CHAPTER 19: HOUSING COSTS The regulations The board had accepted from the start that variations in housing

costs must be taken into account. The basic assumption in the 1934 regulations was that one-quarter of the scale rates - the “basic rent allowance” - was for housing; if the actual housing costs were more or less than this, the allowance payable would be adjusted. As explained in chapter 11, however, the relative simplicity of that rule had been lost by the time the regulations were laid before parliament: an increase of 1s.6d. per week in the basic rent allowance for small families was largely nullified by the power to waive the first 1s.6d. of a reduction for low rent where there were “special circumstances” (interpreted by the board as meaning that an applicant without other resources would suffer a net cut in his or her weekly allowance). These complications were not repeated in the 1936 regulations. The basic assumption that one-quarter of the scale rates was for housing was retained, but the term “basic rent allowance”, which had caused considerable confusion, was replaced by “standard rent”. As before, allowances were to be increased or reduced to take account of differences between actual and standard rents. The main innovation was that the local advisory committees were to be consulted regarding modifications of the standard rent calculation to take account of local rent levels, and also about the ways in which allowances were to be adjusted where actual rents differed from the standard. Before the 1936 regulations could be brought into operation, the local advisory committees’ recommendations had to be obtained and the board had to decide to what extent they should be followed. We noted in chapter 17 how the board sought to guide the committees’ deliberations on the liquidation of the standstill. The same technique was used in relation to the rent rules, the first subject on which the committees were asked to advise. Low rents In view of the disastrous effects of the treatment of low rent cases under the 1934 regulations, this aspect of the committees’ recommendations was crucial. The new regulations, while not excluding other options, specified two possible types of adjustment. The first - to disregard part of the difference between the actual rent and the onequarter “standard rent” - was intended, like the power in the 1934 regulations to waive the first 1s.6d. of a reduction for low rent, to help applicants whose rents were low by local standards. The board’s advice to the committees was that a disregard of up to 3s., possibly limited to particular classes of cases, would be reasonable; to go beyond this could create a sense of grievance, not only where applicants with widely different rents received the same allowances, but also where people


rehoused from slum property received no addition for their increased rent. The second type of adjustment specified in the regulations was intended to limit the number of cuts in low-rented areas by reducing the standard rent to less than a quarter of the scale rates; the board indicated that it would regard a fraction of one-fifth or one-sixth as reasonable, possibly combined with a 1s. disregard in special cases. The committees generally followed the board’s guidance. The most common recommendation in England and Wales was a disregard of between 1s. and 3s. of the difference between actual and standard rents. In Scotland, where low rents were more prevalent, most committees recommended reducing the standard rent to one-sixth of the scale rates (equivalent to an addition of 2s.4d. to the weekly allowance of a one-child family), in some cases adding a 1s. disregard for small households. Some Scottish committees combined the two approaches, recommending a 3s. disregard where this was more favourable than the one-sixth formula (the committee for the border counties of Berwick, Peebles, Roxburgh and Selkirk at first recommended a 4s. disregard but was persuaded to reduce it to 3s.). In parts of England, differences between the recommendations for adjoining areas caused some anxiety, but there was only one which the board felt obliged to reject on these grounds: that of the Woolwich (south-east London) committee which insisted on being more generous than its neighbours. Over the country as a whole, the new low rent rules proved flexible enough to prevent widespread reductions in allowances. Their effect was to give applicants in low-rented areas a significant advantage over those in London and other high-rented areas.
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High rents Under both the 1934 and 1936 regulations, decisions had to be made as to the extent to which rents above the “basic” or “standard” level should be met. The 1934 regulations provided for a rent of up to a third of the scale rates to be met, provided that it was “in all the circumstances reasonable”. The board’s published guidance to its officers indicated that, for a household of four adults and three children in London, a rent of 16s. per week, 2s.6d. above the basic rent, would not be considered unreasonable. In other areas, the availability of suitable cheaper accommodation and the family’s “normal economic position” would be taken into account. Even a clearly excessive rent was to be met in full, up to the one-third limit, for a reasonable time to allow the applicant to obtain cheaper accommodation.

A rent above one-third of the scale rates could in some cases be met in full as a “special circumstance” under the board’s discretionary powers. In the three London districts, area officers were authorised to meet rents up to 2s.6d. per week above the one-third limit on a discretionary basis. A similar arrangement could be made, with headquarters approval, in other districts with high rents. Elsewhere, discretion was to be exercised at district level. The unpublished internal guidance

distinguished between three types of cases. If the rent was exorbitant by local standards, it was up to the tenant to “get the terms of his bargain revised”. If the accommodation was larger or of a higher standard than the family’s circumstances warranted, they would be given the choice of sub-letting part of it or moving, the rent being met in full for up to four weeks. In the third type of case, where the general level of rents in the area was high, regard was to be had to when and why the applicant had moved there and whether cheaper accommodation was available within a mile or two. Whatever the reason for the high rent, however, no discretionary addition was to be allowed if there were disregarded resources which could be used for this purpose.

The advisory committees’ recommendations under the 1936 regulations made relatively little difference to the treatment of high rent cases in most areas, but the London committees recommended higher limits: generally one-third or three-eighths of the scale rates plus 2s.6d. a week. Three of them recommended that rents should be met in full in all cases provided that they were reasonable (in one case, the condition was that the accommodation was reasonable and no cheaper suitable accommodation was available). The Woolwich committee was again out of line, at first proposing that rents be met in full unconditionally but later agreeing to add a test of reasonableness.
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London rents remained an intractable problem. In 1938, only about 7.2 per cent of applicants in Scotland were paying rent (after deducting the proceeds of subletting) of 10s. or more, and less than 2 per cent were paying 12s.6d. or more. In the whole of England and Wales, the proportions were 33.4 per cent and 15.6 per cent; in London 73.9 per cent and 51.3 per cent. Regional officers reported that house rents for reasonable accommodation in the London areas “frequently range from 16s. up to as much as 25s. or even 30s.; whilst the charge for unfurnished rooms of mediocre character may be for two rooms as much as 16-20s. and for three rooms 20-25s.” Within London, there were wide variations. In the Wood Green area 31 per cent of applicants had a net rent of 16s. or more; in Acton, Willesden, Watford and Harrow, 29.2 per cent; but in the Kings Cross, Stepney, Bermondsey and Woolwich areas, less than 8 per cent.

When these figures are compared with the limits within which the board’s officers were required to operate, the scale of the problem becomes apparent. Under the 1934 regulations, the normal limits to which rent would be met by the board were 8s. a week for a childless couple and 10s.8d. for a couple with two children aged 8-10. Under the 1936 regulations, the limits resulting from most of the London advisory committee recommendations were either 10s.6d. or 11s.6d. a week for a household of two adults, and 13s.2d. or 14s.6d. for a couple with two children of 8-10. Even with these substantial increases, a large proportion of London applicants would have needed a discretionary addition to cover their full rent. According to the board’s 1936 annual report, in the region comprising London and the home counties (Essex, Surrey, Middlesex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Kent

and parts of Berkshire and Sussex), the full rent was covered under the advisory committees’ recommendations in about 80 per cent of cases and by a discretionary addition in another 15 per cent, leaving only 5 per cent where the whole rent was not met. In some parts of London, however, the proportion of unmet rents must have been much higher. In one area for which information happens to be available, Wimbledon, 36 per cent of applicants’ rents were above the local rent limits in 1936, though the proportion covered by a discretionary addition is not known.

High rents in London and other urban centres reflected both housing shortages and the higher earnings of urban workers, but there were other causes too. One was the recent development of high quality and high-rented local authority housing. The proportion of “household” applicants in council property in 1938 was 17.7 per cent in England, 8.8 per cent in Wales and 30.4 per cent in Scotland. Rent rebates were available to council tenants in only a few areas and, as explained below, were themselves a source of difficulty for the board. “In the south of London”, the regional officer wrote, “as Local Authorities throughout the district are developing their housing schemes the number of applicants whose actual rent does not exceed the basic rent allowance is a diminishing minority.” In Manchester, the general level of rents charged by private landlords in 1935 was 7s.-12s., while corporation rents varied from 7s.4d. to 19s.10d.; and while private tenants could sometimes offset a high rent by subletting part of the accommodation, local authorities generally prohibited subletting.
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Another cause of high rents, mainly in coastal towns, was the practice of renting a large house, taking in boarders during the summer and registering as unemployed when the season ended. The policy adopted in such cases was to assume that part of the summer income was put towards the rent for the whole year.

Unsuitable accommodation Although the board’s officers could refuse to meet the full rent if it was unreasonably high for the accommodation, it is unlikely that this power was often used. It was certainly the case that many applicants’ homes lacked the most basic amenities. In 1938, the board reported, about 36 per cent of applicants had “neither scullery nor bathroom” and a large proportion lived in “overcrowded conditions in which it is almost impossible to maintain a reasonable standard of health and comfort”. Some of the worst conditions were found in “farmed” houses, let out in rooms by an absentee landlord. A Scottish area officer reported: There are several blocks of houses in this Area which are “farmedout”, “furnished”, at weekly rates varying from 10s. to 20s. Furnishings are of the scantiest. Sanitary and washing facilities are seldom sufficient for the number of occupants permitted. In many cases applicants do not know who is the real tenant, but they know the collector of the weekly rent, who forcibly ejects them if the rent is not paid regularly.


“Notwithstanding the obvious unsuitability of many of these ‘furnished’ houses and the unreasonably high rents charged,” the regional officer commented, “the acute shortage of alternative accommodation leaves the Board’s officer with little alternative but to increase the applicant’s allowance by such amount as will enable him to pay his rent. This is particularly the case where the applicant has a large family and is perhaps not regarded as a desirable tenant.”.

Rent rebates Under the Labour government’s 1930 Housing Act, local authorities were required to draw up five-year slum clearance plans and authorised to grant rent rebates to families rehoused in council accommodation. The slum clearance drive was interrupted by the economic crisis of 1931 but relaunched in 1933, and by 1939 over a million people had been rehoused, including many of the board’s applicants. In January 1935, only 34 local authorities in England and none in Wales were known to have rent rebate schemes in place or “under immediate consideration”. The 1935 Housing Act allowed authorities to provide rebates for all their tenants with low incomes, not just those rehoused from the slums, but the coverage of rebate schemes remained patchy. A survey of 100 urban authorities in 1939 showed that 57 offered rent rebates but only 14 made them available to all tenants. The schemes were found to “vary in every particular in which it is possible for them to differ, and produce results, anomalous both in themselves and in relation to other schemes, which the plea of local discrimination hardly justifies”. In Scotland, rent rebates, though not obligatory, were more widespread and more orderly: regulations under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1935, drafted in consultation with the UAB, prescribed both income limits and the method of calculating income (on learning that the draft regulations had been criticised by local authority representatives for not requiring a household means test, Eady commented, “The ‘means test’ is another thing when the L.A.s have to spend their own money”).
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We do not know how many of the board’s applicants were eligible for rent rebates, but the overlapping powers of the local authorities and the board caused real difficulties. Should the local authority, in calculating a rent rebate, take into account the fact that the rent could be met as part of the board’s allowance? Should the board take the rebate into account in assessing the applicant’s needs? How could justice be done to all three parties: the applicant, the board and the local authority? A circular issued by the board to district officers in January 1935 stated that normally, where a rebate scheme was in operation, the rent to be taken into account would be the amount actually paid. Any case where the local authority withdrew a rebate was to be reported to headquarters; meanwhile, the board’s allowance would not be increased. In practice, however, if the local authority insisted on discriminating against the board’s applicants, there was little the board could do except meet the rent in full. The question arose in 1935 when the borough of Brentford and Chiswick, on the western outskirts of


London, at first refused to grant rebates to tenants receiving allowances from the board but later offered to do so on condition that the board’s allowances would not be reduced. The board refused to give this undertaking and the council decided to limit the rebates to the amount of rent that would not be met under the board’s regulations. The district officer agreed to supply this information, provided its source was not revealed to the applicant. Although the board remained opposed in principle to such discrimination, Reid and Strohmenger agreed that for the present nothing more could be done.

Similar problems were encountered in other areas. The board complained of local authorities denying its applicants rebates, while local authorities which granted rebates complained when the board’s allowances were reduced. The board’s officials hoped to negotiate an agreement with the associations of local authorities once the standstill had come to an end, but after preliminary talks Strohmenger concluded that a general agreement was unlikely and that local negotiations were the only answer. As a basis for negotiation, it was suggested that in calculating rebates the local authorities should assume that the board would meet the rent up to one-quarter of the scale rates. From the applicant’s point of view, this meant that the board’s allowance and the rent rebate would together normally cover the whole rent. Arrangements of this kind were agreed with a number of authorities.
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The board’s policy was reviewed again in 1938 as a result of a case in Cheltenham where the Ministry of Health was said to have supported the exclusion of the board’s applicants from a rebate scheme on the grounds that it was “undesirable for two Authorities to assist the same case”. The ministry’s view was that rent rebates were intended mainly for tenants who could not afford satisfactory housing when in employment; the relief of distress due to unemployment was a matter for the UAB. About the same time, Norwich threatened to reduce rebates in cases where the board had granted winter allowances, and there were fears that similar problems would arise where discretionary additions awarded by the board for special needs were taken into account in calculating the rebate. In a minute dated 1 October 1938, Dora Ibberson suggested a radical change of direction: “to sacrifice whatever financial advantage accrues to us from taking into account rebates in rents above the standard by advising that they should not be given”. The existing policy, she noted, was based on the assumption that the standard rent of one-quarter of the scale rates was reasonable for council housing: I strongly doubt whether this is in fact the case and it seems extremely probable that in some places the unrebated rents charged by Authorities may very reasonably be above the Board’s standard and would be met in full if charged by private landlords. This being so, I see no reason why they should not be met in the case of Council tenants. To refuse to do so is, in fact, discrimination by the Board against the Council as landlord.


The board, she suggested, should meet rents in full up to the limit of what was reasonable, leaving the local authority to provide for rents above that level. This proposal was not adopted, but the fact that it was made at all was an indication of the difficulty of devising a policy acceptable both to the local authorities and to the board. The problem was not wholly resolved until, many years later, a nationwide housing benefit scheme was introduced, effectively removing the rent element from the calculation of assistance to the unemployed.

Rates relief A similar problem arose in connection with the practice adopted by some local authorities of excusing payment of local rates on grounds of poverty. Under the board’s regulations, rates were included in the definition of rent, affecting the adjustments to be made for high or low rents. Rates relief was more common in Scotland, where tenants of houses with an annual rental value of £12 10s. or less paid their rates through the landlord. The board’s applicants were likely to be in this situation. If they were granted relief, it took the form of a refund of rates already paid. This put the board’s officers in a difficult position, since they could not predict with any certainty whether the rates taken into account in calculating an applicant’s allowance would subsequently be refunded. In January 1935, Cowdenbeath town council asked the board’s district office whether rates relief would be taken into account and was told that it would not: retrospective relief would be ignored on the grounds that the board’s allowances were based on current needs, and relief from future liability would also be ignored on the assumption that it would be granted only for a limited period. A similar reply to another Scottish authority, Airdrie, was reported in the Scottish press in December 1936 and widely welcomed, leading one of the board’s officials to comment: “This business of relief of rates seems to be spreading like the fiery cross through Scotland.” Another official, the perceptive Middleton Smith, noted the contrast between the policy of ignoring rates relief and the insistence on taking rent rebates into account.
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Up to that point the question had arisen only in Scotland. In 1937 a similar enquiry was received from the borough treasurer of Dewsbury, Yorkshire, leading to a decision by the board’s assessment subcommittee that, if payment of rates had been excused for two successive six-month periods, no allowance should be made for rates in the following period. This policy, however, was to apply only to England and Wales; it was thought inadvisable to disturb the existing practice in Scotland.

Rural differentiation Closely related to the question of adjustments for rent was that of differentiation between urban and rural areas to take account of

differences in both the cost of living and wages. The conclusion reached by the board in 1934 was that, in the absence of a satisfactory definition of a rural area, the rent rule, combined with discretionary reductions to take account of other aspects of rural life such as the value of garden produce, would generally ensure that the allowances paid were not excessive. After the standstill, however, it was clear that the rent rule would have to be relaxed. In its May 1935 memorandum, therefore, the board proposed a specific adjustment where an applicant lived in a predominantly rural locality. Given both the difficulty of definition and the 1935 election pledge that changes would be carried out in full association with local opinion, it is not surprising that both the adjustments to be made and the areas affected should have been among the questions referred to the local advisory committees.

The advisory committees had already considered the rent question before being asked to turn their attention to rural differentiation. A number of them had adopted the board’s suggestion for less generous rent rules in rural areas. The impression left on officials, however, was that it would be “a matter of considerable difficulty to secure recommendations in favour of any real measure of differentiation”. Rather than inviting the committees to advise on the principle of a lower minimum income for rural areas, the board circulated a memorandum to committee members aimed at “educating Committees gradually on this subject by bringing them up against concrete problems” - in particular, the treatment of industrial workers who, with little prospect of work in their former occupation, had moved to rural areas where the allowances they were receiving could be higher than the general level of earnings. Nearly all the committees regarded as having a “rural problem” accepted the need for differentiation at least in cases of this kind.
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With the prospect of more applications from rural areas after the second appointed day, a further approach was made to the advisory committees in the early months of 1937, resulting in most of them making more general recommendations on rural differentiation, though in many cases with extreme reluctance. Of the 126 committees, about 33 were regarded as having no rural problem. The rest responded in a variety of ways. The most common recommendation was a rural maximum - in effect, a wage stop based on agricultural wage rates. By the end of May 1937, 49 committees had recommended this, while 45 had recommended a general scaling down of allowances in rural areas by up to 10 per cent (39 recommended both). Twenty committees proposed a more stringent rule for low-rent cases in rural areas, usually combined with other forms of differentiation. Some offered only general guidance, or suggested leaving the whole matter to officers’ discretion.
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The board accepted all these recommendations, with only minor modifications. A few committees, however, were less co-operative. The committee for Fife and Kinross, in eastern Scotland, decided somewhat implausibly that the area included no predominantly rural localities. Here, and in other areas where rural cases arose which were not covered by the committees’ recommendations, the board applied both

a 10 per cent scaling down and a rural maximum. The four committees in the Carlisle district adopted a “go slow” policy, refusing to make recommendations until they received reports on practical experience of cases in their areas. Meanwhile, officers in those areas were told to use their discretion.
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On the question of defining rural areas, the committees were less helpful. Most made recommendations without stating which parts of their areas were to be regarded as “predominantly rural”. The board therefore adopted its own definition: that most of the population in the area “drew their subsistence from agricultural pursuits and lived at agricultural standards”.

The numbers affected by rural differentiation were never large. An analysis of cases dealt with up to the end of October 1937 showed that it had been considered in over 12,000 cases but in 3,500 the adjustment had been waived because of special circumstances. Most of the deductions made were of 2s.6d. per week or less. There had been some 800 appeals, only 65 of which had succeeded wholly or in part.

In 1940, when the board’s functions were being extended to include the payment of supplementary pensions, a Labour MP, W F Jackson, moved an amendment to the Old Age and Widows’ Pensions Bill forbidding rural differentiation, on the grounds that, whatever might have been the case before the war, it was no longer true that people could live more cheaply in the country. The amendment was not carried but rural differentiation had by then become something of an embarrassment. Wartime rationing and price controls had had an equalising effect on living costs other than rents, while the policy of raising agricultural wages made it difficult to argue that standards of living were significantly lower in rural areas. In the early months of 1942, most of the advisory committees reconsidered their recommendations and, in nearly every case, decided that rural differentiation should be discontinued. The power to reintroduce it was removed by regulations which came into force in January 1944, and it has not been heard of since.
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Single householders and boarders The rent rules described above applied only to households of two or more persons, not to applicants living alone or as lodgers or boarders (the two terms tended to be used indiscriminately to denote persons paying an inclusive charge for accommodation and food). The boarder category had been broadened to include certain applicants living with relatives, as a way of exempting them from the effects of the household means test. At the end of 1937, about 27,600 applicants were classified as boarders and over 90,000 as living alone. The proportion living alone was higher in the older age groups.

The 1934 regulations included four scale rates for these applicants:15s. for men and 14s. for women aged 18 or over; 13s. and 12s. for those under 18. There was no provision for taking account of the actual rent

or board and lodging charge, but adjustments could be made on grounds of “special circumstances”. Thus, the board’s instructions suggested that an increase might be awarded to a female clerk or typist obliged to pay a relatively high rent, while a reduction might be appropriate for an applicant “pursuing a mode of life below the standard that the Regulations contemplate” - for example, living in a very cheap and undesirable lodging house in order to spend more on nonessentials. The circular issued in February 1935, urging officers to make more use of their discretion, indicated that the single persons’ scale rates included about 5s. for rent and that an addition should be granted to cover the rent above this level if reasonable. The board’s annual report for 1935 gave an estimate of 22,000 persons receiving such increases but did not state the number of reductions.
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The 1936 regulations prescribed a single scale rate of 15s. per week for single applicants and boarders, regardless of age or sex, subject to adjustment to meet the circumstances of the case. Officers were told to consider whether the accommodation was reasonable for the applicant and whether, on hardship or other grounds, it was undesirable to force him or her (the importance of the instruction for women applicants was stressed) to seek a cheaper alternative. Applicants’ “age, type and industrial standing” were to be taken into account, as well as their circumstances when in employment and whether accommodation of a certain standard would facilitate the search for work. More detailed guidance, in April 1937, suggested that applicants over 55 should normally have their accommodation costs met in full, while the 15s. rate should be presumed adequate for those under 25. Reductions might be justified where the applicant was “known to be neglecting opportunities of obtaining work” or the accommodation was of an undesirable character.
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“Non-Europeans” One group of applicants for whom the 15s. rate was considered excessive were those of “non-European” origin. The question of racial discrimination was raised as early as January 1935 by the north-west regional officer, G Walker, though the case cited by him was not that of a single person but of a Chinese laundry proprietor with a European wife. Their standard of living was reported to be “much below European”, leading Walker to suggest that the board’s scale “might not be regarded as generally applicable to non-Europeans” and that discretionary reductions should be authorised in such cases. He noted that the district officer for Liverpool, where many non-Europeans were expected to be taken over from the local authority on the second appointed day, had already reported “local resentment at allowances being made to coloured men”. Reid’s response was that, while it was not possible to issue instructions differentiating against non-Europeans as such, allowances could be adjusted where the applicants’ mode of life was “below the normal standard”. Three months later Walker reported that only Liverpool had an “aggregation of non-European applicants”:

about 122, with a similar number expected to apply on the second appointed day (by then deferred as a result of the standstill). Apart from “a few single Hindus”, however, they were said to be following a European mode of life.

There is little evidence as to the extent of racial - or, as the board’s officers saw it, cultural - discrimination in other parts of the country, apart from the events in Cardiff described below. One case was, however, recorded at the end of 1939 in an audit report on the Shoreditch area office in London, where a deduction of 2s.6d. had been made from the allowance of a single man of Indian origin and it was stated that “the normal practice in such cases (several Indians living in the one house) was to make such a deduction because of the mode of existence”.

In Cardiff, there were considerable numbers of unemployed seamen of non-European origin, many of them Arabs who, according to the board’s officers, generally lived “communally”, a number of men sharing a room and meals. “The conditions of Indians, West Africans, Malays, West Indians and Maltese”, the area officer wrote, “are practically similar, but in the latter cases these people generally manage to procure lowly bred white women who marry them ...”. It had been the practice of the local authority to provide a lower standard of relief to “coloured” seamen, particularly Arabs, than to other unemployed men. Arab and Malay seamen received only 14s. and other “coloured” men 15s. instead of the normal transitional payment rate of 17s. Those on outdoor relief got even less: 6s.-8s. for Arabs living communally and 10s.-12s. in other cases. This may explain the rather unusual financial arrangements made by the lodging house keepers, who charged the seamen 20s. per week, of which only 10s. was paid while they were unemployed, the remainder being paid out of the wages from their next voyage. The board’s officers seem to have been only dimly aware of this practice: “I am assured”, the district officer wrote in March 1938, “that the financial arrangements between the boarding house masters and their Arab tenants are such that it is quite beyond the power of any white man to follow their intricacies.” Accordingly, when the outdoor relief cases were transferred to the board in April 1937, the area officer saw no need to increase the payments. He wrote: The ... Outdoor Relief scale of 7s. to 10s. per week enables these men to have two meals a day, consisting of mutton, vegetables etc. This gives them a sufficiency of the existence to which they have always been accustomed. It must, of course, be remembered that their ethics of existence cannot in any way be compared with that of the white races. This amount of sustenance is ample. Any balance of money over the amounts mentioned above is almost invariably used for gambling purposes, or lustful ventures. The matter was referred to headquarters by the district officer who, in 1935, had assured a deputation from the League of Coloured Peoples that the board did not discriminate on grounds of colour. The reply he

received was that the Arab seamen appeared to be pursuing a mode of life below the board’s normal standards and there was therefore probably no need to pay them more than they had received by way of out-relief, except where others in the same house were getting more under the standstill.

This policy resulted in angry protests by the Cardiff Trades and Labour Council and a decision to refer the matter to the local advisory committee, which recommended in July 1937 that the normal allowance for single men living communally should be 12s. instead of the standard rate of 15s. under the new regulations - an increase for those being paid at the outdoor relief rates, but a cut for those previously receiving 15s. under the standstill, a number of whom appealed. Of the first five appeals heard, one was dismissed because the man had already gone to sea (the fact that he might have been underpaid at the time of his appeal apparently being regarded as of no concern to the tribunal). In two other cases of men who, it appeared, were not living communally, the tribunal nevertheless refused to award the full 15s. rate. One of these, described by the tribunal clerk as Egyptian and “tidily dressed according to his station”, had been living communally but had moved to a room of his own. The tribunal decided that he could reasonably be expected to return to communal living, the workpeople’s representative on the tribunal stressing that “coloured seamen in Cardiff had lived in a communal way at a standard lower than white people even when times were comparatively prosperous”. In the other case the tribunal, having decided that the man was not living communally, accepted the area officer’s suggestion that the allowance should be 13s.6d., since “the applicant’s standard, even though not communal, was not as high as a white man’s”. It was, the clerk commented, “rather fortunate that the Tribunal did not automatically grant 15s. in such a case as other cases would probably have been put up quoting this as a precedent.” The racial feeling underlying these decisions is confirmed by the tribunal’s endorsement of the area officer’s view that “any action which would give additional facilities to coloured seamen to live separately from their fellows would probably result in increased association by them with white women”.

Complaints about the discriminatory nature of the board’s policy continued. The Cardiff City Council, after receiving a deputation from the Colonial Defence League, called for the withdrawal of the 12s. communal living rate, but the board reminded the council that, for applicants taken over from them in April 1937, 12s. was a substantial increase. Following further representations, however, the council’s Public Assistance Committee decided in March 1939 to increase the amounts paid to coloured seamen still on outdoor relief from 10s.-12s. to 14s. in most cases. The discrepancy between the council’s policy and that of the board was the subject of a parliamentary question in April 1939, when Brown explained that there was a special rule for coloured seamen living communally: “the position is not quite the same with regard to white seamen”. The council’s action, however, had made the board’s policy of overt discrimination untenable. Three
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months later, the advisory committee recommended that the treatment of communal living cases (of which by then only a few remained) should be left to officers’ discretion. In support of this recommendation it was noted that the 12s. rate had encouraged some of the men concerned to move to single rooms where “undesirable features” were made possible.

Owner-occupiers A minority of the board’s applicants owned their homes. In 1937, there were about 28,300 owner-occupiers or their spouses receiving allowances from the board and 7,260 applicants whose homes were owned by other members of the household - in total less than 8 per cent of applicants. The definition of rent in the regulations included rates, a reasonable allowance towards necessary expenditure on repairs or insurance, and such part of any mortgage payments as was attributable to interest. Although not actually paying rent, therefore, owneroccupiers were in principle treated in the same way as tenants.

The Durham Commissioners, reporting on their administration of transitional payments in May 1933, wrote “... we have treated mortgage charges as the equivalent of rent and made an appropriate allowance”. It is not clear whether they distinguished between mortgage interest and capital repayments, but the report showed that the practice of at least one neighbouring public assistance authority, Darlington county borough, was to make an allowance for the interest only. The board adopted the same approach. At a board meeting in July 1934, Reid explained that it was for the applicant to arrange deferment of the capital repayments with the building society. There is evidence that this policy caused difficulties for home owners who either could not or did not wish to make such arrangements. In the board’s annual report for 1935, the London II district officer drew attention to the problem of applicants on the outskirts of London and in the neighbouring counties of Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire who were “very heavily burdened by the necessity of keeping up weekly repayments of capital not allowed by the Board”. Not only white-collar workers were affected: “many of the lower paid workers are forced to buy houses by the lack of rented accommodation within their means.”
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The “repairs or insurance” allowance was dealt with in two paragraphs of the initial instructions to officers. The first referred only to tenants liable for repairs and insurance, and a number of cases were reported where owner-occupiers received either no allowance at all or a very small sum.

The board’s treatment of home owners was hardly generous but does not seem to have aroused much criticism. It was based on the principle that the board’s allowances should not be used to enable applicants to acquire a long-term investment. Mortgage interest was regarded as analogous to rent; capital payments were not. The same principle has been followed ever since for the purpose of calculating assistance payments under the various schemes which succeeded unemployment

assistance; in recent years, indeed, even payments of mortgage interest have been restricted.

Reinventing the dole: a history of the Unemployment Assistance Board 1934-1940 by Tony Lynes is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA.


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