Discussion of the effect of war on the relative position of women to men and lower to middle classes has led us to see the most important changes to be seen as isolated cases. We shall argue here that changes in the role of women, of youth and of the state are indicative of two different groups of relationship; firstly, the relationship of the state to citizens and on the other hand the relationship between groups of citizens.
The relations between groups of citizens may well have become more firmly rooted in the consciousness of the respective groups- but what effects would the increased awareness have on these relationships? It does seem likely that any increased consciousness and understanding of the relationship between classes or between men and women may have led, not to the ‘levelling of classes’ or the ’emancipation of women’, but to the opposite, to the confirmation and reassertion of their differences. Likewise the relationship between the state and the citizen was expressed more forcefully and in new ways during and after the war.
Yet while this may have confirmed the state “at war as a moral as well as legal entity” (Morgan and Evans), was this relationship temporary, did the state rescind from its war-time duties after 1945, did it return to a less interventionist policy post-war? The state’s most pressing moral demands were to import welfare policy to deal with women and children left husbandless by father’s entering military service. A new relationship was bonded here, with the state eventually increasing the weekly grant to women with two children and an absent husband (at the rank of private) from 32s in 1939 to 43s in 1942, and eventually to 60s a week.
This sum may have not been enough to save these families from getting into debt, and becoming “the main group to which shopkeepers were reluctant to give credit and landlords loath to rent rooms”. However, the state’s new role as a provider of child support and family benefit is surely an extension of the relationship of the citizen and the state. This is highlighted more forcefully by the decision to extend this grant from 43s to 60s, which came as a result of the “considerable sympathy from members of the public” (Summerfield).
The state expressed its moral duty to single mothers in other ways, the nursery was a vehicle which not only allowed single mothers to become involved in war work, but also created the opportunity for these women to earn a wage and support the family. In this case the state is accepting responsibility for family problems, highlighting its role as a “moral entity” and the acceptability of further state intervention. The moral case for the nursery system is not hard to accept since it was the state who demanded the service of husbands in war and who thus unsettled the basic family unit.
However, the creation of the nursery system must be accepted as the further domestication of the role of the state, and as a signifier of the diminishing divide of the public-private in the role of the state. It can be argued that while the divide of public-private in state policy was permanently decreased, the domestic role of the state was a temporary measure, and indeed the effect of the war was to ultimately remove the state further from intervention in the family unit.
This can be expressed in two ways; the repeal of the nursery system after the war was used as a specific means to get women to return home after the war and one ministry official goes further, noting that “the very fact that a nursery centre is neither a nursery school nor a day nursery would stamp them as a purely temporary expedient to deal with war conditions and would make them easier to get rid of after the war. We must be careful to see that the implication of the temporary system was not just a gender issue, in that the state desired the return of women to the home after the war, but one of the relationship of the state and citizen, and the duties which the state owed the citizen. Discussion of this system as temporary provides the correct framework to analyse the state’s role in providing almost total financial and institutional care for the single parent family- its temporariness.
The increase in the domestic role of the state was a temporary expedient designed to draw women into war work, not to provide permanent care for single parent families. The second expression of post-war failure by the state to retain its wartime intervention into the domestic sphere is, contradictorily, the formation of the NHS by the National Health Service Act of 1946. Although the act laid down the basis for intervention into the private health of the patient, confirming the discussion over health policy which had been continuing since World War One, it expressed this as a measure for the public good.
Firstly, Beveridge believed payment for service “was better than free service supported by the taxpayer because, having paid, people would demand their entitlement” and that achieving positive health was more important than “personal resources”. The diversion of health policy from payment of insurance to sick workers so that they did not become paupers, early in the 20th century, to the situation in 1946 where free health care is provided is primarily neither the rationalisation of health care nor the desire for further private intervention and domestic action by the state.
It is instead, the expression in policy of the desire for public health to furnace the irons of industry, the NHS was the vehicle by which public efficiency could be best attained. State policy post-war has so far been seen as a failure to make the temporary increase in domestic intervention and the decrease in the public-private divide more permanent.
Perhaps one area where the government did indeed succeed to do so is in youth culture; Morgan and Evans suggestion that “the post-war social reconstruction in effect domesticated citizenship bringing all conditions of family and personal life within the public domain” has been refuted to a point, but its assertion can be given weight in the domain of the young and government policy towards them. Osgerby sees that the ideological role of youth, the new “teenage consumer” provided “an ideological vehicle in which discussions about broader patterns of social, economic and cultural change were embodied”; but how does he see so?
Well, firstly the application of the term ‘teenager’ was new to post-war Britain, it became part of an ideological construct generated with specific debates about culture. Although the construct of the “consumer teenager” was almost entirely a working class one, it highlights the changing socio-economic circumstances of youth and society in general. Within this ideological framework of the new teenager, came new social policy, which came to cross the public-private divide.
Under the 1944 Education Act, it became the statutory responsibility of the LEA boards to provide adequate recreational facilities for the young people in their area, boards being encouraged to set up committees to discharge their responsibilities in cooperation with local voluntary groups. Osgerby thought that an expanded education service and a youth service “served to magnify and reinforce conceptualisations of youth”, however we are more correct to argue that these “conceptualisations of youth” led to an expanded education service and moreover to the new youth and recreational system.
Interestingly it was not only the government who reacted to the ideological concept of the “teenager” but also business. The commercial markets force-fed consumer products onto the teenager; perhaps the most successful of these was music and the genre of ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ which was symbolised through the teenage-specific show “Ready, Steady, Go. ” Ken and Sylvia Ferguson noted “‘Ready, Steady, Go! ‘ is not… so much a programme- more a way of life.
It is a mirror of teenage tastes, the stars they worship, the way they dress, all reflected in one huge television series that unfolds to a vast viewing audience every Friday night. In accepting the value of this show, the Fergusons are accepting the power of the construction of the ideological concept of the “teenager” which truly affected state policy after World War Two. The post-war government took notice of this new group, accepted that industry after the war provided them with stable jobs in semi-skilled industries, that young people’s earnings had risen 50% from pre-war levels up to on average i?? 8 a week, and that these young needed outlets for their money and entertainment.
Discussion of “teenage consumers” points to the success of the working class financially during and immediately after the war; a 50% increase in wages over 6 years by teenagers highlights this. This trend, although not comparable to all the working class, is true for much of the working class. Working class women taking paid work increased their families’ incomes relative to the middle classes where wives tended to avoid work; aircraft workers gained huge pay rises, while manual workers, especially in the Midlands, also gained large rises, in Coventry bonuses averaged 324% of the weekly wage.
Seers explains that between 1938 and 1947 the salary bill, that which he loosely attributes to the middle classes, rose by 50% compared with “a near doubling of most other forms of income. ” Seers is trying to highlight a levelling of classes here, for he notes that “the real net incomes of the working classes had risen over nine per cent, and those of the middle classes had fallen over seven per cent. ” However, the reversal of fiscal policies, which had favoured the working class, after the war, especially in terms of women’s work and wages, undermines the permanent levelling of class.
Evidence in saving patterns, such as that produced from studies in Leeds show that the working classes on the whole did not favour saving, 31% of savings among wage earners came from 3% of families and the majority saved less than 5s a week. It was the middle class who saved most, spending only one fifth of their income on tobacco and alcohol, as opposed to one half of working class incomes. Ironically, the levelling of consumption, in that luxuries such as cars were not available for purchase during the war, was a “major component of the popular impression of the levelling of class”.
In reality though, the savings made by the middle class through the levelling of consumption, and through their smaller expenditure on items such as alcohol and tobacco, allowed them to save more than their working class counterparts, who saw (as Madge put it) that “National savings is considered more of a luxury than tobacco and alcohol in that, when there are mouths to feed, it is the former and not the latter which are dispensed with.
In financial terms at least, the working classes, although somewhat generalising here, did not level up to the middle class, who saved more during the war time period; indeed the effect of war was perhaps to allow the gap between these two classes to endure more completely after the war. An equally forceful argument has been used to show the levelling of the sexes; the relationships between citizens here are supposed to be similar to that of the working-middle classes, with the suggestion that all citizens became equal and all policy equitable. Again though, these assumptions fall down.
Women were not by the end of the work seen as equals in the work place, and although this may not be the fault of the government, we can not the singular failure of the government to level the relationship between the sexes. As Summerfield notes, “government policies also helped ensure that the position of women would not be greatly altered by the war. The government mobilised the nation’s women-power reluctantly, made determ9ined efforts to maintain its pre-war practice of sex differentiation among its own employees, and facilitated the movement of women workers back home once the conflict had ended.
After the war Beveridge explained that his proposals were specifically designed to “make the position of the housewife and mother more attractive in order to ensure that married women would be more content. ” Wives were made economically dependent on their husbands, in part by making it more difficult for her to regain her insurance rights if she interrupted her employment after marriage. The effect of post-war government policy was to undo any temporary effects that the war had created in allowing women greater purchase in the sphere of employment.
However, with this and many other shifts in society registered during the war, the process was more continuous. Although attempts were made to redress the position of women workers after the war, we must see that the government continued to employ women after the war, and by the 1950s were actively seeking married women to return to employment. The temporary blip in the role of women was not so temporary after all; the process of engaging women in public work had been going for some time. Continuity is expressed through figures; only 28% of women interviewed by the 1943 wartime social survey were not working before the war.
Indeed in 1931 75. 7% of single women aged fourteen to twenty-four were in employment. We see then that the war did not necessarily call women to work, but that they were already, to an extent, in work. Continuity is one of the most important themes in rejecting the idea that war shifted the citizen-citizen relationships such as those between women and men, and those between the classes. Indeed the levelling of classes can almost be rejected out of hand if we take a purely financial definition of class.
Relationships between the state and the citizen and changes in them as a result of war have been equally exaggerated. Although the spending power of the teenager, thanks to shifts in the economy during and after the war, may have led to government intervention in their public and private life, this was not the case for single families- where wives were forced back into the home as nurseries were closed after the war, and where the concern for public efficiency over private health seems to be the motivation, at least in part, for the creation of the NHS.
The war then may have created temporary intervention in the domestic and private spheres, but the state was happy to diminish intervention in these spheres, just as they, and perhaps women themselves, were happy to fill the domestic gap left by the state.