Finance and Industry: The increase in accidents

The Increase in Accidents

Elsewhere in this issue is a quotation from the SOCIALIST STANDRD May 1911 about the increase of accidents in industry in the years 1900 to 1907. The accident figures continued to increase and in 1913 reached 208,949, though the deaths had decreased to 1,091, Figures were not published during the 1914-1918 war. After the war, with some variations from year to year, the total in 1930 was 209,194, of which 842 were fatal. When a big decrease came in 1931 it was “due to . . . the continued depression in industry”. Provisional figures for 1960 show 190,000 accidents, 665 being fatal. This was a big increase on 1959. According to the Evening Standard (30/3/61), ”longer hours, harder work and the employment of more workers to help step up production are blamed by many experts for the steep rise in deaths and injuries at the factory bench or building site”.

These figures relate only to factories and workshops. If the mines, railways and other industries are added, total deaths number about 1,300 or 1,400 a year, and the number injured is more than doubled. In the mines over 200,000 workers every year suffer injuries which disable them for more than three days. On the roads and railways a further 7,000 or more are killed each year and over 300,000 pedestrians, drivers and passengers injured. Over the whole field injuries have increased since 1938 by about 200,000 a year.

National Income

In the Spring of each year the Government publishes several documents dealing with the changes that have taken place in twelve months in production, trade, wages, profits and the national income and expenditure. Much of the newspaper comment consists merely of quoting impressive looking figures to support the theme that everything is getting very much better for everybody.

As many readers know very well that their own standard of living isn’t changing much, if at all, doubtless the result is a growing disbelief in the accuracy of the figures themselves; which is rather hard on the civil servants concerned who take a deal of trouble to find the facts and present them accurately. Much of the difficulty arises out of that ingrained capitalist habit of expressing nearly everything in terms of money and price; which is most misleading unless due allowance is made for the fact that prices can change, and for twenty years have been changing upwards. To say that expenditure on rent and rates increased between 1956 and 1960 by about £400 million a year does not mean that people were moving into larger or better houses but that they are paying more for the same house, and in many cases paying more for something worse.

When we apply this corrective to the figures showing that the national income jumped from about £5,000 million in 1938 to £20,000 million in 1960 we find that the real increase after discounting higher prices is somewhere in the region of fifty per cent. But because a larger proportion goes to the armed forces and armaments and to capital investment the real increase in the amount available for “consumers” goods and services, (food, clothing, housing, entertainment, travel, etc., etc.,) has increased by a smaller amount, probably between 35 per cent and 40 per cent.

Then a further adjustment has to be made because this is spread over more people, the population having increased by over 5,000,000 since 1938. After allowing for this, the real increase per head of the population is about 25 per cent or 30 per cent, not at all a striking achievement for a period of twenty years, though quite a normal one for British capitalism. The way in which this modest advance has been made is also interesting. The increase is due as much to increased numbers of workers as to increased output through improved machinery and processes. Because unemployment is about one and a quarter million less than in 1938, and many more married women go out to work, and workers stay on to a later age, there are probably about four million more workers in civil employment than there were before the war.

And a final warning about averages. While many workers are rather better off than before the war (average industrial weekly wage rates having gained about 16 per cent on the price level for a somewhat shorter week) there are many workers, especially clerical workers, who have actually lost ground.

Those High Wages

In a press interview about the start of the graduated pension scheme the Minister of Pensions, Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter, gave figures that should be noted by those who believe that the £14 10s. 0d. a week average earnings of adult male workers in manufacturing and some other industries, are typical of the working class as a whole. He revealed that out of a total of about 21 million working men and women “there are approximately 6 million earning less than £9 a week . . .” (Daily Herald 29/3/61).

Willing to pay

The following is from the Evening Standard (4/4/61):

“Seven months ago I reported that the ground and first floor maisonette at Castlemaine House, the seven-storey block of flats which Mrs. Vera Lilley built at 21 and 22 St. James’s Place, was in the market at £128,750, making it just about the most expensive home of its type in the world.
I now reveal who is to be the occupier of this home with its own garden backing on Green Park.
It is City banker, Mr. Walter H. Salomon, 54, who will move in with his wife, Kate, and two children in July.
He is not buying the maisonette. He is renting it. Mrs. Lilley spent at least £30,000 on it. The study, drawing-room and library opening on to a terrace, are in antique pine panelling.
Each of the four bedrooms has a bathroom; there is a wrought-iron staircase, luxurious staff quarters and a huge kitchen.”

The same issue of the Evening Standard reported that the Hampstead Council is cutting its housing list from 1,799 families to 1,328 families. The Chairman of the Committee is quoted as saying that he is agreeably surprised by the number they were able to eliminate because they have moved away or for other reasons.

“Quite a few have left Hampstead. Others have either decided they have no hope of getting Council accommodation or have found decent accommodation and are quite happy.”

Nearly half of those still on the list “are in Category A—those in urgent need”.

Slums for 100 years>

The housing problem, like the poor, is always with us under capitalism (which of course includes state-capitalist Russia). And always there are politicians “hastening” to do something about it. The Evening Standard (3/4/61) reports that “the LC.C. wants to speed up the work of modernising their pre-1914-18 war blocks of flats”, six thousand of which lack baths and have other defects. But there are obstacles, one of which is the “three-year wait” between approval of modernisation schemes and the actual start on the work.

Another problem is that they can’t modernise the old flats unless they can re-house the people in them, and the Council can’t speed up this work because their “commitments in slum-clearing and in trying to house families on the ordinary County Hall waiting lists.”

So it is always a question of either the slum-clearing, or the modernisation, or the new houses, and this is in a year when the government can find it necessary to spend £1,500 million on armed forces and armaments as it has been doing certainly since the Labour Government’s re-armament programme in 1951.

It is ironical to go back to the optimism of the reformers who started the movement to solve the housing and slum-clearance problem over a century ago. The late Harry Barnes, himself a well-known housing reformer, in his book Housing, published in 1923, tells of the first two pieces of legislation:

“The first of these great personal measures was the Shaftesbury Act of 1851, which aimed at providing lodging houses for the working class in towns and populous districts, . . . the next great step was taken in 1868, when the Terrens Act was passed. This dealt with improvement or demolition of unfit houses and brought into prominence the second part of the Housing task, namely, in addition to the provision of new houses, the maintenance of the old.”

The Minister of Housing, Mr. Brooke, has been having a go, and his enthusiasm induced the Evening Standard (28/3/61) to pen an editorial under the title “An Urgent Reform”:

“Slums are not always to be found in mean little streets. Sometimes they exist behind the decaying red brick walls of gaunt Victorian houses. And these, because they are frequently shielded from the public gaze, are the most difficult for authority to deal with.
Mr. Brooke, the Housing Minister, has been describing a visit to such a Victorian slum. He found three floors of utter squalor, cut up into flats without proper kitchens or lavatories, and with a basement used by two women of, to say the least, rather doubtful probity.
Said Mr. Brooke: ‘I made up my mind then that when the chance came to strike against such conditions in the twentieth century I would strike hard.’”

We are told that this is an “urgent reform”, one brought to light by Mr. Brooke’s personal injunction. Of course the evil has been known to all who wanted to know it throughout Mr. Brooke’s lifetime, and in the lifetime of his father and grandfather and great=grandfather.

As a postscript may we quote the dedication in Mr. Harry Barnes’ book:

One dwelling, one family
Every family, a dwelling.


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