Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 14 May 1942

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne PortsMinister for Social Services and Minister for Health) . - by leave - 1 move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

Included in the recommendations made to Parliament by the Joint Committee on Social Security in its first interim report was a proposal to pay pensions to widows with dependent children, widows over 50 years, widows in ill health, widows in destitute circumstances immediately after the death of their husbands, deserted wives, and wives whose husbands arc inmates of mental hospitals and to dependent children under the age of sixteen years. The Government has given careful consideration to the extremely valuable reports of this committee, and after an examination of the evidence has decided to introduce this bill providing pensions or allowances to the classes mentioned. For more than a quarter of a century my association with the less fortunate citizens of the community has convinced me of the necessity for this measure, and it gives me much pleasure to have the privilege of submitting the bill to the House.

Before mentioning particulars more directly concerning the proposed legislation, I wish to place on record this Government's appreciation of the action of the New South Wales . Government in placing at my disposal the services of experienced officers of the State Public Service. They are familiar with the widows' pensions scheme operating in that State, and without their help and advice it would not have been possible to prepare this bill in the very limited time at our disposal. I wish also to make similar expressions to the Solicitor-General and those of his officers who have devoted long periods to the drafting of the measure. I must also express my thanks to the staff of the Department of Social Services.

Almost every civilized country has recognized that the premature death of the breadwinner is one of the major causes of poverty, and in recent years provision for widows and children by contributory and non-contributory pension schemes has spread rapidly. In England ever since the report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws in 1909, it has been clear that widowhood is one of the chief causes of destitution, and in 1936 as a result of a comprehensive investigation the United States of America Social Security Board established the fact that " the problem of economic insecurity is particularly acute in broken families headed by a woman ". The findings of the board emphasized the significance of the social security programme in its relation to widows and children. The Government believes that it would be unreasonable to expect the community at large to support every widow regardless of age and economic circumstances. Some have been left in a relatively comfortable position and a young widow without children frequently finds no difficulty in providing for herself. Those with young children and those beyond middle life or in ill health are the ones with whom the Government is mainly concerned. The widow with a young family has an important trusteeship. She is responsible for the rearing and training of those from whom the future leaders of this nation will be drawn. If this task proves too great for her slender resources there is every justification for government aid.

For the information of honorable members I now propose to make passing reference to provision which has been made in other countries for widows and children. In several European countries provision for the widow- and children of a deceased insured person is made under contributory schemes providing for invalid and old-age pensions. Pensions for the widow and children are usually based on the invalid and old-age pension to which the deceased was entitled, but the proportion varies considerably in different countries from 20 per cent, to 50 per cent, for the widow, and from 10 per cent, to 50 per cent, for the children. Pensions to widows and children were paid in Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands, and there was a noncontributory scheme in Denmark under which indigent widows had the right to a public contribution towards the support of their children under the age of fourteen years.

In 1939 there were in Great Britain some 3,900,000 persons drawing pensions, including 650,000 widows and 275,000 dependent children, and of these pensions some 550,000 were noncontributory. Whilst at first social insurance schemes in Great Britain were directed at the protection of the workman himself, the necessity for making provision for the family when death removed the breadwinner has increasingly claimed attention. The fifteen years' debate which followed the report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws culminated in the passage of the Widows', Orphans' and Old-age Contributory Pensions Act 1925. All persons insured under the national health insurance scheme, whether as employed or voluntary contributors, are within the scope of the widows' and orphans' scheme.

There is no statutory provision for assistance to widows who cannot benefit under the contributory insurance scheme, but it is the function of an Assistance Board reconstituted in 1940, during the present war, to look after such persons and to see that they are given monetary assistance. Thus the British system as it appears at present is that a widow, whether or not she is incapable of work or is required to support children, is entitled to a pension if her husband has been a contributor to the insurance scheme. If the pension so obtained be insufficient, as it- almost certainly will be in the absence of other provision, the widow may apply to the Assistance Board. If she has never come within the scope of the insurance scheme, she may also apply to the Assistance Board. In both latter contingencies a rigid inquiry will be made into her means', but the principle is definitely established that every widow is entitled to some assistance. Recent amendments have liberalized the scheme.

The latest information to hand relating to France refers to 1933, at which date every French citizen supporting more than three children and having insufficient means for their up-bringing was entitled to an 'annual allowance for each child beyond the third under thirteen years of age. If the children are SUPported by the mother alone, assistance is given for every child beyond the first. In Germany, invalidity and old-age insurance for persons employed in industry, commerce and agriculture was introduced in 1889, and in 1911 widows' and orphans' insurance was added. There are two main insurance schemes, one covering all manual workers and the other, salaried employees. Under the manual workers' scheme, widows' pensions are payable to all insured persons who are widows incapable of work or have completed their sixty-fifth year. Public assistance of a non-insurance character is given to widows who cannot qualify for the insurance scheme. Such assistance includes medical attention, payment of part of the costs of confinement, maternity benefit, and nursing benefit.

Until the passage of the Social Security Act there were no widows' pensions in the United States of America, but for 30 years various States had given what .is termed mothers' aid. Death of the father is a universally accepted reason for aid, and other reasons include desertion, physical or mental incapacity or imprisonment of the father, or divorce of the parents. Residential qualifications are required, and at least one child must be under a prescribed age. The resources of the family must be insufficient to provide proper maintenance and care for the children, and the mother must be mentally and morally fit to have the care of the children. Amendments to the Social Security Act approved in August, 1939, broadened the social security programme to include survivors' insurance, and changed the basic principles and direction of the national old-age insurance programme. Whereas the 1935 act limited the monthly annuities to the insured workers- themselves, the 1939 old-age and survivors' insurance plan extended benefits to the aged wives and widows of the insured to their dependent minor children, to younger widows with minor children to support, and, when there were no survivors, to aged parents wholly dependent on deceased insured persons. The American scheme is very complex, but in essence it is the same as the British scheme, except that contributions are graduated and benefits depend on the amount contributed.

Canada does not have a full widows' pension scheme, but allowances are given in respect of dependent children to mothers or to foster-mothers. The responsibility for this work belongs to the provinces or municipalities. Generally, before benefit will be given the mother must he without adequate means of properly maintaining the children.

In South Africa, under the Children's Protection Act, maintenance grants can be secured for children committed to private institutions, or child welfare societies, or ordered to remain in the care and custody of their mothers who are widows, or the wives of husbands who, owing to circumstances beyond their control, are unable to maintain their children properly.

New Zealand, prior to the passing of the Social Security Act, had a noncontributory scheme provided by the Widows' Pensions Act 1911. The Social Security Act substituted a contributory pension for this non-contributory pension, but New Zealand has departed from the insurance principle by imposing a means test. Every person who is continuously resident in New Zealand is liable to pay the social security contribution, which consists of a registration fee and a charge on all salaries, wages and other income, amounting to ls. in the £1. For this contribution numerous benefits are obtainable, amongst them being widows' and orphans' benefits. No widow under 50 who has not had one or more children can qualify for benefit under the Social Security Act. The rate of benefit is £91 a year for a widow with one child under sixteen, plus a further £26 a year for each additional child under sixteen, with a maximum benefit of £234 a year. A widow may have an income of £78 a year from other sources without reducing the benefit. When her youngest child reaches the age of sixteen years the widows' benefit may continue at £52 a year throughout widowhood. A childless widow is also entitled to a benefit of £52 a year provided she became a widow after attaining the age of 50 years and had been married for more than five years, or had attained the ago of 50 years, had become a widow after the age of 40 years and her marriage had continued for not less than ten years, and fifteen years had elapsed since the date of her marriage. Applicants of this class are allowed to receive other income amounting to £52 a year. Orphans under sixteen are entitled to a benefit not exceeding £39 a year, reduced by the amount of any other income received for the benefit of the orphans.

In Australia, the New South Wales and Victorian Governments give pensions to widows, but the Victorian scheme is very limited, costing only about £20,000 annually. A widow in Victoria is given 6s. to 15s. weekly, and her children up to the age of 14, 6s. to 12s. weekly. Less than 1,000 widows receive the pension in Victoria as against about 7,000 in New South Wales.

Widows' pensions were first paid in New South Wales early in 1926. The maximum pension payable was £1 a week for the widow and 10s. a week for each eligible child under fourteen. A widow may ako receive a pension if she has a child under sixteen who is suffering from mental or physical disability, or who possesses special scholastic ability and is dependent wholly or mainly upon her for support. If she be not le3S than 50 years of age and be in destitute circumstances; or if on tlie death of her husband she he left unprovided for, the pension is payable for six months only. In 1941 7,000 pensions were paid in New South Wales to a value of over £600,000. The widow is subjected to a residence, means and character test. The pension is reduced by £1 per annum for each £1 of the widows' income in excess of £39 a year. Part of the earnings of her children are also deducted from her net income. By amending legislation last week the maximum rate was raised to £1 5s. a week, and the provisions were slightly liberalized in other directions.

It has been shown that with the exception of the two States mentioned there has been a somewhat lamentable disregard of the welfare of widows and children in Australia. The Commonwealth Government believes that residents of all States should enjoy social benefits on a uniform basis, and in pursuance of that po gay submits what merits description as a major advance in Commonwealth social legislation. This bill can only be regarded as a commencement. It makes no pretence at perfection and will certainly be subjected to such amendment as experience shows to be necessary, and will assuredly be followed by further development of federal social services in a manner that will provide real social security for all our people.

The object of this bill is to provide pensions and allowances to widows and unendowed children, subject to compliance with prescribed conditions regarding age and means. In preparing the legislation, the New South Wales system has been closely adhered to and whilst eligible Class " A " widows in that State will probably benefit very little, if at all. under the federal scheme, others will, and widows in other parts of the Commonwealth will receive the proposed federal benefits with considerable pleasure. It has been decided to include as widows, de facto widows, a woman who is not legally named, but who lived on a bona fide permanent domestic basis for the three years immediately preceding the death of the man with whom she lived ; a deserted wife who has taken legal action against her husband for desertion; a woman who lias been granted a divorce and has not remarried; and a woman whose husband or de facto husband is an inmate of a hospital for the insane.

There are three class groups of widows who will benefit. The first class includes widows of any age who are maintaining at least one child under the age of sixteen years. For this class, the maximum allowance is £78 per annum and the means test closely resembles that in force in New South Wales. Because children are involved, the Government has made this a reasonably liberal test and in addition to excluding personal property, including the house in which she resides and furniture, it has permitted the ownership of £1,000 without seriously affecting the maximum rate of pension.

In the second class there are widows over 50 years of age without dependent children. In this class the maximum rate is £65 per annum and the means test to be applied is the same as now exists for invalid and old-age pensions purposes with which all honorable members are familiar.

The third class consists of widows under 50 years of age without dependent children, who find themselves in indigent circumstances upon the death of their husbands. For this class an allowance at the maximum rate of 25s. a week will be approved for a period not exceeding six months immediately following the husband's death. The commissioner will take into account the circumstances regarding income, property and earning capacity. It is intended generally that if after the payment of all reasonable expenses such as hospital, medical, funeral or other debts of the deceased husband, the amount remaining for the widow does not exceed £50, a temporary allowance will be granted.

Whilst the conditions vary somewhat according to each category, the following primary qualifications apply in all instances: -

1.   A claimant must be resident in Australia at the date of her claim and must have so resided for a period of five years immediately preceding that date, but absences not exceeding one-tenth of the total residence will not operate to the detriment of the widow.

2.   Direct or indirect deprivation of property or income to obtain a pension or an increase of a pension will disqualify a claimant, as will the ownership of property exceeding £1,000 in class A and £400 in class B.

3.   Aliens, aboriginal natives of Africa, the Pacific Islands or New Zealand and aboriginal natives of Australia, except those who are regarded as eligible for invalid and old-age pensions or child endowment, will not be eligible for widows' pensions or allowances. In this respect the bill is in accord with similar social service measures that the Parliament has approved. In all cases, the permissible income of £32 10s. per annum, provided for in the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, will he disregarded when determining widows' pensions.

4.   " Income " has practically the same meaning as in the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, and the complete disregard of allowances from any children of the widow will make the Commonwealth scheme a little more generous than that of the New South Wales one. Honorable members are aware that under the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act the earnings of children are not taken into consideration in determining the eligibility of parents for the pension. That principle has been followed in this bill. The earnings of children will not be taken into account in determining widows' pensions, whether the children live at home or not.

5.   Property is defined to include all real and personal property owned by the widow, comprising land, houses, moneys in the bank, money due to her, shares in companies, investments and cash on hand, but not to include the house in which the widow and her dependent child resides, and the value of her furniture and other personal effects. In exceptional circumstances, a certain amount of discretionary power will be given the Commissioner to disregard property. This provision has been incorporated in consequence of requests from honorable members of all parties. The Government considers that encumbered property should not be considered with the object of reducing pensions.

It is intended to pay pensions monthly in arrear as from the 30th day of June next. The first payment will be due on the 27th July. In Victoria, such allowances are now paid monthly in arrear and in New South Wales they are paid fortnightly. It is hoped that the allowances will be paid on lines closely following those fixed for child endowment purposes.

Claim forms will be obtainable shortly from all post offices or from the office of the Deputy Commissioner ' for Pensions in each State. .On completion the forms should be forwarded to the Deputy Commissioner for Pensions at the capital city of the State in which the claimant resides. Those from the Australian Capital Territory should be sent to the Deputy Commissioner in New South Wales, and those from the Northern Territory to the Deputy Commissioner in Adelaide. Pensions and allowances will be subject to review largely on a system applicable to invalid and old-age pensions. Generally speaking, it is hoped that once an allowance has been granted it will be continued for a lengthy period.

Sir Frederick Stewart - Is it not hoped that some of the widows will re-marry?

Mr HOLLOWAY - That is hoped, of course, but the Government also hopes that the rate of pension will not chop and change in respect of particular pensioners, and so cause increased clerical work.

I am confident that all honorable members will be pleased to assist in passing this measure, which will afford some help to about 30,000 widows and 21,000 children. The estimated cost of the scheme is about £1,600,000 per annum.

The Labour party, as honorable members generally are aware, has had widows' pensions on its political platform for more than 20 years. About fifteen years ago the present Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) was a member pf the royal commission appointed by the Bruce-Page Government to inquire into and report upon pensions generally, unemployment, and child endowment, and even at that time he strongly urged the introduction of a scheme for the payment of widows' pensions. I am certain that the right honorable gentleman is pleased that a measure of this description is being submitted to the Parliament during his term of office as Prime Minister. I hope that the bill will be given a speedy passage through the Parliament.

Debate (on motion by Sir Frederick Stewart) adjourned.

Suggest corrections