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The Changing Standards of Living During the 1950’s Essay

After the war in 1945 people’s attention was focussed onto rebuilding Britain to improve problems that already existed and had worsened during this period. These were things like unemployment and poor housing.

Britain trying to rebuild itself

For Britain to begin to rebuild itself, large imports of food, iron ore, wool and cotton had to be brought in to help people survive. To pay for all the things needed, the amount of exportations taking place from Britain had to increase dramatically.

The newly elected Labour Government had a big task on their hands of making sure that people didn’t starve. So what they did was borrow millions of pounds to buy food and materials needed and the debts created were paid of by the amount of exports.

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Because of this all the best things in Britain were exported. This meant that there was still a shortage of things like clothes so rationing continued.

Housing was another extremely serious issue in Britain. As the war ended there were millions of slums and the problem wasn’t helped by the fact that many houses were still war damaged. Many people were homeless, living in one room, or in a house without a bathroom or a toilet. This meant the standards of living decreasing and Britain was not the land ‘Fit for Heroes’ that everyone wanted it to be.

To try and control the ever-growing housing situation the Government took tight control of building materials and regulated the buildings of homes. The built thousands of one-storey Pre-fabs made from sheeting units that were mass-produced in factories. This meant they were quite cheap and as it only took screws and screwdrivers to erect them, it was ideal. Also money was given to the local councils to build council houses, which could be rented out to people. Then the Governement managed things like new towns and shopping centres. Things were starting to improve but there was still a long way to go.

The National Health Service was brought in, in 1948 making hospitals nationalised and free medical treatment, provision of spectacles dental treatment, home nurses and health visitors for those who needed them. Also grants were given to people having babies and for the funerals of widows. This increased the standards of living, as people were able to have these things without worrying about the cost. However the Labour Government realised that they could no longer afford to pay for all these things so prices were brought in prescriptions and dental treatment. Prices were high at this time because of shortages in stocks and high taxes, and as a result of this almost half a million Britain’s were on a waiting list to emigrate to other countries in 1951!

Change of Government and Increasing Prosperity

The Conservative Government was elected in 1951 but as the financial situation concerning the amount of imports that Britain had, tax increases were necessary and everything well made was still being exported. The people may not have liked these policies but the standards of living did increase and the country brought in more money. By 1954 there was an increase in electrical goods being exported as well as cars, aircraft and chemicals.

Because of the Korean War in 1950, the money that should have been spent on food, clothes and hospitals was spent on arms but three years later the war ended, prices fell and taxes were lowered. Now the items which had only been used for export, were readily available.

Unfortunately unemployment also began to increase. This was because there wasn’t enough goods to use up all of the extra money so higher wages and lower taxes meant that prices rose and goods weren’t so easy to sell abroad. Taxes were then put up and it was made more difficult for people to borrow money. As fewer goods were sold there was less jobs.

On the whole the nation was more prosperous. Between 1952 and 1963 the number of homes with a TV increased for 11% to 85%, washing machines from 10% to 52%, refrigerators from 6% to 37% and vacuum cleaners from 40% to 80%. This shows that the standards of living were starting to change.

During 1951 – 1961 the resources of the nation were used much more productively every year. But Britain still fell behind the average amount of national growth if it were to keep free from economic troubles that would take them backwards instead of forwards.

Hire purchase was introduced which meant that people could get thing by paying a small amount of money at first instead of the whole price. The rest, plus interest, could be spread out over years. In 1956 figures show that almost half of TV’s were obtained using this plan. Because of this buy now, pay later scheme, people could afford things that they never used to have, thus increasing their enjoyment of life and the standards of living that they have.

Because of so many people having televisions sets, advertising was starting to be done commercially using television. But most was still done through newspapers.

Following the American pattern, changes came in shops and retail. Self-service stores appeared and most market places had one of these by the late 1950’s.

Clothing was one of the biggest changes that took place. There was an ever-expanding teenage market that never existed before. The repaidly increasing population spent almost £1,000,000,000 per year on this market. Young people had never had so much money as they also were buying things like cosmetics and tape-recorders.

The leisure activities that took place were a noticeable change in the standards of living. Holidays were taken and the number of people going abroad for their holidays doubled. There was an increase in expensive sports like sailing and rowing.

Cinema viewing decreased due to the amount of people with televisions but was replaced with Bingo clubs, which many people joined. Public Houses were popular with women also going to them. The amount of sales concerning spirits and other drinks soared. Football and cricket were becoming ever popular, and so was the gambling involved with them too.

By looking at the 1950’s you can see that people in post-war Britain who had nothing, seemed to have a whole new life by the mid to late 1950’s. This had a lot to do with the way that the country was run and the Government controlling it. Considering that people were homeless and worried about their financial situation, I think it is a great change in standards seeing that most of them ended up with countless leisure activities they could participate in. Obviously not everyone could afford to do everything but even today you get the brake down of people into classes and the difference in the activities they can afford.

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