far too low : at the moment, according to a recent article by Mr. Norman MacKenzie, they are estimated to cover "less than half the basic cost of each additional child at the Rowntree subsistence level."
We are brought at once to a second point to account for the poverty of the large family at a certain level of income. It is that the Welfare State, with its encouragement of inflation, tends to dribble away the benefits of State welfare, which are then dribbled away still further with every fillip given to inflationary pressure in the shape of demands for higher wages to counter its original effects.
Clearly, the low wage earner with the large family comes poorly out of this and he comes all the more poorly when preseure for higher wages takes the form of demands for general, percentage increases which of their very nature pay scant attention to his portico lar circumstances as a low wage earner with a large family to support.
The general increase in wages, like the flat rate of benefit on which the Welfare State insists, tends to leave the large family out in the cold : it leaves one wondering, too, precisely what workers' solidarity means in this country today.
IT is debatable whether
'the family, large or small, gains from the Welfare State any economic advantage additional to that which it would secure were it allowed to provide for itself in the field now covered by State welfare.
Be that as it may—and I have no desire to raise any such hare in the context of this article—there is good reason for believing that one certain moral effect of State welfare is to curtail unduly the exercise of family responsibility and so to disregard the value of its independent contribution to social life.
Neither is it difficult to see how this occurs—benefits provided out of taxes deducted at source or raised indirectly and then returned impersonally to the individual family, work against that spirit of responsible self-sacrifice which knits the family together and which would be built up steadily were the family taxed less and allowed to make its own provision on a voluntary basis against the various contingencies which cross its path.
N N the opinion of the "writer, the long-run effects of this process may prove very serious indeed r its implications would seem to be that the State is considered to know better than the father of a family how to provide for its welfare; that, in the opinion of public authority, the father is essentially incapable of looking after his children's needs.
If this attitude persists and if it is acquiesced in, the father of a family will in time become what public authority appears at present to consider him to be—a maintenance man concerned only with the provision of part of his family's physical needs.