Big thank you from

The start of a lifelong friendship

by the Rambler 21/06/2002

l SAW him first across a crowded room. We were sitting an exam, set by the Customs people (writes the Rambler).

He stood out from the crowd, a comely lad with light blond hair.

Neither of us passed, hence he reappeared soon after, in a similar role, at the historic Rosemary Hall in Belfast.

I immediately spotted the 'white-haired boy' and we exchanged a few words when we were leaving.

Failed again, obviously, for on still another testing ground we were together again. Competition was fierce in pre-war years, when the unemployed threatened to unseat the UK government over the breakdown (bankruptcy?) of the unemployment benefit scheme.

Veterans of World War One suffered near starvation.

'Means-tested' State assistance had been promised but not actually introduced and local authorities (PAC's) were groaning under the burden of public assistance, meagre though it was.

Next time we met, we were part of a group of half-a-dozen 'school boy entrants' in the Stormont Civil Service.

Side-by-side as means-test assessing officers being trained by ex-PAC staff, transferred over from Belfast Public Assistance Committee.

Only applicants who were signing on after exhausting their entitlement to unemployment benefit were in scope. Our job was to apply Statutory Regulations and determine need.

That marked the introduction of what claimants labelled 'sensational benefit' - their term for 'Transitional Payments' (TP).

If the client was drawing public assistance from, say, Belfast Corporation that rate was inscribed on his claim form by Corporation Street 'buroo office' and we had to authorise payment of whichever rate was the higher, ie, the Belfast PAC rate or the Statutory unemployment Assistance rate.

If the PAC rate was higher the order-to-pay sent to Corporation Street was endorsed 'TP Rate £X:X:X'. All very complicated!

The multi-thousand penniless unemployed who fell outside the scope of the Unemployment Assistance Regulations, were left to the mercy of local authorities, including the Poor Law Guardians, for a further period of two or three years.

They were only brought into scope on a 'second appointed day'.

Locally, beggars were plentiful. It was that state of affairs which forced men (and woman) like 'Anthony Duck' to take to the road as 'a poor man needing a wee bit of help' (his own formula).

Farm labourers earned about fifteen shillings (75p today) a week and 'their mate' (a couple of meals a day).

Women skivvies got about five shillings, living in!

Neither men nor women, employed as domestic servants nor farm labourers were allowed to put on unemployment benefit stamps or qualify for 'the buroo!'

But on the Second Appointed Day they , got assistance on a means-tested basic, paid by'the buroo!'

Initially, I set out to chronicle highlights of a friendship which has endured to this day.

Grim memories of the days, preceding Lord Beveridge and his scheme to ' eliminate want intruded. Sorry about - that.

Next week, I will ask you to follow a Portora old boy to a quiet suburban street, now close to the prestigious centre-piece of the fledgling new city.

There he introduced me to the cradle '' of an organ-building enterprise born ' in a stable, which became internationally famous.

There the man from Clabby found : post-retirement scope for his talents.

Ulster Star