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Britain since 1945

The Welfare State

After World War II, the UK sought social reforms and elected a Labour government in 1945, led by Clement Attlee.
The Beveridge Report served as the basis for the welfare state, which aimed to provide a minimum standard of healthcare and social security for all citizens. The National Health Service (NHS) was established in 1948, offering free healthcare to everyone.
The government also nationalized industries such as railways, coal mines, and utilities to ensure public ownership.
Former colonies, including India, Pakistan, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), gained independence in 1947, while other colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific achieved independence in subsequent years.
The UK developed its own atomic bomb and became a member of NATO to counter the perceived threat from the Soviet Union and its allies.
From 1951 to 1964, the UK had a Conservative government under Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. The 1950s saw economic recovery and increased prosperity for working people, along with a focus on decolonization and granting independence to former colonies.

Clement Attlee (1883-1967)

Clement Attlee was born in London in 1883. After studying at Oxford University, he became a barrister but later dedicated himself to social work in East London. Attlee joined the Labour Party and served as Winston Churchill's Deputy Prime Minister during the wartime coalition government. He became Prime Minister in 1945 after the Labour Party's victory in the election.
Attlee's government focused on nationalizing major industries, such as coal and steel, and implemented the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS) and other welfare state reforms outlined in the Beveridge Report. His administration also introduced measures to improve workers' conditions and rights.
Attlee remained the leader of the Labour Party for 20 years and served as Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951, leaving a significant impact on the social and political landscape of the UK.

William Beveridge (1879-1963)

William Beveridge, later known as Lord Beveridge, was a British economist and reformer. He had a brief political career as a Liberal Member of Parliament and later became the leader of the Liberals in the House of Lords. However, his most significant contribution was the publication of the 1942 report titled "Social Insurance and Allied Services," commonly known as the Beveridge Report.
Commissioned by the wartime government in 1941, the Beveridge Report outlined a comprehensive plan to address the "Five Giant Evils" of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor, and Idleness. It proposed the establishment of a modern welfare state and called for government action to provide social security and combat poverty. The report laid the foundation for the development of the UK's welfare state system.

R A Butler (1902-82)

Richard Austen Butler, later known as Lord Butler, was born in 1902. He had a long and influential political career as a member of the Conservative Party. Butler served as a Member of Parliament from 1923 and held various positions within the government.
One of Butler's significant contributions was his role in education reform. In 1941, he was appointed as the person responsible for education in the government. Under his leadership, the Education Act 1944, also known as 'The Butler Act,' was introduced. This act implemented free secondary education in England and Wales. Although the education system has evolved since then, the division between primary and secondary schools established by the Act still exists in most parts of Britain.

Dylan Thomas (1914-53)

Dylan Thomas was a renowned Welsh poet and writer known for his distinctive literary style. He gained recognition through public readings and performances of his works, including appearances on the BBC. Among his notable creations are the radio play "Under Milk Wood," which was first performed posthumously in 1954, and the powerful poem "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night," written for his dying father in 1952. Unfortunately, Thomas passed away at the young age of 39 while in New York. He is honored in his birthplace of Swansea with various memorials, such as a statue and the Dylan Thomas Centre.

Migration in Post-war Britain

Rebuilding Britain after the Second World War presented significant labor shortages, prompting the British government to actively encourage workers from various regions, including Ireland and other parts of Europe, to migrate to the UK and contribute to the reconstruction efforts. In 1948, individuals from the West Indies were also invited to come and work in Britain.
Throughout the 1950s, the UK continued to face a labor shortage, which led to further immigration being encouraged for economic reasons. Many industries actively recruited workers from overseas, with job advertisements specifically targeting individuals from other countries. For example, recruitment centers were established in the West Indies to find bus drivers, while textile and engineering firms in the north of England and the Midlands sent agents to India and Pakistan in search of workers. Over the course of approximately 25 years, people from the West Indies, India, Pakistan, and later Bangladesh, migrated to Britain to work and settle.

Social change in the 1960s

The 1960s marked a significant period of social change in Britain, often referred to as the 'Swinging Sixties'. It was a time of cultural growth in fashion, cinema, and popular music, with notable bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones emerging. The rising prosperity of the era allowed many people to afford cars and other consumer goods, contributing to a sense of increased affluence.
Social laws were also liberalized during this period. Divorce laws were relaxed, and abortion became legal in England, Wales, and Scotland. The position of women in the workplace improved as well, with new legislation guaranteeing equal pay and prohibiting gender discrimination in employment.
Technological advancements were notable in the 1960s, with Britain and France jointly developing Concorde, the world's only supersonic commercial airliner. Architectural styles also evolved, with the emergence of high-rise buildings and the use of concrete and steel becoming more prevalent.
Immigration patterns saw a decline in the late 1960s due to new laws restricting immigration to Britain. These laws required immigrants to have a strong connection to the country through birth or ancestry. However, during the early 1970s, Britain admitted around 28,000 individuals of Indian origin who had been compelled to leave Uganda.

Some great British inventions of the 20th century

Britain has been the birthplace of numerous remarkable inventions throughout history. Here are some notable examples from the 20th century:

  • The television was developed by Scottish inventor John Logie Baird (1888-1946) in the 1920s, and he made the first television broadcast between London and Glasgow in 1932.
  • Radar, a critical technology for detecting enemy aircraft, was pioneered by Scottish scientist Sir Robert Watson-Watt (1892-1973). The first successful radar test occurred in 1935.
  • Sir Bernard Lovell (1913-2012) built the world's largest radio telescope at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, England. His work with radar led to significant discoveries in astronomy.
  • British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) invented the theoretical concept of the Turing machine in the 1930s, laying the foundation for computer science and the modern-day computer.
  • Scottish physician John Macleod (1876-1935) co-discovered insulin, a breakthrough in diabetes treatment.
  • The structure of the DNA molecule, which revolutionized biology and medicine, was unraveled through the collaborative efforts of British scientists in London and Cambridge in 1953. Francis Crick (1916-2004) was one of the Nobel Prize recipients for this discovery.
  • The jet engine, an essential component of modern aviation, was developed in the 1930s by Sir Frank Whittle (1907-1996), a British Royal Air Force engineer officer.
  • Sir Christopher Cockerell (1910-1999), a British inventor, created the hovercraft in the 1950s.
  • Britain and France jointly developed Concorde, a supersonic passenger aircraft that made its first flight in 1969. It operated commercially from 1976 to 2003.
  • The Harrier jump jet, capable of vertical takeoff and landing, was designed and developed in the UK.
  • James Goodfellow (1937-) invented the cash-dispensing ATM (automatic teller machine) or 'cashpoint' in the 1960s. The first one was introduced by Barclays Bank in Enfield, London in 1967.
  • In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) therapy for treating infertility was pioneered in Britain by physiologist Sir Robert Edwards (1925-2013) and gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe (1913-1988). The world's first 'test-tube baby' was born in Oldham, Lancashire in 1978.
  • In 1996, British scientists Sir Ian Wilmot (1944-) and Keith Campbell (1954-2012) successfully cloned a mammal, Dolly the sheep, leading to further research in cloning for various purposes.
  • Sir Peter Mansfield (1933-2017), a British scientist, co-invented the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner. This groundbreaking technology revolutionized diagnostic medicine by providing precise and non-invasive images of internal organs.
  • The World Wide Web, which transformed global communication, was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (1955-), a British computer scientist. The first successful transfer of information via the web occurred on 25 December 1990.

Problems in the economy in the 1970s

The 1970s marked the end of the post-war economic boom in the UK, as several challenges emerged:
Firstly, there was a significant increase in the prices of goods and raw materials, leading to inflationary pressures. The exchange rate between the pound and other currencies also became unstable, causing problems with the balance of payments, where the value of imports exceeded that of exports.
Additionally, the country faced numerous strikes that impacted various industries and services. Tensions arose between the trade unions and the government, with concerns raised about the unions' perceived excessive power and their adverse effects on the UK's economy.
Moreover, the 1970s witnessed serious unrest in Northern Ireland. In 1972, the Northern Ireland Parliament was suspended, and the region came under direct rule by the UK government. The violence and conflict in Northern Ireland resulted in the loss of thousands of lives during this period.

Mary Peters (1939-)

Mary Peters, born in Manchester, is a renowned athlete with strong ties to Northern Ireland. Her achievements include:
Mary Peters excelled in athletics and won an Olympic gold medal in the pentathlon event in 1972. Her victory brought pride and recognition to both herself and Northern Ireland.
Following her Olympic success, Peters dedicated herself to supporting local athletics and took on the role of team manager for the women's British Olympic team.
Mary Peters continues to make significant contributions to sports and tourism in Northern Ireland. Her efforts have earned her recognition, and she was honored as a Dame of the British Empire in 2000 for her outstanding work.

Europe and the Common Market

In 1957, West Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands established the European Economic Community (EEC). This community later became part of the European Union (EU) when it was formed in 1993. While the UK was a full member of the EU, it did not adopt the Euro currency. However, the UK formally left the European Union on 31 January 2020.

Conservative government from 1979 to 1997

Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of Britain, led the Conservative government from 1979 to 1990. Her government implemented significant economic reforms, including the privatization of nationalized industries and the curbing of trade union powers. Deregulation contributed to the growth of London's financial sector. However, traditional industries like shipbuilding and coal mining declined during this period. In 1982, the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory, were invaded by Argentina, leading to a military response and the recovery of the islands.
After Thatcher, John Major served as Prime Minister and played a role in establishing the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)

Margaret Thatcher, born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, was the daughter of a grocer. She had a background in chemistry and law. Thatcher became a Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party in 1959 and served as a cabinet minister. In 1975, she was elected as the Leader of the Conservative Party and subsequently became the Leader of the Opposition.
In 1979, after the Conservative Party won the General Election, Margaret Thatcher became the first woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She held this position for the longest period of any 20th-century Prime Minister, serving until 1990.
Thatcher implemented significant economic reforms during her time in office. She had a close relationship with Ronald Reagan, the President of the United States, and played a role in the thawing of relations with the Soviet Union, which eventually led to the end of the Cold War.

Roald Dahl (1916-90)

Roald Dahl, born to Norwegian parents in Wales, had a diverse career. He served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and later worked as a writer. In the 1940s, Dahl began publishing books and short stories, becoming well known for his works for both children and adults. Some of his most famous children's books include "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "George's Marvellous Medicine." Many of his books have been adapted into films.

Labour government from 1997 to 2010

The Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, came into power in 1997. During their time in government, the Labour Party introduced significant political changes. They established a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, granting them varying degrees of legislative powers and control over public services. In Northern Ireland, the Blair government played a crucial role in advancing the peace process, leading to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The Northern Ireland Assembly was elected in 1999, although it was suspended in 2002 and reinstated in 2007. Many paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland have decommissioned their weapons. Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister in 2007.

Conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq

In the 1990s, Britain played a significant role in coalition forces that were involved in the liberation of Kuwait following the Iraqi invasion in 1990, as well as in the conflict in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. From 2000 onwards, British armed forces were engaged in the global fight against international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This included military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
British combat troops withdrew from Iraq in 2009. In Afghanistan, the UK continued its operations as part of the United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) coalition. The mission's objective was to prevent Afghan territory from becoming a safe haven for international terrorism and to support the Afghan government. The focus was on building up the Afghan National Security Forces and creating a secure environment for governance and development. International forces gradually transferred security responsibilities to the Afghans, with the goal of full security responsibility in all provinces by the end of 2014.

2010 onwards and Brexit

In May 2010, no political party in the UK won an overall majority in the General Election. The Conservative Party, led by David Cameron, formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrat Party. David Cameron became the Prime Minister.
The Conservative Party won a majority in the general election held on 7 May 2015, and David Cameron continued as Prime Minister. During his tenure, the Conservative government pledged to hold a referendum on the UK's membership in the European Union. The referendum took place on 23 June 2016, resulting in a 51.9% majority in favor of leaving the EU. David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister following the referendum, and Theresa May succeeded him on 13 July 2016. Boris Johnson became the Prime Minister on 24 July 2019. The UK formally left the European Union on 31 January 2020.

Make Sure You Understand

  • The establishment of the welfare state
  • How life in Britain changed in the 1960s and 1970s
  • British inventions of the 20th century (you do not need to remember dates of births and deaths)
  • Events since 1979