Beveridge: Change 17 Widow’s Pension

Change 17. Replacement of unconditional inadequate widows’ pensions by provision suited to the varied needs of widows, including temporary widows’ benefit at a special rate, in all cases, training benefit when required, and guardian benefit so long as there are dependent children.

153. Widowhood is now dealt with by the grant of a small unconditional pension taking no account of real needs, inadequate in many cases and superfluous in other cases, as is the unconditional pension for old age. There is no reason why a childless widow should get a pension for life; if she is able to work, she should work. On the other hand, provision much better than at present should be made for those who, because they have the care of children, cannot work for gain or cannot work regularly. The proposals set out in Part V (para. 346) include accordingly the following:—

(a)      In all cases widow’s benefit for thirteen weeks at a rate equivalent to maternity benefit, that is to say, 50 per cent, higher than unemployment
and disability benefit, to allow time for readjustment to new conditions.

(b)       So long as there are dependent children, guardian benefit adequate for subsistence subject to adjustment for actual earnings.

(c)        Training benefit with a view to resumption of gainful occupation.

154. They include, also, retention of differentiation between deaths of breadwinners due to industrial accident or disease and such deaths due to other causes, by providing industrial grant in the former case, further consideration of the amount, allocation and method of payment of this grant in the light of the general insurance proposals.    Where the death of the breadwinner is due to a cause other than industrial accident or disease, there may in many cases, if not most cases, be a need for a cash grant over and above the special widow’s benefit.    Payment made on a death where this involves not merely funeral expenses but loss   of maintenance should be sufficient to cover not only funeral expenses, but to provide a lump sum. This, however, is probably in general a matter for voluntary rather than compulsory insurance and is to a large extent provided voluntarily through industrial assurance policies taken out by men on their own lives or by wives on the lives of their husbands.   The treatment of this problem depends upon the decisions taken on Change 23 below.

155. The rate of guardian benefit proposed is designed to be sufficient, in combination with children’s allowances, to meet subsistence needs, even if the widow does not undertake any gainful occupation while she is looking after the children.    Some widows in such a position may nevertheless be able to work and earn and may desire to do so.   The right principle appears to be to treat such earnings, as it is proposed to treat earnings made by persons in receipt of retirement pension, by making a reduction of the benefit which allows the widow to retain a proportion, but not the whole, of her earnings in addition to full benefit.

156.      The proposal to abandon the present system, under which pensions for life or till re-marriage are paid to widows irrespective of their family responsibilities, was supported by nearly all witnesses who expressed an opinion to the Committee on this point.  In many cases, if not most, these witnesses, while holding that the widows of working age without children should be expected to work and not to receive pensions, emphasised the difficulty in which those who became widowed late in life, though before pensionable age, or whose children ceased to be dependent when they were already advanced in age, would have in finding, or being trained for, new employment.   They suggested, in effect, that some special provision should be made for those who became widowed or whose children ceased to be dependent when they were, say, 50 and upwards.    On this difficult point, after full consideration, the view taken in the Report is that no benefit as of right should be provided.    Having regard to the prospective age constitution of the population, the principle that any person physically fit for work should be entitled to retire from work upon pension before reaching the minimum pension age of 60 for women or 65 for men cannot without grave danger be admitted in any scheme for social insurance.   Those whose widowhood is due to industrial accident or disease will be covered by the special provision made for such cases.   Those who at the time of the husband’s death are totally disabled will get disability benefit.   All other widows who, for any other reason, after the ending of the widow’s benefit, are unable to obtain paid work of any type within their powers can and will be provided for by assistance. Permanent provision for widowhood as such, irrespective of the care of children and of need, is a matter for voluntary insurance by the husband.