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THE LABOUR GOVERNMENT 1945 51

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To what extent did the Labour Reforms succeed in creating a modern Welfare State? How successfully did the Labour Government deal with Britains social problems after WW2? How significant an impact did the welfare reforms of the Labour Government 1945 1951 have on the lives of the British people?

KEY FIGURES
Clement Attlee (Labour Prime Minister 1945 51) Hugh Dalton (Chancellor of the Exchequer) Aneurin Bevan (Health & Housing Minister)

KEY EVENTS
Beveridge Report published (1942) White Papers on Education, Health, Employment & Insurance (1943 4) Education Act & family Allowance Act (1944) Labour Election Victory (1945) Industrial Injuries, National Insurance & National Assistance Acts (1946) National Health Service Act (1946) New Towns Act (1946) NHS comes into operation (1948) Labour majority significantly reduced in General election (1950) Dalton & Bevan Resignations (1951) Labour defeated by Conservatives in General election (1951)

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BACKGROUND
The social impact of WW2 bombing, rationing and evacuation removed class barriers and increased state dependency The Beveridge Report (1942) revealed the extent of poverty in Britain and identified the 5 Giant Evils Want, Disease, Idleness, Squalor and Ignorance Beveridge envisaged a welfare system that was universal, comprehensive and compulsory Both Conservatives and Labour recognised the need for post-war reform but the Labour Manifesto captured the public imagination; Churchill was less enthusiastic about the Beveridge Report In July 1945, Clement Attlee became Prime Minister: between 1945-51, the Labour government implemented a series of reforms that would provide cover from the cradle to the grave.

WANT
The National Insurance Act (1946) was inherited from the wartime coalition government. It was far more comprehensive than the previous Act. Workers made regular contributions to the scheme in return for benefits in the event of sickness and unemployment. The act also provided maternity payments, widows benefits and death grants. The Industrial Injuries Act gave compensation to workers who suffered injuries in the workplace. The National Assistance Act (1948) made further provision for the most vulnerable in society: the disabled, infirm and elderly. The Family Allowance Act again inherited from the wartime coalition government gave child benefits to families of two or more children. National Insurance Benefits were at a fixed rate for 5 years and failed to keep pace with the cost of living. Many more people claimed benefits than expected. The financial cost to the government rose alarmingly. The unpopular Means Test remained.

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DISEASE

The NHS Act was passed in 1946 and came into operation in 1948, under the guidance of Aneurin Bevan the Minister for Health & Housing. It was designed to provide a free and comprehensive health-care system for all. The scheme faced huge opposition from doctors who feared the loss of income from private patients. Bevan had to compromise and offer financial incentives to compensate doctors. The NHS proved very popular with the public but the number of patients overwhelmed doctors, dentists and opticians. Costs soared: the NHS became a massive tax-payers burden, costing 358 million per year by 1950, including 7 million per month on prescription charges alone. Bevan had to compromise on free treatment, introducing prescription charges. Plans for new hospitals were shelved. Nonetheless, the NHS is still regarded as the greatest achievement of Attlees Government.

IGNORANCE
The Education Act was another piece of legislation inherited from the wartime coalition government. All pupils had to stay on at school until the age of 15. The government introduced the controversial 11 plus test, creating a socially divisive tripartite system of Grammar, Secondary Modern and Technical schools depending on ability. This was intended to create a system better suited to pupils needs but seriously limited the educational opportunities for children from working-class backgrounds and deprived areas. The quality of education offered at Secondary Moderns was criticised; few Technical Schools were ever built; the system was gradually phased out, replaced by Comprehensive Schools.

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SQUALOR

Due to aerial bombing there was a chronic shortage of housing at the end of WW2. There was also a lack of building materials and construction workers. Bevan made working class areas a priority by building council houses to a good standard. Thousands of pre-fabricated houses were also built using cheap materials. These were intended only as a temporary solution but many became permanent. The New Towns Act (1946) helped reduce overcrowding in the cities. At first, some new towns lacked public amenities and became concrete jungles. Depopulation of the cities ripped the heart out of traditional communities. Despite the Labour governments housing programme, slum areas remained; by 1951 there was still a shortfall of 750,000 houses.

IDLENESS

To meet the cost of welfare benefits, low unemployment was essential. Beveridge had estimated a figure below 3% was required. The Chancellor Hugh Dalton claimed the reduction of unemployment to 2.5% was a remarkable achievement. Unemployment remained at a low level, but this was partly due to industries being nationalised and heavily-subsidised by the government. This led to an inefficient economy and the devaluation of the pound. Marshall Aid from the USA also helped to keep unemployment artificially low.

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CONCLUSION The Labour Government took an interventionist role in tackling Britains social problems and attempted to establish a Welfare State. Much of the legislation was based on wartime coalition government White Papers or Acts passed before 1945. The establishment of the NHS was a major achievement of the Labour government but in the end it was a compromise. The Labour reforms were ambitious, well intentioned and relatively successful but sometimes proved costly and inefficient. It could be argued that despite criticisms over education & housing, the Labour Government did fairly well given the many social problems of postwar Britain. HISTORIOGRAPHY AND SOME USEFUL QUOTES Some historians criticise the Labour reforms for being too ambitious, costly and inefficient. Other historians praise Labour for providing a safety net for the poorest in society and attempting to tackle the problems of post-war Britain. The scheme is in some ways a revolution but in more ways a natural development from the past. Beveridge Report A dangerous optimism is growing up about the conditions it will be possible to establish after the war. Churchill Money ought not to stand in the way of obtaining an efficient health service. Bevan We shall never have all we need. Expectations must always exceed capacity. Bevan The greatest revolution brought about by the Labour Government. Dalton (on low unemployment)

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