chapter  4
20 Pages

Models of equality for women: the case of state support for children in twentieth-century Britain

The campaign for family allowances and its pre-World War I variant, mothers' endowment, was initiated and led by feminists, and state payments in respect of children have remained an important issue for feminists throughout the twentieth century. This is because provision for children raises two fundamental issues pertaining to the gender division in modern industrial societies: first, that of the division of resources within the family, and second, the relationship between wages and work and the support of and care for dependent family members. The classic surveys of poverty in the late nineteenth century by Charles Booth (in London) and Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree (in York), and in the late twentieth century of a national sample by Peter Townsend, all failed to examine carefully the way in which resources were divided after they entered the family.! Throughout the twentieth century this concern has been the prerogative of feminists, concerned about the relative poverty of both wives and children. Eleanor Rathbone, who formed the Family Endowment Society in order to campaign for family allowances in 1917, and who was in Parliament as an Independent MP to oversee the passage of the Family Allowances Act in 1945, pointed out that the male wage should provide a reward for individual effort and should not necessarily also have to meet the needs of a wife and unspecified number of children. She also emphasized that women's work as wives and mothers was not rewarded and that a disproportionate amount of child poverty resulted from these two factors. In her initial formulation, family allowances were intended to provide an allowance for children and a wage for mothers.2