Thursday, February 07, 2008


Throughout three years of war, the question of servicemen's pay and allowances has been debated continually in the House of Commons. Again and again the trade union and labour movement has passed resolutions deploring the Government's, treatment of the me
n and women in the Forces and their families. Since September, 1939, the Government has announced piecemeal concessions for the Forces no fewer than nine times. Each new concession has been condemned in turn by the public as totally inadequate.

" The gallantry and endurance of these men and women can certainly never be measured in terms of money," said the Lord Privy Seal (Sir Stafford Cripps) on 10th September—presumably in order to justify the fact that hundreds of thousands of soldiers' wives are forced to undergo a Means Test in order to live.

He then went on to imply that the newest concessions were the Government's " final solution " so long as prices remained at their present level. On 8th October the Daily Herald reported that Labour M.P.s had once more decided to press for substantial inreases. On 26th November, further meagre concessions were announced in relation to' War Service Grants. These concessions will not satisfy the great majority of the people, who are determined that, once and for all, the men who are fighting the battle for world freedom, shall get a fair rate for the job.

Rates of Pay
The minimum rate of pay for a serving soldier is now 21 shillings a week. If married or with dependants, 3s. 6d. is deducted from this as allotment, leaving him with 17s. 6d. a week. After six months' service, proficiency pay amounting to 3s. 6d. a week may be granted if recommended by his O.C; unit—in the case of a soldier with dependants, this is added to his allotment. About one in, tour in the Army are non-commissioned officers or warrant officers. The minimum pay for a lance-corporal is 29s. 9d. per week. In addition there are a certain number of tradesmen earning slightly higher rates at a starting rate of 22s. 9d.

The above are the minimum rates only—the variations in rates of pay above this level are so complicated that one of the most urgent necessities is a implification of the whole system.

" There are nearly 200 different rates of pay in the Army alone. There are additions for service, education and proficiency, and higher rates for men enlisted before 31st October, 1925. There are lists of trades-men covering pages which are divided and subdivided ad in-finitum. . . . All these classes have to be listed, classified and re-classified, graded up or down, certified,published in orders or in the pay-master's book, until the whole machine is chock full of paper and several divisions of men have to be engaged in doing their best to disentangle this chaos and to explain to the soldier and his despairing relatives what their position really is; while the War Office go on day after day and week after week making confusion worse confounded by every patch work alteration that they make. The whole thing is plain, unadulterated, inexcusable chaos."—(Major
Milner House of Commons, 10th September.)

Undoubtedly, however, the overwhelming majority of soldiers in the British Army are receiving the basic rate of 21s. pluses. 6d. proficiency pay—if married, the allocation of allotment plus proficiency pay to their families brings them down to 17s. 6d. per week.

The men of the Air Force and Navy have the same starting rate as the Army, but the large proportion of men receiving tradesmen's rates in the Air Force and the various arrangements for additional pay make the latter's position in practice usually better than that of the men in the Army or Navy.

The women, in the A.T.S., W.A.A.F.S. and W.R.E.N.S. start at a rate of 14s. per week. If they have dependants, 2s.
4d. is deducted as allotment.

Finally, 6d. a day or £9 a year has been put aside for each serving man as from January, 1942, for use after the war, and 4d. a day or £6 a year for serving women.

The Family Allowance

The basic allowances for the married serviceman's family are as follows:

Wife (including allotment) 25s. 0d. per week.
First child ... ... ... 9s. 6d.
Second child ... ... 8s. 6d.
Third and subsequent child 7s. 6d.

These allowances include the concessions announced on 10th September, 1942.
Wives living in the London postal area are granted an extra 3s. 6d. per week. These allowances are subject to increase by the addition of 3s 6d. proficiency pay and increased allotment arising from promotion.

The Dependants' Allowances

A person serving with the Forces who is not claiming a family allowance can claim a dependant's allowance for one dependant only, on condition that he provides 3s. 6d. allotment from his pay (2s 4d. in the case of a serving woman).
The persons eligible for a dependant's allowance include a father, mother, brother, sister, grandparent, etc. The amount of allowance given depends firstly on the amount the serving man was contributing to the upkeep of the dependant before call-up. Thus, if he was contributing 15s. or less, 14s. will be the maximum allowance given including allotment; if he was contributing 2os. or more, 22s. will be .the maximum allowance granted. In the case of a dependant living alone, the maximum allowance given is 26s. including allotment, provided not less than 24s. was contributed to the dependant's upkeep before call-up.

These dependants' allowances are not automatically granted, however. They cannot be drawn until a Means Test has been satisfied followng a visit from an Officer of the Assistance Boardto the dependants concerned, who will take into account all the resources of the dependant along the lines of the Determination of Needs Act of 1941.

War Service Grants

In addition to the above allowances, the serving man may claim a special War Service Grant for his family (or, in certain circumstances, for a dependant).
This Grant is only given after a Means Test and is supposed to ensure that no family falls below a certain level. To calculate-the amount of Grant given in each case, a sum in respect of fixed charges (e.g., rent, rates, insur ance premiums, etc.) is deducted from the total allowance. The resultant balance is then made up by means of the Grant to 18s. per unit of the family. One adult counts as a unit; children under 14 count as half a unit.*

For example, take the case of a wife with two children who is at present receiving the basic allowance of 43s. a week and paying a rent of £1 This would leave her 23s. for maintenance. Her War Service Grant would amount to 13s., making 32s. after rent is paid (i.e., for one unit and two
36s. after rent is paid (i.e., for one unit and two halves) and making the total allowance 56s.

The maximum Grant which can be given is £3 and before any Grant is allowed, the family is visited by an Officer of the Assistance Board who is allowed wide discretionary powers.
The Grant is liable to be cut down as soon as the soldier's pay exceeds 4s. a day. Recently it was announced that wives in receipt of Grants would have no account taken of the first 20s. of their earnings, and as an encouragement to women, to take up part-time work this is certainly a step forward;

What the Rates Mean in Practice for the Service Man

The above is a brief outline of the serviceman's financial position—its deficiencies are glaringly obvious.

To take first the case of the single man in the Forces—he is clearly unable to mix on terms of equality with civilians when on leave or in his spare time. Thus the position of a naval rating on the lowest basic pay was described by Mr. Edwards, M.P, on 10th September. Though 21s. is his basic pay, he cannot expect to receive more than £1 after deductions. Out of this he has to pay for his own soap and soap powder in order to do" his own washing. Stamps for postage and
cigarettes may cost him us. 6d. a week..

". . . These rates allow that man, after he has had a smoke or written a few letters, about 9s., and everything he buys out of that is heavily taxed. . . ,
If be goes to the cinema it is taxed. If he buys a glass of beer, which nobody would deny him, it is heavily taxed. Whatever he does with that small amount of money, to take his mind away from the monotony of Service life, it is worth only half its face vahte by the time he comes to spend it. I take it that the Government do not intend to discourage marriage for men who are called up
during the war. Can anybody tell me whether a man can make any provision whatsoever, at present Service rates, to pay for marriage?"—(Mr. Edwards,M.P., 10th September.)

The fantastic variety of rates paid to tradesmen in the Army, though it may lead to confusion, does not mean that the soldier receives a trade union

"I have seen [service] men making runways on aerodromes side by side with men being paid at tradeunion, wages far above their own. ... In a particular R.A.F. maintenance unit of which I know,there is a corporal in charge of civilian mechanicswho are earning three or four times as much as thatcorporal. Yet one expects things to run smoothly."—(Major Profumo, M.P., 10th September.)

What the Allowances Mean for Serving Men's Families

While the serviceman's own position leaves much to be desired, the position of his family and relatives is a public scandal. It can be seen at a glance that the basic allowances for a wife and children mean starvation for any who try to exist on them alone.

The Government itself admits the inadequacy of these allowances in numerous ways. For example, it gives 10s. 6d. a week billeting allowance for every evacuee under 10 and more for older children up to l6s. 6d. a week. Yet these sums are only supposed to pay for food and the trouble to the foster parent—they do not cover clothing. Again, 25s. a week only is allowed for a soldier's wife— yet in Government training centres, 43s. is the starting rate for a woman—admittedly a very low wage. It is, in fact, clear that the Government do not expect a serving man's family to live on these allowances at all, in so far as they make up the pay of all civil servants who are called up to the rate of pay they were getting in civilian life.

What in practice happens to most of the wives and families of serving men?
A certain proportion has been the average amount of grant in practice, given to these families, though the November concessions raising the .minimum standard from 16s. to 18s. may increase this average slightly.

There are no recent figures given of the number of families who have applied for a Grant and been refused. But what can be the effect on the morale of the half-a-million or so serving men who know' that their families are suffering the humiliation and indignity of a Means Test.

And when these families receive the War Service Grant, does this bring them in sufficient to live on?

On the contrary, the cost of a minimum standard of life " below which no worker should be forced to live " (first laid down by Mr. Rowntree) has been estimated, with the aid of surveys by the Oxford Institute of Statistics, at 94 shillings in April, 1942, for a family of man, wife and three children.*" Allowing for the 'absence of the man, the cost would be about 72s. 6d. (allowing rent and rates of 13s.). A wife paying 13s. rent and rates would receive with War Service Grants a maximum of 58s. for herself and three children—that is 14s. 6d. below the " rock-bottom " health standard.

* For full details of this calculation, see " Wages in 1942" L.R.D., August, 1942, 4d.).
The statistical method 'used in calculating the cost of the standard when a man is called up was as follows:—The family of man, wife and three children is treated as equivalent to 3 and three quarter " men': without the father we reduced the cost to that for 2 and three quarters " men " (i.e., reduced it by four-fifteenths) except for rent, which: we excluded, since the family does not save any, rent by the call-up.

This is indeed a peculiar way of rewarding the gallantry and endurance " so readily spoken of by the Lord Privy Seal.

If there were more school feeding arrangements, play centres and day nurseries for their children, no doubt more of these servicemen's wives would be able to solve their financial problem by going to work—indeed, they are urgently needed in industry. But though much more is necessary in the way of such facilities, they will not solve everyone's problem, and, whether they are provided or not, the serving man still knows that he is practically the only man in the country doing a vital war job who is not paid a wage which his family can live on.

A recent survey of Leeds families' budgets made by Mr. Charles Madge with the support of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research bears out the above:

" The prosperity of the Service wives is decided by three factors: whether they are working, whether. .they have children, and whether they are living with parents.
At the top of the- scale is a belt of wives- who are really .well off. This belt comprises about one-fifth of all Service wives. . . The majority 'in -this belt were working, lived with their parents,and. had no children. But at the other end 'of the .scale there is a belt of similar size in which the wives Were heavily over-spending and running into debt. On an average they were spending 15s. 6d..a/week more than their income. .... All the wives in this belt lived alone, were not working, and had young children to support. . . ."(Quoted in Manchester Guardian, 9th October, 1942.)

Infinite suffering must also be experienced by other dependants such as widowed mothers living alone and too old to work, whose sole support in peace-time was the earnings of their sons.
Such a mother can draw the maximum allowance of 26s.—she may, if she is lucky, have this sum supplemented by a few extra shillings in the form of War Service Grant.

The Pay of Allied Troops

The present rates of Army pay are founded on those_ paid to a tiny peace-time Army mainly recruited from among the unemployed. Every increase given since the beginning of the war has been given grudgingly in response to extreme pressure without any sign that the Government has noticed the fundamental change of status of the soldier in modem times, who ought to be regarded as a skilled worker entitled to a wage commensurate with the job he is doing.

There is a striking contrast between the allowances paid to British servicemen's families and those paid by the Dominion and American Governments. In the following table the amounts given for Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and Americans have been transformed as nearly as possible into their quivalents in English currency at the present rate of exchange. The very high price level in
America must, however, be borne in mind with regard to the American allowances:

Per week

.....................................British Canadian Australian New Zealand American

Solider without dependants…21/- …19/8… 39/2… 16/8… 70/-

Plus deferred pay given
him after discharge …………3/6 …20/8… 11/2… 26/2 -……….

Total single soldier………… 24/6… 40/4… 60/4… 41/11… 70/

Married soldier,
after deduction of allotment 17/6 ….19/8… 19/7… 16/9… 44/1

Wife allowance
(including any allotment)….. 26/-… 57/-… 42/-… 33/7… 58/1

Wife and 1 child ………….…34/6… 69/4… 58/9… 44/9+… 72/4

Wife and 2 children …………43/-…81/8… 69/11… 65/11+… 84/-

+ Plus domestic allowance of 5s. 11d.

A solider without dependants
Britain 21/- per week
Canadian 19/8 per week
Australian 39/2 per week
New Zealand 16/9 per week
American 70/- per week

Australian army pay includes recent increases announced in the Press but not confirmed by the representatives of the Australian Government over here

Though, as a result of the newest concessions, the weekly amount drawn by the British soldier is above that of his Canadian and New Zealand Ally (but well below the Australian and American) the amounts the British soldier will receive in the form of deferred pay and the allowances for wives and children, are far below those given to any of the Allies.
It is clear that the newest concessions which gave substantial increase of'3s. 6d. a week to the serviceman while giving nothing to his wife and only a shilling or two to each of his children, were deliberately designed to even out the glaring disparity in pay between the British soldier and the American and Dominions troops over here.

The comparatively reasonable status of the latter's families back home cannot be so easily contrasted with their British counterparts.

Labour's Demands

Labour Party is making the following demands on behalf of the men in the Armed Forces:—

(i) An increase of 10 shillings. a week for the wife, making her total allowance including allotment 35 shillings.

(a) Increases on the present graduated children's scales so as to make the allowance 10 shillings a week for each child.

(3) Provision of a sum equivalent to 1 shilling a day extra for each soldier from which adjustments can be made to existing scales so as to remove anomalies, increase the lower rates and establish equal standard rates for the service performed.

(4) An increase of the minimum unit for War Service Grant to £1 (one pound) for the wife and to 10 shillings. for each child.

What are the arguments against such demands?

Firstly, in spite of the tremendous volume of protest on the subject, and the evidence from all
sides of the hardship among servicemen's families, Government spokesmen maintain that the present pay and allowances are sufficient. Thus, Sir James Grigg, Secretary of State for War, stated in the House of Commons on 10th September;—

". . . . having regard to all the circumstances at the present time, we have been reasonable and fair"
The main argument-used in opposition to raising the. pay and allowances is of course the cost. The exact cost of the proposed increases has not been estimated. But at most they would not amount to more than £100—£150 million a year. Yet at the moment £12 and three quarter millions is being spent every dayon a scarcity of consumption goods, a rise in purchasing power will automatically result in a rise in prices and everyone will be as badly off as before.
This is as good as saying that all scarce goods should be reserved for the rich who can afford to "
buy them. The labour movement will not be taken in by such arguments.
The only solution is a living wage for everybody with proper rationing and price control of more consumption goods so that the latter are fairly shared out.

Soldiers' Pay and Workers' Wages

The low rate of Service pay is being used as an argument in some quarters to bring down the level of civilian earnings.
Thus, Lady Astor, in describing the feelings of the soldier's wife with a large family who lives next door to a man bringing in £10 a "week suggests that the better paid worker should subsidise his unfortunate comrade in the Army:—

" I am certain that the men who are receiving these wages would be prepared, if you put it to them, to put back some of this money. I am certain that they are all prepared to do something to help the heroes who are daily sacrificing their lives."—(
10th December, 1941.)

This line of argument has been echoed by a number of M.P.s in various debates.

Again the notes issued by the Economic League on 21st August, urging a " national wages policy " (i.e., control of wages) state as one of the arguments:—" The workers in the war industries might consider the comparatively small pay of the soldiers.

When we think of what the fighting men in Libya and Egypt and in Russia are going through, there, is something indecent in comparatively safe and comfortable wage-earners clamouring for more pay at home and threatening to strike if their. demands are not granted." : — Thus the low rate of Service pay is being used to attack the wage standards of the working class as a whole, and the bitterness that the man in uniform feels is being deliberately fostered to create antagonism between soldier and civilian worker.

Mr. Ernest Bevin said of this campaign:—
" The main concern of the men in the Forces is,what are they coming home to?
The men in the Forces, a large number of whom are members of trade unions, are looking to the unions to maintain their standards. To try to set one lot of men against another, in pursuance of a political aim, is not conducive to a solution of the problem. I can produce hundreds of cuttings showing that this sort of thing has been deliberately carried on as a'political campaign, to try to put the trade unions in the dock, and to make it appear that they are neglectful of their brothers in the Forces. It is not true, and I repeat that with emphasis."—(21st October, 1942.)

The soldier has no trade union—he cannot organise and fight his own battle for higher wages. It falls to the trade union movement to take up the cudgels in his behalf. In this way real solidarity will be built between workers and soldiers and the men in the Forces will be given their due—the best that the country can give.
Labour Research Department November, 1942.

The poor pay of soldiers and the need for their families to rely on means tested benefits was the reason for the establishment of the Citizens Advice Bureau. In Hayes Reg Neal played a key role in establishing the CAB and giving advice

How much did a soldier earn in World in World War Two,WW2,WWII