Labour reforms: the Welfare State 1945-51

Labour reforms: the Welfare State 1945-51

Labour Reforms: Background

  • The Labour Party won the General Election in 1945, led by Clement Attlee.
  • Influenced by the Beveridge Report of 1942, Labour sought to combat five major societal ‘evils’ – want, disease, ignorance, squalor, and idleness.
  • The post-war consensus in political and social policy stressed the need for comprehensive and well-organised public services.

Key Reforms: Health and Social Security

  • The National Insurance Act, 1946, extended the previous system to provide unemployment, sickness, maternity and pension benefits to more people.
  • The National Health Service Act, 1946, led by Aneurin Bevan, established the NHS in 1948 providing free healthcare at point of use.
  • The National Assistance Act, 1948, aided those not covered by other legislation, effectively abolishing the Poor Law.

Key Reforms: Housing

  • The Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act, 1944, established to deal with the severe bombing damage from World War II, was continued by Labour.
  • The Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, gave local authorities powers to control land use and established the green belt.
  • Over one million homes were built during Labour’s term in office.

Key Reforms: Education

  • The foundation for educational reform was laid by the wartime Coalition Government’s Education Act, 1944 (the “Butler Act”).
  • This Act raised the school leaving age to 15 and introduced free secondary education for all, things the Labour Government would carry forward.

Assessment of Labour Reforms

  • Labour’s reforms provided the foundation for the modern British welfare state.
  • However, these reforms were expensive and set against the backdrop of post-war economic hardship.
  • Critics argue not enough was done to tackle poverty and inequality, and some see the bureaucracy of the new systems as a failing.