How has the modern welfare state responded to the needs of working class women, and why Essay

essay A
  • Words: 3744
  • Category: Database

  • Pages: 14

Get Full Essay

Get access to this section to get all the help you need with your essay and educational goals.

Get Access

Post war society has undergone profound changes.The move away from the post war consensus of welfare services towards the mixed economy of welfare that we see today, began under the Labour government in the late 1970’s but was hugely influenced by the incorporation of’ new right’ ideology into main streamConservative party politics when they came into power in 1979.

This essay will attempt to examine how recent and current policies affect women in the area of employment and health.The impact of these policies specifically on working class women will be considered in relation to their needs and aspirations. The reason why such polices have been pursued and implemented will be analysed to include changes of approach that may have been accepted.Finally the impact of factors such as the interaction between gender and social class and how that determined the experience of welfare state provision for women will be judgedThe structure of the British workplace saw huge changes in the post war decades.

Across the nation more and more women were taking up paid employment, many had started working in place of men who had gone off to fight in the war.They formed a “reserve army of labour” a term derived from the work of Marx which refers to a disadvantaged sector of the workforce who supply labour for a sudden expansion of production in times of economic boom and who can be disposed of easily in times of economic slump. (Hakim 1992)These positions were often part time, poorly paid with poor working conditions and few opportunities to train or for promotion. There was also extra work created by the war, such as nursery and caring professions. It became commonplace for women to take paid employment and the numbers escalated (Rees 1992)From the outset however women were mainly concentrated in the low status jobs, this enabled them to maintain domestic duties but also kept them in the lower echelons of the workforce as part time workers who had fewer rights and entitlements like sick pay, holidays and material benefits.

The poor pay coupled with the poor conditions meant that women were compelled to rely on men as the main breadwinners. (Hakim 1992)The 1942 Beveridge Report formed the basis of the modern welfare state and claimed to eliminate what Beveridge termed the five giant evils, want, squalor, idleness, ignorance and disease. Polices implemented in these areas created many jobs for women in teaching, nursing and administration.The welfare state has always provided strong economic and ideological pressure upon women through state institutions.

(Chadwick and Little 1993)Feminist theories of welfare describe the welfare state as something of a paradox, as on one hand it can provide women with opportunities and help to readdress existing social roles and status, whilst liberal feminists define the state as historically representing male interests, but believe it is open to infiltration by women once they are able to achieve an adequate level of representation.Radical feminists identify women and men as separate classes whose interests conflict, and see the welfare state as a bastion of male power, which reflects the patriarchal nature of society and functions to control women (Alcock, Payne and Sullivan 2000 page 128)It was the assumption that women should leave employment and return to the home that was embodied in the Beveridge Report, which in turn set the agenda for British Policies and laid bare the foundation for much of it since.The work of John Bowlby who was commissioned by the World Health Organisation in 1951 to study ‘material deprivation’ was used to reinforce the ideology that women should be the natural carers and that their place was at home with the children. His findings had enormous influence in returning women to the home following their brief period in paid employment as part of the war effort.

(Shaffer 1998)Despite this, the size of the labour force had to be maintained and was maintained by women. In 1947 an economic survey showed that the prospective labour force was substantially short; in order to reach national production orders, women were drafted in, but employers were encouraged to adopt conditions to enable women to carry out both domestic and economic duties. (Rees 1992)In 1950 the Factories Evening and Employment Order provided ‘twilight shifts’ for housewives so they could easily amalgamate their housework and paid work with family life (Rees 1992)The 1970’s started to see a breakdown in consensus politics and saw the role and running costs of the state start to be called into question.The Conservatives winning lection campaign blamed the welfare state for the nations economic and moral decline and reducing it they believed would increase entrepreneurial drive, self-reliance and self-help.

(King 1986 page 133)A return to family values was a Tory message that received much support; these family values were often founded on the view that the normal family comprised of a married couple bringing up their children.Within these families the natural destinies of woman were as nurturers and carers and men as breadwinners and protectors.Other types of families such as stepfamilies or single parent families were portrayed as flawed, deviant or even a threat to ‘normal’ family life. (Jewson 1994)Many changes in policy during this period caused damage to the interests of women, in a number of areas.

Firstly the expansions of community care. This took place for two main reasons: Firstly as cost cutting plan, as the government believed it would be cheaper for people with additional needs to be supported at home than maintained in state institutions. This also fitted well with the New Right ideology of women as carers. The government questioned why it was, that the state had to care for people in institutions, when they could and the implication was should be cared for by the family.The assumption made by the policy pushed through in this area was that women would provide care in families.Whilst actively contributing to their burden in the home.

The demands of women’s movements for state childcare, a right to define sexuality or legal and financial independence went unacknowledged.Secondly this reduction by local authorities in reducing the home help, domestic nursing, staffing of residential care and similar services also damaged the employment prospects of many women who outnumbered men in these lower status jobs. (Moore 1993)The 1976 direction of equal pay was halted and Employment protection weakened the 1980 Employment Act.The extension in community care added to the closure of pre school and day nursery provisions and made domestic labour more difficult to escape.The added strain and responsibility that these policies placed on women was one of the factors identified as contributing to their ill health.

(Graham 1987)The health care experiences of women are different from those of men, both in patterns of mortality and morbidity, as well as in the provision of health and social care. These differences primarily reflect gender roles relating to the social, cultural and economical circumstances of women’s lives.A recent and comprehensive register of the nation’s health was the 1992 updated edition of Margaret Whiteheads ‘ The Health Divide’ which confirmed and enlarged many findings of the 1980 Black Report which had revealed alarming disparities between occupational classes.As well as showing major class differences in regard to health it highlights differences by gender. These suggested that although men are twice as likely to suffer an earlier death across all social classes, women could expect to suffer more ill health.

Evidence also suggests that women suffer poorer psychosocial health, and are more frequently prescribed anti-depressants. (

2002)When occupational class and gender are combined, it is women married to men at the bottom end of the class hierarchy who report poorer emotional health (Blaxter 1990).Government response to the Black Report was largely to ignore all its main recommendations. Its findings were rejected. Instead it was claimed that individuals’ health was their own responsibility.Government social policy, therefore during the 1980’s and 1990’s was focused almost exclusively on what was regarded as negligent behaviour by individuals through ‘public health promotion’.

This included public evaluation policy consistent with the’New Right’ ideology of the Conservative party mainly chastising those who had failed to adopt the healthier lifestyles being promoted (Cole – Hamilton 1992).By 1990 class differences in mortality were widening and social class divides had been shown to exist for patterns of health as well as for early death, even though the conservative government of 1987 claimed that Britain had become a ‘classless society’ and had argued that the time had come to abandon the practice of presenting official data in class terms. (Scott 1998)The welfare state was originally intended as a ‘safety net’ below which no one could slip. Conservative social policy welfare cut backs, and changes in benefit payment systems helped to increase the underclass escaping the net of welfare authorities, individuals chance of joining the underclass escalated drastically if they belonged to certain groups, like class race and gender. (Cusuk 1993)In 1997 New Labour commissioned chief medical officer Donald Acheson to examine the extent of health inequalities, the report was published in 1998 and found that massive inequalities still existed.

In regards to women its main recommendations were; that social benefits for women of childbearing age, expectant mothers and the elderly should be increased, as should benefits to narrow the gap between average living standards by providing greater funding for child care facilities which serve the lower occupational classes.Measures to reduce unwanted pregnancy, measures to promote breast-feeding, and measures to reduce smoking before and during pregnancy and also improve health and nutrition should all be introduced.On the whole the recommendations were aimed at reducing poverty in families with children by promoting the material support of parents, by removing barriers to work, with the provision of affordable high quality day care and further to reduce poverty in women specifically by increasing benefits and the uptake of them.The report concluded by saying that “gender, like socio-economic status, shapes individual opportunities and experiences during life. The report identifies particular areas where gender interacts with social inequalities in ill health.”In women these were psychological ill health in disadvantaged women with young children and high levels of disability in older women.

( report also emphasised the importance of the social environment and good social networks.Other policies in these areas were aimed at giving a sense of belonging to society, to aid the reduction of feelings of exclusion and isolation and also to lesson incidents of crime, violence and self-harm.

( also made recommendations in relation to employment.

He described it as “the glue that keeps society together” and pointed out the links between unemployment and poor health, poverty, social exclusion and hardship. The recommendations in these areas included policies to reduce unemployment, increased investment into training and the promotion of psychosocial health in the workplace. (

2002).The whole inquiry was set up to examine the inequalities in health that persist and primarily addressed socio-economic factors. Over the last 20 years mortality rates across social classes have continually widened in both sexes. (www. most widely used indicator of class in such official and sociological studies has been occupational. (Scott 1998).

Although in a general sense it describes the economic and social groupings emerging out of the dominant social structures of property ownership, production and exchange together with associated patterns of identities and interests (Crompton 1998) none of these classifications has treated women properly. Married women, even if they are in employment have been allocated to the occupational categories of their husbands.Married women working at home as full time house workers have then, been treated as mere dependants of their husbands or male partners. (Scott 1998)Goldthorpe 1983 points out that this may be a poor indicator of their current resources and opportunities, when British sociologists talk of the working class they are usually referring to people currently or formally employed in manual occupations. Therefore ‘working class women’ usually refer to their dependants or unmarried women employed in this type of work.

(Abercrombie and Ward 1995)Achesons report highlighted the importance of good social networks and social environment studies carried out into so called traditional ‘working class’ communities have traditionally all given a firm impression of a working class community as having strong united class solidarity, close co-operation with workmates and neighbours and community networks. (Abercrombie and Ward 1995)However the changing shape of occupational structure has seen heavy industry and its manual jobs have declined as a result professional and semi-professional jobs have increased.Fiona Devine 1994 went to Luton to study the aspirations and social perspective of the working class, some 20 years after Goldthorp and Lockwood (1969) had when they concluded that privatisation and instrumentalism had given a more individualistic outlook amongst manual workers and their families with it a weakening of communal and kin orientation. (Bulton et al 1981)Devine did not agree and stated that many families had migrated for reasons of job security and better living standards and community and social networks took time to develop but did re-establish after a period of time. (Devine 1994)Women’s experiences of health and healthcare are related to their positions in society.

The main influence on women’s health includes poverty and deprivation. Women from the single largest group of people in poverty, often hidden in the way figures are presented, by dividing them into categories such as pensioners, single parents, the sick and disabled. However all these categories are dominated by women (Moore 1993 page 270).Other factors include wider material conditions, such as urban deprivations and poor housing, the greater length of life which mean that they are more likely to suffer from chronic illness and disability, and also their role as carers, in both paid and unpaid capacities.

(Moore 1993 page 275)The welfare state has little if anything to redistribute income and wealth from rich to poor and more alarmingly it appears to offer most support to those least in need. (Alcock et al 2000)Studies into health inequality such as The Black Report and The Acheson Report all show that such inequalities persist across a whole range of life chances, economics, health, education and public housing. Implying that the welfare state is still having little significant impact.Equal opportunities have been the central social policy issue of the last 25 years in the EC and it not only refers to women but, also migrants and people with disabilities.The commission has used issues of equality as a ‘battering ram’ to open up its competency to intervene in more general areas of social policy.

There are four main areas these are equal pay, equal access to training and employment, equal treatment in social security matters and the provision of maternity rights, benefits and child care facilities. (Moore 1993 page 206)During the 1960’s and 1970’s there were many legislative amendments, which attempted to readdress the unequal situation between men and women in the workplace.The Equal Pay Act of 1970 was based on the theory that men and women who do similar work or work of equal value should be paid equal wages and have the same terms and conditions of employment. (www. main problem with this piece of legislation is that the many women who are subjected to poor pay and condition are often part of an almost exclusively female workforce, with no male counterpart with whom to compare their situation.

The 1975 Sex Discrimination Act (amended in 1986) was intended to prohibit both direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sex, and was important as it extended and clarified the meaning of equal work. It stated that equal work meant work of equal value, so men and women did not have to be in the same job to get equal pay, but engaged in equally valuable work. (Moore 1993 page 206)The 1976 Directive on Equal Treatment insisted that on equal access to employment, training, promotion and working conditions. The 1976 updated Directive went further by demanding equality from statutory social security schemes such as sick pay unemployment. (Moore 1993 page 206)The 1980’s saw a massive restructuring of the workplace.

There was a shift in industrial structure due to the decline in manufacturing, and a growth in the service sector. The loss was primarily in male jobs and the growth was in typically female jobs. (Hakim 1992)The Women and Employment Survey showed that a marked change in attitudes of British society. Less people believed that women should stay at home, whilst many lone mothers worked out of necessity. (www. 2002)The New Right Government launched high profiled attacks on one-parent families specifically single mothers who were blamed for bringing moral standards into decline, producing children, who were delinquents. (Jewson 1994)There response to the perceived welfare burden was to attack them as scroungers of the state whilst cutting benefits and the closure of many pre-school and day nursery provisions, ensuring a poverty trap, making a return to work almost impossible.

(Jewson 1994)It must be noted that the New Labour Government has taken positive steps in social policy for women, in regards to a number of the recommendations highlighted by the Acheson Report. These have included an increase in child benefits, greater funding for day care and after school clubs. In the 1997 budget it was announced by Gordon Brown that the National childcare strategy would be set up to link childcare needs to employment policy. Various measures to improve the access and take up benefits, the promotion of a number of healthcare strategies like measures to promote breastfeeding and healthy eating, and reduce smoking like nicotine replacement therapy.

( the area of employment latest policy is also welcomed, enabling part time workers of which 43% are women, to the same entitlement to opportunities as full time employees and also action has been forthcoming regarding parental and maternal leave, pay and conditions.

The Directive on Maternity Rights, which guarantees minimum rights to pregnant women has been updated in the Maternity Regulations 1999 and the Statutory Maternity Pay Regulations 2000 with more advances due in 2003. (Moore 1993 page 207) ( low pay commission was set up in 1997 and, although trade unions were disappointed at the low rate it was set. The introductions of the minimum wage has undoubtedly aided many women, predominately those in part time employment with out formal qualifications, single mothers and homemakers.

(Alcock et al 2000)Unions themselves have issues the need to address in relation to equality even though women now constitute two-fifths of union members there are no female general secretaries of unions with over 7,500 members. ( 2002)Britain remains divided by sex, women workers are still concentrated in low paid unskilled occupations and although much legislation has passed since 1970 containing important provisions about equality between men and women, none has produced the extent of equality that was hoped for in either opportunities or earnings.

This may be due at least in part to the inherent nature of the legal system, which is predominantly male so laws may be interpreted unfairly.The legislation that was passed is hardly ever used, as cases may be long and drawn out and costly. This provides little incentive for employers to comply with legislation as they think workers would not use it.Women also bare the brunt of the government policy to keep public sector wages in check, public sector workers are predominantly female so are less likely to see increases in their pay, and so women are affected disproportionately. (Moore 1993)Gender continues to be the main determination of individual’s economic prosperity rather than individual’s skills and abilities. Many women are still channelled into low status, low paid work, and married women can often become dependant on their husbands’ wages.

These gender divisions of labour are a result of a long historical process and cultural beliefs, which remain influential and although women have taken an increasing share of paid work, men have not correspondingly increased their share of unpaid work in the home, and this remains to act as a constraint on working class women’s choices, needs and aspirations. Although more women are in employment the London Chamber of Commerce reports the findings of a survey of women in business, which indicates that there health, relationships and home lives all suffer as a result of the “increasingly pressurised lives that women lead”. (www.eoc.

org.uk2002)In conclusion, the modern welfare state has attempted to respond to some of the requirements of working class women mainly because of pressure placed upon them by bodies such as the Equal Opportunities Commission, and various health reports but welfare policies still based on certain assumptions, which effectively reinforce existing gender divisions in both health and employment.Despite the progress made to improve women’s position in and employment, women are significantly disadvantaged compared to men in the workplace, and much more investment into national strategies in employment, education and training are need to reduce gender segregation, and inequality in the workforce, and to promote wider opportunities for women.There is a real need to re-evaluate men and women in skills, which are not traditionally linked to the sex role and stereotypes in wider society. (www. 2002)The gender divide in both health and employment will continue as long as it is socially constructed that women must bear most of the responsibility for household work and childcare. There is no compelling psychological physiological or social reason why primary responsibility for the ultimate and long term care of children should rest extensively with women although ideologies of maternal instincts are often stated. (Bilton et al 1981 page 162)An equal contribution from the father would require drastic changes in the organisation of work and home life, which few male employees or employers seem prepared to undertake.Although in the last 25 years women have been slowly catching up with men on the earning stakes there is still much inequality The Equal Opportunities Commission recently took up the subject of the gender gap in weekly earnings; with the weekly earnings for the average man in the UK in 1998-1999 being �247 whist most women’s was �119.

The poster campaign read “prepare your daughter for working life, give her less pocket money than your son”After 30 years of equal pay law, women’s wages are still lower than men’s. ( Welfare State then fails to provide for, protect or support women, as it should.

Consequently we find ourselves in a society where your social class and gender is the primary factor in determining your experience of life within it.

Get instant access to
all materials

Become a Member