27 SEPTEMBER 1969, Page 3

Harold Wilson is my daddy

e important article by an official of the pplementary Benefits Commission ich we published in our issue of 6 ptember, under the title 'The truth ut the welfare rackets', has aroused exceptional amount of interest. aders' letters continue to stream in, rliamentary questions are being pre- red for the new session, at least one ember has announced his intention of king an Adjournment Debate on 'the uses of Supplementary Benefits', the ginal article has been reprinted (with r permission) these past two Sundays the News of the World (thus ensuring a slightly wider circulation), while the ter newspapers have addressed them- es to the larger questions raised by evidence of 'Robert Odams' and ussed in our supporting editorial. 11 this is testimony above all to the portance of an issue which has for too long been neglected by both meal parties, and to the strength of public opinion that has been building during the years of neglect. The affair the hippie-squatters of 144 Piccadilly, their subsequent ejection by the cc, may have received almost as essive a press coverage as the simul- ous ejection (without the aid of- the ice) of Mr Michael Peacock from the rd of London Weekend Television; as a focus of attention on a serious e it could not have come at a better e. 'Dr John', the hippie-squatters' er. interviewed by the BBC after the Lion, declared 'I think 144 Piccadilly made its point'. That it certainly has, ough it is doubtful whether it was point that 'Dr John' had in mind. In event, it was not lost on Mr David d1s. the Minister of State at the drtment of Health and Social ray, who promptly announced that ad given 'clear instructions' that any rn for supplementary benefits for the rhabitants of 144 Piccadilly was to t:fused.

"tether this ruling is in practice rceable is dubious. That it is trary and, in itself, inequitable is there are large numbers of equally serving recipients of supplementary benefit who have never set foot inside 144 Piccadilly, while eligibility for benefit should not normally be deter- mined by instant ministerial decree. But Mr Ennals's statement represents a startling volte-face in official policy which is, on the whole, to be welcomed. The spurious demands of 'social justice' may at last begin to yield precedence to the moral imperatives of justice.

But this is only a beginning, an isolated instance which is justified only if the principles that are implicit are made the basis for a recasting of the entire welfare state on a fair and consistent footing. For it is not just the question of cash hand- outs that is involved. The 144 Piccadilly affair itself was, at least originally, meant to have some connection with the con- tinuing housing shortage.

It has been claimed that, as a protest against this, it not merely failed but has actually harmed the cause: that the obscenities, violence and filth of the Piccadilly hippie-squatters has tarnished the image of clean-limbed young Mr Des Wilson and his high-pressure 'Shelter' organisation. This may be so, but it would be unwarranted. Mr (Des) Wilson is muddled--he is concerned that there should be enough decent accommodation for everyone, yet advocates rent control for furnished tenancies which would inevitably dry up the supply; he is obsessed with the need for the govern- ment to build more houses, despite the Milner Holland Committee's finding that the real need was for measures to arrest and reverse the decline of the private rented sector. Yet for all that 'Shelter' is right on two important counts: first, that decent housing is in many cases far more important than cash handouts. and. second, in the emphasis it gives to education, advice and casework.

In his new book, Party Games. Mr Christopher Mayhew records how, with the emergence of the full employment, wel- fare state, moderately affluent society, an increasing proportion of those of his con- stituents who come to him with apparently political problems are in fact suffering from personal and often quasi-medical difficulties. The trouble with cash hand- outs is not merely that it is an effrontery to expect the hardworking majority of the population to support those who have chosen, for whatever reason, whether tem- porarily or permanently, to opt out of society and its obligations. It is also that they are no substitute for the dedicated personal casework and attention for which there is a genuine need. Indeed, the philo- sophy of the cash handout—which is to a large extent the philosophy of the present welfare state as a whole—encourages dependence where what is required is in- dependence, irresponsibility where what is wanted is responsibility.

But the political pressures against the old philosophy are mounting. One of the earlier Piccadilly Circus hippies, when asked by a reporter whether his father was providing him with an allowance, aptly replied 'Harold Wilson is my daddy'. It is the strength of popular revulsion against this aspect of the welfare state that prompted Mr Ennals to take the line he did—for it is the working-class Labour supporter who often feels most strongly on this issue, since he is closest to the abuses that occur. Indeed, had it not been for the fact that the articulate middle classes are by and large unaware of how the present 'handout' system works in prac- tice, something would have been done about it long ago.

At last, however, grass roots feeling—in both parties—is making itself felt. And politicians, happily, can now afford to listen. Over the past decade, governments of both parties have perforce been obsessed with one issue—the balance of payments. Now, thanks to devaluation (which, readers of this journal will note without surprise, is having its predicted effect) the balance of payments constraint is steadily becoming less onerous and in- tractable, and politicians can turn their attention to other matters. Nor can there be any doubt about where the farseeing politician should look. For if the balance of payments was the overriding domestic issue of British politics in the 'sixties, the great domestic issue for the 'seventies will surely be the physical and social environ- ment in which we live. If Mr Heath can wholeheartedly and constructively address himself to this, he will not merely win but thoroughly deserve to win the next general election.