Labour Welfare Reforms

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How Successful were the Reforms of the Post War Labour Government 1945-51 in Solving the Social Problem that Faced Britain? By Nicole Anderson
In May 1945, the coalition government that had steered Britain through the perilous days of the Second World War was finished. It was replaced by the Labour party who had the challenging task of rebuilding the country after the losses of the Second World War. The Labour government of 1945 made the first drastic steps towards the welfare state. William Beveridge had been commissioned to write a report on the causes of poverty and this became the basis for the Labour reforms. These reforms identified that there were five ‘giants’ of poverty (Squalor, Want, Disease, Ignorance, and Idleness), all of which would have to be defeated in order to eradicate poverty. The attempts to tackle these giants varied greatly in their levels of success and achievements of the aims to defeat poverty. Right wing historian Barnett criticised the Labour government reforms saying that “expenditure should have been focussed on the economy”, especially after Britain’s involvement and loss in WW2. Whereas, modern historian Martin Pugh defends these reforms arguing that the expense was worthwhile as the reforms dramatically reduced poverty and had a positive effect on the economy therefore stressing their importance. Therefore, I believe that it can be argued that the reforms of the Post War Labour government were successful in lessening the social problems that faced Britain through the tireless efforts of passing successful and adequate reforms. One of the five identified giants was “Want” which directly related to the poverty that was being experienced by Britain. Before, Britain failed to possess any sort of systematic security system and the few benefits that existed already were very selective and often means tested. However, in 1946 the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act was passed which provided compensation for injuries at work. This was a successful improvement for social conditions in Britain as it was the first time women got paid the same rate as men. This was successful as it closed the gap between gender inequalities and also meant that women would also be able to pull themselves and their family out of poverty. In addition, the National Insurance Act of 1946 was also passed which was successful as it established the slogan of the Labour party “from cradle to grave”. It was one of its successes as it provided for all and all adults were involved – which can be argued again in strengthening the idea of equality among everyone. It covered all stages of life that before were described as a struggle and included maternity, sickness, unemployment benefits, a retirement pension and a death grant. This was a successful notion as now everyone was given the opportunity to receive “a helping hand” and therefore, it made it easier for families to lift themselves out of poverty and create a better standard of living for themselves. Similarly, the National Assistance Act 1948 was successful in reducing the levels of poverty as it acted as a safety net to meet the needs of those not covered by National Insurance. This again highlights Labour’s success in the field of reducing poverty as it encouraged and maintained the feeling of financial stability for the people of Britain, particularly of the lower classes – therefore boosting the success of the Labour reforms. However, on the other hand it can also be argued that its success is very limited as in theory; National Assistance was supposed to only act as a backup with most people being covered by National Insurance. However, this was not exactly the case and many were forced to apply for National Assistance which limited its success. In addition to this limitation, by the early 1950s, 68% of all National Assistance went to supplement pensions. However, since National Assistance was still ‘means tested’ many old people were reluctant to apply for...
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