Britain 1945 - 1951

Changing Attitudes

The war led to a change in attitudes.The people who lived through the difficulties of the war years were determined to create a better world once it came to an end.Politicians from all three main political parties began planning for a better future.Three of them were  R A Butler (Conservative), William Beveridge (Liberals) and Aneurin Bevin (Labour).The Beveridge Report was published in 1942.It was a plan for rebuilding Britain after the Second World War.The war promised that the state (government) should look after people 'from the 'cradle to the grave'.It said that the state needed to deal with the 'five giants' which were responsible for the problems facing ordinary people.The five giants were want, ignorance, disease, squalor and disease.The report was radical, but many people agreed with the ideas and principles which it presented.

Henry Moody

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Plan for Peace

The Beveridge Report formed part of the plan for rebuilding Britain after WW2.People began to expect that post-war governments would improve national insurance, education, health, housing and employment.The Ministry of Town and Country Planning was set up in 1943 to plan for rebuilding the towns and cities damaged by war.The Education Act was passed in 1944.This raised the school leaving age to 15.It aimed to improve secondary education for all children.

The Beveridge Report was radical, but the views of the people had changed as a result of the war.They were more used to the government taking central control of parts of their lives such as health care.The report also gave them hope for a better society after the war.As the war came to an end the Labour Party was seen as the party most likely to put these promises into action.The war in Europe came to an end on the 8th May 1945.On the 5th July a general election was held.  Labour won and Clement Attlee became Prime Minister.

Henry Moody

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Problems

Britain suffered from terrible bomb damage.Towns and cities had been virtually destroyed.Thousands of people had lost their homes.After WW2 the country was almost bankrupt.The national debt had risen from £760 million to £3355 million.There were shortages of food and raw materials.This meant that rationing had to continue.There was also a shortage of building materials which were needed to rebuild the country.Britain had to borrow even more money from the USA.

This meant that whatever the government wanted to do after the war, they would be hampered by a lack of money.The period after WW2 became known as the Age of Austerity.

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1945 Election

Labour beat the Conservatives by 393 seats to 213, due to multiple reasons:                         Labour's campaign-Labour made use of the 'wartime spirit' which existed even after the war ended.There was a spirit of togetherness which made people willing to tackle the post-war problems.They used slogans like 'let us face the future together'.Labour promises-Labour wanted to share the country's wealth and provide equal opportunities for all.Labour adopted the Beveridge Report as part of their policy.They wanted to provide better public services which would improve the standard of living for all, and they also promised to protect the country's most vulnerable people like the sick, elderly and the young.Labour promised jobs, fair wages, good houses, pensions for the old, free education and free medicine and health care.They promised to rebuild the nation's economy and a return to prosperity.Conservative campaign-The conservative election campaign was a bit of a disaster.They focused too much on Churchill's personality and war record.Most people admired Churchill but wanted to put the war behind them and wanted a fresh start.Memories of the Great Depression-Most people could remember the terrible problems faced in the 1920s and 30s.The Conservatives were still blamed for some of the problems.Many believed that they had not done enough to help.People wanted something to show for six years of war and did not return to the way things were in the 1930's.                            

Henry Moody

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Welfare State

Homes for all-This was led by Aneurin Bevin.It built on the promise of 'homes fit for heroes' made by David Lloyd after WW1.It tried to attack the 'giant' of squalor.800,000 new homes were built between 1946 and 1951.80% of the houses were council homes were working class families.There was still a shortage of houses and the government faced shortages of building materials.Some people were housed in disused army camps or in temporary houses called 'prefabs'.The government also built new towns such as Stevenage and Harlow to reduce the overcrowding in the cities.Some slums were demolished and houses were improved by having bathrooms or hot water installed. 

Social Security-This was part of the government's attempt to deal with the 'giant'  want, or poverty.Beveridge felt that this should be the cornerstone of the Welfare State.Attlee put Labour MP James Griffith in charge of sickness and unemployment benefit.Griffiths came from a welsh mining community and knew all about the problems facing working class people.In 1946 the National Insurance Act was passed.The whole population was insured for sickness, unemployment, retirement, maternity and death.The scheme was paid for through weekly national insurance payments made by workers and employers.Stamps were fixed into a National Insurance card.

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NHS

Aneurin Bevin was the Minister for Health.It was his job to implement the ideas of the Beveridge Report and introduce the National Health Service.Bevin had grown up in a South Wales mining community.He has seen the poverty the mining community had faced during the 1930s Depression.In his home town of Tredegar a scheme had been developed which became the model for the NHS.The National Health Service aimed to solve the 'giant' of disease which had been outlined in the Beveridge Report.It planned to provide a variety of services which would be 'free at the point of delivery'.It was to be paid for by National Insurance contributions and taxes.

At first doctors opposed the NHS.Many doctors were paid directly by the patients they treated.  They did not want to be part of a centralised system.The Conservative Party and the British Medical Association were also against the idea.However, Bevin was determined.He was driven by a firm belief that the NHS was essential for a fair society.It took Bevin 18 months to convince people that the NHS was a good idea.Compromises were made which allowed doctors to do some private work alongside their NHS work.The new NHS was welcomed by most people.  Before the NHS many people were unwilling or unable to visit the doctor because they could not afford it.The cost of the NHS in the first years were £500 million.The government had to make some compromises to cut costs, so changes were introduced for dentists and opticians.

Henry Moody

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Education

The Education Act was passed in 1944.It raised the school leaving age from 14 to 15, and later 16.A new secondary school system was introduced.It made sure that education was free for all from 11 to 15 and also tried to make sure that students of all abilities received a good education.There were three types of school:Grammar Schools provided a traditional, academic education for students who were able to pass the 11-plus examination.Technical Schools taught vocational, practical skills.Secondary Modern Schools educated those students who failed the 11-plus exam.

The act led to more children staying on at school and moving onto college and university.This shows that new educational opportunities were provided for children of all kinds of backgrounds.Some Labour MPs felt that the changes did not go far enough.They felt that the system should be based on comprehensive schools which taught pupils of all abilities together, rather than splitting them up based on an exam they took aged 11.Not many technical schools were built due to a lack of money.

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Nationalisation

The government would invest money in the coal, gas, electricity and transport industries to modernise them.Britain's industries needed to be modernised as they were outdated when compared to those of other countries.Members of the Labour Party believed that the country's main industries should be owned by the people, not by small groups of owners or shareholders.The owners of the coal mines were the least popular.They had been accused of caring only about profit and not the welfare of their workers.Under the new system,workers would be protected by national safety guidelines,guaranteed by the government.In the late 1940s the government nationalised the Bank of England,coal,airlines, electricity,railways,docks,gas,iron and steel industries.The Conservative Party accepted the nationalisation of the coal mines,the railways,the docks and canals because they knew that many of these industries were old-fashioned and needed large-scale investment if they were to be modernised.The Labour Government rejected the idea that workers in these industries should be given a say in how they should be run.Miners celebrated the nationalisation of the coal industry.They saw it as a victory over the hated mine owners.However,in 1947 there was a harsh winter which exposed the government's lack of money.They were shortages of coal and other fuel which caused disruption across the country.More people were opposed to the nationalisation of the road haulage,iron and steel industries.They thought these were relatively well run under private ownership.The Conservatives began to attack Labour's policies and some members of the public turned against the policy of nationalisation.                           Henry Moody

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1951 Election

In 1950 Prime Minister Attlee called a general election.Many people were shocked by the result.  Their landslide from 1945 was reduced to a single seat.The Labour Government stayed in power for another 18 months,but opposition was growing to some of their policies.In October 1951 Attlee called another election.This time it was won by the Conservatives.Winston Churchill became Prime Minister again.Why did this happen?People lost faith in Labour's policies. and wanted change.Rationing remained and there was still a shortage of goods and raw materials.Labour's nationalisation policies had proved too expensive.For example, millions of pounds had been invested in the coal industry.Taxation remained high and richer people resented having to pay higher taxes.Inflation led to price rises.This was a threat to middle class living standards.Re-armament caused by the Cold War led to a further rise in government spending.The Conservatives built up strong opposition to steel nationalisation and rationing.This gradually became more popular.Some people felt that Labour had gone too far and was interfering too much in the running of the economy.Labour did not put up enough opposition to these criticisms and the Conservatives were able to turn many people against them.Despite losing the election,the economic and social policies of the Labour Party were left pretty much intact.There was a post-war consensus amongst the main political parties which accepted the principles of the Welfare State and the NHS.  It was only in the 1970s and 1980s that this began to change.

Henry Moody

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