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Modern Public Health - The Welfare State

Below is your study resource about The creation of the Welfare State in the UK. I’ve created this to help you with your GCSE and Advanced Level history courses at school or college.

In July 1945, the Labour Party was elected to government with a manifesto promising far reaching social reforms.

In 1942 William Beveridge had proposed a comprehensive system of social security which would cover everyone from ‘the cradle to the grave’. Beveridge’s proposals were very popular with the British public.

The Beveridge Report had identified ‘five giants’ that needed to be addressed by post-war reconstruction. These were Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness (unemployment).

Clement Attlee’s Government took responsibility for the welfare of its citizens and brought in legislation to tackle these ‘five giants’. In doing so it created what became known as the Welfare State.

‘…to those who profess to fear that security will weaken the moral fibre and destroy self-respect, let me say this. It is not security that destroys, it is insecurity…Security in adversity will, I believe, release our people from the haunting fears of yesterday, and will make tomorrow not a day to dread but a day to welcome.’ Jim Griffiths, Minster of National Insurance, House of Commons, 1946

The aim of the National Insurance and National Assistance Acts was to provide everyone with a minimum standard of living. They, like the NHS, came into operation on the appointed day of the 5 July 1948.

The level at which National Insurance benefits were paid was set too low. In many cases they were not enough to live on. More people than Beveridge had originally intended applied for National Assistance.

However, the Labour Government had created a social safety net to protect people from Want.

Seebohm Rowntree’s 1950 study of York found that poverty had significantly declined. Less than two percent of York’s population were now living in primary poverty.

National Insurance Act 1946

It was compulsory for every employee (except married women) to pay National Insurance. The majority paid a flat rate contribution of 4s 11d a week out of their wages.

This covered unemployment and sickness benefit, and pensions from the age of sixty five for a man and sixty for a woman. Women who had paid into the scheme were entitled to a maternity allowance. There was also a grant to help with funeral expenses.

Benefits were paid at a flat rate. The Act set the basic rate for a single person at 26s a week and 42s for a married couple. Benefits were not linked to inflation, but were instead to be reviewed every five years.

Industrial Injuries Act 1946

This provided compensation for any employee injured or killed at work. Compensation was paid by the Government and not by the employer or private insurance company. Cases were assessed by tribunals.

National Assistance Act 1948

This Act officially abolished the Poor Law. It provided benefits to those not covered by National Insurance, such as the homeless and disabled, and those living below subsistence level.

A centralised National Assistance Board replaced the local Public Assistance Committees. It was the duty of the Board to assist those whose income was insufficient ‘to meet their requirements’. However the benefits were means tested.

Local Authorities provided welfare services for those in need. It was, for example, their duty to provide suitable accommodation ‘for persons who by reason of age, infirmity or any other circumstances are in need of care’.

‘This is the biggest single experiment in social service that the world has ever seen undertaken’ Aneurin Bevan, 1948

The National Health Service was launched on the 5 July 1948. It was a comprehensive medical service, free at the point of use. Everyone was entitled to treatment from a doctor, dentist or optician or to receive hospital care. This was based on a person’s healthcare needs and not their ability to pay.

Demand for NHS services was greater than expected. Many patients sought treatment when previously they couldn’t have afforded to.

There were long waiting lists for dentists. Nineteen million prescriptions per month were issued in 1951, compared with seven million per month in 1947.

The cost of the NHS was significantly higher than forecast. By 1951 it was costing some £400 million per year. Charges were introduced for dentures and spectacles in 1951.

‘Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends’ Benjamin Disraeli, House of Commons, 1874

The 1944 Education Act was brought in by the wartime Coalition’s Conservative Minister for Education, R A Butler.

Secondary education was to be state funded and free for all pupils, although fee-paying public schools would not be abolished. The school leaving age would be increased from fourteen to fifteen.

As Minister for Education, Ellen Wilkinson considered her primary task to be the implementation of Butler’s Act. Both Wilkinson and her successor George Tomlinson, promoted the tripartite system over the introduction of comprehensive (mixed ability) schools.

Under the tripartite system, secondary level education would take place at a grammar, secondary modern or technical school.

To attend a grammar school children had to pass the Eleven Plus exam. Few technical schools were actually built. The majority of pupils attended a secondary modern.

The General Certificate of Education (GCE) was brought in in 1947, with the first exams sat in 1951. Pupils had to be sixteen to take the exam and the pass mark was much higher than under the old School Certificate. It was aimed at those attending a grammar school.

Critics of the system thought it limited equality of opportunity. A higher proportion of working class pupils attended secondary moderns and left school at fifteen without GCE qualifications.

However for those who did pass the Eleven Plus, grammar schools did allow more working class children a route to university.

Post war shortages threatened to delay the raising of the school leaving age. 13,000 new teachers and an additional 200,000 school places were needed.

It was Wilkinson’s determination which ensured that it was raised to fifteen on 1 April 1947.

To accommodate the increase in pupil numbers, pre-fabricated huts were constructed under the Hutting Operation for Raising the School Leaving Age (HORSA) scheme. New teachers, many ex-service personnel, were trained under The Emergency Training Scheme (ETS).

Wilkinson also oversaw the introduction of free school milk in August 1946 for all children under eighteen.

‘We shall be judged for a year or two by the number of houses we build. We shall be judged in ten years’ time by the type of houses we build’ Aneurin Bevan

Wartime bombing had left Britain with a severe housing shortage. This had been anticipated before the war’s end. Plans had been made to provide temporary homes, known as prefabs.

Over 156,000 were built. They were detached bungalows and came with an indoor bathroom and fitted kitchen. Families of servicemen or those with young children whose homes had been destroyed were given priority.

Aneurin Bevan was the Cabinet Minister responsible for housing. Bevan made the repair of war-damaged housing a priority for Local Authorities and made them responsible for house building.

Bevan wanted houses that would provide the working classes with much better living conditions. He focused on tackling Squalor, preferring quality over quantity.

Most of the new properties were council houses and Bevan insisted that these have a minimum of three bedrooms and an indoor toilet and bathroom. He also wanted the new housing to form part of a mixed community and not just be for the working classes.

Despite serious economic problems and a shortage of labour and raw materials, over one million homes had been built by the end of 1951. However there were still long waiting lists for housing.

New Towns Act 1946

New Towns were created to provide better homes for working class families, away from overcrowded cities such as London and Birmingham. They offered an improvement in living standards, with low density housing and access to amenities.

Under the Act the Government could designate land as sites for the new towns. A ‘development corporation’ would be responsible for each new town.

Stevenage was the first to be created. Other early new towns included Cwmbran in South Wales and East Kilbride in Scotland.

Housing Act 1946, Housing Act 1949

The 1946 Act provided subsidies to Local Authorities for the construction of new council houses. The 1949 Act removed the restriction that council houses could only be provided for the working classes in an effort to create mixed estates.

Subsidies were also made available to Local Authorities, landlords and homeowners for the improvement of properties.

‘The price of so-called ‘economic freedom’ for the few is too high if it is bought at the cost of idleness and misery for millions’ Let Us Face The Future, Labour Party, 1945

The Labour Government was committed to ‘jobs for all’. It also wanted to avoid the mass unemployment which had followed the end of the First World War. To this end, the Government maintained many wartime controls and introduced policies to promote economic growth.

The Government effectively managed the demobilisation of thousands of service personnel.

They kept strict control over rents and the price of essential goods. This helped to keep down inflation (the cost of living).

Industries which were unproductive and inefficient such as coal and the railways were nationalised.

Under the Distribution of Industry Act (passed June 1945), hundreds of new factories were built in Development Areas. These provided employment in economically depressed regions. By 1950, around 200,000 new jobs had been created in England.

The Government did maintain full employment. The only exception was during the harsh winter of 1947 when coal supplies ran low, forcing factories to close temporarily.

One of the biggest problems after the war was actually a shortage of labour.