October 17, 1911, To the Editor of The Daily Graphic
The next two letters, written two days later, address the short-comings, from a woman’s
point of view of the contentious Insurance Act of 1911, a subject often addressed that year
in the pages of Votes for Women. The Act provided a system of medical and unemployment
insurance hitherto unimaginable in England. Workers throughout the country between the
ages of sixteen and seventy were compelled to join; they contributed four pence a week, and
their employers three pence, while the nation contributed two. These contributions funded
a system of free health care and free medicine, as well as unemployment insurance for men
of seven shillings a week for a period of fifteen weeks in any calendar year. This benefit was
distributed at Labour Exchanges which also provided information about where employment
might be found in the area. But the bill at the time these letters were written was unfair to
women who did not work outside the home and would not be automatically covered. Those
women who had worked before marriage could participate on payment into the scheme.
Even so, as the second letter indicates, women’s benefits were substantially less than men’s.
The purpose of the Insurance Act was to create what is today called a social safety-net for
families. Davison saw, though, that the economics of the Act assumed that the male of the
family was the wage-earner, that his illness or unemployment would cause hardship. What
was not recognized was the contribution of women in respect to wages, and in respect to
domestic work. Families could be equally devastated by the illness of father or mother.
Davison’s argument in the second letter based on her knowledge of the infectious nature of
the tuberculosis bacillium seems irrefutable.
Sir, –In the account of Mr. Lloyd George’s speech he defended his Insurance Bill from the
charge of being unfair to women by saying that if the women received less than the men it
was because they paid less, and that was because they earned less money. He also stated
that the women were fairly treated because every penny that they paid in was reserved
for their own benefit, and none of it went to the men. There are two obvious criticisms on
these assertions: to the first the Bill is promoting that unjust anomaly due to the old state
of affairs by which equal pay is not given for equal work, and is therefore blameworthy.
The second point is that it is absurd to claim magnanimity in keeping for the
women what belongs to the women. That is a self-evident fact. Anything else would be
robbery. But what is unjust is that, seeing that the economic position of women in the Bill
is crippled because they are supposed to be supported by their husbands (vide the position
of the non-wage-earning married woman), as a matter of fact the husband wage-earner
ought to be forced to pay his wife’s insurance, not the woman, who has no money, not even
her savings. But that would raise an outcry among the husbands, who have votes, and
therefore is not done, and so injustice is propagated.
Lastly, to the W.S.P.U. deputation Mr. Lloyd George said that he wished that women
had votes, as then his Bill would be sure to go through. It might go through, but it would be
in a very different form to that which it now has, for the women would have been then
properly considered in the Bill, put in as an integral part, and not as an afterthought, as
now. –Yours, etc.,
EMILY WILDING DAVISON
31, Coram Street, London, W.C.,
October 16th, 1911