There was a much more of a shared experience of war between the classes than had been witnessed in the First World War, both in the armed forces and among civilians:
- working-class children were billeted in middle-class and upper-class homes.
- Middle and working-class women worked together in munitions factories and in the Land Army.
- German bombs fell mainly on the poorest areas but even Buckingham Palace was directly hit.
The Beveridge Report
Political change brought about by war promised a further weakening of the class system. In return for their suffering during the war, the British people increasing accepted that they deserved a better future and the 1942 Beveridge Report offered just that: an attack on the 'five giant evils' of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness.
From 1945-51, Attlee's Labour government implemented much of the report. It:
- extended the welfare state to protect people, 'from the cradle to the grave', against unemployment, ill health and in retirement
- established a National Health Service
- built 1 million new homes, 80% of which were council housing.
A social revolution?
- Throughout the 1940s, many observers believed they were witnessing a social revolution which would end class distinctions. However, more recently, historians have emphasised the divisions that remained or even deepened.
- The standard of living dropped more for the rich than it did for the poor. High rates of taxation at the end of the war led to the breakup of many grand estates and of the old way of living for the traditional landed aristocracy.
- Rationing wage increases, the welfare state and access to free healthcare and secondary education might have improved the living conditons of the poorest, but they still knew their place in society.
- The number of women workers increased by more than 50% to nearly 7 million, which a further half a million joining the armed formed.
- Another 1 million wome joined the Women's voluntary Service, organising evacuation, supporting civil defence, and setting up rest centres and mobile canteens.
- Involvement in industry, civil defence and the and the forces was a liberating experience for many, bringing confidence, camaraderie, a sense of purpose and, apart from those in the WVS, an independent source of income.
- Three quarters of women had returned to the home by the summer of 1945.
- The marriage bar, which forced women to give up…