29 JULY 1972, Page 31


Poor families custos

What is a one parent family? The question has of course exercised the Finer Committee ever since it was established. If, for example, a mother has been deserted by her husband but cohabits intermittently with another man, is that one parent or three? This rather more than academic point has to be settled now that the committee must reach a decision on a vital issue — should it recommend a new special cash allowance for the children of unsupported parents? Latest intelligence is that opinion is sharply split with two Lonrfon professors heading the rival camps. Titmus of LSE, a high priest of universalism, reckons that the situation is best dealt with by a simple increase in general family allowances. McGregor of Bedford conversely argues that positive discrimination is needed to give fatherless children a start financially anything like equivalent to that enjoyed by their luckier peers. The chairman inclines to the McGregor view, but I understand that the whole committee recently retreated for a weekend session in an attempt to thrash ority report now has to be taken seriously.

Shout " FIS " at a Labour MP and see what happens. In most instances he will explode, and denounce the measure as a mean minded little means test. He will be right about the means test, but is it mean minded? Poor working families gain up to £5 a week and, unlike family allowances, the benefit is payable to one-child households.

Now look at Labour's draft policy document. What plans does Labour have to replace this mean minded scheme? A policy of child endowments is proposed. Family Allowance payments and child tax allowances will be merged and a universal child endowment paid from the proceeds. So far so good, but how will this replace FIS? Labour's policy makers have assumed that the new benefit will be large enough to take families above the qua.ifying income levels for FIS. A nice idea, but it won't work. First, Family Allowances will have to be extended to the first child and this will double their cost. Second, the clawback principle has cancelled out a fair slice of child tax allowances. The new child endowment will not be large enough to raise most families above FIS. So who has the mean minded little scheme?