Women- Peacetime Economy (notes)

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Notes- pages 166-167
To what extent were women affected by the return to a peacetime economy?
The demobilisation of millions of men had a dramatic effect on women's war-time employment. There
was a clear expectation among government, trade unions and the men themselves that a return to
normal meant women would go back to their domestic rules. It was a view shared by many, but not
How serious was female unemployment?
During the war, some 4 and a half million women provided the workforce. Without women workers
the war would've been lost . When the men came back, the British economy faced problems as it
wound down from wartime levels of production -women workers will dispensable.
Women were dismissed from their jobs within two weeks of the war ending , by 1921 the total was
600,000. By 1921, the female industrial workforce had been reduced to 2% lower than had been in
What was the role of the unions and the government?
The reduction in female workforce had been foreshadowed during the war. In the treasury agreement
of 1915 with the trade unions, the government had agreed that the `dilution' would end once the war
was over, so it was no surprise that the male dominated trade union conference passed resolutions in
1918, demanding the reduction of hours of women's working days from 12 to 8 on weekdays, with
just four hours on Saturdays.
The `separate spheres' philosophy that had dominated the 19th century was clearly alive and well in
the 20th; the assumption was that work was incompatible with family life. This was reinforced in June
1919 when parliament passed the pre-war trade practices act guaranteeing pre-war pay and
conditions for women.
To what extent was the blow cushioned by the government?
Some attempt was made by the government to help unemployed women whose own domestic
economy had been geared up to their war-time earnings:
The out of work donation scheme gave women 25 shillings a week for 13 weeks on condition
that they reported to a labour exchange every day and were immediately available for work
In November 1919 this was reduced to 15 shillings a week
In 1920 the whole scheme was replaced by the unemployed insurance at which gave women
12 shillings a week- a rate lower than that of men. If a woman refused an offer of work the
benefit was withdrawn; even if that work was widely disliked domestic service paying six
shillings a week.
In 1920 the government gave £500,000 to the `central committee for women's training and
employment' - this set up centres to train women in hairdressing and horticulture, journalism
and domestic work. But by 1921, only training for domestic service was being financially

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Discrimination and Disillusionment
Many women were severely criticised and even vilified for retaining jobs that, in popular opinion
should have been `given back' to the men. There were other ways, too, of curtailing women's
By the end of the war, some 56 % of civil service employers were women. The 1919 civil
service re-organisation replaced many experienced, well-qualified women by unqualified,
inexperienced men.
Women were segregated from men and set to work in lower positions.…read more


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