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Wives, Mothers, Workers: A brief history of women in social policy

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This presentation charts the development of women’s social rights in employment law, the income tax code and social welfare system, from the nineteenth century to the present. It shows how barriers to equality for women today are rooted in the policy legacy of favouring the male breadwinner/ female carer family.

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Wives, Mothers, Workers: A brief history of women in social policy

  1. 1. Wives, Mothers, Workers: A Brief History of Women in Social Policy Presentation to NERI Seminar Dr Laura Bambrick
  2. 2. Male Breadwinner Family • Changes in Irish women’s social rights not always progressive:  Gains made in final years of British rule reversed following Independence. • Women included in social policies as wives, mothers, dependents. • The new State was not unusual:  Male breadwinner family model universally adopted. • Unique to Ireland, this ideal was:  pursued with unwavering enthusiasm by policymakers  reform to an adult-worker family took so long.
  3. 3. Acts of Union-Independence: Employment • 1842: Ban on children under 10yrs & adult women working in coalmines. • 1844: Women working in industry subject to same working hours as children. • 1878: Women trade unionists successfully campaign to relax restrictions. • 1891: Ban on employing women 4 weeks before & 4 weeks after childbirth. • 1894: Trade unions call for an employment ban on married women in industry. • 1895: Ban on women working jobs dangerous to future childbearing. • 1895: Women civil servants required to resign on marriage. • 1915: Appeal for women to take up employment of any kind to help war effort.  Trade unions win pledge pre-war practices will be restored at end of war. • 1919: Unlawful to disqualify women from work in any profession or vocation.  Didn’t cover marriage bar in CS, Factory Acts, Pre-war Practices Act.
  4. 4. Acts of Union - 1937: Tax & Welfare • 1799: A husband & wife treated as one person for income tax purposes. • 1834: Women denied entry to & exit from a workhouse if not with husband. • 1908: Old age pension equal pay rates, but means-tested on spouse’s income. • 1911: Women’s Cooperative Guild gets maternity covered by social insurance. • 1918: Tax relief for a dependent child “to apply to a wife also”. • 1920: Lower social insurance contribution and payment rates for women. • 1920: Work-test used to deny Unemployed Benefit to mothers. • 1921: Allowances for a dependent spouse & children paid to unemployed men. • 1929: Women’s social insurance contributions refunded on marriage. • 1933: Women must have dependents to qualify for Unemployment Allowance.
  5. 5. Independence - 1937: Employment • 1922: Constitution safeguards equality of opportunity regardless of sex. • 1923: Women civil servants lose the right to return to their job if widowed. • 1925: Male civil servants receive marriage bonus & increments for children. • 1926: Women graduates excluded from civil service open competitions. • 1934: Women teachers required to resign on marriage. • 1935: Minister empowered to ban employment of women in any industry.  Requested by Congress. Opposed by Irish Women Workers’ Union. • 1937: Bunreacht na hÉireann pledges the State will: ‘In particular the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.’
  6. 6. A Constitution of its time… • 1919: Weimar Republic Constitution: ‘Motherhood has a claim upon the protection and care of the State.’ • 1920: Czechoslovak Constitution: ‘… motherhood shall be under the special protection of the law’. • 1920: Esthonian Constitution: ‘… the protection of maternity’. • 1921: Polish Constitution: ‘Maternity is protected by special laws.’ • 1921: Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes Constitution: ‘It shall be the concern of the State… to give special protection to mothers.’ • 1931: Spanish Constitution: ‘The State shall… give protection to maternity’. • 1933: Portuguese Constitution: ‘… to protect maternity’.
  7. 7. Reaction to Constitution • References to women the most controversial when draft was published:  Fear Constitution could be used to justify gender discrimination in employment.  High profile campaign by women professional bodies & women trade unionists. • IWWU believed men should earn enough to allow wives to remain in the home. • While opposition to Article 41.2 was strong, it was a minority view. What is wrong in saying that we should strive for a social system which will be such as will not compel women to go out and work? …not that women will be prevented from engaging in this or that career, but a certain class of women, namely mothers, will…
  8. 8. 1937 - EEC: Employment, Tax & Welfare • 1944: Child Benefit paid to fathers “as the head of the family”. • 1952: Allowance for wife automatically paid to married men claiming welfare. • 1952: Equal social welfare payments for single women. • 1952: 12 weeks paid maternity leave for insured women. • 1958: Marriage Bar ends for women teachers. • 1968: Carer’s payment for single women who left job to care for relative. • 1970: Wife’s Earned Income Relief to ease tax burden on working wives. • 1970: Allowances for Deserted Wives, Prisoners’ Wife’s & Unmarried Mothers.  Fathers not eligible for payments. Mothers disqualified if working. • 1973: Women retain social insurance record after marriage. • 1973: Marriage Bar ends. • 1973: Child Benefit paid automatically to mothers.
  9. 9. EEC - Today: Employment • 1974: Right to be paid ‘equal pay for equal work’. • 1977: Illegal to discriminate on gender & marital grounds in access to work. • 1977: Unlawful to sack a worker on pregnancy related grounds. • 1981: Right to return to same job/ no loss of seniority after maternity leave. • 1991: Part-timers covered by same protective legislation as full-time workers. • 1994: Men entitled to paternity leave if the mother dies in childbirth. • 2000: National minimum wage has a positive impact on female earnings. • 2001: Right to 2 years career break to provide care to a chronically ill person. • 2019-23: 45 women-only professorships to tackle inequality at the top. • 2019/20: Introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting.
  10. 10. EEC – Celtic Tiger: Tax & Welfare • 1976: Women not required to disclose their income to husband for tax returns. • 1978: Working wife entitled to claim half of her husband’s tax relief. • 1979: Successful Supreme Court challenge to tax penalty on working wives.  All married couples’ relief doubled so breadwinners not disadvantaged. • 1986: Wives entitled to welfare on same terms as men & single women.  11 years, 5 High Court hearings, appeal to Supreme Court, 3 ref. to ECJ. • 1989-94: Lone parent payments payable to men in similar circumstances. • 1990: Ban lifted on married women claiming Carer’s Allowance. • 1993: Wives entitled to be paid her tax rebates & details of couple’s tax relief. • 1994: Social insurance credits for time out of employment providing care.
  11. 11. Celtic Tiger - Today: Tax & Welfare • 1996: Wives of unemployed men eligible for back-to-work schemes. • 1997: Adult Dependant Allowance tapered to encourage wives to work. • 1998: Right to 14 weeks unpaid parental leave for mothers and fathers. • 1999: Revenue end practice of assigning women their husband’s PPS number. • 2000: Individualisation of tax-bands to encourage married women to work. “socially divisive, blindly unfair, and discriminatory against one-income families where a mother stays at home… and probably unconstitutional”. • 2002: Pensioner’s wife entitled to separate payment without proving neglect. • 2006-10: Early Childcare Supplement, later replaced with free pre-school year. • 2012: Lone parents moved to Jobseeker’s Allowance when child aged 7yrs. • 2016: Two weeks paid paternity leave for new fathers. • 2019: Two weeks paid parental leave for mothers and fathers.
  12. 12. Concluding Comments • We are where we are because of legacy of favouring male breadwinner family. • Only in exceptional circumstances do Govt. radically change policy direction:  e.g. industrialisation, urbanisation, secularism, EU membership, boom & bust.  TDs get punished by those who lose out & not rewarded by those who gain. • Next big event on the horizon is population ageing:  Economic growth slows while public expenditure increases. • Will need policies so women don’t have to chose between career & children.
  13. 13. Thank You! @drbambrick laura.bambrick@ictu.ie

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