Beveridge: Married Women Change 6

Change 6. Recognition of housewives as a distinct insurance class of occupied persons with benefits adjusted to their special needs, including (a) in all cases [marriage grant], maternity grant, widowhood and separation provisions and retirement pensions; (b) if not gainfully occupied, benefit during husband’s un­employment or disability; (c) if gainfully occupied, special maternity benefit in addition to grant, and lower unemploy­ment and disability benefits, accompanied by abolition of the Anomalies Regulations for Married Women.

107.   The census includes married women who do not work for money outside their homes among unoccupied persons.  The unemployment insurance scheme recognises such women as adult dependants on their husbands, jn respect of whom the benefit of the husband is increased if he is unemployed. The health insurance scheme does not recognise such women at all, except at the moment of maternity.  None of these attitudes is defensible. In any measure of social policy in which regard is had to facts, the great majority of married women must be regarded as occupied on work which is vital though unpaid, without which their husbands could not do their paid work and without which the nation could not continue.    In accord with facts, the Plan for Social Security treats married women as a special insurance class of occupied persons and treats man and wife as a team.   It makes the standard rate of benefit or pension that for a man and a wife, subject to reduction if there is no wife or if there is a wife who is also gainfully occupied.  It reserves the description of “adult dependant” for one who is dependent on an insured person but is not the wife of that person.   It treats a man’s contributions as made on behalf of himself and his wife, as for a team, each of whose partners is equally essential, and it gives benefit as for the team.   It meets the costs of all the various benefits required by the special class of housewives, partly by contributions made by their husbands and partly by contributions made by men and women before and after marriage.    The nature of the benefits required depends upon consideration of the economic and social implications of marriage.

Special Insurance Status Of Married Women

108.   Most married women have worked at some gainful occupation before marriage; most who have done so give up that occupation on marriage or soon after; all women by marriage acquire a new economic and social status, with risks and rights different from those of the unmarried.  On marriage a woman gains a legal right to maintenance by her husband as a first line of defence against risks which fall directly on the solitary woman; she undertakes at the same time to perform vital unpaid service and becomes exposed to new risks, including the risk that her married life may be ended prematurely by widowhood or separation.    At the last census in 1931, more than seven out of eight of all housewives, that is to say married women of working age, made marriage their sole occupation;  less than one in eight of all housewives was also gainfully occupied.  There has been an increase in the gainful employment of married women since 1931, but the proportion so employed was probably little above one in seven just before the present war.    Moreover, even if a married woman, while living with her husband, undertakes gainful occupation, whether by employment or otherwise, she does so under conditions distinguishing her from the single woman in two ways.  First, her earning is liable to interruption by childbirth. In the national interest it is important that the interruption by childbirth should be as complete as possible; the expectant mother should be under no economic pressure to continue at work as long as she can and to return to it as soon as she can. Second, to most married women earnings by a gainful occupation do not mean what such earnings mean to most solitary women. Unless there are children, the housewife’s earnings in general are a means not of subsistence but of a standard of living above subsistence, like the higher earnings of a skilled man as compared with a labourer; the children’s allowances proposed in paras. 410-425 will make this true in most cases in future, even where there are children. In sickness or unemployment the housewife does not need compensating benefits on the same scale as the solitary woman because, among other things, her home is provided for her either by her husband’s earnings or benefit if his earning is interrupted. She has not as a rule as strong a motive as other earners for returning to paid work as rapidly as possible.

109. The treatment of married women under the existing insurance schemes has been unsatisfactory, largely because it has not recognised sufficiently the effect of marriage in giving a new economic status to all married women, In national health insurance, women are allowed to carry on into the first year of marriage claims in respect of contributions made before marriage, though their needs in this initial period are not substantially different from their needs later.  They are given a lower rate of sickness benefit, uncompensated by anything else; though maternity is the principal object of marriage, there is no adequate provision for it in any case, and little or none for any loss of earnings involved.  In unemployment insurance women equally carry on into marriage claims in respect of earlier contributions with full rates of benefit, but the Married Women’s Anomalies Regulations are then invoked to raise a special barrier against their claims.  The provision made for widowhood is at once inadequate to real needs where there are children, and lavish to unreal needs where there are no children.   Provision for end of marriage by separation or desertion is left to public assistance.

110. The principle adopted here is that on marriage every woman begins a new life in relation to social insurance.   She acquires at once under a House­wife’s Policy, endorsed on or attached to her previous insurance document, a right to the benefits and grants set out in the plan under Marriage Needs (marriage  grant,   maternity   grant,   widowhood   and   separation  provision, benefit during her husband’s unemployment or disability if not herself gain­fully occupied).   She does not carry on rights to unemployment or disability benefit in respect of contributions before marriage;   she must acquire those rights, if at all, by fresh contributions after marriage.   To mark the transition it is proposed that she should receive a marriage grant which, besides giving money when there is likely to be a felt need for it, has administrative con­venience in encouraging early notification of marriage to the Security Office. The marriage grant, however, is not an essential part of the insurance scheme, and is, therefore, shown in brackets. It could be omitted and would make possible a reduction of the insurance contributions proposed for women. But it is proposed as something that is desirable even though not essential.

111. During marriage most women will not be gainfully occupied. The small minority of women who undertake paid employment or other gainful occupation after marriage, as shown above, require special treatment differing from that of single women.   Such paid work in many cases will be intermittent; it should be open to any married woman to undertake it as an exempt person, paying no contributions of her own and acquiring no claim to benefit in un­employment or sickness.    If she prefers to contribute and to re-qualify for unemployment and disability benefit she may do so, but will receive those benefits at a reduced rate.   On the other hand, whether she claims exemption or decides to contribute, she will, on giving up earning for the period of child­ birth, in addition to the maternity grant available for all married women, receive maternity benefit for 13 weeks at a rate above the normal rate of unemployment and disability benefit for men and single women.

Unemployment, Disability And Maternity Benefits

112. The proposal to pay less than the normal rate of unemployment and disability benefit to housewives who are also gainfully occupied is likely to be questioned, but the case for it is strong, both on practical grounds and in equity.   It is undeniable that the needs of housewives in general are less than those of single women when unemployed or disabled, because their house is provided either by their husband’s earnings or by his benefit.   The rates of benefit proposed in the Report rest in the last resort on an analysis of subsistence needs, including the need for rent, which does not arise normally for housewives.    If the proposal discussed in paras. 197-216 had been adopted, for  giving  as  benefit  in  each  individual case  the  actual rent  for which the unemployed or disabled person was responsible, together with a fixed sum for the estimated cost of food, clothing and other necessaries, married women generally would automatically have received less than single women. Though, for the reasons given in that discussion, this particular proposal has not been adopted, the principle applies.   Subsistence benefit for housewives who are also gainfully occupied need not cover their rent.

113. On grounds of equity a proposal to pay lower unemployment and disability benefit to married women is right in view both of the special maternity benefit proposed and of the general balance of contributions and benefits.   The special maternity benefit is obviously the most important of all the benefits required by housewives gainfully occupied.   The actual proposal is that, while in unemployment and disability housewives gainfully occupied should get two-thirds of the normal rate for those benefits, for maternity benefit they should get 50 per cent, above that rate, that is to say, more than double of what they would get in unemployment or disability.    No one is likely to challenge this, but the special maternity benefit must be paid for by someone. It is a benefit additional to other benefits, which will be confined almost wholly to gainfully occupied married women and will reduce the contributions avail­able for supporting their unemployment and disability benefits.  Even if in the interests of the child, maternity grant and benefit are made as fully available to the small class of unmarried mothers as they are to married mothers (as probably most married women themselves would desire) this does not affect the equities on this point as between married women and other women.   Apart from this particular point, in the unified scheme the balance of contributions and benefits must be looked at as a whole and not individually. In that scheme housewives cannot complain of inequity.   This can be seen by comparing what is proposed here with the present treatment of married women in unemployment insurance under the Anomalies Regulations and in health insurance.

Anomalies Regulations for Married Women

114.   Both the Anomalies Regulations and the present reduction of sickness benefit to married women are based on facts which it would be wrong to ignore. The attitude of the housewife to gainful employment outside the home is not and should not be the same as that of the single woman.   She has other duties. as regards sickness, experience has shown that at all ages up to retirement, claims for sickness benefit among married women are higher than among single women.  The rate of benefit for married women was reduced, because, as matters stood, single women whose needs during sickness were greater appeared to be paying more than their share.  The Anomalies Act of 1931 was introduced to deal with what was undoubtedly a scandal in unemployment insurance:  the drawing of unemployment benefit by women who were in no real sense in search of employment.   In districts and industries where married women were never accustomed to work and did not expect to find work, the  Unemployment Fund, before the Anomalies Act, was tending to become a means of endowing young married life.

115. The Anomalies Regulations, however, as they stand are   open to the objection that they penalise the woman who marries, as compared with a   woman who   lives as   a  wife,  without giving   any   compensating advantage to the former.  This is a well-founded objection, but does not apply to the comprehensive insurance scheme now proposed.    Quite apart from maternity grant and benefit, the unified scheme attaches advantages to the condition of marriage amply compensating for any loss involved in the lower rate of unemployment and disability benefit for those married women who are gainfully occupied.    The unmarried woman living as a wife will get no widowhood benefits.    If she is gainfully occupied she will pay contributions for all purposes,  including medical treatment,  pension and funeral grant which she would get without contribution if married;  she will not have the married woman’s option of exemption.    If she is not gainfully occupied she will be in Class IV and will equally be required to make contri­butions for medical treatment, pension and funeral grant which she would get without contributions if she were married.    Though it is proposed that medical treatment should be given without contribution conditions, the legal liability of the unmarried woman in Class IV will remain and will be enforced, if she is not exempted for poverty under para. 363.    For pension she will have to contribute throughout her working life, and if she does not do so will not be qualified for a pension.   The contributions of the man with whom she is living, if he is married to someone else, will go to secure pensions and other benefits for his legal wife ; if he is not married, his contributions as a single man will go to support the benefits of married women generally.

116. The proposed abolition of the Anomalies Regulations for Married Women does not mean that the harm which they were intended to cure was unreal.  But the harm was not confined to married women.   Unmarried women living as wives, spinsters living at home and combining household duties with gainful occupation when and to the extent that it suited them, men with alternative independent occupations, might all have the same attitude towards regular employment, because they were not dependent on it. The remedy in all these cases lies partly in enforcing genuine availability for work, partly in imposing contribution conditions for full benefit which will
limit the claims of all persons alike—married women and others—who are not in fact wholly or mainly dependent on employment for a living (as proposed in paras. 367-368).   Such conditions would in effect be Anomalies Regulations directed, not against married women, but against the anomaly of providing compensation for loss of earnings to people who are not in intention or in practice dependent upon earnings.

117. Taken as a whole, the Plan for Social Security puts a premium on marriage, in place of penalising it. The position of housewives is recognised in form and in substance.   It is recognised by treating them, not as dependants of their husbands, but as partners sharing benefit and pension when there are no earnings to share.    It is recognised in substance in the greatly  improved provision made for the real needs of widowhood and separation, for maternity in grant and benefit, for children’s allowances and for medical treatment both of the housewife and of the children for whose care she has special responsi­bility. Though it is proposed that children’s allowances, both when the responsible parent is earning and when his earning has been interrupted, should be paid from the National Exchequer and not from the Social Insurance Fund, this proposal, as is explained in para. 415, is based, not on principle, but on financial and practical grounds.    The allowances are part of social security, and a form of expenditure whose advantage will be felt by married women more than by any other class in the community. In the next thirty years housewives as mothers have vital work to do in ensuring the adequate continuance of the British race and of British ideals in the world.