Nationality, citizenship and exclusion, 1905-1925 Free Essay Example

Themes

In the period 1905 to 1918 a whole range of welfare benefits by state and services were introduced in Britain, as in many other industrialized countries. These included the first old age pensions, national insurance, school meals for th: needy, services for mothers and babies and the development of municipal housing. While at one level these measures can be seen as important concessions to improve the lives of the working class, at another level it needs to be remembered that during the same period the Aliens Act the first state control on immigration was passed amid abusive anti-semitism, as was the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act, which gave powers to central and local government to detain, if necessary indefinitely, ‘idiots, imheciles, moral imbeciles and the feeble minded’. Behind the passing of these different reforms three interrelated processes were being played out. The first concerned the development of industrial capitalism. An increasingly militant working class, the challenge to Britain’s industrial supremacy from the USA and Japan, a rivalling of imperial power by Germany, the poor health of recruits in the Boer War and a decline in the birth rate all pushed towards policies aimed at conceding to working-class demands but also at producing workers and soldiers of sufficient fitness and ability to defend Britain’s economic and imperial power. The second process concerned family life and the separation of the public sphere of paid work from the private sphere of the family. Policies for women focused upon their roles as wives and mothers rather than workers and, while they met many women’s needs, they also seemed to consolidate an image of woman’s place in the home. The discourse of motherhood raised it to a new dignity and responsibility: women were seen as contributing to the quality of th… ‘imperial race’ for national efficiency, and to its quantity for the imperial army. Motherhood represented 2J _ ‘Race’, welfare and community care: a histoncal perspective 19 not only women’s destiny, her duty and her dependency, but also her desert, for various measures sought to train, regulate and select the fit mothers from the unfit. If such policies elevated motherhood, theyalso tied women’s role in the family to the development of the ‘race’ and the nation and, in addition, restricted women from the public sphere of paid work and the social rights that went with it. For example, women were excluded from some of the first national insurance and unemployment benefits: in the health insurance scheme of the 1911 National Insurance Act women were only eligible for three-quarters of the rate and were penalized by not being insured for time taken off for childbirth. Policies for insurance and income maintenance also marked the popular acceptance that eligibility to social rights should, like other forms of citizenship such as the right to vote, be defined in terms of nationality. This represented the third significant process in the background to the development of the welfare state: the consolidation of the nation state and national identity, during which the boundaries of nationhood were given greater economic, social, legal political and ideological meaning. In other words, the introduction of some of the first formS of social welfare rights and provisions took place within a context where the boundaries of citizenship were becoming more circumscribed and its social geology in terms of differentiations around gender, ‘race’, age and disability more complexly layered. One example of this connection was the simultaneous introduction of the first effective forms of immigration controls with the first maior forms of social insurance. Campaigns for immigration controls to limit Jewish refugees from East Europe and Russia were supported by all the major political parties and significant parts of the trade union movement. These campaigns often gave vent to and legitimated anti-semitism and imperialist jingoism. In 1905 the Aliens Act imposed immigration contro!s and, among other things, demanded that any person who could not support herself or himself, or who might need welfare provision, should not be allowed entry into the country, and that anyone who within twelve months of entry was homeless, living in overcrowded conditions or living off poor relief, should be deported. Following this, the 1908 Pensions Act denied a pension to anyone who had not been both a residentand a British subiect for twenty years. In the health insurance scheme of the 1911 National Insurance Act non-British residents who had not been resident for five years received lower rates of benefits even though they paid full contributions. The translation of the politics of welfare and of nationality into the practices of racism was a short step. During periods of moral panic about foreigners it became commonplace for the authorities to threaten so-called ‘aliens’ who tumid to public funds with deportation, to deny access to social rights on the basis of nationality or to use welfare agencies to police immigrants. In 1918 the increases in mass unemployment led initially to more generous ‘as of right’ benefits. However, in some cases the government was 20 Fiona Williams explicit about the restriction of such rights. For example, in 1919 the Ministry of Labour refused to grant the ‘out of work donation’ a non-contributory, non-means tested and relatively generous unemployment benefit to black seamen who were eligible for it, and sent secret instructions to labour exchange managers that the seamen should be kept ignorant of their rights.

In 1919 the Aliens Act was tightened and Jewish aliens had to carry identity cards, inform the authorities of any absences from home of over two weeks and stay out of designated areas. The police were also given powers to raid and close down clubs and restaurants frequented by aliens.

When, in 1920, the Aliens Order tightened up illegal immigration, it was, interestingly, the Special Irish Branch of the police that was given the task. Such institutional powers and practices compounded popular racist fears. In 1919 there was a spate of racist attacks upon long-standing black communities in Liverpool, Cardiff and South Tyneside. A South Wales newspaper described one such attack: ‘Always “the black man” was their quarry, and whenever one was rooted out by the police … the mob rushed upon him’.