From Austerity To Affluence- Impact Of The Second World War On Britain

I wrote a lot of notes on this lecture so I will try to summarise them as best as I can. Overall the lecture is about the plans and dreams that people had for Britain once the Second World War was over. So as you can see that a lot of this is set during last few years of the Second World War and the era of early post-war Britain.

‘A job for every able bodied man, minimum wages, child allowances, an all-in contributory system of social insurance. A positive health service. A bold building plan – to start immediately the war ended – to root out the slums. The same kind of education for all up to fifteen, with the public schools brought into the general system. Holidays for all …’ (Tom Hopkinson, 1970)

I will begin by writing about the Historians and their views on the effects that WWII had on the people of Britain.

  • Angus Calder– He believes that it was an exaggeration that the war had a great effect on people. He believes that nothing new happened but instead people just carried on with their lives the way they had done before.
  • Henry Pelling–  He agrees with Angus Calder
  • Arthur Marwick– He believes that caution should be used when looking at the effects. The war had caused an undramatic social revolution.

So what was occurring in peoples lives back at home in WWII? What was causing people to want a change? Let’s set the scene. During WWII people of all classes were frequently finding themselves together in their everyday lives- in the underground and air raid shelters during the bombings, in the ration queues, during the fire watching. All of these times spent together allowed people to pass around their hopes and dreams of the future that all the classes wanted. As well as this people were getting the stark realisations of the conditions people in the city were experiencing; the best known case of this was with the evacuation- people in the countryside were greeting malnourished, underfed children in unsuitable clothing off of the trains that arrived. However there were also social improvements occurring during the war; free milk was given to children and orange juice and cod liver oil was given to mothers. This was both necessary to keep people healthy and to keep morale high.

Post-war Government In 1945 the Labour party were re-elected and their membership soared up to 8 million which was helped by trade union membership.

Post-war Economy The way the economy was run in post-war Britain was inspired by Keynes who was an economist. The economy had to be planned to the minutest detail and there had to be high spending and high taxation. However there was a very negative impact to the economy; in 1945 Britain’s overseas debt was £3000 million and its gold reserves stood at £3 million in 1941 when it once had been £864 million. Keynes described the country as being on its knees- to make things worse President Truman also demanded back the loans that Britain and the rest of Europe had been receiving. Keynes was sent over to America to try to get Britain a $6000 million loan- he practically begged the Senate for 6 months.  On his return he had only managed to gain $3755 million loan and subsequently died a few months later due to exhaustion. This debt was finally paid off in 2006.

Post-War Society Post-War Britain is most renowned for its Welfare State including the NHS and National Insurance to improve peoples lives and try to remove poverty. But how did the war contribute to this? First of all the government were fearful of a revolution with soldiers returning to bad conditions and secondly there was a need to keep the country rolling after the war was over- it could not grind to a holt! Here is a list of Key White Papers:

  • Education Reconstruction (1943)
  • Butler’s Education Act (1944)
  • Employment Policy (1944)
  • Social insurance (1944)
  • Housing Policies (1945)

As a result of this new welfare system people’s lives did improve- one figure to show this is that 5-year-old boys in Glasgow in 1945 were 2.2 lbs heavier and 1.2 inches taller on average than they had been in 1940.

Post-War Demobilisation. Demobilisation was a big operation to manage for if it went wrong it had dire consequences. Fortunately Ernest Bevin was in charge (he was the Minister of Labour) and he was highly commended for his tactfulness in moving people and getting them ready to go back into society. The first problem that was dealt with was getting the soldiers back home and fairly after all 4.5 million men and women had to make their way back to Britain and they had all served for different lengths of time. Once that was done clothing had to be sorted. Soldiers tended to lose weight and had no suitable clothing. At the time clothing could only be purchased through coupons and people could only get 4 coupons a week- this was not very good when it took 239 coupons to fill a wardrobe for a man. So the army issued clothing for men, whilst women gained a grant and extra coupons. Finally jobs for demobilized troops had to be sorted; if someone had served in the army from 1939 they were legally allowed their job back or found an alternative by their employer. However many men wanted a fresh start and so the army provided 6 weeks of educational training as well as vocational training and financial support. Demobilised men were also offered £150 and a further 6 weeks of training if they wished to start their own business

Post-War Britain on the World Stage As well as the debt I mentioned earlier Britain was also struggling in variety of other ways. First of all it was pumping lots of its remaining resources and money into rebuilding Germany for fear of what happened in the inter-war period. The historian, Correlli Barnett wrote: ‘Britain had the psychology of a winner but the reality of the loser.’ As a result of this Britain did not have the time or money to focus on improving its own infrastructure and utilities which would have then kept it up to date with its European neighbours. Finally the war has shown Britain’s diminishing status in the world- yes it had one the war- but it looked weak and feeble compared to America and Russia; and it was fast losing its once powerful empire.


One response to “From Austerity To Affluence- Impact Of The Second World War On Britain

  1. Pingback: Austerity to Affluence Revision « THE ADVENTURES OF BIG PHIL & ERNIE THE BROMPTON

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