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How Successful was the Labours Welfare State of 1945? Essay Sample

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How Successful was the Labours Welfare State of 1945? Essay Sample

When thinking about the year of 1945 in Britain, there is a widespread view of the year being significant and a pivotal point in History. The first thing that springs to mind is the year being the end of 6 years of total war. However in 1945 much more began to change. The country shocked itself by electing a landslide Labour government in 1945, after the war time coalition led by rival conservatives, leader Winston Churchill, a man that was seen to have brought the nation to victory. However after this time of great austerity, the people of Britain had clearly been influenced and inspired by The Beveridge Report, issued in 1942. Initially the Beveridge Report was to be used as propaganda during the war to keep morale high and to look forward to a future without war, and poverty. This in itself had caused change in the terms of aiding Labours victory in 1945, yet also was a significant catalyst for great, momentous reforms for the welfare of the country, much needed after the destruction of the WW2. From 1945 the Labour Government led by Clement Atlee, passed a series of measures that would look after the well-being and positively benefit the welfare of all British Citizens, “from the cradle to the grave” for decades.

The popularity of the Beveridge report was evident to intelligent Clement Atlee, with the report itself selling 750,000 copies in its first months of publishing across the nation and even the USA. This important document was used as the basis for the mass change implemented between 1945-1951. The reports main focus was to deal with 5 main factors that needed to be targets for change; these factors were called “The Five Giants”, Want, Disease, Squalor, Ignorance and Idleness.

“Want” was the term for overarching poverty in order for Labour to tackle this several acts needed to be passed. In 1946 National Insurance Act was passed extending the Liberal Act of 1911 however including all adults, this was vital in creating a comprehensive system of social security. It was a universal safety net. The act provided financial protection in the event of unemployment and sickness – workers received 26 shillings a week or 42 shillings for married men. This was significant as it recognised that married men, needed to provide for them family, needed more provisions than a single man. This act also provided the elderly with pensions and gave benefits for widows, and females on maternity leave.

However the scheme being criticised for the large number of officials needed to operate it and others arguing that the Act did not go far enough as the benefit was restricted to those citizens who had made 156 weekly contributions. Despite this criticism the large number of officials needed to operate it created new jobs and other acts covered those who had not contributed. The act also established standardised minimal living conditions for the employed, and also gave money back to the people to fuel the economy. The act that aided those most in need and not able to contribute to National Insurance was the National Assistance Act of 1948, the act itself was means tested ensuring that the financial assistance received depended on the amount of money/valuables a family/individual possessed, this meant that the assistance went to those who required it and not in addition to National Insurance. This act was particularly life changing for single, unemployed women whose husband had left them, before this act it was almost a laissez faire approach to aiding, seen that no matter what the situation a husband should provide and that the government should take no responsibility.

Reforms to address and help conquer the “giant” issue of Squalor meaning poo living conditions were: The New Towns Act of 1946 planning to build twelve new towns to prevent overcrowding, this a key issue in living conditions being poor. Another act was passed, the Housing Act 1949 this enabled governments to buy houses in dismay, and make repairs so that the house could be inhabited again, combatting homelessness. Home owners could also apply for their house to be improved if it is in disrepair.

To battle the issue of “ignorance” of lack of education, the labour government enforced the Education Act of 1944 this increased the age of free education from 14, to 15 meaning especially the working class, who is times past were seen as the simple minded class, were able to receive education for another year without having to pay more than they can afford. The act also meant that all local authorities had to provide, primary, secondary and further education. Many were concerned that academic education would be harmed by combining it with less academic subjects and children, however this was an extremely ignorant view in itself, as the “less academic students” were just from poorer backgrounds, and enabled the working class to achieve their academic potential, that usually would have been overshadowed by potential debt.

Nationalisation occurred on a large scaling helping employment rates, and therefore helping take down the giant of “idleness”. To do this many staple industries such as steel, iron, gas, coal, electricity and railways were taken under government control to allow them to create new jobs and also maintain employment levels. This helped to keep unemployment rates very low – unprofitable industries were provided with Government money to keep them in business and to avoid job losses.

Arguably the most crucial and powerful reform during Labours time in government was the formation of the National Health Service (NHS) this colossal provision providing every Briton to receive free Medical, Dental and optical services completely free of charge. In 1946 The National Health Service approach to medical care has meant many things to many people. For some civil servants it was a solution to administrative disorder inpre-war medical services, and an end to unsatisfactory promises. To some working in the voluntary of hospitals it was an end to their economic difficulties. To those working people who already had access to free general practitioner care, it meant free access to specialist medicine. For the first time, to the middle class and to working people not on ‘the panel’ it meant access to free general practitioner services.

For the small group of specialists it was a strategy of modern medical practice without harming their income or power. To the medical profession as a whole it signalled a large number of Labour opponents to avoid local government control of medical care. And to the Left it meant, as the best way to a locally controlled national health service based on a network of health centres. Yet still there were a few who criticized saying, the development of the NHS was hampered by the number of old and out of date hospitals and costs were high and by 1950 the idea of free treatment for all was undermined when charges were introduced for spectacles and dental treatment. Yet this revelation being the NHS encouraged the development of old hospitals and the building of new ones. The pricing of dentistry, and optical treatment, was a very small price to pay for in return a whole host of free health care services, these were small criticisms considering that people had to pay for all health care before the NHS anyway.

The Labour set out to provide social security and tackle the problems posed by post-war Britain, and considering the austerity levels in 1945, they certainly did what they intended to. Despite criticisms of only developing acts that had already been passed, the government were successful in doing so and the bases of their very welfare state, did not try to state that they were pioneers, ‘The scheme is in some ways a revolution but in more ways a natural development from the past.’ Beveridge Report

The Welfare Reforms were carefully organised and thorough, for example the apparent failures of the National Insurance Act being that it did not cover those who did not pay in, was supplemented by other acts such as the National Assistance Act. The NHS is still recognised today as one of the greatest reforms our country has ever provided, and has continued to provide free health care for over 60 years since the act was passed, due to this one factor alone, Britain entered its ideal of New Jerusalem thanks to the Labour Government and the Beverige Report.

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