On 15 June 1945 the Family Allowances Act was enacted. This was an important step in the fight for economic independence for women. The original campaign, led by Eleanor Rathbone, said it was of “immense importance” that the allowance be paid to mothers, but when, in February 1945, the Family Allowances Bill was published, it stated that the money would belong to the father. This led to a cross-party rebellion, and the bill was amended to pay the money to mothers. You can see the Act on the Parliamentary Archives website and find out more about Eleanor Rathbone.
The Act came into operation the following year, on 6 August 1946, and was the first time child benefit was provided in the UK. An allowance of five shillings a week was paid for each child in a family, other than the eldest. It was payable whilst the child was of school age, up to the age of eighteen, if apprenticed or in full-time school education.
Our Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography includes some accounts that mention Family Allowance, although some of these are more negative. The collection as it was originally brought together has content up to 1945, so many of the writers experienced growing up before family allowances and have the attitude that their parents coped without it.
For example, Dora Hannan, looking back from the 1980s on her early life, when her father was at sea with the Royal Navy for years at a time, writes:
“People who are now able to claim for this and that allowance … have no idea how the wives and mothers managed to bring up large families singlehanded”BURN 2:357 Hannan, p. 1
In 1919, long before Family Allowance, Stanley Rice wanted to take on an unpaid apprenticeship but was unable to, as his parents couldn’t afford to support him without a wage:
“It was not a question of my parents being unkind, they knew only too well how much it would help to have a few extra shillings coming in weekly. No special allowances and suchlike in those days. Parents had to face the hard facts and find their own solutions to problems“BURN 2:661 Rice p. 10
And in 1950 Margaret Perry comments on her “very battered copy” of the Labour Party manifesto:
“In five years of Labour Government we have: Built 556,000 houses. A new house every 3minutes. Secured a prosperous and thriving peacetime agriculture. Our new National Health Service is the best in the world. Infant mortality the lowest on record. School meals and milk, family allowances. Full employment. Decent wages. Guaranteed prices. Democratic self-government in the Colonies“BURN 2:606 Perry p. 34
Over the years the terms of the Family Allowance were changed, including in 1952 an increase of three shillings a week to combat poor nutrition and extended to all schoolchildren in 1956 in an attempt to keep children in education. In 1977, child benefit was phased in, which still exists today.