Aneurin Bevan




Aneurin Bevan, (2,5) often known as Nye (2,7) was born (2,5) in Tredegar in Wales (5) on 15th November, 1897. (2,5) His father was a coal miner. (2,5) His was a poor working class family which gave him first-hand experience of the problems of poverty and disease. (5) 1

Early adulthood and marriage 1910-1934

He left school at 13 and began working in a local colliery. (3,5) He became a trade union activist and won a scholarship to study in London. (3) It was during this period that he became convinced by the ideas of socialism. (3) He was a Welsh Labour Party politician and a lifelong champion of social justice, the rights of working people and democratic socialism. (2) During the 1926 General Strike, Bevan emerged as one of the leaders of the South Wales miners. (3) In 1929, Bevan was elected as the Labour (3) MP for Ebbw Vale (2,3) in South Wales and held the position for 31 years. (2) He was one of the chief spokesmen for the Labour Party’s left wing, and of left-wing British thought generally. (2) He stood up for the underdog, and was a voice for the unemployed in the period between the two world wars when joblessness was a major domestic political issue. (10) He was convinced that poverty was not the fault of individuals but that of the government’s inefficient and unfair distribution of the country’s resources. (10) He remembered how people he knew were treated without dignity when they fell upon hard times, and his anger could boil over. (10) Referring back to these times in 1948, he said that the Tories had ‘condemned millions of people to semi-starvation’. (10) In 1934 he married another Labour MP, Jennie Lee. (3,6)


He was an early opponent of Fascism, arguing for British support for the socialists in Spain and visiting the country. (6) In 1936 he joined the board of the new socialist newspaper the Tribune. (6) His agitations for a united socialist front of all European socialist parties led to his brief expulsion from the Labour Party in March to November 1939 (along with Cripps and Trevelyan). (6) However, they were readmitted in November 1939 after agreeing “to refrain from conducting or taking part in campaigns in opposition to the declared policy of the Party”. (6) He was a strong critic of the policies of Neville Chamberlain, arguing that his old enemy Winston Churchill should be given power (6,8) in 1940. (8)

During World War II

During World War Two, Bevan was one of the leaders of the left in the House of Commons. (3,6) During the war he was one of the leaders (6) [OR] the main leader (10) of the left in the Commons, opposing (6,10) Winston Churchill’s (10) wartime Coalition government. (6,9) From 1942 to 1945 he augmented his already prominent parliamentary profile through his editorship of the magazine Tribune, to which he had been contributing anonymously since before the war. (8) He criticised the government for its military failures in the early part of the conflict, (10) and on civil liberties issues. (6,10) such as the heavy censorship imposed on radio and newspapers and wartime Regulation 18B that gave the Home Secretary the powers to lock up citizens without trial. (6) Bevan called for the nationalisation of the coal industry and advocated the opening of a Second Front in Western Europe in order to help the Soviet Union in its fight with Germany. (6) He pulled no punches when he disagreed with Churchill (8) Churchill responded by calling Bevan the Minister of Disease (6) and ‘a squalid nuisance’. (8) Bevan’s activities made him a hate figure among sections of the public; his wife Jennie Lee had to try to intercept parcels of excrement pushed through the door of their London home to prevent Bevan himself seeing them too often. (10) Bevan believed that the Second World War would give Britain the opportunity to create a new society. (6) He often quoted Karl Marx who had said in 1885: “The redeeming feature of war is that it puts a nation to the test. (6) As exposure to the atmosphere reduces all mummies to instant dissolution, so war passes supreme judgment upon social systems that have outlived their vitality”. (6) He was also highly critical of members of his own party – notably, in 1944, Ernest Bevin – when he considered they were betraying the socialist principles at the heart of the Labour movement. (8) As the war drew to a close, Bevan argued that Britain should not participate in dividing the world into hostile Communist and non-Communist camps. (4) European nations, particularly, should be free to form independent, democratic socialist governments. (4)

Beveridge Report

In this period William Beveridge published his Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services. (9) This report has since become better known as the ‘Beveridge report’ and it advocated that all people in work should pay a contribution into a state fund that could be used to provide people with subsistence in the form of sickness, medical, maternity, old age, unemployment, widows, orphans, industrial injury and funeral benefits. (9) This was termed the ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state, to be based on an entirely new system of social security. (16) Bevan pressed for the continuation of public control of vital industries and the development of a comprehensive system of social services. (4) At the beginning of the 1945 General Election campaign Bevan told his audience: “We have been the dreamers, we have been the sufferers, now we are the builders. (6) We enter this campaign at this general election, not merely to get rid of the Tory majority. (6) We want the complete political extinction of the Tory Party (6,11) and twenty-five years of Labour Government.” (11) In 1944 Victor Gollancz published Bevan’s polemic ‘Why Not Trust the Tories?’ (8)

1945 Election

The war shattered Britain’s finances, but had also instilled a longing for a better future. (14) After the war in Europe had ended, elections were held in Britain to choose a new government. (15) The election was fought mainly between the Conservative and Labour Parties. (15) The Conservative Party was led by Winston Churchill, while (15) the Labour Party was led by Clement Attlee. (13,15) The Labour manifesto for the election of 1945 promised a health care revolution that was strongly influenced by the Beveridge report. (9) On 26th (8) July 1945 (8,15) the results of the general election held earlier that month were declared. (8) Labour (3,4) unexpectedly (8,9) returned to government with a landslide (3,4) capturing a stunning 393 seats in the House of Commons. (13) It was its first ever parliamentary majority. (14) More predictably, Bevan had retained Ebbw Vale. (8) The Labour Party formed the Government in July 1945. (15)

Labour Ministry of 1945-51

Attlee’s government was one of the most significant 20th-century peacetime administrations, both because of the quality of its leading ministers and because of the imprint that it left on British politics. (13) Although several of his principal colleagues—notably Morrison, Ernest Bevin, Stafford Cripps, Aneurin Bevan, and Hugh Gaitskell—were more dominant public personalities than Attlee, until nearly the end of his government he held this somewhat turbulent team together with great success. (13) His firm control over discussions in cabinet meetings reflected his experience in the wartime coalition government. (13) It was said that when Churchill presided over such meetings, they were exhilarating but inconclusive, whereas when Attlee presided (which was often, since Churchill was frequently absent), crisp, clear decisions were quickly made. (13) Labour now had a sufficient majority to push through its (6) Welfare State (6,14) its most enduring legacy (14) despite constant attacks from the Conservatives. (6) Between 1945 and 1951it passed a series of measures based on the idea of the government taking responsibility for looking after the well-being of all its citizens. (15) It implemented many of the ideas expounded in the Beveridge report, (14,15) a 1942 official study recommending a welfare state to insure people (14) from ‘the cradle to the grave’ (14,15) (i.e. from birth to death). (15,16) The Report was a blueprint for the creation of the ‘New Jerusalem’: a prosperous yet egalitarian society. (14) They tackled the ‘Five Giants’ described in the Beveridge Report: disease, want, squalor, ignorance and idleness. (15) Attlee’s welfare state reflected this ambition. (14) All taxpayers contributed to social insurance, and everyone in the country was covered by it. (14) Levels of benefits were standardised. (14) The retirement pension was open to all and could now be claimed at the age of sixty-five rather than seventy. (14) Various other pieces of legislation provided for child benefit (14,16) Under a scheme of family allowances, parents would receive a weekly payment upon the birth of their second child (and this would increase with any subsequent children). (14) In 1949, unemployment, sickness and maternity benefits were exempted from taxation. (16)

Adverse Circumstances

But it was not all golden. (14) Reforms had to be achieved in the face of great financial difficulty following the war. (11,13) Attlee’s Britain (13,14) was hit by severe economic storms. (14) The government negotiated a $5,000,000,000 loan from the United States and Canada in 1946. (16) The government had to contend with a (13) balance-of-payments (13,14) crisis in 1947 (14) which made American loans and Marshall Plan assistance essential (13,16) in 19452 (13) and 1948. (13,16) It eagerly joined the Marshall Plan in 1948. (16) Instead of expansion, priority had to be giving to replacing the national wealth destroyed or used up during the war. (16) While the problems were largely a product of the war (14,16) – as well as a notorious winter in 1947 – it is possible that a premature creation of the universal welfare state inhibited a return to prosperity. (14) Despite this (13) the new Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, (8,9) continued with a firm program of nationalization, including coal, railways, gas, and electricity. (13) Since there was little money for detailed planning, the government adopted Keynesianism, which allowed for planning in the sense of overall control of the national deficit and surplus. (16) The Great Depression did not return, and full employment was created. (16) Returning veterans were successfully reabsorbed into the postwar society. (16)

Bevan is Minister of Health

Bevan had no great expectation of preferment at the hands of Attlee, and the press had paid little attention to his chances of getting one of the major Cabinet portfolios. (8) However, he was (3,4) surprisingly (6,8) appointed (3,4) Minister of Health (1,2) and housing (4,6) in Clement Attlee’s Labour government (1,6) from 1945 (1,2) to 1951. (2) Attlee said: ‘I understand that you have much experience of negotiation. (8) I am offering you the post where you will deal with health, housing and the local authorities.’ (8) At the age of forty-seven, (8) Bevan was the youngest (8,11) and one of the most important ministers of (4,5) that fabled (8) post-war Labour government. (4,5) One of the highlights of Attlee’s administration was its social reforms, including the creation of the National Health Service. (13) Bevan’s position as Minister of Health combined with his membership on the Labour Party executive since 1944, placed him in a key position to shape the nature of post-war Britain. (4) Bevan contended that his Welsh mining constituency did not send him to Parliament to “dress up” and declined to wear formal attire at Buckingham Palace functions. (11) Government income was increased for the welfare state expenditure by a large increase in marginal tax rates for wealthy business owners in particular, as part of what the Labour government largely saw as the redistribution of the wealth created by the working-class from the owners of large-scale industry to the workers. (11)

National Insurance Act

Among the most important pieces of legislation was (16) the National Insurance Act, passed in 1946, (6,8) putting in place the structure (6) [OR] ?and ? infrastructure of (8) what was to be the Welfare State, (8,11) a universal state health system as William Beveridge had proposed in his Report. (6) It provided (6,8) flat-rate (16) pensions and unemployment pay (6,8) (workers received 26 shillings a week or 42 shillings for married men) (15) sickness, maternity and widows’ benefits, (6,8) and welfare provisions for old age; (8,15) (the elderly also got financial assistance with funeral arrangements) (15,16) All these were funded by compulsory (6,8) flat rate (16) contributions from employer and employee. (6,8) The wives of male contributors were also eligible. (16) A large number of officials were needed to operate the scheme, and it did not provide for those members of society who were not in work and had not made contributions. (15)

Implementing the National Health Service

The most significant measure was the creation of the National Health Service in July 1948. (14) Bevan was responsible for establishing it, (1,2) and for developing housing programs. (1) Bevan said that ‘the collective principle asserts that … no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means’. (11) The NHS was to (2,4) discharge the responsibility of government to (10) provide (2,4) high quality (4,10) publicly funded (9,16) medical care free (2,4) at point-of-need (2,16) to all (2,4) Britons (2) regardless of wealth. (2,16) The pre-war system of healthcare had been ramshackle and localised. (14) Many patients had to pay to visit a doctor or stay in hospital, pushing many families into debt. (7) He inherited complex plans assembled by the previous Conservative administration, which were the result of many compromises. (5) He took a fresh look at the possibilities and the many power groups and decided that instead of giving local authorities a lead role, (5) consistent high-quality healthcare across the country would be best delivered (10) if all hospitals were taken into public ownership (5,8) as they would need so much public money. (5) This decision made a profound difference in the structural change brought about by the creation of the NHS. (8) This decision was Bevan’s and its implementation was down to his skill, patience, and application as a minister. (8) It is the most significant and lasting reform in the history of the Labour party and it was achieved by one man. (8) Always having the facts at his fingertips, Bevan was persuasive when he spoke. (10) He said ‘a free health service is pure Socialism and as such it is opposed to the hedonism of capitalist society.’ (11) The National Health Service Bill passed through the House of Commons easily, (8,10) despite Tory opposition, at second reading on 2nd May,(10) 1946 (10,16) by 359 votes to 172. (10) With separate units in England, Wales, and Scotland and for Northern Ireland, (16) the NHS took over hospitals and made medical services (8,16) medical diagnosis and treatment at home or in hospital, and in addition dental and ophthalmic treatment, (8) free (8,16) at the point of use. (8) The Health Service did not go into effect (4) for two more years, (9,10) until 1948. (3,5)

Opposition to the NHS

Bevan’s four principals3 have now been long established and accepted, but at the time the proposal was highly controversial. (9) He encountered strong opposition (5,6) from bureaucracy, inadequate funding and angry opposition from the Conservative Party (9) and (5,6) the medical establishment, including (16) the BMA (6,9) [OR] doctors, fearing that they would be turned into civil servants with little professional independence (and lower incomes) (4) There was a dramatic showdown with the British Medical Association, which had threatened to derail the National Health Service scheme before it had even begun, as medical practitioners continued to withhold their support just months before the launch of the service. (11) There was even division within the Labour Party itself: (5,9) the proposal to nationalise the hospitals alienated members of his own cabinet, such as Herbert Morrison. (5,10) It was Bevan’s time as a councillor on the Tredegar Urban District Council and Monmouthshire County Council facing these issues of poverty with limited resources that led him to be sceptical of his cabinet colleague Herbert Morrison’s argument for local authority control of hospitals. (10) Morrison’s model was the healthcare provided by London County Council, which he had led (5,10) from 1934 to 1940. Bevan remembered the difficulties of providing quality housing and improving public health with tight budgets. (10) He was convinced that future Tory governments could reduce funding to local authorities thereby cutting health services, and lay the blame at Town Hall doors. (10) Bevan, with the support of prime minister Clement Attlee, won the argument. (10) Then followed months of tough negotiations with the British Medical Association (BMA), representing the doctors, who were reluctant to sacrifice their members’ professional freedom to be ordered around by, by what their members labelled, the “Tito of Tonypandy”. (10) Bevan was not from Tonypandy, but such details mattered little in the adversarial atmosphere. (10) Bevan retained the idea of having an NHS with healthcare free at the point of delivery based on need not ability to pay, but he had timed his concessions perfectly. (10) He was not overly rigid in his approach to politics and was willing to compromise to put his ideas into practice. (10) As a socialist, Bevan was inspired by the Uruguayan philosopher Jose Enrique Rodo’s emphasis on individual fulfilment and argued that free healthcare was uplifting for everyone. (10) He disliked the worst excesses of capitalism and what he saw as its garish materialism but was not inflexible or dogmatic. (10) There is an argument that there would have been some sort of national healthcare provision even if Labour had not won the 1945 general election by a landslide. (10) However, in reality, while political parties were agreed on there being a countrywide healthcare system post Second World War, its form was still being debated and its form would determine its durability in the long-term. (10) The British Medical Association, the doctors’ union, was still threatening to boycott it until as late as February 1948 (7) [OR] it had the doctors’ general cooperation. (4) After eighteen months of ongoing dispute between the Ministry of Health and the BMA, (11) he eventually won the support of the (9,11) vast majority of the (11) medical profession by allowing the consultants to both work inside the NHS and treat their lucrative private patients at the same time (9,10) [OR] by offering a couple of minor concessions, but without compromising on the fundamental principles of his National Health Service proposals. (11) He famously described this as having bought the support of the consultants by “stuffing their mouths with gold”. (9,11) Doctors started to join the NHS in numbers. (10) Bevan became very embittered, particularly by the Conservative Party’s opposition, but was undeterred and fought on for his cause. (9) He made no secret of his feelings about the opposition that he had received in his speech at the Bellvue Hotel. (9) He was renowned for his public speaking prowess, and said this on the eve of the formation of the NHS on July 3rd, 1948:

That is why no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are (9) lower than vermin. (9,10) They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation. (9,10) Now the Tories are pouring out money in propaganda of all sorts and are hoping by this organised sustained mass suggestion to eradicate from our minds all memory of what we went through. But, I warn you young men and women, do not listen to what they are saying now. Do not listen to the seductions of Lord Woolton. He is a very good salesman. If you are selling shoddy stuff you have to be a good salesman. But I warn you they have not changed, or if they have they are slightly worse than they were”. (9)

Managing the Health Service

Day 1

On 5th July 1948 (3,5) the “appointed day” (6,11) the National Health Service started: (4,6) the health minister strode into a Manchester hospital to launch a free healthcare service that has brought innovation and controversy ever since. (7) The government took over responsibility for all medical services (3) and there was free diagnosis and treatment (3,6) for all (3,9) people in Britain (6) [OR] Britons, regardless of wealth, (2) at home (6) or in hospital, (6,15) as well as dental and ophthalmic services. (6,15) Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians, dentists and hospitals came together for the first time as one giant UK-wide organisation. (7,9) Funds were allocated to modernisation and extension schemes aimed at improving administrative efficiency. (16) It was inaugurated when Bevan visited Park hospital (7,11) in Davyhulme, (7) [OR] Trafford, (now Trafford General) (11) Manchester. (7,11) He symbolically received the keys to the hospital. (11) He met the NHS’s first patient, 13-year-old Sylvia Diggory, (7,9) who had acute nephritis, (7) a life-threatening liver condition. (7,9) Later, Diggory recalled: “Mr Bevan asked me if I understood the significance of the occasion and told me that it was a milestone in history – the most civilised step any country had ever taken, (7,9) and of course, he was right”. (9) [OR] “I had earwigged at adults’ conversations and I knew this was a great change that was coming about and that most people could hardly believe this was happening”. (7) As Minister of Health, (6) Bevan was now in charge of the hospitals in England and Wales. (6,8) The newly created health boards took control of 2,751 (7) [OR] 2,688 (6,8) of Britain’s 3,000 hospitals, which had been run by charities or local authorities, but were now nationalised. (7) The next day’s Daily Mirror editorial noted: “The National Health Service has got off to an encouraging start … an example of how the nation can cooperate in a great enterprise”. (7) The Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, asked the public to be patient with the new service as “there are bound to be early difficulties with staff, accommodation and so on”, but payment for medical treatment was swept away, (7) and the NHS had huge public support: (4,7) by the day of the launch 94% of the public were enrolled in it (7) [OR] soon 93.1 percent of the population participated in it. (4) Doctors, dentists and opticians were inundated with patients queuing up for treatment that they had previously been unable to afford. (15,16) The NHS treated some 8,500,000 dental patients and dispensed more than 5,000,000 pairs of spectacles during its first year of operation. (16) Consultants benefited from the new system by being paid salaries that provided an acceptable standard of living without the need for them to resort to private practice. (16) The NHS brought major improvements in the health of working-class people, with deaths from diphtheria, pneumonia, and tuberculosis significantly reduced. (16) Numerous lesser reforms were also introduced, some of which were of great benefit to certain segments of British society, such as the mentally deficient and the blind. (16) From the start, Bevan, who had fought hard to get his plan through Attlee’s post-war Labour cabinet, was determined the NHS should “universalise the best” care and not simply act as a safety net for the poor, and should be based on need, rather than ability to pay. (7) Improvements were made in nursing accommodation in order to recruit more nurses and reduce labour shortages which were keeping 60,000 beds out of use, and efforts were made to reduce the imbalance “between an excess of fever and tuberculosis (TB) beds and a shortage of maternity beds.” BCG vaccinations were introduced for the protection of medical students, midwives, nurses, and contacts of patients with tuberculosis, a pension scheme was set up for employees of the newly established NHS. (16) The Radioactive Substances Act of 1948 set out general provisions to control radioactive substances. (16) The creation of the National Health Service probably was Bevan’s greatest achievement, helped by his sophisticated ability to cut through knotty political and administrative problems. (4) Firmly on the left, Bevan distrusted some in his own party as unlikely to build a socialist Jerusalem. (5) The era of Attlee exerts a significant hold over the national memory: (14) Labour propaganda could make much of the claim that social security had eradicated the most abject destitution of the 1930s. (16) In committing the state to treat people free of charge no matter their condition, the NHS quickly became enshrined as a cornerstone of national life. (14) There are often disputes about its organisation and funding, but British political parties continue to voice their general support for the NHS in order to remain electable. (16)


War pensions and allowances (for both World Wars) were increased by an Act of 1946 which gave the wounded man with an allowance for his wife and children if he married after he had been wounded, thereby removing a grievance of more than twenty years standing. (16) Other improvements were made in war pensions during Attlee’s tenure as prime minister. (16) The Attlee Government increased pensions and other benefits, with pensions raised to become more of a living income than they had ever been. (16) A Constant Attendance Allowance was tripled, an Unemployability Allowance was tripled from 10s to 30s a week, and a special hardship allowance of up to £1 a week was introduced. (16) In addition, the 1951 Budget made further improvements in the supplementary allowances for many war pensioners. (16) From 1945 onwards, three out of every four pension claims had been successful, whilst after the First World War only one pension claim in three was allowed. (16) Under the Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 1948, employees of a body representative of local authorities or of the officers of local authorities could be admitted “on suitable terms to the superannuation fund of a local authority.” (16) In 1951, a comforts allowance was introduced that was automatically paid to war pensioners “receiving unemployability supplement and constant attendance allowance.” (16)


It was expensive (15) and financial problems ensued. (7) Its first year’s budget was £437m – about £15bn at today’s prices. (7) Prescriptions rose from 7 million per month before the NHS to 13.5 million per month in September 1948, and by 1950 the NHS was costing £358 million per year. (15) Attlee’s government increased spending on health from £6,000,000,000 to £11,000,000,000: an increase of over 80%, and from 2.1% to 3.6% of GDP. (16)

Limitations of Welfare State

The Attlee government greatly expanded the welfare state, (16) but while the period is remembered as a golden age of renewal, it is frequently forgotten that Attlee’s Britain was in fact a drab and often unpleasant place to live. (14) It was an “age of austerity”, (16) and Britain was a country deeply unsure of itself. (14) Living conditions were poor, (14,16) and everyday life was blighted by inadequate and substandard housing. (14) Living standards were a major issue (14) rationing was (14,16) continued despite the Allied Forces’ victory (16) and actually extended during the post-war era, and (14,16) in 1946 (14) bread was rationed for the first time. (14,16) Housewives struggled to feed their families; prices rose; calorie intake for most people was below pre-war levels; and there were precious few consumer goods on the shelves. (14) This grey existence quickly fractured the unity of wartime. (14) [OR] “Labour propaganda could make much of the claim that social security had eradicated the most abject destitution of the 1930s”. (16) The cumulative impact of the Attlee’s Government’s health and welfare policies was such that all the indices of health (such as statistics of school medical or dental officers, or of medical officers of health) showed signs of improvement, with continual improvements in survival rates for infants and increased life expectancy for the elderly. (16)

Housing Policy

When Bevan was made a minister in 1945, he envisioned a sector of public housing that would provide people with the choice to live in owner occupation or the private sector. (11) We should try to introduce in our modern villages and towns what was always the lovely feature of English and Welsh villages, where the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and the farm labourer all lived in the same street. (11) I believe that is essential for the full life of citizen …to see the living tapestry of a mixed community. (11) He was less successful in the area of housing. (4) He was plagued by financial and material shortages and refused to compromise quality. (4) Substantial bombing damage and the continued existence of pre-war slums in many parts of the country made the task of housing reform particularly challenging for Bevan. (11) Indeed, these factors, exacerbated by post-war restrictions on the availability of building materials and skilled labour, collectively served to limit Bevan’s achievements in this area. (11) A large house-building programme was carried out with the intention of providing millions of people with high-quality homes. (16) More council housing was built. (16) 1946 saw the completion of 55,600 new homes; this rose to 139,600 in 1947 and 227,600 in 1948. (11) Although the Attlee Government failed to meet its targets, primarily due to economic constraints, (a significant achievement under the circumstances) which ensured that decent, affordable housing was available to many low-income families for the first time ever. (16) Over 1,000,000 new homes were built between 1945-51: (4,8) 1,016,349 permanent houses were built between 1945 and 1951 (4) While this was not an insignificant achievement, Bevan’s rate of house-building was seen as less of an achievement than that of his Conservative (indirect) successor, Harold Macmillan, who was able to complete some 300,000 a year as Minister for Housing in the 1950s. (11) Macmillan was able to concentrate full-time on Housing, instead of being obliged, like Bevan, to combine his housing portfolio with that for Health (which for Bevan took the higher priority). (11)

Other Socialist Policies of the Attlee Government

Additionally, Attlee oversaw the beginning of the dismantling of the British Empire, granting independence to India in 1947. (13) Mass immigration began as new residents arrived from the West Indies, India and Pakistan. (14) Ultimately this was to change the face of the country. (14)


In an attempt to avoid the high unemployment (14,15) of the thirties, (14) and to keep unprofitable (15) sectors of the economy in business, (15,16) about 20% of (16) key (14) sectors of the economy were nationalised. (13,14) The most important were (13,14) heavy industries like (14) coal (13,14) and steel, (14,15) and infrastructure such as (14) railways. (13,14) The Bank of England was nationalised in 1946. (16) The coal industry was placed under the National Coal Board. (16) The Transport Act, 1947, established the British Transport Commission, which in 1948 took control over the railways from the Big Four — Great Western Railway, London, Midland and Scottish Railway, London and North Eastern Railway and the Southern Railway — to form British Railways. (16) British Road Services managed Road transport, and British Waterways the canals. (16) In 1947 Cable & Wireless took over communication networks. (16) Electricity supply (13,15) was nationalised under the British Electricity Authority and area electricity boards. (16) Civil aviation was also nationalised. (16) In 1949 Local authority (16) gas (13,15) supply undertakings were set up in England, Scotland and Wales. (16) In 1951 the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain was set up to manage the steel industry4. (16) Nationalisation succeeded in keeping unemployment rates very low. (15) The nationalisation programme stood alongside the welfare state as the major legacy of the Attlee Years, enduring for more than three decades. (14) However, there was no money for investment to modernise these industries, and there was no effort made to turn control over to union members. (16)

Industrial Injuries Act 1946

This provided financial relief for those who were temporarily absent from work due to injury; it also provided financial relief for those absent long-term. (15) Compensation was paid by the Government and not employers – which meant that the Government footed the bill for injuries at work. (15)

New Towns Act 1946

The New Towns Act of 1946 provided for the growth of suburbs, and to reduce overcrowding in major cities such as London and Glasgow. (16) Twelve new towns were planned in order to reduce overcrowding. (15) Councils could buy houses in disrepair and make improvements, and householders could apply for assistance to make improvements. (15) In spite of this poor housing and homelessness were still serious problems at the end of the Labour administration in 1951 – high demand for housing still existed, and there were 750,000 fewer houses than were required. (15) The 1951 census also revealed that there was approximately the same level of homelessness as in 1931. (15)

National Assistance Act 1948

The National Assistance Act 1948 provided a safety net for anyone not otherwise covered. (15,16) It provided financial assistance for the unemployed or those who had not paid enough contributions into the National Insurance scheme, set up under the National Insurance Act (see above). (15) Retired people who had not been paying into the National Insurance scheme during their lives could now be helped. (15) The Act established standardised minimal living conditions for the unemployed but this was means-tested – the financial assistance received depended on the amount of money/valuables a family/individual possessed. (15) Many of the elderly were reluctant to apply for assistance, believing there was a stigma attached to it. (15) The government tried to create and maintain job levels, in order to address idleness. (15) A block grant introduced in 1948 helped the social services provided by local authorities. (16) Personal Social Services or welfare services were developed in 1948 for individual and families in general, particularly special groups such as the mentally disordered, deprived children, the elderly, and the handicapped. (16)

Family Allowances Act

The Family Allowances Act 1945 had been drafted by the wartime coalition. (16) The Conservatives would later criticise Labour for having been “too hasty” in introducing family allowances. (16)

Women’s Rights

A Married Women (Restraint Upon Anticipation) Act was passed in 1949 “to equalise, to render inoperative any restrictions upon anticipation or alienation attached to the enjoyment of property by a woman,” while the Married Women (Maintenance) Act of 1949 was enacted with the intention of improving the adequacy and duration of financial benefits for married women. (16) The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 1950 amended an Act of 1885 to bring prostitutes within the law and safeguard them from abduction and abuse. (16) The Attlee Government also abolished the marriage bar in the Civil Service, thereby enabling married women to work in that institution. (16) In 1946, the government set up a National Institute of Houseworkers as a means of providing a socially democratic variety of domestic service. (16) By late 1946, agreed standards of training were established, which was followed by the opening of a training headquarters and the opening of an additional nine training centres in Wales, Scotland, and then nationwide throughout Great Britain. (16) The National Health Service Act of 1946 indicated that domestic help should be provided for households where that help is required “owing to the presence of any person who is ill, lying-in, an expectant mother, mentally defective, aged or a child not over compulsory school age”. (16) ‘Home help’ therefore included the provision of home-helps for nursing and expectant mothers and for mothers with children under the age of five, and by 1952 some 20,000 women were engaged in this service. (16)


The Education Act of 1944 (14,15) was passed by the wartime coalition, but implemented by the post war Labour Government. (15,16) It was an effort to improve education for the mass of the people. (14) By 1947 all local authorities had to provide primary, secondary and further education: it was free for all until the age of 15. (15) Many5 were concerned that academic education would be harmed by combining it with less academic subjects and children. (15)


The Criminal Justice Act of 1948 restricted imprisonment for juveniles and brought improvements to the probation and remand centre systems. (16) It provided for new methods to deal with offenders, and abolished hard labour, penal servitude, prison divisions and whipping. (16) The Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act 1948 enabled employees to sue their employers in cases where they experienced injury due to the negligence of a fellow employee. (16) The Legal Aid and Advice Act of 1949 introduced a state aided scheme to assist those who couldn’t afford legal services. (16)

Shops Act

The Shops Act of 1950 consolidated previous legislation which provided that no one could be employed in a shop for more than six hours without having a break for at least 20 minutes. (16) The legislation also required a lunch break of at least 45 minutes for anyone for worked between 11:30am and 2:30pm, and a half-hour tea break for anyone working between 4pm and 7pm. (16)


Dock Labour Scheme was introduced in 1947 to put an end to the casual system of hiring labour in the docks. (16) This scheme gave registered dockers the legal right to minimum work and decent conditions. (16) Through the National Dock Labour Board (on which trade unions and employers had equal representation) the unions acquired control over recruitment and dismissal. (16) Registered dockers laid off by employers within the Scheme had the right either to be taken on by another, or to generous compensation. (16) All dockers were registered under the Dock Labour Scheme, giving them a legal right to minimum work, holidays and sick pay. (16)

Miners & Dust disease

The introduction of a Miner’s Charter in 1946 instituted a five-day work week for miners and a standardised day wage structure, and in 1948 a Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme was approved, providing supplementary allowances to disabled coal-workers and their dependants. (16) Under the Coal Industry Nationalisation (Superannuation) Regulations of 1950, a pension scheme for mineworkers was established. (16) Regulations were issued in February 1946 applying to factories involved with “manufacturing briquettes or blocks of fuel consisting of coal, coal dust, coke or slurry with pitch as a binding .substance,” and which concerned “dust and ventilation, washing facilities and clothing accommodation, medical supervision and examination, skin and eye protection and messrooms.” (16) Under the terms of the Blasting (Castings and Other Articles) Special Regulations (1949) “no sand or other substance containing free silica is to be employed in any blasting process,” while the Foundries (Parting Materials) Special Regulations (1950) prohibited the use of certain parting powders “which give rise to a substantial risk of silicosis.”

Ousted from NHS

From 1945 to 1950 Labour ministers worked together, notwithstanding debates and disagreements between the left and right wings of the party. (4) Bevan’s ‘vermin’ comment inspired the creation of the Vermin Club by angry Conservatives; they attacked Bevan for years for the metaphor. (11) Labour Party deputy leader Herbert Morrison complained that Bevan’s attack had backfired, for his words “did much more to make the Tories work and vote … than Conservative Central Office could have done.” (11) At the February 1950 general election Labour retained office, but with an overall majority reduced to a mere six seats. (8,13) In 1951, with the retirement of Ernest Bevin, Bevan was a leading candidate for Foreign Secretary. (11) Prime Minister Attlee rejected Bevan because he distrusted his personality. (11) According to John Campbell, Attlee thought that: Bevan’s impetuous temperament, undiplomatic tone and reputation as an extreme left-winger combined to make the Foreign Office seem the last place a prudent Prime Minister would think of putting him at any time. (11) His “vermin” speech still resonated; imagination shuddered at a repetition of that on the international stage. (11) So in January (1,8) 1951 (1,3) despite his successes, Bevan was demoted (6) to become Minister of Labour. (1,3)

Foreign Policy

In foreign affairs, the government could no longer afford to support the Greek government and encouraged the U.S. to take its place through the Truman Doctrine in 1947. (16) It took an active role in joining the United States in the Cold War and forming NATO. (16) It gave independence to India, Pakistan, Ceylon and Burma and moved to strengthen the British Commonwealth. (16)

Korean War and rearmament

Although occasionally expressing doubt about the extent of British military commitments overseas, Attlee firmly supported the view of his foreign secretary, Bevin, that facing the Soviet threat required building up the military strength of the West and maintaining the commitment of the United States to the defense of western Europe. (13) Attlee’s government was a key architect of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of 1949 (13) because of the growing Cold War. (4) In 1950 he readily accepted the need for Allied entry in the Korean War (8,11) and for a new (4,6) ambitious (4) and costly (4,6) rearmament program. (1,2) In order to raise income for the British commitment to join (8,11) the USA in fighting (8) the Korean War, (8,11) the Government had to backtrack on its principle of a free service, by introducing charges for some NHS treatment. (6,15) The new Chancellor of the Exchequer, (4)Hugh Gaitskell (4,6) decided to transfer funds from the National Insurance Fund (2) and make up the shortfall by charging fees (3,4) called ‘prescription charges’ (6) for spectacles and dentures. (3,4) [OR] charges for dental care, spectacles and prescriptions. (7)


Prescription charges were one shilling and dental treatment cost a £1 flat fee. (7) This changed the atmosphere of co-operation among the Labour ministers. (4) Bevan felt that where medical need existed, medical care should follow and that budgets should be of secondary importance; (5) he believed that any dilution of the principle of a totally free and comprehensive service set a dangerous precedent. (4) He protested against cutting back on social expenditure to pay for rearmament. (1,2) After only two months in the post of Minister of Labour, (8) Bevan resigned from the government in the following April (1,2) along with John Freeman and Harold Wilson. (6,11) In his resignation letter to Attlee he wrote: “It is the beginning of the destruction of those social services in which Labour has taken a special pride and which were giving to Britain the moral leadership of the world”. (7) In the view of some historians, this was less of a conflict of principles than a power struggle with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Gaitskell. (8) The resignations of Bevan and Harold Wilson further weakened Attlee’s government. (13) In the autumn of 1951 Attlee decided to ask for a dissolution of Parliament, which resulted in a narrow (13) Conservative victory and Attlee’s resignation from the prime ministership. (11,13)

In Opposition

After Bevan left the Health ministry in 1951 he could never regain his level of success. (11) For all his wit and brilliance, (11) for the next few years Bevan was the centre of controversy within the Labour Party: (1,11) he proved a difficult colleague and feuded with fellow Labour leaders, using his strong political base as a weapon. (11) He involuntarily (1) gave his name to the party’s (1,2) “Bevanite” (2,3) radical wing. (1,2) Bevan led it (3) [OR] he did not control it (2) for the next five years. (3) Attlee remained leader of the opposition until December 1955, endeavouring to preserve the unity of his party (13) throughout the difficult days of the “Bevanite” quarrel. (2,13) The feud was more personal than ideological, for the policy differences between the leaders of the two factions—Gaitskell and Bevan—were surprisingly narrow, much more so than those between Tony Benn and Denis Healey in the 1980s. (13) But their temperaments were very different, and Bevan felt that he had been unfairly passed over for the positions of chancellor and foreign secretary in 1950–51. (13) This may indeed have been Attlee’s major failure in political management. (13) Kenneth O. Morgan says, “Bevan alone kept the flag of left-wing socialism aloft throughout — which gave him a matchless authority amongst the constituency parties and in party conference.” (11) In 1955, he stood as one of the candidates for party leader but was defeated by Hugh Gaitskell. (3) He agreed to serve as shadow foreign secretary under Gaitskell. (3) Bevan eventually emerged as one of Wales’ most revered politicians, (2) but died of stomach cancer on 6th July 1960, aged 62. (10)


The years between 1945 and 1951 saw nothing less than the birth of modern Britain. (14) The record of the Labour government elected in 1945 was formidable, and set high standards which subsequent Labour administrations tried in vain to emulate. (12) Left-wing critics have attacked it for the limitations of its nationalization policies, its halting attitude toward redistribution, its failure to remodel power relations in British society radically, its adherence to the United States in foreign policy, and its equivocal position on the Empire. (12) On the other hand, ‘new right’ critics have launched stinging attacks on what they see as its preference for welfare reform over the need to remodel the industrial base which paid for such changes. (12) Even so, it deserves to be remembered as Labour’s most successful period in office. (12) Its programs shifted the agenda of British politics in a moderate-left direction for a generation. (13) Three successive Conservative governments accepted a broad consensus in favour of a mixed economy, extensive government-funded social services, and the pursuit of full employment; these priorities were not significantly changed until the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. (13) In 2004, over forty years after his death, Bevan was voted first in a list of 100 Welsh Heroes, for his work in founding the welfare state. (2) Francis Crick, a British scientist, and James Watson, an American student, made an important scientific breakthrough when they discovered the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the material that makes up genes. (7) The discovery helped revolutionise medical treatment in the NHS and elsewhere, improving prevention and treatment of disease. (7) Almost 68 years after its creation, the National Health Service’s founding principles remain intact: it continues to be funded from general taxation and free at the point of use. (7) This is testament to Bevan’s ability and vision as a minister. (8) His great friend Michael Foot captured the significance of the great outpouring of national grief in his biography: “What the nation mourned was the tragedy which mixed with the brilliance and the genius, and what it did in expiation was to acknowledge his unique place in our history.” (10) Every generation must make the case anew for our NHS: Bevan shaped the NHS we have today and was confident that any political party that sought to completely dismantle it would not survive. (10)




















F Welshman; Post war millenarianism; Korean War expenses & prescription charges

R Socialism;

E War costs; American loans; benefits of healthier workforce;

1Source (3) is a copy of (5) (6) has copied (8) and (11)

2Not if the crisis was in 1947!


4It was re-privatised by the Conservative Government in 1955, and renationalised by Labour in 1967 as the British Steel Corporation). (16)

5With limited knowledge and understanding

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