The post-war Labour government

Labour leader Clement Attlee campaigns to a large crowd in the 1945 General Election
Labour leader Clement Attlee campaigns to a large crowd in the 1945 General Election

In 1945, against expectations, Labour won a landslide victory at the General Election and an overall majority in Parliament. The British public clearly believed that a Labour government would be more likely to pursue a vigorous programme of social reform:

  • the Labour Party formed the government in July, 1945.
  • Clement Atlee became Prime Minister.
  • Aneurin Bevan became Minister for Health.

Between 1945 and 1951, the Labour Government passed a series of measures which became known as the ‘Welfare State’. These reforms were designed to take care of the British people 'from the cradle to the grave'. This meant that they would be taken care of from the time of their birth, until their death.

These changes were arguably the most far-reaching measures that any government had taken in the field of social reform.

How responsible was the Labour government for reform?

The post-war Labour government achieved a huge level of reform in a short period of time, often in the face of strong resistance. However, some would argue that some credit for these changes is due elsewhere.

Some credit ought to be given to the wartime Coalition Government. The coalition of Conservatives, Liberal and Labour members was responsible for many of the acts and measures that would later result in the Welfare State. For example, the Conservative politician Richard Austin 'Rab' Butler oversaw the 1944 Education Act that introduced free secondary school education for all across England and Wales.

Both the Labour Government and the Coalition Government based many of their reforms on existing changes made by previous governments, such as the 1906-1914 Liberal administration.