chapter  5
26 Pages

Visions of gender in the making of the British welfare state: the case of women in the British Labour Party and social policy, 1906-1945

To a very large extent the social welfare actions of the British state, as of others, over the past century have been about women. Throughout the period, as for long before, females have had a higher propensity than males to suffer deprivation. Welfare provision has also to a great extent been administered, and welfare policies to some degree made, by women, voluntary and paid, trained and untrained, though they have been most prominent at the lower levels. We have come to learn how social policies (of official or unofficial agencies) are often shaped by, among many other influences, normative assumptions about gender roles, in particular about the sexual division of labour and of social responsibility, with its primary assumption of female dependency on male earning power. Also about how, reciprocally, sometimes explicitly and intentionally, sometimes not, social welfare policies shape, reinforce and perpetuate such roles.1 We know much less about how the women's movements of the past century, whether defining themselves as feminist or not, have related to, been influenced by and tried to influence these social processes.