Notes from The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910-2010 by Selina Todd

p. 23 “Employers portrayed service as being distinct from other forms of wage labour, though, in reality, servants entered the labour market for the same reason as all other workers; they needed the money. In 1911 The Times published a flurry of letters opposing the Act, penned by such dignitaries as Lady Portsmouth, Lady Stanley and Sir William and Lady Bull. They declared that national insurance would “weaken the kindly ties between masters and servants” yet also that the Act would “place… a premium on malingering.”. They suggested that “the splendid record of health and reluctance to give in which our maidservants have established” was only down to their harsh working conditions and lack of benefits. Give these young working women any licence and they were likely to become feckless and irresponsible… Until 1911 the law agreed that employers’ needs should come first: the only legal obligations that a servant’s employer had to fulfil were the provision ‘of necessary food, clothing’ and lodging’; they were also prohibited from inflicting ‘any bodily harm’ on servants sufficient to endanger life or permanently damage their health. servants’ working hours and conditions were unregulated; many endured 12-hour days and few holidays (typically a Sunday once a week, a half day once a fortnight, and a week’s unpaid annual leave.”

p. 36 “In the month between the fall of Lloyd George’s post-war coalition and the general election, Bonar Law appointed Arthur Griffith-Boascawen, the 57-year-old son of a Denbighshire landowner, as minister of health. His brief included that nagging post-war problem: housing. … Life was hard in [overcrowded] conditions, particularly for women who struggled to keep their homes clean. Winifred Foley gret up in a ‘two-up, two-down miner’s cottage in the Forest of Dean, which housed her family of six until Winifred left to enter service in 1928. In her village, as in many others, overcrowding was made worse by the fact that there were ‘no drains and no dustmen’ and no electricity… Boscawen was … an experienced Conservative politician, well respected in the senior ranks of the party. … Yet he began his new role by refusing to honour the promise of the wartime coalition to build more homes. Boscawen dismissed the notion that working class voters required better housing, and advised young couples to continue sharing their parents’ cottages and tenements rather than seeking a home of their own. “In China and the East generally,” he declared, “they continue tolive under the parental roof quite contentedly.” … Unfortunately for Boscawen, many of his voters disagreed with his assessment. In the general election of November 1922 he lost his seat, after just one month in post.”

p. 48 “At a time when the vast majority of British people were working class, Baldwin’s presentation of trade unionists as a ‘minority’ committed to ‘anarchy was curious to say the last. … Like Baldwin, Britain’s press represented the country’s workers as a stubborn minority whose aims were beyond comprehension. Many liberal and left-leaning middle-class people simply took for granted that they represented the mainstream of British society and that their opinions were common sense, while those of the unionists were either radical or irrational.”

p. 74 (In the early 30s) “Young workers were cheap. Employers justified paying them low wages by claiming that they were ‘pin money workers’, who only worked for spending money. Yet the reality, as Winifred Holtiby observed, was that young wage-earners bore heavy responsibilities. Norman Savage grew up in Manchester. His father’s long-term unemployment led Norman to take casual jobs through his schooldays; he worked in a shop before and after school, and as a delivery boy in the school holidays. When he left school in the early 1930s, he and his oldest sister became responsible for keeping their family of six. … Peggy Few, who grew up in Nottingham, felt fortunate to find work at the city’s Players cigarette factory when she left school in the early 1930s. The factory paid good wages and conditions were reasonable .. in the mid-1930s, hoever, Peggy learned that this could be a mixed blessing. The day after she received a wage rise, her father’s unemployment assistance was stopped: ‘he cried like a baby and so did I’.”

p. 87-91 “In 1938 the work of the Women’s Health Committee culminated in the publication of working Class Wives. Margery Spring wrote up this study, which was based on interviews with 1,250 working-class women. They included the wives of wage-earners as well as women married to unemployed men, and country-dwellers as well as those living in inner-city slums. The voices of such a broad sample helped make Spring Rice’s most powerful argument that a rise in maternal mortality testified to widespread illness caused by poverty.” [Between 1923 nd 1933 the maternal mortality rate rose by 23%.].. She pointed out that a national health service, better unemployment benefit and state intervention to create work would result in ‘an incalculable saving in expenditure in the cure of disease and the tinkering with destitution.’ While voluntary and charitable organisations had done a great deal of good, they necessarily focused on those in most dire need of help; what was required was a new emphasis on prevention.”

p. 93 “The sight of dole queues filled with miners, craftsmen and clerks – the so-called ‘respectable’ working class and even the lower middle class – made many middle-class opinion-formers realise that hardship was arbitrary. Means-testing added to people’s indignities at a time of great stress, and for little gain: punitive welfare did nothing to reduce the number of those who were unemployed, and could severely damage the health of women and children, as well as that of unemployed men. The means test was designed to limit welfare provision but its implementation assisted a campaign to make social welfare a universal entitlement.”

p. 138 IN March 1941, at Bevin’s bequest, the government quietly abolished the household means test.”

p. 142 “Beveridge’s proposals aimed to free all Britons from want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. The state would be responsible for ensuring that its citizens had the basic means to live (a ‘national minimum’) though workers had to contribute to this through insurance payments. This element of the scheme was necessary, he said, so that workers would experience ‘the duty and pleasure of thrift’ underpinning the scheme, he stressed, must be a government commitment to full employment… Beveridge’s stress on self-help and his assumption that ‘free donations’ would lead to idleness indicated that older suspicions about the moral fibre of the working class hadn’t disappeared. Nevertheless, by arguing for universal welfare provision that wasn’t policed by the means test, Beveridge had destroyed the distinction between the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’ that had penalized so many needy people before the war.”

p. 162 “The government refused to address the needs of women workers both because of the potential expense and because of their short-sighted belief that most working women would eventually be replaced by men… Britain’s economic recovery depended on mass-production and domestic consumption of cars, domestic appliances, electrical goods and clothing … employers in these industries preferred to employ cheap, unskilled and semi-skilled workers, primarily juveniles and women, rather than more expensive adult men. But Attlee’s Cabinet clung to the notion, lond enshrined in the labour movement’s campaigns, that the ideal family was one that could be kept by a single male breadwinner. Women’s pay and conditions were treated as matters of secondary importance. In 1946 the government pleaded financial pressure as a reason to ignore the recommendations of a Royal Commission on Equal Pay, which advocated equal pay for men and women in teaching and the higher grades of the civil services. In 1948 female factory workers eared, on average, 74s 6d a week – about half the average male wage.”

p. 202 “In the late 1850s the number of people with consumer goods like televisions increased, but their insecurity remained, especially in those areas of northern England and Scotland’s industrial belt that had been hardest-hit bay inter-war depression. In the early 1960s sociologists studied 500 households in inner-city Liverpool and a more prosperous southern suburb of Woolton. They found that more than 80 per cent of these families relied on some form of credit. Among them was Joan Hicks, a 41-year-old housewife who lived in Woolton with her husband Bill, an engineer, and their two teenaged children. The Hicks family owned their small terraced house and Bill was in skilled work. Nevertheless, when Joan was asked if she had trouble making ends meet, she answered ‘yes’ without hesitation. ‘Have to go without to keep up mortgage payments and pay for groceries and TV,’ she said.”


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