Woman’s Way is the Right Way
September 28, 1933 — New Zealand House of Representatives, Wellington New Zealand
Mr. Speaker, in the first place I wish to express my sincere thanks to the honourable members of this House for the very kind reception which they have accorded me. It seems to me that a very good working basis has been established, and I trust that nothing will happen during my term of office that will disturb the harmony of the relations so created. I would like to warn honourable members, however, that women are never satisfied unless they have their own way. It happens in this case that the woman’s way is the right way. I should be failing in my duty if I did not take the first opportunity that is presented by the Standing Orders of this House to bring to the Right Hon. the Prime Minister and the members of the Government the message that I believe was given to me in the Lyttelton by-election to be conveyed to this House. The great majority of the electors in my district have expressed the greatest dissatisfaction with the administration of the Government, as it affects various matters that touch the country as a whole. Other honourable members have dealt with matters relating to the Government’s administration. I would prefer to leave those matters, and deal with questions which were in some respects paramount in my constituency in the by-election. Take, for instance, the question of unemployment. So far as that question is concerned the Government of this country seems to have withdrawn into a kind of mental euthanasia. It sits there sublimely satisfied that all is well. The electors of the Lyttelton constituency have sent me here to say all is not well so far as the unemployment question is concerned. The official figures — the latest I have, at any rate — for unemployment register eighty thousand unemployed. These figures do not include women. If we include women and youths we find that the number is practically double. If we take those and all their dependants, we will find that they constitute a very large proportion of the people of this country; but add to those the number of people who are in employment but who are working only half time or part time, and earning no more than relief rates of pay, and we will find that they total practically as many as the total registered unemployed. If we take those and add them to the number of unemployed with all their dependants, we will find that we have a quarter of the population of this country in such a position that they are unable to provide themselves and their dependants with a sufficiency of even the bare necessities of life. Honourable members have referred to the fact that there has been a great deal of charity. I think I heard the Minister of Employment state that there had been a great deal of charity subscribed, and I was afraid the Government was depending very largely upon the charity of its citizens for the support of the unemployed. I am reminded of the tramp who was asked if he had never been offered work and who said, “Only once; apart from that I have had nothing but kindness.” It is perfectly true that the unemployed have had charity; they have had kindness, and plenty of it; but what they want now is a little real work, with real wages, to vary the monotony. I feel that I am competent to discuss the question of unemployment as I have had a very large experience in connection with the administration of the Unemployment Act. For instance, I am a member of the Benevolent Committee of the North Canterbury Hospital Board. That Committee, for a considerable period, was the only organization in North Canter bury dealing with the unemployed in order to supplement their meagre relief rates of pay. We dealt with very large numbers of unemployed men and women, and so I was in a position to study those cases from the individual point of view. I know just what unemployment means in the homes of the people of this community. I know how it affects them in sickness and in health. I know very well to what extent their children are fed or starved, and I feel that I can speak with experience upon the subject of the relief of the unemployed. In addition to that, I am a member of three local bodies which are employers of unemployed labour. Two of them are very large employers of unemployed labour under the Unemployment Act. The Christchurch City Council, for instance, is the largest employer of unemployed labour in the North Canter bury district; and the Canterbury Domains Board is also a very large employer of unemployed labour. I know the difficulties of administration so far as the local bodies are concerned, because, of course, the Government has forced upon the local bodies and upon the rates the responsibility for providing part of the relief for unemployment. I know the difficulties that have to be encountered in order that work may be found. I know just why the men were originally put to work that very often was unproductive, such as chipping grass from the sides of the streets — humiliating work. It was not that the local bodies desired to give these men humiliating work, but that they had neither the funds nor the means to provide the funds with which to put remunerative work in hand. I feel I am competent to discuss the question of unemployment; but I am particularly interested in the question of unemployment and the Government’s administration of the Act so far as they concern women and youths under twenty years of age. With regard to the women, the Government is collecting approximately — probably it is more at the present time — £750,000 annually from the women of this community in unemployment taxation. The Government imposes unemployment taxation upon every little girl who is earning los. a week; and if she is receiving as part of her remuneration board or meals, the Government assesses the value of those meals or that board — at a fantastic figure, in many cases — and taxes the child on that. Take, for instance, the matter of waitresses. At one of my meetings in the Lyttelton by-election this question came up, and while it was being discussed a restaurant keeper stood up in the audience and made a statement regarding the matter. He said that the customers in his restaurant were charged od. for meals, that the waitresses partook of the meal after the customers were served, and that the meal they received was not of the same value as that which was given to the customers. But the Government came in and insisted upon assessing the price of those girls’ meals at 1s. per meal, and taxed the girls accordingly. That is how the Government regards some of the girls so far as taxation is concerned. Recently I saw a statement in one of our newspapers regarding a somewhat similar case that took place in one of the North Island towns. In this case the employer stated that he had paid the taxation amounting to £30 himself rather than that the girls in his employ should be subjected to such an unfair tax. Take the nurses in our hospitals. I suppose that most of them are working for six days a week, and some of them, I know, are working for seven days a week, the day’s work amounting to at least eight or nine hours. The Government taxes the wages and the board of these girls, their board being assessed at, I think, £1 a week. The probationer nurses in the North Canterbury Hospital Board’s hospital are now receiving 7s. 3d. a week, the day’s work being from eight to nine hours, and the Government is taxing those girls on their wages and on their board. When the Unemployment Act was first brought into operation the Government made absolutely no attempt whatever to make provision for unemployed girls. Every one knew that there were numbers of unemployed girls up and down the country, but the Government made no move whatever to alleviate their position, in spite of the fact that it was collecting taxation to the extent of £750,000 annually from the women and girls of the Dominion. It was only when committees of social workers got together and decided to take some action with regard to these girls that anything was done at all ; and then so little was done, in spite of the efforts of the Unemployment Committees, that in Christchurch the Women’s Unemployment Committee came to the benevolent committee of the North Canterbury Hospital Board and asked for a grant of £250 from the Benevolent Relief Funds to assist the Government in relieving unemployed girls, notwithstanding that the Government was collecting £750,000 in unemployment taxation from the women and girls of New Zealand. These committees are still being driven to seek charity in order to assist them to do something for the unemployed girls. Up to a few weeks ago in Christchurch, and, I think, in Wellington also, the unemployed girls were receiving 7s. 6d. a week for six weeks in the cooking and sewing centres which were established by the Women’s Unemployment Committees, and then they were stood down for six weeks and thrown upon their own resources. Naturally many of them had to go to the benevolent committee of the Hospital Boards to assist them to live during the second period of six weeks. At the present time, I understand, the girls are being paid 5s. a week for a full week. They work two weeks, and then are stood down for another two weeks. Of course some additional help is being given them by way of charity and food, which is partly begged by the women’s committees, and some of them are receiving a little assistance in their stand-down week towards the payment for their rooms. I want to tell honourable members on the Government benches that under these conditions many girls up and down this country are being driven to the point of desperation. Only last week one of our organizations in Christchurch applied to the Finance Committee of the Christchurch City Council for permission to hold a street collection, and it gave as a reason why it should be allowed to hold a street collection the fact that it was assisting many unemployed girls. Several instances were given, but one that stands out in my memory was that recently a girl living in a single room had collapsed under the conditions under which she was compelled to live and had been nursed back to a degree of health by this institution. That is the condition of unemployed girls in this country under the administration of the benevolent Government that now holds office. Now, with regard to the question of unemployed boys, so far as this Government is concerned a boy ceases to exist on the day he reaches the age of sixteen years. Up to that point, if his father is on relief work, the father is given work in respect of that boy; but the day the boy reaches the age of sixteen years that work is withdrawn, but no work is found for the boy, who is therefore thrown on his own resources in a country where, at the present time, it is practically impossible to find work for boys, or is thrown on the charity of the Hospital Boards, or upon his own family, and thus becomes an additional burden on his parents. I wonder if the honourable gentlemen occupying the Government benches realize what a critical stage that is in the lives of these boys. Can any one imagine a more unhappy state for a growing boy to be in 2 He is deprived of education and deprived of work. Now, what does this sort of thing lead to? Is that also something that has escaped the minds of the honourable gentlemen opposite? Recently I heard the head of a very large school state that the most dangerous criminal age in New Zealand was coming to be that between sixteen years and twenty years. So I looked up the figures relating to the matter, and I found that out of a total of 6,742 charges proved in our Police Courts, 3,302 were against boys under the age of twenty years. The thinking people of this country are disturbed by such a state of affairs. I do not want any one to misunderstand me regarding this matter. I am not suggesting that the whole of the unemployed boys of this country are criminals, but I do say that the Government’s inaction with regard to those boys is driving a large number of them to a form of desperation that will react upon the whole community. In failing to make provision for boys at that age, the Government is displaying an in difference to the welfare of the country both now and in the future. We have to remember that some day these boys will grow up and be a force of some kind in this country. Whether for good or bad rests with the Government of the country to-day. I sometimes wonder whether the honour able gentlemen occupying the Government benches have forgotten whether they were young themselves. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, I have not really made up my mind whether it is that they never were young, or whether they have really never grown up. If I am permitted I would like to quote what an eminent authority on education has to say regarding the mind of the growing boy.
The Hon. Noel Buxton says,
“We constantly see what an extraordinary interesting thing it is, the sudden development that takes place in a boy’s mind. At fourteen sometimes, but very often later, at fifteen or even sixteen, he develops energy and interest and originality, and if we thwarted that development we should obviously be losing what is the greatest thing in the world — a high level of personality. We are familiar with the habit of certain trees and shrubs of standing still in their early days, and suddenly making a rapid growth when we have begun to despair of their being a success. If you rooted them up in disappointment, you would be throwing away all your previous expense and work which are just about, in reality, to bear fruit. If you stop education in the same way, you have wasted the cost of the education you have given to a boy hitherto.”
What is the Government doing with regard to the education of the boys? The Government has actually decided to reduce its educational facilities and to close the schools to many of the children of the working classes of our community. The honourable gentleman who preceded me spoke of class legislation. This is class legislation of the worst type. This year the Government has decided to insist upon a proficiency examination fee of 5s. — this year of all years, when so many of the parents are not in a position to pay any fee for education, or for any other purpose. The Government has determined that the proficiency fee shall be paid. It has also imposed a fee of Ios. for candidates for the senior free place examination. I wish, however, to acknowledge the courtesy of the Hon. the Minister of Education, who agreed to remit this fee of Ios. in the case of children of relief workers and others in like circumstances, but there are many others to whom this fee of Ios. is prohibitive at the present time. Instead of encouraging parents to keep their children at school in a period like this, every obstacle is being placed in the way of the children being retained at school past the primary-school stage, and I want to call the attention of honourable gentlemen on the Government benches particularly to this: that one class of children especially is being penalized in this respect, and those are the children who through force of circumstances at the present time are compelled to go out to work outside of school hours in order to assist the family finances. It is generally conceded by educational authorities that such children are very liable to be retarded in their school-work, and the result is that those children who are making a gallant attempt to help their parents at such a time as this are now going to be deprived of the opportunity of enjoying a secondary education. The Government, too, has raised the age of admission to school to six years. This, of course, again will react upon the children of the poorer classes. In England the school-admission age is three years, and the compulsory school-admission age is five years. Many of the honourable gentlemen on the Government benches, I think, are accustomed to a rural life and to the delightful freedom of sunny paddocks. I do not think they altogether understand the conditions of life in the cities to-day. Many of our people in the cities are now compelled to live in rooms. I know of several cases where a whole family lives in one room. Not so very long ago the members of a committee of which I am a member assisted a family of eight — the father, mother, and six children — all living in one room. The children of such families as that have no green paddocks in which to play. They cannot be taken out on to the sea-beach or into the sunshine. They play in the streets if they play at all outside their own homes, and in many of the poorer quarters of our cities the only playground is the street. I would like to point out to honourable members that the habits acquired in early youth are very hard to eradicate. The Government, of course, at the same time has with drawn its grants to the free kindergartens, so that that source of education also is denied to these children. Surely honourable members must realize what effect the neglect of these children is going to have upon the future life of the community. It was Benjamin Kidd who said that men had not the faculty for looking into the future. He said that men were only able to see what immediately confronted them. I am afraid, Mr. Speaker, that some of them do not even see that far. But while I am discussing education I do not want to pass from it without referring to the effect of the Government’s policy upon school-teachers. We have sixteen hundred school-teachers out of work in this country. Those teachers entered the profession at the invitation of the Department. The Department spent large sums of money on their education, and now that they are prepared to give their services to the community, the Government has no work for them. It is perfectly true that there is a certain amount of rationed work being found, and the allotment of it would be funny if it were not so hopelessly uneconomic. I am thinking at the moment of a school teacher who went through the primary and secondary schools and then graduated in a university with her M.A., taking Latin, French, and higher mathematics. She obtained honours. Throughout her scholastic career she had £650 worth of scholarships. When she had completed her university course, she went to the training college to take a post-graduate course there. She also obtained her Diploma of Education. Actually she was qualified for secondary school teaching. After being out of work for almost two years, she was given a term of work in the infant department of a primary school. When, however, she got there, she found that she had displaced a teacher who had specialized in infant teaching. The girl had common-sense, and she was so disgusted that she felt like going home. I have another case in mind — that of a girl whom I met recently, and who told me that she had taught at every school in and around the town in which she lived. She had been moved from one school to another term after term, and had had quite a lot of rationed work. In the last school in which she was placed she had been teaching the Third Standard, and she was the sixteenth teacher that that class had had since it began its school life. As that teacher was not retained for the next term, the children would have their seventeenth teacher. Now, the Government talks of economies. It seems to me that it is the quintessence — if one may use that term — of waste when one thinks of all these teachers, on the education of whom so much money has been expended, being turned out into the community without work in their own sphere and forced to find other channels of occupation. In addition, the closing of the training colleges has had the effect of putting a number of highly trained specialists out of work. I call to mind at the moment the case of one man who, having been a lecturer in a training college, is now touring the country with a small picture show in order to earn a living for his family. Neither must we forget the large classes of secondary school-children who have been encouraged to devote the whole of their school careers towards qualifying for the teaching profession. These children, having completed their secondary education, have been turned out and must now choose some other occupation, for which they will have first to prepare themselves. Before concluding I wish to refer to the reduction in other community services, as, for instance, the reduction in pensions and the reduction in hospital grants. In both these cases additional burdens are placed upon the rate payers ; whilst as a result of the reduction in hospital grants, the administration of our large hospitals has become extremely difficult. Services that were formerly given for nothing — and here again we have an illustration of the Government’s class legislation — are now charged for; the price for the use of hospital beds has been in creased from 9s. a day to 12s. a day: maternity beds are now charged for at 15s. a day instead of 12s. a day as formerly. In the North Canterbury Hospital Board district a maternity home that was intended for unfortunate girls is now being used as an ordinary maternity hospital, and recently was so overcrowded that the Department of Health stepped in and forced us to make other arrangements. These are all parts of the Government’s so-called economies, which I say are not true economies. In some respects they are a further charge upon the ratepayers, instead of upon the Government revenues, and in other respects they are an increased hardship to the poorer sections of the community. Now I wish to refer to some of the reforms that have been advocated for many years by the women’s societies of this Dominion. Before dealing with two of them in particular, I must say I am pleased to note that the Minister of Justice has introduced a Bill for the raising of the marriage age. But another reform that is urgently needed in this community is the appointment of women police, a step that the women’s societies have been urging for many years. Perhaps honourable members on the Government benches do not realize the importance of this reform. The idea is to have women police appointed particularly in our large cities for the protection of women and children and youths of both sexes. In this connection I would like to quote from the annual report of the Chief Constable of the City of Glasgow.
Both in Scotland and in England, of course, women police have been employed for many years. In his report, the Chief Constable of the City of Glasgow says,
“Experience has proved that women can be employed with advantage to the community in the performance of certain duties — police duties — which, until a few years ago, were exclusively performed by men. I would like to emphasize particularly the value of preventive work which police women are better fitted to perform than men.”
Then the Recorder of London, Sir Ernest Wild, K.C., during the hearing of a case at the Old Bailey, stated, —
“I hope there will be no longer any ignorant clamour against women police. In my judgment there should be women police in all cases concerning women and children.’’
The women’s societies have been asking that this reform shall receive urgent consideration in view of the large numbers of young people in the community at present without employment or occupation. There is an old saying, “For Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” I hope honourable members on the Government benches will lay that to their hearts.
Source: Parliamentary Debates: Third Session, 24th Parliament. Legislatives Council and House of Representatives. 246 Volume, September 21 to October 31, 1933 (Wellington: G.H. Loney, Government Printer, 1933), pp. 156-161.