1945. After six years of war Britain had suffered in so many ways. A generation of men had been lost to the fighting, few towns and cities had escaped bombardment and the country was in debt to the tune of billions.
So where to start? Britain and its Allies had ‘won’ the war, but at what cost?
With a newly elected Labour government under Clement Atlee, 1945 would see Britain entering a period of austerity. Money would be needed to build new homes to house people who had lost everything during the bombing. Some three-quarters of a million homes had been completely destroyed, let alone civic buildings and churches. And the properties that remained standing were often weakened from the shelling, making windows rattle and roofs leak.
Food supplies were still scarce, with rationing of some foodstuffs continuing until the middle of the 1950s.
We were still years away from ‘healthcare for all’ with the virulent diseases of tuberculosis and polio afflicting adults and children who had little or no access to treatment.
Many of the men and women who had survived the fighting returned home with significant physical injuries as well as emotional trauma, which was then referred to as ‘shell shock’. Women had taken on vital work, replacing the men who were needed at the front line. All that had to change when the men returned. And many of those changes brought conflict of a different kind. There had been a necessary shift in the gender balance that wasn’t going to disappear overnight.
Employment, housing, living standards, healthcare, education…it must have been daunting for decision-makers to work out what to tackle first.
Thoughts and plans for a new, improved ‘post-war Britain’ were already in their embryonic stages, with the Beveridge report of 1942 suggesting a system that would eventually give rise to the welfare state we are familiar with today…
‘first and foremost, a plan of insurance – of giving in return for contributions benefits up to subsistence level, as of right and without means test’William Beveridge, November 1942
Over the coming series of posts, I will aim to tease out some of the key social and political changes that families in Britain experienced from 1945 onwards. I will try to unravel some of the implications of these changes and analyse the resultant effects on the lives of families and communities across Britain, taking us through the years of austerity, to the years of ‘plenty’ when the people would be told they had ‘never had it so good’.