In what ways has the family been a central concern in the development of social welfare? Illustrate your answer using examples from Book 2.

In explaining how the family has been a central concern in the development of social welfare I shall look at how the family has been socially constructed, considering how the ‘normal’ family was naturalised before looking at how families who did not conform to the ideal of the ‘normal’ family came to be seen as a problem and in need of intervention through the development of social welfare. I will discuss why the family was a point of focus for welfare interventions, how those interventions were constructed and legitimated and examine some types of interventions developed.

The ‘ideal’ family only came about in the late 18th century. Prior to this a much more liberal notion of the family existed with the ‘family’ extending to relatives, and perhaps friends staying under the same roof. In the 19th century the family became ‘naturalised’; the perceived ideal of the patriarchal male with dependent wife and children became the ‘norm.’ During a period of political and economic unrest across Britain and the Empire, from 1770 to the 1840’s, came the idea, strongly influenced by Evangelical Christians, that a particular kind of family was crucial key to maintaining social stability.

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This ideal consisted of the Christian man and woman living together with dependant children and having different roles, the man in the workplace and the woman in the home. As men and women became differentiated in the workplace by way of skills and wages, so they were placed in different spheres of ‘public’ and ‘private’ or work and home. The discourse associated with these separate roles became ‘common sense’ thus naturalising the different genders in roles.

An alliance was also created between different ideologies as to what signified a ‘proper’ family. This naturalised family, of which the sexual division of labour was fundamental, became typical of the middle class and was assumed to be the norm to be imposed on the working class. An increase in diversity was seen as deviation from the ‘norm’ for example women working, co-habiting or more common today single parents and divorce. A healthy family based on the sexual division of labour would also, so it was argued, benefit the wider community. “A nation could only be built upon healthy families and that meant a working father earning a family wage to support his dependants, and a mother who could look after a home and care for children.” (Hall, 1998)

The example of the ‘Cadburys’, (Book 2, page 21) a deeply religious Quaker family, demonstrates how the ‘vision’ of the middle class family changed from that of the extended family of relatives friends and servants in the late 18th century to the ‘nuclear’ family in the early 19th century consisting of the separate spheres of work and home; the woman supporting the husband in the latter as opposed to formerly bein

The industrial revolution redefined relationships between employer and employee; the cash-nexus was integral to this redefinition. It also began to develop a new kind of society, raised many concerns, particularly the role of women in the workplace, causing moral panic. Many commentators highlighted the negativities on family life of women going out to work such as neglected children and housework. Women became the target for intervention as they were seen as the pillars of families, providing for the needs of working husbands and rearing children. By women going out to work they were unable to fulfil their duties at home.

This led, was argued by middle class commentators of the day, to poor moral values within working class families, neglected children and husbands preferring to spend free time elsewhere. As the family was seen as fundamental to the social stability of the wider community and the nation there was a need to return women to their central role within the family. “Woman was seen to be the saviour of the nation and must be placed back in the home”. (John 1980)

Therefore the intervention by the state into the hitherto private realm of the family was legitimised. The family became subject to ‘protective’ legislation. In upholding notions of the ‘proper’ family, women were stopped from working in mines in the 1840’s and later from the pit brow. During an investigation into child labour, the plight of women in the mines was highlighted. Observers were horrified with what they saw, and interpreting the primary cause of female labour in the mines as the laziness of men as opposed to economic reasons; and also that it went against the middle class view of what was appropriate for women and the notion of the proper family, steps were taken to exclude women from mines with the passing of the Mines and Collieries Bill.

As industrialisation increased in the cities attracting more people from the surrounding countryside, and immigration from Ireland, to earn a living in the new manufacturing industries, so did the demand for housing and other services. The massive shift of the population stretched public amenities in the new towns and cities. Poor health care, sanitary conditions, low wages, and overcrowded accommodation were prevalent. Along with the Industrial Revolution came what many perceived as a new “social world”. It was a common view amongst the middle classes of the 19th century that one of the main causes of poverty was the lack of planning for the future and bad economy by the working class. The ‘normal’ family already ascribed to by the middle class came to be seen as a basis for social stability and order.

Variations from this ‘proper’ family were seen as a problem that needed regulation and intervention. The main discourse of poverty in the 19th century put it down to the immorality of individuals and their kin, also that poverty was a natural occurrence and the main causes were the ‘dishonest’ poor as opposed to poor wages and working conditions. James Phillips Kay a physician of the 1830’s saw no distinction between medical inquiry and politics. He assumed that people’s state of mind and morals were linked to their general health and that good health was fundamental to stable social order and governance. Therefore there was a need to monitor and regulate the poor.

Kay was certain of the “inseparable connection between the mental and moral condition of the people and their well-being”(Kay quoted in Mort 1987). Fears of social disorder and political unrest became topical among the middle classes; fears were fuelled by news of revolutions across Europe and images of a social divide between the classes created by social commentators. The media depicted the cities as a wild places and the working class as a race apart. Parallels were drawn between the working class and natives of the colonies, both need to be civilised through guidance and ‘social mothering’. As in the colonies the family became a target of intervention.

The distribution of charity was greatly criticised as being given out indiscriminately, encouraging dependence and demoralisation. In an attempt to stem this demoralisation the Charity Organisation Society came into being. The COS adopted a system of investigation and supervision of applicants of financial assistance, making sure that only the ‘deserving’ poor received help and that the ‘undeserving’ were referred to the Poor Law and the workhouse. Middle class women were deemed as the most suited agents of philanthropy and the COS. In their visits to the families of the poor these female philanthropists would be able to instil upon their working class counterparts middle class values and ideals of the ‘proper’ family. Thus bridging the gap between the classes and reinforcing social order.

A distinct group of the disreputable poor was created and marginalized. Those labelled were profoundly affected. Much of the blame of the poor being put on the woman of the working class family in her ignorance or inability to provide a comfortable home for a working husband. The family was seen as a nursery of good citizenship. By instilling moral values, with the man and woman dutifully going about their separate roles and responsibilities, the family would become the bedrock of a stable society, setting an example for the next generation.

In the second half of the 19th century as the development of new machinery reduced the demand for child labour in the industries concerns were aroused amongst the middle classes about the increasing number of children being neglected in working class families. Britain was also facing economic competition from abroad therefore there were calls for compulsory education as a means of control and educating future generations for the common good of the nation.

With the introduction of compulsory education the state further intervened into the ‘private’ sphere of the family. There was a significant gender differentiation in the delivery of education toward the end of the 19th, and into the early 20th century. There was great emphasis on the ‘normal’ family and the syllabuses adopted attempted to impress middle class values upon working class families. For example girls would be taught, needlework, cookery and other skills of domesticity whilst the boys would be taught skills suited to industry.

Amid a period of dramatic change and instability in Britain the family was identified as a means of stabilisation and continuity. A particular version of the family was identified as ‘proper’. This ‘proper’ family then became an ideal to be encouraged and preserved. Much social welfare was developed with a view to preserving the ‘ideal’ family, for instance ‘protective’ legislation barred women from particular types of work, philanthropic activity and education were used as means to regulate and preserve the family, thus maintaining wider social order within the nation.


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