The inter-war years, there was now emerging between

The Second World War started in September 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland, two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany. The war ended in 1945 when Germany surrendered which lead to the allies and Britain winning the war. The Second World War can indeed be regarded as a watershed moment for Britain with historians stating that “It has been routinely asserted that the Second World War the ‘People’s War’ affecting civilians throughout Britain was the catalyst for the introduction of a whole programme of social reforms.”(Carnevali and Strange, 2014., p. 310) The key term of this essay, watershed is defined by the oxford English dictionary (2015.,p1764) as ‘A turning point (in history, affairs, a person’s life, etc.); a crucial time or occurrence.’ The Second World War can be seen as a watershed moment for Britain for many different reasons which will be explored throughout this essay.  The main points which this essay will focus on are, the changes in politics, William Beveridge and his findings, the Labour government and the welfare state and how the war brought power and changes to woman. A look at the political changes during the war and how they led to the creation of a welfare state is needed. During the Second World War the government was formed by a coalition with the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal politicians. Winston Churchill led the coalition government and he was Prime Minister during the war and was in power during 1940-1945. In the Second World War the government took on a more involved role and intervened directly in the people of Britain’s lives which caused politics in Britain to change as well. As Brooke (1989, p.162) puts it:The war effort also necessitated the extension of government control over the economy, whether through the system of licensing for building and manufacturing, the direction of labour or, most pervasively, food rationing.Brooke clearly states that government intervention was a direct result of the war and that the government played an active role in the lives of the people of Britain. Although this was the first time the government had intervened such a large amount in people’s lives the people did not resent this and were keen to see more government intervention.  Not only did the war bring about government intervention but also led to a change in politics especially with regards to the political parties, this is shown by Jefferys (1987, p.124) when he states “In contrast to the negative hostility of the inter-war years, there was now emerging between the parties a common approach to welfare reform, a new and positive social policy ‘consensus.” This reinforces the idea that the political parties changed during and post-war and shared the same ideas of providing welfare for the people of Britain. Next a look into William Beveridge, his findings and how they helped create a welfare state is crucial in order to answer this question fully.William Beveridge was a British economist who was a liberal. In 1942 he published the Beveridge report which according to Jefferys (1987, p127) was a “major blueprint for post-war social reform.” The report included his findings from research carried out in the previous year, the report suggested many things but most importantly a creation of national insurance, an employment policy and medical reform.  The report was a best seller with many British citizens reading it, this is show when Jefferys(1987.,p.125) argued that  ‘The publication of the immensely popular Beveridge Report brought reconstruction to the centre of the political stage’ This quote highlights how popular the report was, with many of the British public reading and demanding that something must be done about the five giants outlined in the report. This put an immense amount of pressure on the coalition government meaning that they’d have to put in place the social reforms spoken about in the report and to reconstruct Britain after the war.  The report paved a way for a welfare state and although it was Beveridge who wrote this report it social reforms came under the Labour government who won the election in 1945, however in 1944 the government published a white paper in which it committed itself to the reforms. An insight into the Labour government and the reforms they put in place must be explored.Labour won the election of 1945 with an overall majority, this was watershed moment for British politics as they hadn’t won with an overall majority before. This can be seen when Fielding (1992., p.623) argues that, The general election of July 1945 is widely considered to be one of the most important turning points in modern British political history…The Labour party not only won its first parliamentary majority, but also introduced a wide-ranging programme of social and economic reform which provided the basis for a political consensus.This shows just how shocking the 1945 election is considering Labour won with its first overall majority and that there was a political agreement in regarding social reform and creating a welfare state. The social reforms that the Labour government put in place can and have been identified by historians as a huge turning point in British history. The reforms implemented by Labour were based on the findings of the Beveridge report which showed ways that five key areas- known as the five giants could be tackled, the five giants were, want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. Most of these reforms were made law under the Labour Government however had been discussed by the previous government and other political parties. In order to tackle want the government introduced many acts. These included the National Insurance Act 1946- which was an extension to the original act in 1911, and the Family Allowance Act 1945. The national insurance act created the structure of a welfare state and was a compulsory contributory scheme which in return gave sickness and unemployment benefit, an old age pension, widows, orphans, death and maternity grants. Although people joining the scheme for the first time were not entitled to full pension benefits for 10 years and some argued that the pension was not enough to live on. The family allowance act gave 5 shillings to each child after the first and was directly given to the mother which was seen as a success as they spent it on the children. The family allowance act was not means tested meaning everyone was entitled to receive this benefit. They also implemented the National Assistance Act 1948 which provided a safety net for those not in work or who had not contributed enough to qualify for the full benefit, this reduced the fear of falling into long term poverty. This clearly shows that the Second World War provided change for the British people as it allowed for the creation of reforms in order to rebuild and better Britain. Some historians have argued that the national health service (NHS) can be seen as the Labour Party’s most successful creation. In Labour Party said, ‘The introduction of the NHS will rightly go down as Labours Greatest Achievement… the NHS transformed our country removing the anxiety of illness from millions of families,’ This shows just how great the NHS is and was for the people of Britain especially after the war given that it was free at point use for everyone. The NHS was created on the 5th of July 1948 and was universal meaning that the working class could now afford and receive healthcare. Although it was seen as a great success providing free healthcare Carnevali and Strange(2014., p.235) stated that ‘ While the NHS provided much needed free access medical services these were delivered in rundown accommodation  with practically no new hospital building’  This shows that the creation of the NHS was indeed needed however it was such a huge cost to run  and the government did not create new hospitals, however the NHS alone can be considered to be a watershed moment for Britain. Not only did government introduce reforms to tackle disease but also education.The government introduced the Butler Education Act 1944 in order to combat ignorance. This act was proposed by the Conservatives but it was the Labour government who implemented it. The act increased the school leaving age to 15 and made free education available for all.  Although this provided free education the act done little to promote education equality, especially through the introduction of the 11+ exam which decided what kind of secondary school children would go to.  Jefferys'(1987., p.140) makes an interesting point when he argues that ‘The 1944 Education Act, which made secondary education freely available to all children for the first time, had certainly been made possible by the circumstances of war, though it provided little evidence of new departures in official thinking.’ This shows that the Education Act could have been created due to the war however the act had been discussed in government previously and didn’t show any new ideas therefore not created solely due to the Second World War.  The government also introduced Acts to help the housing crisis after the war. Many houses faced overcrowding and were ruined by the bombings and the blitz. Harris (1992., p.22) states thatA quarter of a million homes were destroyed and nearly four million damaged, out of a total housing stock of about ten million. Two and a quarter million people were made homeless by the worst period of aerial bombardment (August 1940 to June 1941.)This shows just how many houses were destroyed during the war which left a huge amount of the British population homeless. The government had to introduce reforms to target this. One act they introduced to help was the New Towns Act 1946 with towns like Livingstone and Eastkilbride being built in order to relieve the overcrowding in the cities. The government also aimed to build 200,000 houses a year and in 1948 they managed to build over 280,000 which was way above target. This also helped the Second World War to be seen as a crucial turning point for Britain as the new houses and towns helped those who lost their homes due to the war. The final giant outlined in the Beveridge report was idleness. In 1944 a white paper seemed to accept the need to aim for full employment and the Labour manifesto made this policy clear. By 1946 unemployment was reduced to 2.5%. One way in which Labour kept the unemployment rate so low was by nationalisation. Labour nationalised key industries such as coal mining (1947) and railways in 1948. Was seen back then as a huge help as gave many people jobs. It is clear to see that Second World War and the publication of Beveridge Report led to political consensus which allowed for the government to introduce social reforms which created the welfare state. Not only was this the creation of the welfare state a crucial turning point for Britain, it has also been argued that the Second World War brought changes to the women of Britain.The Second World War impacted the women of Britain especially during the war and on the home front. Women took on new rules and jobs due to the majority of the male population in Britain joining to fight in the war. Many women wanted to help with the war effort and by the end of 1939, 17,000 women had volunteered to join the Women’s Land Army.  Not only did women volunteer but in 1941 the National Service Act (no.2) introduced conscription for childless widows and unmarried woman aged 20 to 30. This gave empowerment to women as many took on new roles and went to work in factories which they wouldn’t of before. Some historians have argued that after the war although women felt more empowered and that they could take on the role of men, many went back to their lives before the war and went back to the same jobs. This can be seen when Harris (1992., p34) stated that, ‘in spite of the largescale absorption of women into the work force it isthat the war at least temporarily strengthened rather than weakened traditional perceptions of masculine and feminine gender roles’ This shows that although women went into male dominated roles during the war, this actually reinforced the specific gender roles rather than breaking them down even though many women took on the role of men. It is clear to see that the Second World War has indeed been a watershed moment for Britain and her people for many reasons. Not only was the publication of the Beveridge Report a turning point for the Britain and her people but the result of the 1945 general election was also key as Labour were committed to tackle the findings of the report and went on to create what we know as the welfare state, which the Second World War paved a way for. Although the war caused a huge loss and casualties the outcome, of the war leading to a political consensus and reform, was a massive benefit to the people of Britain. The most important changes caused by the war have indeed been the social reforms and the empowerment of woman however more research into if these reforms would have been implemented if the war did not happen is necessary as many reforms were discussed before the war.

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