With the Cabinet due to approve the Green Paper on welfare reform today, for publication next week, Harriet Harman, the Secretary of State for Social Security, put the new drive for equality into context last night when she told a conference of academics at York University: "Key factors taken for granted in post-war society cannot be taken for granted in the Nineties.
"In the days of Attlee and Beveridge, male employment was the norm. When Beveridge set out his plans for the welfare state, he did so on the basis that most women gave up `gainful occupation' when they got married and undertook instead `to perform vital, unpaid service'."
Ms Harman quoted the Beveridge view: "In the next 30 years, housewives and mothers have vital work to do in ensuring the adequate continuance of the British race." She added: "Today, in most quarters at any rate, we have moved on. Our goal is employability for men and women."
Yesterday, on the markets, the pound soared to a nine-year high in reaction to the Budget - to the horror of exporters. The financial markets concluded that the Chancellor had left it to the Bank of England to steer the economy by raising interest rates again, and sent the level of sterling up in anticipation of this move. Figures suggesting that the decline in unemployment was slowing were shrugged off.
Mr Brown insisted that he had done enough to squeeze growth, saying his measures added up to a tough fiscal policy with pounds 17bn being taken out of the economy over two years. "I don't think anyone can say that's anything other than a tough stance," he said.
If the currency markets reflected disappointment with the Budget, investors expressed their delight by taking share prices to a new record. The FTSE- 100 index climbed 69 points to 5,903.6.
The first step toward equality for the female breadwinner was taken by Gordon Brown in Tuesday's Budget, with a little-noticed decision to include about 10,000 women - childless, under-25 partners of unemployed men - in the New Deal programme, under which people refusing job or training offers face benefit penalties.
But the Chancellor also announced that an estimated 250,000 predominantly female partners of unemployed jobseeker's allowance claimants, 95 per cent of whom are male "breadwinners", were to be offered their first chance of joining the welfare-to-work programmes. Mr Brown has allocated pounds 60m from the windfall tax to ensure that all over-25 unemployed "partners" of unemployed claimants "receive the help they need to get back to work".
That view was reflected in this week's pre-Budget report on The Modernisation of Britain's Tax and Benefit System by Martin Taylor, chief executive of Barclays Bank, who reported to the Chancellor that the implicit presumption of the benefits system was that "partners of unemployed people cannot or do not want to work. The existing rules seem to be left over from the days when it was assumed that all men worked and their wives did not. Today, when 47 per cent of employees are women, basic benefit policy on such a notion is, to say the least, inappropriate."
The Chancellor's announcement on opportunities for the unemployed partners of unemployed claimants - urged by Mr Taylor - was the first step in cracking that attitude.
There was a broad welcome for the detailed Budget measures to encourage small businesses and investment. Mr Brown also won praise for the reforms to tax and benefits designed to make sure that work pays for those on low incomes.
Today's Green Paper is also likely to contain the first steps towards compelling people to make greater provision for their retirement by increasing the amount they must save.
Budget aftermath, pages 6 & 7
City and Business, page 23Reuse content