Profits Before Children’s Lives
The Evening News (November 9th) reports a protest by the Council of the College of Preceptors because the London Transport Board has partially withdrawn the privilege of cheap fares for school-children attending Board of Education approved schools and independent schools.
The Council points out that, in consequence of the withdrawal of the privileges, there has been a big increase in the number of children going to school on bicycles.
So the children must travel on bicycles, which everyone knows is highly dangerous under modern traffic conditions, because the London Transport Board puts dividends to shareholders before children’s lives, and because the working-class parents cannot afford to pay full fares.
Here we see not only the iniquity of capitalism, but also the uselessness of trying to patch it up and refashion it. For the London Transport Board was initiated by a Labour Government, when Mr. Herbert Morrison was Minister of Transport, and completed by the National Government.
There is nothing to do with capitalism except to abolish it. Transport services will then be run for the use of the community, and lives will not be endangered for the sake of private interest.
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The Crime of Being Poor
The Problem of Wives Separated from their Husbands
According to The Times (November 9th) every year 20,000 people are sent to jail because of inability to pay fines, or keep up payments for wife or child maintenance, or pay rates. The evil has caused so much outcry that the Government is trying to lessen the number of imprisonments. Justices are empowered and advised in future to impose imprisonment less frequently. Even so, the practice is not to be abolished. As The Times puts it: “For some offenders . . . who have no means to pay imprisonment may be necessary as the only alternative penalty appropriate to the offence.” In other words, the rich will continue to escape jail because they have money, and the poor will still be imprisoned for the crime of poverty.
The stupid callousness of capitalism, and the futility of trying to reform it are brought home by the Government’s attitude towards working-class husbands and wives in cases of maintenance. In the past husbands without means have been ordered to pay, and because they cannot pay have been sent to jail, where they are, of course, unable to earn anything at all. The wife gets nothing. The Government, after years and years of deep cogitation by highly-paid lawyers, has solved the problem. In future, such men are not to be jailed, and the Courts are to refrain from letting their sympathy with the wife lead them to order big payments from the poverty-stricken husband. So far so good. But surely the real problem is that here you have husbands and wives, living in an age when wealth production is easier than ever before, unable to find enough to keep themselves, let alone each other. But the all-wise law cannot be bothered with such trumpery things as the life and happiness of human beings, so we have The Times interpreting the new attitude of the Government in the following phrases: —
There is nothing the Court can do to help the woman where the man’s resources have no margin beyond what is necessary for his subsistence. If he can only pay a small sum, which is insufficient for the woman’s needs, that is not a reason for ordering the payment of a higher amount.
In a sane world, a Socialist world, these stupid problems will not exist. Women will not be dependent for their livelihood on men, and then we shall not need to have too-clever lawyers mocking the victims of poverty with nonsensical solutions to a problem only Socialism can solve. The relationship of men and women will cease to be poisoned by poverty or by economic dependence.
State Maintenance of Children
One of the reforms long advocated in this and other countries is the provision of free meals for the children of poor parents. Thirty or forty years ago the Social Democratic Federation and Newcastle Labour Electoral organisation were among the many advocates of such proposals. The S.D.F. asked for “ free maintenance for the children in all Board schools,” and the Newcastle organisation wanted “free compulsory education: Boards to have power to provide free meals for the children.” It may be said that to some extent their demands have been met, for under the Education Acts local education authorities have power to provide meals. In 1933, out of 5,000,000 children at elementary schools, about 400,000 were provided with meals, and of this 400,000 about 269,000 received meals free of cost.
An alternative scheme is the system of “family allowances,” that is, special payments made to parents in respect of the maintenance of dependent children. Schemes of this kind are in operation in France, Australia and several other countries.
What is the Socialist attitude towards these proposals? While we sympathise with the motive which is in the minds of some of the advocates (but not of all) of raising the workers’ standard of life, that must not be allowed to blind us to the emptiness of all such schemes. We must not forget that we live under capitalism, and that the kind of child maintenance which the capitalists and their Governments will consent to introduce is not at all the kind desired by some of the more simple-minded enthusiasts who ask for this reform. Miss Eleanor Rathbone
, who is a leading propagandist for family allowances, makes no secret of the fact that her intention is nothing more than to spread the poverty of the working class more evenly. She does not intend that the workers’ standard of living shall be raised by the grant of allowances. The money to be paid to the families with children is to be collected from the working class unmarried men and women. In other words, the wages of one section of the workers are to be reduced in order to pay allowances to another section.
Again, it is essential to remember that the working class depend for their living on their wages, and wages are dependent on the cost of living. If the Government relieves working-class families of the cost of feeding their children the effect would be that wages would tend to fall correspondingly. This was the result in Vienna when the Government reduced rents to a very low level. Also, under the last Labour Government in Great Britain, a committee set up by the Government recommended lower wages for wool workers because the workers are now relieved of the cost of providing for themselves during unemployment, sickness and old age. What little benefit the workers had gained through unemployment and health insurance and old age pensions was to be knocked off their wages.
That is capitalism, and while it endures all reform measures will be wrecked against the hard rocks of the capitalist basis of society.
The Socialist remedy is of quite a different character. Under Socialism, not only children, but all persons will have their necessities of life provided freely from the common stock, which it will be the task of the whole working population to produce in co-operation. It will appear, then, the height of absurdity and cruelty that in our day children should actually be punished with undernourishment and inadequate clothing and shelter for the crime of having poor parents.