By the Rev. * M. J. Walshe
WE all know that the living wage is the family wage: one " sufficient to meet ordinary domestic needs"; sufficient to enable the worker " to bear the family burden with greater ease and security." We know, too, that the Holy Father says everything must be done so that every adult working man receive just such a wage. But it is claimed that industry cannot at present pay anything like this to every adult worker. Many industries do not pay to their lowest scale workmen what is the minimum necessary to satisfy the merest human needs of a family of five persons.
I gave figures last week of the estimates made by Mr S. Rowntree. So surely it is permissible to leave on one side for a time the question of what is the family wage, and concentrate on the real parents, and the real children.
Proportionate figures were not given at the last census, but here are the dependency figures of the
census of 1921. It is certain that the proportion will now be much lower, owing to the drastic fall in the birth rate since that year. Of every hundred men over 20 years of age 60.6 were bachelors or had no dependent children; 16 had one dependent child; 10.5 had two; 6.2 had three; 6.7 had four or more dependent children.
For Real Children Only
To have paid a family wage at that time to all the adults would have provided for 16 million non-existent children if we take the family as five persons. Moreover, it would still have left 36 million real children, in families of more than three children, inadequately provided for.
The system of family allowances caters for the real children and not the possible children. It is an attempt to adjust the pay of the workman to his family needs. As I have already said, the Holy Father in the Encyclical on the Social Order has commended the system " whereby an increased wage is paid in view of
increased family burdens and special provision is made to meet special needs."
Would it Work in Britain?
It has been my experience when speaking of the system, when I have explained the theory, to be told that the theory sounds excellent but that it is quite impossible in practice. T then show, as I have done in these articles, how it is practised in France, only to be told that it could not succeed anywhere else. So I then proceed to show how it succeeds in Italy, in Germany, in Spain, in Belgium, in Australia (New South Wales). I am then told that, anyhow, it could never succeed in England. Let us see. Could it succeed in Great Britain?
I have already explained briefly how it does succeed, and has done for 150 years, in the Wesleyan Ministry. Have people already forgotten how it was put into practice during the last war?
In 1918 the allowance paid for the wife of a soldier was 12s. 6d.; for the first child 5s.; and for the others Ss. 6d. It is still the system of pensions payment. Also it is the system of the dole. Let me say a word about this last.
The report of the Unemployment Assistance Board for 1937 points out that in over 30,000 cases the applicant is as well off on the dole, even better off, than he would be at work. This is the case with men who have several children, and whose work is poorly paid. So some men can, and do, get more for not working than for working, The trouble is this. There are two entirely different principles of payment, according as a man is employed or
unemployed. The one, i.e., the dole, takes account of the worker and of his family as members of the community; the other, i.e., employment, is only concerned with labour as a commodity. Now if men at work received family allowances as they do on the dole, and if, at work, the unit was the family, as it is on the dole, the very insufficient scale of unemployment allowances could be increased. At present, if the scale were raised, thousands more men would be able to draw more money for not working than for working.
5s. a Week for Each Child
But for the benefit of those who still maintain industry would not or could not pay allowances, let me give a few more facts.
Pilkington Bros. began last year to pay an allowance of five shillings per
week for each dependent child after the third to each employee earning less than 1400 a year. The cost of this has been estimated at 0.6 of the total wage bill.
Robinsons of Bristol pay 2s, 6d. for each child after the second to those of their employees whose normal wage is not more than four pounds.
Macleans Ltd, pay an allowance of five shillings for all children after the first where the wage plus allowance is not more than £5 a week.
Similar schemes are in operation at the works of Bibby and Sons, of Cadbury, Midland Dairy, and Bulmer Cider.
I feel sure that many other firms could begin to pay allowances if they wished, of their own initiative, and without the machinery, as in France, of the Equalisation Pools, at least to all children after the second. I would like to suggest that some Catholic firms do so. Also firms that depend for their prosperity in a direct way upon parents; thus the makers of baby foods and clothes, of cradles, prams and cots, the milk firms and dairy companies. If all parents imitate so many others, go on strike, and have few or no children, these firm's will be the first to close their doors.
I have mentioned that General Franco has ordered a tax of 10 per cent. to be levied on all dividends of over six per cent. In the last few days I have been noticing some of the dividends declared in this country. One was a dividend of eighty per cent. and another of fifty. These firms could be taxed with great advantage to the general good. In addition there were dividends of twenty quite regularly. A good fat tax on these would help to found a Family Allowance Fund for the whole country, and to the good of the greater number, particularly the good of mothers and children.
To Civil Servants
Again, allowances could be paid to all public officials, civil servants. France set the example in this way before the system was made compulsory for all.
We might also imitate France and do as her Government did in 1922, ten years before the law made compulsory the payment of allowances. The French Government refused to make contracts with firms that did not pay allowances. This had the effect of compelling, in an indirect way, those firms lagging behind to join one or other of the Equalisation Pools.
I have written of the history of family allowances in France. The beginning of the movement was due to the initiative of M. Romanet, and he persuaded others to imitate what he was doing. The history of moat, if not all, social legislation is the same; first voluntary experiment, actuated, perhaps, by true Christian charity, which led to the particular reform becoming a national concern and a question of justice. Gradually one custom after another that was once calmly accepted came to be looked upon as a social enormity, and when people look back over the years they wonder how this or that custom was
ever tolerated. I submit, and truly hope, that such will be the case with family allowances and that soon people will begin to wonder how in the name of reason and of equity and justice the flat rate method of payment obtained for so long whereby a single man received the same wage at the end of the week as the father of several children. So let us hope that this particular question will become a national concern and that other private firms, as, for instance, banks, insurance companies, etc., will at once begin of their own initiative to pay allowances, as the firms I have already mentioned, at least to families of three or more children.
The French Plan
I have described the Equalisation Pool system of payment in France. For the first child an allowance is paid of five per cent. of the district average salary, ten per cent. for the second, and fifteen for all others. In addition the mother at home receives a bonus for herself of five per cent. The cost of this is not as enormous as one might at first think. The money is found by about four per cent. of the total wage bill of each employer. What French firms have been able to do with such success can surely also be done by the firms of our own country.
It may be said that the simplest method is to raise the money, as in New
Zealand, by direct taxation. It was calculated in 1930 that to pay an allowance of five shillings for every child would cost 120 million pounds. I forget what it is we are paying for rearmament! Children are more important than guns and poison gas. To pay five shillings for all children after the first would cost 60 million. To pay five for the first and three shillings for others, 70 million; while the cost of paying five shillings for all children after the third was estimated to be only 7 million pounds. These figures would now be considerably Tess owing to the annual fall in the number of births. Please remember, too, what a saving there would be on the ill-health bill of the country if children were able to receive proper nourishment,
The insurance scheme appeals most to other people, as there is already in existence the ready-made machinery of the health insurance, and it could therefore be worked through this channel.
If Everyone Paid 6d.
Last year Mr Amery, M.P., who is fighting hard with others for family allowances, estimated that sixpence contribution from employers, employees and the State would provide a fund to pay five shillings a week for all children after the second. Quite recently, however, I saw that he estimated that now the contribution of each need only be fourpence for the same scale of allowances.
Therefore It would not be too difficult and not too expensive to pay allowances to parents, at least to those most in need, i.e., with three or more children.