Post-War Britain, 1945-60

Post-War Britain, 1945-60


  • Post-war Britain saw significant change, focusing on reconstruction and a move towards a more egalitarian society.
  • The Labour Party, led by Clement Attlee, won a landslide victory in the 1945 general election on promises of a “New Jerusalem”.

Economic Reconstruction

  • Britain faced an economic crisis with the cost of war, loss of empire and declining industrial competitiveness.
  • Massive austerity measures were implemented to get the economy back on its feet.
  • The Labour government pursued a policy of nationalisation – industries including coal, rail, and steel were brought under state ownership.

Welfare State

  • The introduction of the Welfare State aimed to protect citizens ‘from cradle to grave’.
  • Key welfare policies included the creation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948, providing free medical care for all.
  • **The National Insurance Act of 1946 established a comprehensive system of social security funded by employers, employees, and the state.

Housing and Urban Planning

  • Rebuilding post-war London and other cities damaged in the Blitz was crucial.
  • Council housing schemes resulted in the creation of estates such as Harlow and Stevenage.
  • The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 regulated land use, aiming to provide a ‘home for every family’.

Political Landscape

  • The Labour government’s radical reforms were largely accepted by the Conservative Party under Winston Churchill, indicating a post-war consensus.
  • Disillusion with austerity measures and the constraints due to the ‘Cold War’ led to decline in support for Atlee, leading to Conservative victory under Churchill in the 1951 election.

Cultural Shifts

  • The period saw increasing social freedom, significant technological progress, and a shift from traditional values.
  • Britain experienced a youth culture revolution with growing influence of American culture, seen in music, films and fashion.
  • The 1950s baby boom reshaped British society, resulting in demographic changes and increased demand on public services.

Commonwealth and Decolonization

  • Britain’s empire began to dismantle after WWII with independence granted to India and Pakistan in 1947.
  • The 1948 British Nationality Act granted citizenship to all members of the Commonwealth, leading to significant immigration from former colonies.
  • The transition from empire to commonwealth marked the start of a new era in Britain’s global relations.