The case for family allowance was closely linked to Eleanor Rathbone’s feminism. She believed that payment of an endowment to mothers would increase women’s independence, and recognise the economic value of the work of child rearing. Evidence from the 1970s showed how many women relied on family allowance to give a measure of financial independence or indeed to allow them any money of their own at all.
The Family Allowances Act 1945 introduced the first systematic payment of welfare support to women for the support of children. It provided payment of an allowance for the second and subsequent children in any family under the age of 16 while in education or serving an apprenticeship.
The Act had three distinctive features which were understood to be key to its effectiveness: (1) It was non-means tested, (2) it was paid direct to the mother and (3) payment was not linked to family size.
It has since been replaced by Child Benefit, which has recently become means tested and paid only in respect of two children per family.
The architect of the Act was Eleanor Rathbone MP, one of the first women MPs. She campaigned for family allowances throughout her career and the introduction of the Act is generally attributed to her.
The full version of this landmark is written by Lucy Vickers.
Parliament, ‘Eleanor Rathbone: A Most Independent Member’ (Living Heritage: Women and the Vote) https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/electionsvoting/womenvote/parliamentary-collections/eleanor-rathbone/
Remembering Eleanor Rathbone https://rememberingeleanorrathbone.wordpress.com