Labour Welfare Reforms Evaluation
1. Social Security • The National Insurance Industrial Injuries Act (1946) • The National Insurance Act (1946) • The National Assistance Act (1948) • 2. Health • The National Health Service Act (1946) • 3. Education • The Education Act (1944). Although passed by the wartime Coalition government, the way Labour resourced and implemented the Act makes it worthy of discussion. • 4. Housing • 5. Employment
Introduction • Social security Problems in 1945 • Government action on social security 1945-51 • Debate *Criticisms of social security measures *Positive evaluation of social security measures • Link sentence into next section (housing) Social Security • Housing Problems in 1945 • Government action on housing 1945-51 • Debate *Criticisms of housing measures *Positive evaluation of housing measures • Link sentence into next section (health) Housing • Health Problems in 1945 • Government action on health 1945-51 • Debate *Criticisms of health measures *Positive evaluation of health measures • Link sentence into next section (education) Health • Education Problems in 1945 • Government action on education 1945-51 • Debate *Criticisms of education measures *Positive evaluation of education measures • Link sentence into next section (employment) Education • Employment Problems in 1945 • Government action on employment 1945-51 • Debate *Criticisms of employment measures *Positive evaluation of employment measures Employment Conclusion
Criticisms of the Social Security System • In theory, National Insurance was supposed to be comprehensive and the payments sufficient to meet the people's needs. National Assistance was therefore designed only to provide a residual, back-up role to National Insurance. • In practice, it did not work out like that. The government calculated and decided on benefit levels in 1946. These were to be fixed for the next five years, after which they would be reassessed. • However, by the time the scheme came into operation on the appointed Day' (5 July, 1948), prices of goods had increased significantly, thus reducing the purchasing power of the benefits.
Criticisms of the Social Security System • One historian has calculated that welfare benefits in 1948 were only 19% of the average industrial wage and therefore well below subsistence level. • Because of this, many more people than expected, particularly the elderly, were forced into applying for National Assistance. • In 1949, 48% of all National Assistance went to supplement retirement pensions. That figure had risen to 68% by the late 1950s. The problem here was that National Assistance was 'means tested' and many old people were reluctant to apply for it, fearing the stigma attached to the hated Means Test of the 1930s. • There was still a long way to go before the problems of poverty and deprivation were to be adequately addressed.
Positive assessment of social security • The state was now providing a 'safety net’ that protected people of all classes 'from the cradle to the grave'. • It was a marked improvement on the former provisions and did help to reduce poverty. When Rowntree investigated conditions in York in 1950, he found that primary poverty had gone down to 2% compared to 36% in 1936. • The real value of pensions was significantly increased; the elderly could now live reasonably comfortably compared to the 1930s. • The social security system was to ‘the real advantage, especially, of many women and also those of the lower middle class who had previously been excluded from most social insurance benefits.’ (Thane)
Criticism The enormous expense of the NHS came as a shock. By 1950, the NHS was costing £358 million a year The Labour government was forced to backtrack on the principle of a free service by introducing charges for spectacles and dental treatment. Plans for new hospitals and health centres had to be shelved. New demands put pressure on the NHS e.g. more mothers were wanting their babies delivered in hospital as opposed to at home. New medical techniques also created new demands and pressures e.g. cardiac surgery was being applied to heart disease, and the first hip replacements were beginning to be performed.
Criticism • Right wing historians argue that: • the NHS was too generous in allowing everyone to get free dentures, spectacles and prescriptions. This was wasteful of scarce resources. People were getting things they did not need. • The NHS was available free to everybody from all over the world and this seemed to be overgenerous for a country so recently battered economically by world war. • critics claim that Labour should have concentrated at first on investing in Britain’s shattered industries rather than social welfare. • “The country needed new homes and hospitals, but these should only have been provided (as in Germany) after the re-creation of an efficient industrial base." (Correlli Barnett)
Criticism • Left wing historians on the other hand argue that: • The NHS did not eliminate private health care. Bevan allowed private patients, in 'pay beds', in NHS hospitals. • Charles Webster, the official historian of the NHS, is very critical. He argues that: • The NHS failed to improve the general medical service available to most people • The lower classes continued to experience a humiliating standard of care and higher level of taxes. • However, the middle classes (who could afford private health) benefited – they no longer had to pay doctors' fees and they got the services of better GPs in the more affluent areas where they lived.
Positive evaluation of the NHS • provided a universal health service without any insurance qualifications of any sort. • It was available to the whole population • A full range of help would be given free of charge e.g. • general practitioner service • the specialist • the hospitals • eye treatment • spectacles • dental treatment • hearing facilities.
Positive evaluation of the NHS • The NHS was providing the same real services as other countries but mostly at a lower cost per patient. • Doctors, dentists and opticians were inundated with patients queuing up for treatment. This highlighted the backlog of untreated problems which the NHS faced.
In its first year of operation treated some 8.5 million dental patients… • …and dispensed more than 5 million pairs of spectacles.
Positive evaluation of the NHS • Prescriptions rose from 7 million per month before the NHS to 13.5 million per month in September 1948. • The NHS took on new functions: • The provision of hearing aids, false teeth and efficient glasses improved the quality of life of a major part of the population, especially the elderly. • mass screenings for tuberculosis • maternity and child welfare clinics on new housing developments • modernised the ambulance service, • provided by home helps and medical social workers.
Criticisms • As in health, the middle class seemed to do better out of the education reforms than the working class. • There was no equality of opportunity. • In theory, children were supposed to be allocated to the three types of school after an 'intelligence' test at 'eleven-plus'. This was supposed to be an objective and fair means of selecting pupils irrespective of their social class background. • In practice, it was a scramble by the middle class for the limited number of prestige places at the grammar schools.
Criticisms • Only 20% of places were available in grammar schools; a tiny 5% of places were available in technical schools and so the rest (75%) were classified as non - academic and allocated to the low status secondary modern schools. • Grammar schools were high status schools largely for middle class children. They had good resources, well-trained teachers, smaller classes and better exam results. They alone were geared up to getting their pupils prepared for university.
Criticisms • Pupils going to the secondary modern schools had little chance of going on to higher education. Their curriculum was dominated by non-academic subjects e.g. woodwork, metalwork and gardening for boys and cookery, needlework and secretarial work for girls. Pupils here had no chance of going on to higher education. • The public school system (private schools) flourished as never before. Many middle class parents whose children failed the Eleven Plus sent their children to independent schools. (Pearce) • A Labour government might have been expected to provide better resources for the poorer sections of society but this did not happen in education between 1945-51.
Criticism • During Labour’s term, working-class children still left school at fourteen (fifteen after 1947) with no paper qualifications. • Labour’s education reforms compare poorly with the equality of opportunity and provision being carried out in the areas of social security and health. • The middle class gained more out of Labour’s education reforms than the poor did e.g. the middle class benefited from grammar school fees being abolished.
Criticism • Government spending on grammar schools raced ahead of expenditure on secondary moderns and junior secondaries, which the working class mostly attended. • Correlli Barnett argues that Labour should have concentrated on building technical schools to help re-invigorate Britain’s ailing industries.
Positive evaluation • Free secondary education for all became a right for the first time. • During Labour’s term in office, 35,000 teachers were trained under the one-year emergency training scheme. • Due to the scale of the economic problems of the postwar period, it was widely recognised that it would take a generation to fully implement the Education Act. Labour was in no position to be radical.
Criticisms • Perhaps more houses could have been built had more responsibility been given to the private sector. Certainly, many lower middle class families who could afford a house were not able to get one built. • Bevan insisted that council homes were to be built to a high standard, with an average floor area of 1,000 square feet compared to 800 square feet in the 1930s. Perhaps he should have put more emphasis on quantity rather than quality, given the huge scale of the problem. • The Labour government's record on house-building does not compare well with prewar levels or with the achievements of the Conservatives in the 1950s.
Criticisms • Poor housing and homelessness were still serious problems at the end of the Labour period. • The 1951 census revealed that there were 750,000 fewer houses than there were households in Britain. This was roughly the same level of homelessness as in 1931. • ‘Traditionally, housing has been branded the welfare state failure of Bevan and the 1945 Labour Government.’ (Timmins)
Positive Evaluation • Given the scale of social and economic problems facing the government in 1945, historians have tended to judge Labour’s housing policy less harshly than some of its other social reforms. • Bevan’s policy was to help those most in need i.e. the working class. Most of the scarce building materials were allocated to the local authorities to build council houses for rent. • Council houses were built to a high standard e.g. with toilets upstairs as well as down.
Positive Evaluation • After initial setbacks, the number of permanent new houses built rose from about 20,000 in 1945 to 139,000 in 1947, reaching a high of 227,000 in 1948. • Between 1949 and 1951, an average of 196,300 houses was built per year. In all, about 1 million houses were built by Labour between 1945-51. • Though the record was not overwhelming, it has been argued that Labour came close to its goal of 1945 in terms of the objectives of housing: quality and affordable working-class homes.
Positive Evaluation • Dalton, the first postwar Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, claimed that full employment was "the greatest revolution brought about by the Labour Government." • Careful planning after 1945 helped to ensure: • demobilisation was carried out without upsetting economic recovery • there was no return to high unemployment in the pre-war depressed regions of northern and western Britain. • unemployment throughout the north-east coastal region of England in 1938 had been 38 per cent; in June 1951 it was running at 1.5 per cent. • success in the so-called Distressed Areas was partly due to the application of the 1945 Distribution of Industry Act.
Positive Evaluation • Economic historians tend to conclude that it was difficult to see how Labour’s performance could have been improved upon. • Britain’s growth rates were better than America’s. The wartime slogan ‘Britain can take it’ had changed to ‘Britain can make it’. (Pearce) • ‘The single most important domestic achievement of the Labour government was the maintenance of full employment after the war.’ (Brooke) • This was made more impressive by a climate of crisis and diminished resources. Between 1945 and 1951, unemployment averaged 310,000 a year, compared to 1,716,000 for the period 1935-9.
Positive Evaluation • Labour’s achievement of full employment by 1950 led to a belief that further, more radical social reforms were not needed and that ‘a growing economy would take care of remaining social problems.’ (Thane) • The average real wage in 1949 was 20% higher than in 1938. People were better off.
Criticism • There is very little to criticise about the unemployment record during the period 1945-51 • Only once, during the fuel crisis of 1947 (sparked by the exceptionally harsh and prolonged winter), did unemployment briefly approach the one million mark • The raising of the school leaving age from 14 to 15 in 1947 helped keep the unemployment figures down. • Some historians argue that Labour can take little credit for full employment. Most of the factors affecting employment were outwith government control e.g. • world demand was growing • Britain could sell all its exports • all countries needed to re-stock due to the damage and interruptions of the war • therefore the government did not have to create jobs itself
Criticism • One historian argues that ‘Governments’ role in the maintenance of employment during the post-war years may, with hindsight, appear to have been minimal’. • Addison argues: ‘Full employment was ..the result of…the boom in private investment after 1945.’ • Simpson argues that both factors had a role: ‘The government owed its success both to the good sense of its policies and to favourable trends in the world economy’.