UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE OR POOR RELIEF ?
WHAT the country expects from the Cabinet Com- mittee on Unemployment is not a temporary expedient for getting over the difficulty of this winter, but some appreciation at least, in the interests of public economy, of the need of harmonizing the poor relief and unemployment benefit. At present the hopelessness of the position is aggravated by the chaotic state of the prinoiples on which the unem- ployed are relieved. There is no theory. There can be no policy. In some boroughs unemployment benefit is the sole resource. In others unemployment benefit is supple- mented, doubled, or trebled by poor relief. Elsewhere there is nothing but poor relief, and that on a scale that bears no relation to and does not take into consideration unemployment benefit. In other words, a Board of Guardians, like a Labour Exchange, has no means of know- ing when a man oan get employment. A Board of Guar- dians, indeed, is in a worse position than a Labour Exchange, for it is not even a Labour Exchange. If, then, light is to descend upon this dark difficulty, if some solution of an enduring kind is to be arrived at, the first problem to be solved is how the overlapping of poor relief and unemploy- ment benefit is to be corrected.
The whole question is further complicated by the prejudice which surrounds it. To insist on economic law and experience in connexion with unemployment is to lay oneself open to the charge of being callous and unsympa- thetic. We shall not shirk an obvious duty by fear of such criticism. Labour demands, with all the monotony and importunity of the parrot, " Work or Maintenance." That is a phrase. Half the problems which confront the world to-day are attributable to this glib coinage of phrases. The Tessara-decalogue of President Wilson has bathed two continents in tears. The negotiations with Ireland have been compromised and prejudiced by a loose and unsatis- factory use of language. Even the revered statesman who was responsible for the meaningless juxtaposition of words " Home Rule " is not without his share of blame. But where we are willing to find excuses for the Labour Party, we are not ready to find them for the literary leaders of Sinn Fein. The whole subject of phrase-making is so vital in this question of unemployment that we make no apology for drawing a contrast between the academicians of Sinn Fein and the academicians of the Labour Party. The academician has tried to patronize the Labour Party, and his handiwork is visible in the resolutions of the Trade Union Congress. Thus it is that the reality of the subjects discussed at Congress is not to be found in the wording of the resolutions discussed, but in the speeches of the Labour leaders. The academician, we repeat, has tried to patronize the Labour Party, but the Labour leader does not talk the language of the academician. Among the Sinn Feiners the contrary is the case. What they have to say is fifty times worse than the manner in which they say it. With the Labour Party we are conscious that the manner in which they say it is fifty times worse than what they have to say. Thus their real fault is to generalize from a too narrow view of the particular instance, and of that too narrow view the phrase " work or maintenance " is a good example. No time need be wasted in painting a picture of the anxieties of those who are liable at any moment to be Cast out of work. Their sufferings and their mental torture meet, we trust, in the community at large with so ready a sympathy that it would be superfluous to dwell upon the subject. That any man should be con- fronted with starvation in a civilized community is now altogether out of the question. That a man should be maintained in some way or other when there is no work for him to do is altogether accepted. The whole problem is, What form should this maintenance• take ? The Labour Party has failed because it has not appreciated that a difference of opinion could possibly arise on the alternative manners in which maintenance should be given. When the Labour Party talks of maintenance for the unemployed, it conceives that it is the duty of the State to maintain them. It is not the duty of the State at all. It is the duty of industry. The corollary of maintenance by the State is industrial conscription. That is a logical sequeire of the argument which Labour would shirk—and naturally shirk. It is none the less a logical sequence. If the State is to maintain those for whom no work can be found in the natural commerce of the market, the State has every right to make an unemployed 'bus-conductor into an employed road-mender or into an employed soldier. He who pays the piper has a right to call the tune, even if that tune break the heart or ruin the ear-drums of the piper called upon to play it. It is because we would see the working classes in this country spared the horrible tyranny of State-ordered toil that we are opposed to State maintenance. We are opposed to local main- tenance for the same reason. The industry which employs a man should, in conjunction with trade unionism, shelter him from the recurrences of unemployment hi that industry. It can so shelter him without tyranny. It can so shelter him by a reasoned scheme of insurance in which he has the honourable feeling of doing for himself what he is now claiming should be done for him. Relief works are therefore no real solution, though we admit that we are now in such a parlous state that some relief work may be the best " way out," and that work on the roads is likely to be comparatively useful and the least wasteful. In the largest sense and in the long run, however, relief works aggravate the problem which they are destined to solve. They throw an unremunerative burden upon the already overburdened taxpayer, or ratepayer, or both. Both taxes and rates are the product of industry. Because industry is not paying, the problem of unemployment arises. Therefore, if in order to palliate that position you are to penalize industry still further, you are increasing the intensity of a problem that you desire to solve. When your industry is depressed you cannot revivify it by depressing it still more, by taking more from it in the shape of rates and taxes. Relief works are unproductive and are a burden upon industry. It VMS precisely with the idea of relieving industry from that burden in times like the present that the State Insurance scheme was instituted.
Now, the methods propounded by the localities with Labour majorities for relieving distress by levies on the rates and taxes are comprehensible. Councils are elected by a population of which the majority are not ratepayers —at least, not directly or consciously. They are therefore willingly invested with a power to levy rates on property which has no votes. In districts like Poplar, two-thirds of the rates are payable by the railway companies and large institutions of commerce, business, or manufacture. These companies and institutions pay rates but have no votes. Thins, whereas " no taxation without repre- sentation " is a consecrated principle of the Constitution, in districts like Poplar the taxed are not represented and the represented are not taxed. That means politically that the Labour members aro elected avowedly on a policy that rates and taxes arc a means of redistributing the national income. They are enabled to tax and rate other people's property without fear of retribution at a next election. It is not surprising, therefore, that the scheme of industrial insurance against unemployment has not figured very prominently in their propaganda or been considered worthy of their serious thought. The system of insurance, however, is the most honourable system for all concerned. It is, moreover, the most economical system. But here again, as in the question of maintenance, there is a difference in the manner in which it can be carried out. At present it is unsatisfactory, expensive, and abused, because it is administered by the State, and administered atrociously. When trade was prosperous, when taxes were therefore easily leviable, a scheme should have been worked out whereby industry was compelled to provide against the coming of a period such as that at which we have now arrived. The oppor- tunity was neglected by the State. It was not, however, neglected by all industries. A letter in the Times of Tuesday, September 20th, from the managing-director of Messrs. Bryant and May explains the provisions by which the Whitley Councils for the industry with which that firm is connected drew up a voluntary unemployment benefit scheme, the essential features of which are :- " To remove as completely as possible from the minds of the workers the anxiety which they may feel owing to the risk of unemployment through trade depression. To create a fund by setting aside sums equal to 1 per cent. of its wages bill during each year until the unemployment fund reaches an amount equalling 5 per cent. of the wages bill, and thereafter setting aside annually such sums (not exceeding 1 per cent. of the wages bill) to maintain the fund at a sum equalling 5 per cent. of the wages bill."
There are other details to which space forbids us to refer. Details, however, are not important. The principle is there, and it should be the guiding principle of the Cabinet Committee.
As, however, the burden of unemployment insurance has not been put upon industry, but has been assumed by the State, the problem has got to be faced as it is. Either the Unemployment Insurance Act is right or it is wrong. We believe that it is right in so far as it is an insurance scheme, but wrong in so far as it casts the burden on the State. However, there it is, and it must be considered in any proposals that are made. If the benefit it provides be demonstrably insufficient, that benefit must be raised. If, on the other hand, it be sufficient, there should be no poor relief to supplement it. Obviously it is insufficient. Fifteen shillings a week may be a useful sum, but it is not sum enough. Poor relief on the scale in which it is given is sum enough, but it is degrading to the recipient. The population has been corrupted by doles and demoralized by subsidies. The dole system is rendering more harm to the country than unemployment itself. Because a man is out of work he should be treated, none the less, like a gentleman and an Englishman, not like a pauper and a beggar. The Insur- ance Act may be a failure—it is a failure—but a man can accept its benefits without disgrace. It is therefore incumbent on the Cabinet Committee to provide for the time being such relief as is necessary through the expensive, albeit unsatisfactory, organization which now exists. To endedvour by artificial and unproductive work to assuage the situation is uneconomical, except in so far as work of a necessary character is merely waiting to be done for lack of funds. If the work be not necessary, men " set upon it " will not put their backs into it. Nor will the mere provision of work make them feel that they are genuinely working for a livelihood, which is the argu- ment of those who advocate this "solution." To allow, on the other hand, Boards of Guardians to utilize the money of the ratepayers and the taxpayers to bring about the ideals of " Socialism " is equally noxious. But the duty of the Cabinet Committee will not have ceased there. It ought to propound a scheme whereby an end may definitely be put to these disastrous and recurring periods of unemployment coupled with the alternative of starvation or doles. By throwing upon industry the burdens which industry alone can bear, such a solution may be reached ; and for the future the measure of what industry can bear should set the standard of insurance benefit to the workers and free the rates and the taxes from an unfair and uneconomical contribution.