Frank Field MP
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Diana Elles (1921-2009)

26
Oct
Soon after I joined the Child Poverty Action Group in 1969 I began preparing our pre-budget report. When completed it went under the title The Poor Get Poorer Under Labour.

The Wilson Government took very little notice of us deriding our claims by asserting that nobody in the country would believe our findings

In the run up to the 1970 election Peter Townsend, CPAG's chair and I lobbied Iain McCleod the Shadow Chancellor to respond to our Poor Get Poorer Under Labour McCleod pledged to increase family allowances.

McCleod died weeks after the Heath Government was formed and his successor, Tony Barber, ratted and introduced what was then called the Family Income Supplement. Later it was named Family Credit and now it flies under the flag of Tax Credits.

How was CPAG to lobby a government that had ratted on one of its main election pledges? Access to a Prime Minister is always very limited.

One task I did every day at CPAG was to read the court page of the Times. Information was much fuller then and would give me not only the billing of official dinners, but also the guest list.

Access to Number 10 might have been very limited for CPAG. But who were the friends that Heath liked to have around him at official gatherings.

I noticed how two names regularly occurred. One was Dame Peggy Shepherd and the other was Diana Elles. Diana was the first person I contacted.

She proved herself to be not only wonderfully professional but a committed social reformer. Our link with Number 10 was made, but also to other Ministers as well.

I well remember in those early days asking Diana to come with me when I went to see Sir Keith Joseph. During the meeting he disputed one aspect of CPAG's work.

Diana intervened. If he doubted what the CPAG said he should stop the meeting now to go with her and visit area where she was a voluntary worker.

The Department for Health and Social Security as it was then named had headquarters in Elephant and Castle, and Diana waved her hand to the window described where she would take Sir Keith.

He was obviously just testing our argument and he immediately changed tack. But it was telling of Diana that she was not only at that meeting, but that she was prepared to challenge her Secretary of State in front of CPAG.

I never lost touch with Diana. She continued the work that Eleanor Rathbone had begun to equalise the distribution of income within families. Her high intelligence, brave heart and noble spirit marked her out from many of her contemporaries.

Diana's obituary was published in The Times on Friday.
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