Money and Modernity in Modern British Studies

Session Abstract : What place does money have in forging the social dynamics that define modernity in Britain? This session will seek to address this question, placing current research projects within a wider picture that draws heavily upon anthropological and sociological theory to consider the interface between capitalist profit-making and claim-making for social goods, and the changing economic nature of citizenship in modern Britain.

It will open with George Gosling outlining the theoretical background to this debate, which can be traced back at least to Thomas Carlyle, originator of the phrase cash nexus in the 1840s. His observation that money flattened social relations has been echoed by thinkers down the generations, most forcefully by Georg Simmel, who defined money as ‘the value of things without the things themselves’, ‘a pure instrument’ with the power to be both leveller and liberator. In this vein, Anthony Giddens has more recently described money as a disembedding technology which explains much of our modern condition as atomised economic actors first and foremost. Yet this ignores the dynamic field of the new economic sociology which, since the 1980s, has done much to challenge such thinking. Scholars including Mark Granovetter and Viviana Zelizer have put forward an alternative view of money as deeply embedded, even acting as a broadcaster of established social, cultural and moral values.

After this theoretical grounding, each of the panellists will use their own research to offer historical case studies of the public, private and philanthropic provision of social goods and the contested limits of citizenship, entitlement and individual responsibility in modern Britain. In different ways, each suggests the need to engage seriously with the work of the new economic sociologists, as economic behaviour appears to be socially and historically embedded. Modernity, in the field of socio-economic relations therefore, can be seen adhering to the rules it is often claimed to have broken.

Session Chair: Pamela Cox, Uni of Essex

Paper 1 Abstract : Pensioning the ‘Picked Man’: Defining and Shaping Civil Service Pensions 1850-1910
Kathleen McIlvenna (Institute of Historical Research)

In 1859, the same year Samuel Smile’s Self Help was published, the British government passed a Superannuation Act that entitled all of its salaried employees to a non-contributory pension. This Act was intended to ensure the government maintained a loyal and efficient service, yet this commitment to employees brought with it greater implications than the government could not have intended.

This paper will examine the how the 1859 Act defined the relationship between employer and employee in comparison to railway occupational pensions and the debates for and against Old Age Pensions. The government’s decision to remove contributions appears to have closer lineage to pensions of the ‘Old Corruption’ years, used as a method of reward for loyalty. However, without an employee’s contributions all external claims to the pension disappeared, giving the Government greater powers of discretion. The question of contribution and ownership marked the Civil Service pension in stark contrast to the growing number of railway occupational pensions, that were based on contributions and made provisions for families, nevertheless, both put greater obligation on the employer to make a provision for a time in life otherwise deemed an individual’s responsibility. Definitions of what the Civil Service pension was and who it was for were brought to the fore again in debates and campaigns for Old Age Pensions. They were used by both sides of the argument to shape a definition of a pension for the aged in need or for the loyal employee. This debate also ignited a campaign for Civil Service pensions to include provisions for families on a basis of the pension defined as deferred pay.

By the beginning of the twentieth century how a pension was defined was up for grabs and the Civil Service pensions had an active role in shaping as well as being shaped by the changing perceptions, helping to form our contemporary views relating to responsibility, duty and entitlement.

Paper 2 Abstract : Payment and Non-Payment in Healthcare
George Campbell Gosling (University of Wolverhampton)

The central moral mission in the creation of the British National Health Service was to demonetise the delivery and access of socialised medical care, and in doing so to forge a non-transactional mode of citizenship. In recent decades, this NHS ideal has come to occupy an important place in British politics, especially for those on the left, largely for this reason. However, the challenge now falls to social and cultural historians of modern Britain to dig beneath this popular idea and examine the more complex meanings of payment and non-payment in healthcare both before and after the foundation of the NHS.

Over the early twentieth century, hospitals that had previously been paid for by the wealthy to provide services for the sick poor became community institutions where services provided across class lines were paid for by the financial contributions of patients and potential patients of all classes. Where this was portrayed by historians and social scientists in the 1980s and 1990s as turning recipients of charity into consumers, more recent work has focused on the democratising power of mutualism as a consequence of such a change. Both make assumptions about the act of payment redefining the power dynamics surrounding the institutional provision of medical services. In doing so, they underestimate that new financial behaviours served to reassert and reinforce long-standing social values and class divisions.

Just as paying the doctor or the hospital before the NHS was not as empowering as has often been suggested, we should be sceptical of the extent to which the new ‘free’ health service brought about the new model of healthcare provision and re-forged citizenship envisaged by its founder Aneurin Bevan. Where pre-NHS payment was firmly embedded within long-established social traditions, even within the framework of socialised medicine patients continued to be economic actors as well as citizens.

Paper 3 Abstract : Paying to exercise rights: citizenship and access to legal advice, c.1900-1970
Kate Bradley (University of Kent)

The circumstances in which legal aid and advice can be sought for free or at low cost have been restricted as a result of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2013 – with major concerns raised by the legal profession about the implications of this for various needy groups. LASPO is, however, the latest manifestation of long-standing tensions over the benefits that legal aid and advice can confer, versus issues around an independent judiciary, upholding moral standards and the cost of a professional service. There is a particular tension between the morality of upholding human rights and the rights of citizens on the one hand, and the morality of not wasting public money on the ‘luxury’ of a professional service with historically high fees.

Therefore, in this paper, I explore the development of discourses around the need for improved access to legal aid and advice as a means of supporting citizens to be active in exercising both their rights and responsibilities, through looking at the development of voluntary free legal advice provision by charities and the main political parties, as well as the call for a ‘National Legal Service’ by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers in 1942. I will also investigate the arguments against extending access to legal aid and advice, which included the need for the judiciary to be independent of state control, as well as the potential wasting of state-funded legal aid on vexatious cases, and the high cost of lawyers’ fees to the public purse. Whilst arguments about justice and fairness have been persuasive throughout the twentieth century – for example, in the passing of the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949 – the supposed imperative to save public funds and to ration welfare spending has over-ruled these principles at various points from the 1950s to the present day. The framework provided by sociological approaches to money provides fresh insights into the relative ‘morality’ of public and private money in the context of delivering social goods.