Essay plan for Labour reforms. Assess the impact of the Welfare reforms of the Labour government on the lives of the British people

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Essay on Assessment of the Labour Reforms
Essay plan for Labour reforms.
Assess the impact of the Welfare reforms of the Labour government on the lives of the British people.


Put the issue in context. Mention Labour victory in election and Beveridge Plan. Name 5 Giants.

Para 1 Tackling the 5 Giants

Want: The idea of shortage of money pushing people into poverty.

What did Labour do about people who were short of money.

What parts of these ideas were successful

What parts of these ides were not successful
Link Not only in the field of want but also in the field of Health
Para 2 The idea of stopping people being ill and thus falling into poverty

What did Labour do about health.

How much of this was successful.

How much of it was not successful.

Link Having dealt with Want and Health it is time to consider Labour’s views on Education.
Para 3 What did Labour do about education. (note that Labour was implementing an Act passed by the coalition government in 1944, The Butler Act.). The idea that a better educated youth would be more able to find good jobs and be less likely to fall into poverty.

What parts of their approach were successful.

What parts of their approach were not successful.
Link Having tried to improve peoples’ lives in these fields labour also attempted to address the problems of cheap, good quality housing.
Para 4 What did they do about housing in Britain after the war. The idea that people living in cheaper rented accommodation will have more disposable income left and will be less likely to fall into poverty.

What parts of the programme were successful.

What parts of the programme were not successful.

Link Having helped these groups of people Labour then moved on to try and solve the problem of those people out of work.
Para 5 What did Labour do about idleness. The idea that if people are not working they cannot earn money and will therefore fall into poverty.

What parts were successful.

What parts were not successful.
Link There were some successes and failures that could not be directly ascribed to any of the above specific problems.
Para 6 General successes and failures. A cover all paragraph to mention any issues not directly tied to the 5 giants. e.g. disproportionate benefit for middle class people who are more comfortable filling in forms. Labour’s commitment to reform in the face of such challenging economic conditions after a major war.
Conclusion Sum up the above arguments and finally answer the question. Either you will believe that the reforms did impact greatly on the British people or that they were not as important as Labour had thought.
Evidence sheet for the Labour reforms
Historians’ views on the importance of the Labour reforms.
David Dutton, British Politics since 1945, 1990

The major achievement of the Labour government after 1945 was to complete and consolidate the work of the wartime coalition.
Kathleen Woodrolf, Twentieth Century Britain – National Power and Social Welfare, 1976

By government policy and a network of social services the British hoped to provide employment for those who were unemployed, to insure citizens against the major hazards of life and eventually to give them a national minimum of health, wealth and well being. Those were social rights ………. To accept assistance no longer meant loss of personal liberty or disenfranchisement.
Arthur Marwick Modern History Review Vol 2 No 1, 1990

Labour’s achievements were not simply the inevitable response that any government would have made to the particular historical circumstances of 1945. They were the endeavours of a political party that, over a long period of time, had thought hard, if unevenly, about the issues of welfare policies.
Charles Webster, Official historian of the NHS.The NHS failed to improve the general medical service available to the bulk of the population. The middle class benefited to some extent, but the lower classes continued to experience a humiliating standard of care.

The effect of the war on social welfare
The decisive event in the evolution of the Welfare State was the Second World War.

The war was to have a decisive influence in producing a common experience and universal treatment for it.

Rowntree’s investigation of poverty in York ,1950

Primary poverty down from 36% in 1936 to 2%
Effects of the NHS

One woman later recalled how, on the evening before the Health service came into operation, she was delivered of her baby shortly before midnight. The next morning, she was presented with a bill for £6 by the doctor; had the baby been born 15 minutes later there would have been no charge. This was what most Labour supporters understood by socialism in practice.
General viewpoints
K. O. Morgan Labour in Power 1984

It is easy to go too far in criticising or debunking the Atlee government. Arguments from hindsight often neglect the realities actually confronting the administration in the very different world of 1945. Critiques of that government in particular tend to underestimate the overwhelming financial and economic pressures resulting from the loss of overseas assets, the imbalance of trade, the loss of markets, the shortage of raw materials, and the vast dollar deficit which was the government’s damnosa heridatis from the war years and from the pre war heritage of industrial decay. In large areas of policy the Atlee government had a clear record of achievement and of competence, which acted as a platform for successive governments, Conservative and Labour, throughout the next quarter of a century. The advent of a monetarist Conservative government under Mrs Thatcher in 1979 signalled the first real attempt to wrench Britain out of the age of Atlee. It received a huge endorsement at the polls in 1983. Yet until late 1983 at least, the economic record of well over three million unemployed, a severe contraction in manufacturing industry , eroding public and social services, and some threat of social and racial disorder, did not suggest that this alternative ideological approach had so far provided more coherent or acceptable answers to Britain’s acknowledged problems. The Atlee government was therefore unique in its structural cohesiveness and its legislative vitality. Its legacy lived on in a broad influence over the Labour and progressive left, over political and economic thought, and indeed much of British intellectual and cultural life for a full quarter of a century after 1951. It was without doubt the most effective of all Labour governments, perhaps the most effective of any British government since the passage of the 1832 Reform Act.
D.N. Pritt, The Labour Government 1945 – 51 1963

What went wrong with the start? The Government, overwhelmingly right wing in composition and outlook, far more conscious of ‘the enemy on the left’ than of her real enemy that the electorate had sent them to power to conquer, accepted the capitalist status quo, political and economical, as if it were a law of nature, and never really sought to alter the class structure of the nation, to attack the seats and sources of power, or even weaken the ruling class. It was in reality, as Emile Burns puts it ‘no instrument of social change, but a valuable instrument of the monopoly capitalists in damping down the post war unease and in helping the monopoly capitalists to solve the contradictions that faced them’. It is not surprising that the ruling class soon recovered from its panic and managed to hold a very large measure of its old power.
Marilyn Daljord, The New Right Enlightenment 1985.

People would learn to swim, would learn to build rafts, if government did not destroy initiative through welfare and taxation. No one is done a favour by being made dependent on others permanently; only cripples can be produced by that method. Many abdicate responsibility for their own lives because the state ruins their ability to take care of themselves. On either side of the spectrum people are damaged – the producers in society through heavy taxation, the non producers by being kept that way through the expectation that someone will have to take care of them. When people feel they have no control over their own lives, some will sink into passivity, their outlook and existence increasingly dull and narrow. Others feel that, if they have no control over their own lives, they cannot be held responsible for their actions. Whatever they may do, it isn’t their fault, it is society’s. This view provides a justification for violence against others.. Whether the response to womb–to–tomb subsidy is passive or violent, neither can produce a healthy society; in concert they are deadly.
D. Coates, The Labour Party and the Struggle for Socialism, 1975.

The impact of the Labour government of 1945- 51, for all its promise and vast body of legislation was ‘profoundly ambiguous’. When the rhetoric or partisan debate had died, this became quickly apparent, and was almost taken for granted by academics and commentators of the 1960’s. There had undoubtedly been important social reforms, but power had not shifted between classes. Qualitative social control had not come. Nor was it any nearer for the six years of office. In essence the Labour government of 1945-51 had not created a socialist commonwealth, nor even taken a step in that direction. It had simply created a mixed society in which the bulk of industry still lay in private hands, and the six years of its rule had only marginally altered the distribution of social power, privilege, wealth, income opportunity and security.
Sked and C.Cook, Post War Britain, 1979

The advent of the Labour government in 1945 gave too many hopes and fears; hopes of a new and better age in which values would be transformed; fears that a bureaucratic socialism would slow the beat of the nation’s pulse. In fact, life continued much as before for the society that had experienced the war; the nation’s leaders were familiar and its social and political structures remained essentially, if not entirely, unaltered. Both optimists and pessimists were proved right in their predictions, although the former more profoundly so than the latter. For despite the rationing and controls, society’s values were transmuted for the better. The Labour government refused to put the clock back and pursued a programme designed to consolidate and strengthen the social cohesion engendered by the war. And so successful were they in their aims that they even converted the Conservative party. By 1951 there could simply be no return to the society of the 1930’s; the Welfare state had been accepted; full employment had become a common objective, and the social morality of the means test had given way to the doctrine of universality. The Labour party itself had changed by becoming a respectable and natural party of government.
Conservative Party broadcast, 1983

To understand why today we are fighting a war against rising prices we need to go back to the end of the Second World War, to 1945. The people of Britain had a new vision of how they wanted life to be. An end to poverty and squalor, decent homes for families and plenty of jobs for everyone. To pursue this vision, the Atlee government committed itself to spending virtually half of what this country earned. The intentions were good but such massive spending soon made the people feel poorer, not richer, and it created even more problems than it seemed to be tackling.
Topic Sentence
Introduce the giant and its effect on poverty
What was done about each giant?

  • __________________________

  • __________________________

  • __________________________

Successes (what made a difference)
Failures (what didn’t make a difference)
Historian / Politician
Linking Sentence

Want - what was done?
National Insurance Act 1946
Terms The Act extended the original 1911 National Insurance Act to cover all adults.
It put into operation a comprehensive National Health Service.
Compulsory contributory scheme for every worker and in return for weekly contributions gave sickness and unemployment benefit, old age pensions for women at 60 and men at 65, widows and orphans pensions, and maternity and death grants, all paid at a standard rate.
Rates of benefit were a basic rate of 26 shillings a week. A married man got 42 shillings and 7s 6d extra for a first child.
Retirement pensions paid at 42 shillings a week.

Want, or poverty, was seen as the main social problem to overcome and this Act was the foundation stone in the whole system of attack on it.

It was based on the Insurance idea of benefits in return for contributions.
It was comprehensive, compulsory and universal covering everything from ‘the cradle to the grave’.
For the first time the whole work force was covered by a single system of insurance.
It produced the idea that the state had a responsibility to protect all its citizens.
It introduced a National minimum standard of subsistence (in theory).

Weekly contributions took up about 5% of average earnings.

People joining the scheme for the first time were not entitled to full pension benefits for 10 years.
Some argued that it did not go far enough as the benefit was restricted to those who made 156 weekly contributions therefore reducing the size of the safety net.

It took a large number of officials to administer it.

The pensions were still not enough to live on. By the time the new rates were introduced in 1948 their value had been reduced by inflation so pension levels remained below basic subsistence levels
Married women and a small section of self employed workers were not included in the scheme.
National Assistance Act 1948
Based on a ‘needs‘ test to back up the National Insurance scheme. Benefits provided by the government from taxation not local administration.

The Act provided a safety net for those who did not benefit from the National Insurance Act.

It finally buried Chadwick’s 1834 Poor Law Act.
National Assistance Board set up with local NABs to help with local situations.

Needs test was less stringent than old means test.


It was an ‘add on’ to the National Insurance scheme. The fact that National Insurance and National Assistance were treated as separate systems undermined Beveridge’s proposal of a single Ministry of Social Security.

Family Allowance Act
Small amount of money paid to all mothers of two or more children.
Not means tested.
Paid to the mother.

Paid direct to the mother so less chance of being wasted.



Pretty well universally accepted so no real failures.

Industrial Injuries Act 1946
Compensation paid by the government.
All workers covered.

Big improvement on old Workmen’s Compensation Act.

Government paid rather than employer so more chance of better compensation.

Accidents seen a responsibility of society not a private matter between employer and employee.

Universal and comprehensive
Benefits set at a higher rate (45s) than for ordinary sickness.


Failures Nil - Pretty well universally accepted
Disease - what was done?
National Health Service Act, 1946
Based on Lloyd George’s health Insurance scheme of 1911.
A comprehensive, free, universal service directly financed by the state through general taxation was set up.
A unified system of hospitals could produce common standards of health care.
Hospitals were nationalized so there was only one state system.
Doctors not forced to work for the NHS. Paid a capitation fee for each NHS patient and an annual salary.

Leads to regeneration of hospitals with better equipment.

Take up of the services offered shows the previous lack of good health care.



The main failure was the cost. 7 million prescriptions a month rises to 13.5 million. Expenditure was 40% over budget in the first two years.

Leads to charging for some items therefore compromises the idea of free at the point of need.
Doctors bought off leads to private beds in NHS hospitals so two standards of care.
Middle classes gain disproportionately. Lower classes, especially after prescription charging still get an inferior service, but for a higher level of tax.
Ignorance - what was done?
Rebuilding policy needed as 20% of schools destroyed during the war.
Emergency training scheme for new teachers.
Equality of opportunity for all British children.
Education Act 1944
Not passed by Labour but administered by them.

Raised school leaving age from 14 to 15 with all children getting free education.

Planned as a three tier system of Technical, Grammar and Secondary Modern schools, all of equal status.


Higher leaving age helps children.

Higher education more available due to grants system.
Works well if the child passes the 11 plus exam.

Main failure was the 11 plus exam. Socially divisive and too early to judge a child.

Gives inferior opportunities to children in Secondary Modern schools.
Works out as a two tier system with Grammar schools getting better status and resources than Secondary Modern schools.
Middle class gains disproportionately as Grammar fees abolished.

Squalor - what was done?
Rebuilding programme started.
Prefabs continue to be built.
New Towns Act 1946
14 planned new towns built by 1951
Terms Successes

Accomplished in spite of lack of skilled labour and building materials.

Council estates better than old tenements.
1950’s success in building based on Labour work of 1945 – 1951.

Tagged on to Bevan’s remit. If it was that important it deserved its own Ministry.

Building 4 council houses to 1 private house depresses private market and is more bureaucratic.

Concentrates on quality rather than quantity so too few built. 750,000 fewer houses than households by 1951.

Council estates lack facilities like shops, transport and cinemas.
New towns planned to have their own industry but become dormitory towns.
Idleness - what was done?
Keynsian economics adopted where full employment rather than profit was the main motive.
Nationalisation of key industries.



Brought unemployment down to 2.5%, better than anticipated.


Nationalisation did not improve wages or service to the public.

Keynsian economics store up Balance of Payments problems and inflation problems for the future.

Can Labour take credit for low unemployment or would it have happened anyway due to the amount of post war work needing to be done.

General trends

All giants tackled by a new inexperienced government.

Pragmatic approach means that the principle held no matter which party was in power.
Final attack on Laissez Faire.
Proactive attacking the causes rather than the symptoms of poverty.
Universal, Insurance based, Compulsory, Integrated, Flat rate, subsistence level and not means tested.
All the giants tackled in spite of serious economic problems.
Rowntree survey shows York in 1936 with 36% poverty. Down to 2% by 1950.
Should Labour have targeted the economy before handing out benefits?
Chance missed for a new socialist society as all problems not wiped out?
Middle class gain disproportionately
Start of the Nanny State?

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