Barbara Castle on the reforms her government made for women



In this recording, made at a Cambridge Union debate in 1996, Barbara Castle describes some of the resistance the Equal Pay Act of 1970 came up against before going on to defend the payment of Child Benefit to mothers.

What is Child Benefit?

In 1945 the Family Allowances Act was passed. The Act empowered the government to pay an allowance of 5 shillings per week for care of each child, other than the eldest, under the age of 18. These payments are now known as Child Benefit. In 1975 Barbara Castle fought to ensure that the new Child Benefit Act guaranteed that payments were made directly to mothers thus helping to ensure their independence and to create what she refers to in the recording as a ‘woman friendly’ society.

Who was Barbara Castle?

Barbara Castle (1910–2002) was the Labour MP for Blackburn between 1945 and 1979, the MEP for Greater Manchester from 1979–189 and, after being granted a life peerage, she was a member of the House of Lords from 1990. She is the only woman to have held the title First Secretary of State. Castle is best known for her role in the introduction of the 1970 Equal Pay Act while Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity.

What are the Cambridge Union debates?

The Cambridge Union Society at the University of Cambridge regularly invites guest speakers, such as Barbara Castle, to take part in debates or speaker events at the union.



Barbara Castle: Dealing with this problem in eight years of cabinet government, and what we did? We set out to make a woman friendly society. First, Equal Pay. My Act of ’70 was far from perfect, we haven’t had a chance to bring it up to date. But it broke through. The ‘Oh, no, no’s’. The ‘It’ll upset the economy. There’ll be inflation. It’ll be this. It’ll be that. It’ll undermine the competitive stand of the big firms!’. The multinationals who are minting it, as a result of the privatisation programmes that are going on.
Then the Sex Discrimination Act. And not least, in that 1974 Labour Government when I was Secretary of State for the Social Services, I was given the job of building machinery that would defend the most vulnerable in our society. From the perils of means testing poverty and insecurity.
Woman-friendly. That is why we got the Child Benefit Act through Parliament. And do you know? You watch what happened as soon as Margaret – ‘The Great Feminist’ – came into office. She set out to destroy one-by-one, every piece of social security with which we had tried to give women a decent life. Child Benefit. Do you realise what that did? It took the Child Tax Allowance, which the Male – the man in the family – got in his wage packet, and turned it positive to Child Benefit payable to the mother. And from every child – including the first one – never before done in all the ages, age-long discussions on family allowance. And so ha – what did Margaret Thatcher do? Well of course, she hated it! It was Government taking responsibility. For seeing that the mother had something in her hands to feed and clothe the children.

Barbara Castle on the reforms her government made for women
13 February 1996
Sound recording
Barbara Castle
© Audio: © The Estate of Barbara Castle; © Cambridge University Student Union;
Image: © Keystone / Stringer via Getty Images (3420949)
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Women in Parliament from 1918–2020

Article by:
Caitríona Beaumont
Education and work

Women first entered the House of Commons as MPs after the Parliament Act of 1918. Professor Caitríona Beaumont examines the role of women in changing the political landscape in the UK, and the impacts they have made in positively transforming the lives of others.

Related collection items