The years following the Second World War are often referred to as the ‘golden age’, due to the massive social change encountered as a result of the turmoil and insecurity brought about by the war. This ‘golden age’ was characterised by changes in many aspects of people’s lives including employment and the welfare state. Initially it appeared that things were changing for the better and that was how it was going to stay. Although as we have learnt throughout the course, social change is an ever progressing phenomenon and one thing we can be sure of is that change is an inevitable part of our lives and will continue to be so.
Each block of the course has discussed different aspects of the social sciences, all of which relate to the exceptional reorganisation experienced in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. I have chosen to include information from Block One ‘questioning identity: gender, class, nation’, Block Two ‘the natural and the social: uncertainty, risk, change’, Block Three ‘ordering lives: family, work and welfare’ and finally Block Four ‘a globalizing world? culture, economics, politics’. These are the blocks that I feel demonstrate the changes encountered since the end of the Second World War most effectively.
Between 1950 and 1980 mortality rates for those classed as ‘partly skilled’ and ‘unskilled manual’ labour remained unchanged. A change was only noticeable for those categorised as ‘Professionals’ and ‘Intermediate’ where out of 66 major causes of death, 62 of those were more widespread within the higher classes. Looking at the statistics available, mortality rates were, and still are, higher the lower down the class structure you are. From 1945 onwards ‘class alignment’ in terms of political preferences was apparent. The working classes tended to vote for Labour while the middle and upper classes chose the Conservative view-point.
From the 1980’s a shift was in motion regarding the distribution of class. People no longer felt restrained by there professions to determine their class, instead, consumerism was the tool that defined their position in relation to their peers. Increasing numbers of the working class felt able to support the ideals of the conservatives, an idea that previously would been almost unacceptable. The ideas of Labour and the Conservatives were open to all, without the previous restrictions of social class being decided due to employment status.
With the commencement of Sir William Beveridge’s Welfare State after the war, so too came the beginning of the National Health Service that we are all familiar with today. Although the theory behind Social Security in fact belonged to the Conservatives, Beveridge’s report in 1942 went further than Churchill, the current Prime Minister, had at first imagined, and was met with antipathy by the conservative party. This gave the Labour party the tool they required to gain public trust after the war and thus gained power in the 1945 election in a landslide victory.
This demonstrated the working classes support for the idea of the Welfare State. For the first time, as Beveridge himself is quoted as saying in the Daily Mirror 2 December 1942, “every citizen willing to serve according to his powers has at all times an income sufficient to meet his responsibilities”, with ‘cradle to grave benefits’ for the entire nation regardless of class. This was in stark contrast to the limited help available from the state before the war. At this time it was seen that poverty was in decline thanks to the help from the welfare state. This is due predominantly to the acceptance of social democracy.
During the 1980’s these morals were challenged by Liberalism. Instead of the Social Democratic views of everyone looking after each other, the Liberalists view was more of an individualistic stance where everyone was to look after themselves. This is where the ideal of the so called ‘golden age’ was to end. The high employment and high welfare spending was finally taking its toll. In 1979 when Margaret Thatcher gained power over the Conservative government, the party aimed to decrease the welfare spending, theoretically producing a more resourceful and compliant welfare provision.
The privatization of many social amenities meant that the ideal outlined by Beveridge was a thing of the past. Each aspect of the welfare state from the 1980’s onwards had it’s own ‘power’, managers were encouraged to ‘think for themselves’ so were not tied to the rigidity of the bureaucracy that had gone before. This shift is noted by the change of title from Client of the Welfare State to Welfare Consumer, where the latter is claimed to possess more knowledge and power than the former.
The term welfare manager was also created to replace that of bureaucrat and professional within social institutions. The change was brought about partly by the recognition that the population was in fact diversifying, so the welfare state had to ‘move with the times’. In the early 1980’s the emphasis was once again on employment and supporting your family by your own means, including pension and private health care provisions. This is not to say that welfare spending immediately decreased.
Bearing in mind that Margaret Thatcher and her government had been encouraging people since 1979 when they came into power to start taking account of their own actions, according to statistics available, in 1995 welfare spending was at an all time high. Since the election of the Labour government back into power in 1997, another attempt at welfare reform is apparent, an ultimate welfare state that is a happy medium between its predecessors. Between the 1950’s and 1970’s the UK economy encountered a much needed growth. The economy was rising by an average of 2. 5 % a year with only minor fluctuations.
Employment was the highest it had been certainly since the world depression in 1929. Due to the depression, exports from the UK had dropped and 310,000 jobs were lost in the main areas of the British export industry, unemployment rose by 12% in just 3 years. This loss of industrial employment was particularly felt in Scotland, Northen Ireland, Wales and Northern England, leaving the South-East of England virtually untarnished. As The John Maynard Keynes pointed out; If we speak frankly, we have to admit that our basis of knowledge for estimating the yield ten years hence of a railway, a copper mine, a textile factory … mounts to little and sometimes to nothing’ (Cited in Hughes and Furgusson, page 87) Keynes strongly believed that with the aid of firms investing in factories and the like, thus producing more employment, the dire economic situation could change. He believed that if Aggregate Demand was increased (that is to say that the services would be supplied due to demand), including disbursement from the government, unemployment would drop. Without wage earners having ‘disposable income’ to purchase products, the seemingly vicious circle could never be addressed.
Although in theory this concept was the answer to the problems being encountered, in reality it generally only tended to support white males who belonged to a Trade Union, hence the phrase ‘I’m alright Jack’. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, many people were trained in trades which they believed they would continue in for life. This changed partly in the 1980’s and 1990’s due to the shift from the Social Democratic stance, popular in the 50’s and 60’s, to the Liberalist perspective, where flexible working hours and working practices were encouraged to increase productivity.
This is most noticeable in those entering the work place for the first time The contentment of employees within their working environment was no longer of such paramount importance. It is also important to note however that with this flexibility so came a decrease in disparity between the sexes in the work place. It is also apparent from the information provided that in many families it is no longer the male who is the sole breadwinner. More women have been forced in the last 20 years to enter the work place, in many cases as well as carrying out the day to day tasks within the home.
The introduction of new technology including computers and modern machinery into the work-place has also strongly influenced society and the economy today. Another consideration is the amount of revenue lost due to the UK market being uncompetitive in comparison to the major Market leaders such as Far East. Information provided suggests that from 1950, merchandise trade steadily increased until 1994. The ratio of Gross Domestic Product to merchandise trade also increased during this time.
To conclude, I believe that the UK witnessed notable changes in the post war years. The theoretical ideas and debates behind those changes could be seen as beneficial, and in many cases a necessity. Unfortunately the best laid plans are often the hardest to implement on a long term basis. The European market and Globalisation are the factors we are faced with today. The world we live in is ever changing, and as such we are all forced to ‘keep up with the times’ to a greater or lesser extent.