BRITAIN SINCE 1948
By Tim Lambert
Part One: Life In Britain Since 1948
Britain has changed greatly since 1948. Today people are much richer. They live in far more comfortable homes and ordinary people can afford things that were luxuries in 1948 (like foreign holidays). People are also healthier and they live longer. They also have things like the internet that were not even dreamed of in 1948.
British Society Since 1948
British society has changed a great deal since 1948. In the 1950s large numbers of West Indians arrived in Britain. Also from the 1950s many Asians came. In the late 20th century Britain became a multi-cultural society.
There was another changed in British society. In the late 20th century divorce and single parent families became much more common.
In 1970 the law was changed so women had to be paid the same wages as men for doing work of equal value. From 1975 it was made illegal to sack women for becoming pregnant. Also in 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against women in employment, education and training. In the late 20th century the number of women in managerial and other highly paid jobs greatly increased.
Also, in the 1950s young people had significant disposable income for the first time. A distinct 'youth culture' emerged, first with teddy boys, then in the 1960s with mods and rockers and in the late 1970s with punks and also with rock music. A revolution in music was led by Elvis Presley and Bill Hayley.
A history of society
Work and Industry In Britain Since 1948
For a long time after 1948 unemployment remained very low and the late 1940s and the 1950s and 1960s were a long period of prosperity.
However this ended in the mid-1970s. In 1973 there was still full employment in Britain (it stood at 3%). However shortly afterwards a period of high inflation and high unemployment began. In the late 1970s unemployment stood at around 5.5%.
However in the years 1980-1982 Britain was gripped by recession and unemployment grew much worse. It reached a peak in 1986 then it fell to 1990. Unfortunately another recession began in 1990 and unemployment rose again. However unemployment began to fall again in 1993 and it continued to fall till the end of the century.
Meanwhile in the late 20th century a change was coming over the British economy, sometimes called de-industrialization. Traditional industries such as coal mining, textiles and shipbuilding declined rapidly. On the other hand service industries such as tourism, education, retail and finance grew rapidly and this sector became the main source of employment.
A history of work
Poverty in Britain Since 1948
Since 1948 hardship in Britain has been greatly reduced. By 1950 absolute poverty had almost disappeared from Britain. Absolute poverty can be defined as not having enough money to eat an adequate diet or afford enough clothes.
However there is also such a thing as relative poverty, when you cannot afford the things most people have. Relative poverty in the late 20th century and it increased in the 1980s. That was partly due to mass unemployment and partly due to a huge rise in the number of single parent families, who often lived on benefits. During the 1980s the gap between rich and poor increased as the well off benefited from tax cuts.
A history of poverty
British Homes Since 1948
British homes have become much more comfortable since 1948. By 1959 about two thirds of British homes had a vacuum cleaner. However fridges and washing machines did not become really common till the 1960s.
Central heating became common in the 1960s and 1970s. Double glazing became common in the 1980s.
Plastic or pvc was first used in the 1940s. By the 1960s all kinds of household goods from drain pipes to combs were made of plastic.
In the early 1950s many homes still did not have bathrooms and only had outside lavatories. The situation greatly improved in the late 1950s and 1960s.
In the 1950s and 1960s Large-scale slum clearance took place when whole swathes of old terraced houses were demolished. High-rise flats replaced some of them. However flats proved to be unpopular with many people. Some people who lived in the new flats felt isolated. The old terraced houses may have been grim but at least they often had a strong sense of community, which was usually not true of the flats that replaced them.
Furthermore in 1968 a gas explosion wrecked a block of flats at Ronan Point in London and public opinion turned against them. In the 1970s the emphasis turned to renovating old houses rather than replacing them.
Then, in 1979 the government adopted a policy of selling council houses.
A history of homes
Food in Britain Since 1948
Since 1948 food in Britain has become more varied and easier to prepare. However rationing lasted for several years after the Second World War. Tea rationing lasted until 1952. Sweet rationing ended in 1953. Meat and cheese remained until 1954.
In the late 20th century convenience foods became far more common. That was partly because fridges, freezers and later microwave ovens became common. (Microwave ovens first became common in the 1980s).
The British diet also became more varied. Chinese and Indian takeaways and restaurants became common. So, in the 1980s, did hamburger and pizza chains.
Tea bags went on sale in 1953. Fish fingers went on sale in 1955. Meanwhile in 1954 Marc Gregoire developed the non-stick frying pan. Fruit-flavored yogurt went on sale in Britain in 1963.
Many new kinds of confectionery were introduced in the late 20th century. They included Polo mints (1948), Bounty (1951), Yorkie and Lion Bar (1976) and Twix (1979). Also in the 20th century new biscuits were introduced including the bourbon (1910) and HobNobs (1986).
At the end of the 20th century the first genetically modified foods were introduced.
The way people shop has also changed since 1948. In the early 20th century people usually went to small local shops such as a baker or butcher. Shops usually did deliveries. If you went to the butcher you paid for meat and a butchers boy on a bicycle delivered it. The first supermarket in Britain opened in 1951. In the 1950s and 1960s supermarkets replaced many small shops.
Credit cards became available in 1966 and in the early 21st century shopping on the internet became popular.
A history of shopping
With decimalization in 1971 a pound became worth 100 pence (previously it was worth 240 pence and there were 20 shillings in a pound). Old coins like the sixpence and the threepence disappeared. New coins like the 50 pence and the 10 pence appeared.
A history of food
Clothes in Britain Since 1948
Clothes in Britain have greatly improved since 1948. During the 1950s women's clothes were full and feminine. However in 1965 Mary Quant invented the mini skirt and clothes became even more informal.
In the second half of the 20th century fashions for both sexes became so varied and changed so rapidly it would take too long to list them all. One of the biggest changes was the availability of artificial fibers. Nylon was first made in the 1935 by Wallace Carothers and polyester was invented in 1941. It became common in the 1950s. Vinyl (a substitute for leather) was invented in 1924. Trainers were designed in 1949 by Adolf Dasler.
Women have worn stockings for centuries but tights were invented in 1959 by Allen Gant.
A history of clothes
Transport in Britain Since 1948
Cars have become far more common in Britain since 1948. They increased in number after World War II. By 1959 32% of households owned a car. Yet cars only became really common in the 1960s. By the 1970s the majority of families owned one.
In the mid-20th century there was a large network of branch railways. However in 1963 a minister called Dr. Beeching closed many of them.
The first hovercraft was launched in 1959. The first hovercraft passenger service began in 1962.
In the early 20th century only a small minority of people had a telephone. They did not become common till the 1960s. Even so, in 1979 31% of households did not have a phone.
Mobile phones became common in the 1990s. Emails also became common at that time.
In 1919 planes began carrying passengers between London and Paris. Jet passenger aircraft were introduced in 1949.
However in the early 20th century flight was a luxury few people could afford. Furthermore only a small minority could afford foreign travel. Foreign holidays only became common in the 1960s.
The Boeing 747, the first 'Jumbo jet' was introduced in 1970.
The Channel Tunnel opened in 1994.
A history of transport
Leisure in Britain Since 1948
Many new games and forms of entertainment have been invented in Britain since 1948. TV first became common in the 1950s. A lot of people bought a TV set to watch the coronation of Elizabeth II and a survey at the end of the that year showed that about one quarter of households had one. By 1959 about two thirds of homes had a TV. By 1964 the figure had reached 90% and TV had become the main form of entertainment - at the expense of cinema, which declined in popularity.
At first there was only one TV channel but between 1955 and 1957 the ITV companies began broadcasting. BBC2 began in 1964 and Channel 4 began in 1982. Channel 5 began in 1997.
In Britain BBC 2 began broadcasting in color in 1967, BBC 1 and ITV followed in 1969.
Video recorders became common in the early 1980s. Many video hire shops opened at that time. At the end of the century videos were replaced by DVDs.
Portable TVs became common in the 1980s and satellite broadcasting began in 1989. Satellite or cable TV became common in the 1990s.
Personal computers became common in the 1980s. The internet became common in the 1990s.
Furthermore in the late 20th century gardening became a very popular pastime. So did DIY.
A history of leisure
Toys in Britain Since 1948
In the late 20th century plastic and metal toys became much cheaper and much more common. In the 1950s Lego became a popular toy. Mr Potato Head was invented in 1952. The skateboard was invented in 1958. Barbie dolls were invented in 1959 and Action Man went on sale in Britain in 1966. In the early 1970s space hoppers and clackers were popular toys. At the end of the 20th century computer games became very popular.
Among modern toys the tamagotchi was invented in 1996 and the furby went on sale in 1998.
A history of toys
Education in Britain Since 1948
Education has greatly improved in Britain since 1948. In 1948 the school leaving age was raised to 15 and in 1972 it was raised to 16.
Following the 1944 Education Act all children had to sit an exam called the 11 plus. Those who passed went to grammar schools while those who failed went to secondary modern schools. However in the late 1950s public opinion began to turn against the system and in the 1960s and early 1970s most schools became comprehensives.
Corporal punishment was phased out in most primary schools in the 1970s. The cane was abolished in state secondary schools in 1987. It was finally abolished in private schools in 1999.
There was a huge expansion of higher education in the 1960s and many new universities were founded. In 1992 polytechnics were changed to universities. Meanwhile the Open University began in 1969. In the late 20th century people had far more opportunities for education and training than ever before.
A history of education
Medicine in Britain Since 1948
In Britain people have become much healthier since 1948. A vaccine for measles was discovered in 1963.
In Britain the health of ordinary people greatly improved when the National Health Service was founded in 1948.
In the 1950s Dr Jonas Salk invented a vaccine for poliomyelitis.
Meanwhile surgery made great advances. The most difficult surgery was on the brain and the heart. Both of these developed rapidly in the 20th century. The first pacemaker was made in 1958. The first heart transplant was performed in 1967.
The first test tube baby was born in 1978.
A history of medicine
Part Two: British History Since 1948
Life in Britain has become far more comfortable since 1948. In the mid-1950s Britain became an affluent society. For the first time ordinary people had substantial amounts of money to spend on luxuries. Consumer goods became common. By 1960 44% of homes owned a washing machine. In 1959 about 2/3 of homes owned a vacuum cleaner.
In the 1960s Britain became a truly affluent society. Washing machines and vacuum cleaners became near universal. Cars and fridges became common. Foreign holidays became common for the first time. Central heating, electric blankets, electric kettles and toasters and a host of other goods became common in the 1960s. By 1975 90% of homes had a vacuum cleaner, 85% had a fridge and 70% owned a washing machine. Furthermore 52% had a telephone and 47% had central heating.
Meanwhile until the mid-1970s there was full employment in most areas of Britain. For most of the period 1945-1973 unemployment was less than 5%. By 1973 it was creeping upwards but it was still only 3%.
From 1951 to 1964 Britain was ruled by the Conservatives. From 1951 to 1955 Winston Churchill was Prime Minister. Anthony Eden who was Prime Minister till 1957 replaced him. He was followed by Harold Macmillan who was prime minister till 1963.
Sir Alec-Douglas Home was prime minister for a short period in 1963-64. However in 1964 the Labour party won a general election and Harold Wilson became prime minister. Labour won another election in 1966. Wilson remained prime minister until 1970.
Meanwhile in the years after 1948 the trade unions grew very powerful. By 1970 their membership had almost doubled. Nearly half the workforce belonged to a union.
In the winter of 1972 the coal miners went on strike and the government was forced to give in to their demands. They went on strike again in the winter of 1974. This time Heath was determined not to back down and he called an election in February 1974 on the issue 'who governs the country?'. However Heath lost the election and Wilson became prime minister again. Wilson won another election in October 1974.
Meanwhile in 1973 Britain joined the EEC (forerunner of the EU). The first elections for the European parliament were held in 1979.
By 1973 the long period of economic prosperity was coming to an end. By the spring of 1975 unemployment had climbed to 1 million. It was over 5% of the workforce. By 1977 it had risen to 5.5% and in 1979 it stood at 5.3%. Meanwhile there was also high inflation.
In 1978 in an effort to tackle inflation the government tried to persuade trade unions to limit pay rises to no more than 5%. The trade unions refused to accept the limit and Britain was hit by a wave of strikes. As a result the government's popularity diminished and in May 1979 the Conservatives won a general election. Margaret Thatcher became Britain's first woman prime minister.
In 1980-82 Britain suffered a severe recession. Unemployment rose sharply. By January 1982 it was 11.5%, double the May 1979 figure. Not surprisingly the government was deeply unpopular.
However in April 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. The British sent a task force and on 14 June 1982 the Falklands were recaptured. The war greatly boosted the government's popularity and it contributed to the government's victory in the general election of 1983. (The Conservatives won a third election in 1987).
Meanwhile recession ended in the autumn of 1982 and recovery began. Furthermore unemployment leveled off. As long as unemployment was rising it was an important issue. As soon as it stopped rising it was much less important. Most people were not very worried about unemployment as long as it was stable. In other words they were not unduly worried as long as their own job wasn't threatened. (Unemployment remained very high until 1986. In the summer of that year the official figure was 14.1%. However unemployment then fell steadily. The government also succeeded in greatly reducing inflation.
Despite the mass unemployment of the 1980s most people with a job experienced a substantial rise in their living standards during the decade.
On the other hand the percentage of people living in poverty increased. That was partly due to mass unemployment. Another cause was the rapidly rising number of single parent families many of whom lived on state benefits.
The Conservatives also sold council houses cheaply and the number of council houses fell significantly. The government also privatized industries. British Aerospace and Cable and Wireless were sold in 1981. Then in 1982-83 the National Freight Corporation and Associated Business Ports were sold. British gas was sold in 1986. British telecom was sold in 1984. British gas was sold in 1986.
A showdown between the government and the trade unions took place with the 1984-85 coal strike. The National Coal Board announced the closure of certain collieries. Some Yorkshire coal miners went on strike in March 1984. However the miner's trade union leader, Arthur Scargill, refused to call a national ballot to decide if all miners should go on strike. Instead it was left to each region to decide.
That was a fatal mistake because miners in Nottinghamshire (who were much less likely to lose their jobs) stayed at work. As long as some miners kept working the strike could not succeed.
Furthermore the government was in a strong position. For one thing they had stockpiled coal. For another generating stations that usually burned coal could burn a mixture of coal and oil. Also striking miners could not claim welfare benefits. So all the government had to do was wait until poverty forced the strikers back to work.
The miners strike began to crumble in November 1984 as miners drifted back to work. By January more than half of all strikers had returned to work and the strike ended in March 1985. It was a severe defeat for militant trade unionism.
Furthermore during the 1980s the government passed a series of laws restricting the powers of the trade unions.
In 1990 the government introduced a new tax in England called the community charge (popularly known as the poll tax). It was very unpopular and in 1993 it was replaced by the council tax.
Meanwhile Margaret Thatcher resigned in 1990. She was replaced by John Major.
In the middle of 1990 a long recession started and unemployment rose sharply. However economic recovery began in 1993. From 1993 onwards unemployment fell steadily and by 2000 it was at a level not seen since 1979.
Meanwhile in April 1992 the Conservatives won another general election, even though the country was in recession. In 1997 Labour finally won an election and Tony Blair became prime minister. In 2007 Gordon Brown became Prime Minister and Jacqui Smith became the first female Home Secretary.
Things invented since 1948