Page 14, 7th January 1938

7th January 1938
Page 14
Page 14, 7th January 1938 — FAMILY ALLOWANCES IN ENGLAND

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Organisations: St. Helens Trade Union
People: Karl Marx


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Front Our Labour Correspondent Pilkington Bros., Ltd., a firm of glass manufacturers, have announced their deci sion to pay each of their workers who has more than three children of school age, an extra 5s, per week per child.

This decision is to be welcomed as, owing to the mingled congratulation and criticism of the scheme, the whole question of family allowances will be ventilated in the Press and elsewhere, and some concrete result may come about.

An increasing number of economists, Catholic and otherwise are strongly in favour of some kind of family allowance scheme in England.

The firm has taken the lead in a problem not yet solved in England, although in other countries family allowances have been in existence for some time, and in Germany they have recently been increased.

The problem of family allowance schemes has two sides for Catholics. First there is the difference of opinion among Catholic moralists as to whether wages should be paid according to the actual family needs of the worker, or whether every worker should be paid a wage sufficient to support a family, whether he actually is married or not, since he is potentially a father of a family.

What Should be the Basis of Wage Payments ?

The two following statements, each by an eminent Cdstholic moralist, which appeared recently in the Catholic Herald are an example of this difference of opinion.

(1) " Wages should not depend on the thing done but on the person who does it."

(2) " Where it can be proved that women do as much work as men, then. in justice, they should be paid as men."

The implication of the second statement would seem to be that wages should depend on the work done not on the varying needs of those who do it.

" At Least 53s. a Week " Many Catholic economists hold that it would not be possible to pay to every male worker, and to every female worker who does the same amount of work as a man. the wage needed by a man with a wife and three children. According to Rowntree in The Human Needs of Workers a married man with three children needs at least 53s. a week, and even that is not always sufficient.

The other side of the problem of fernily allowances is the question of who is to pay it, and how it is to be allocated.

The Daily Herald of Wednesday gives the following criticisms of the Pilkington scheme:

(1) A St. Helens Trade Union President states that the scheme " penalises intelligence " because the highly skilled would not be better off since the average size of their families was less than that of the unskilled workmen.

12) " Surely it is no business of the employer whether a workman has a family or not. A single man may be just as useful as a married man."

(3) The Daily Herald in a leader points lout the obvious snag of the scheme—that it becomes much cheaper to employ a single !man than a married man with a large Ifamily. Married men will find it harder to get work. Therefore family allowances should be paid out of State funds.

The short answer to the first objection seems to he to advise the highly skilled workmen to have large families if they want the larger allowance.

The second objection is a curious example of modern labour to enunciate the old laissez-faire Liberal principles which once Labour helped to explode. If an employer had uttered these sentiments in the hearing of Karl Marx!

The third objection is, in my opinion, decisive against the Pilkington scheme if it were to be generally applied. But the payment of allowances by the State (i.e., by the taxpayers at large) is not the only solution.

Italian Solution

Another solution has been found. for instance in Italy. There, the family allowances arc paid by the particular industry as a whole. Roughly speaking, a firm which has a large percentage of unmarried workers has to hand over its resulting profit to the central fund from which other firms paying more family allowances are reimbursed, Under this scheme there is no advantage in employing unmarried men, but the allowances are shouldered by the industry, not by the State.

Another matter to be decided is whether workmen in general should contribute to the family allowance fund or whether it should he non-contributable.

It is calculated that a State family allowance scheme giving reasonable allowances would not cost the Exchequer more than about £6 million a year.

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