Armed Hostilities

Social Effects in the West After World War II

Table of Contents
  1. Introduction
  2. Main body
  3. Conclusion
  4. Bibliography


The WWII changed social environment in Britain and created new challenges and opportunities for the population. The principal weakness of the political system has been just the opposite: a tendency toward domination by organized interest groups, businesses, and the privileged classes. Indeed, most have heartily approved of mass political movements–from Populism and Progressivism to the civil rights movement, consumerism, environmentalism, and feminism (Calvocoressi 1991). Other forces, such as expert opinion and interest-group demands, remain important and sometimes determine outcomes, but generally, they play a smaller role than in the past. In order to overcome distress and disorders caused by war and rebuild the state, the British government took a course on the welfare state and new social policies.

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Main body

After WWII, the population had increased standards of living and social support. Earnings, homeownership, insurance, and the existence of relatives with the capacity to pay are the most essential items on the income side of the budget. It is commonly assumed that a heavy demand on local funds for relief payments creates a local climate of public opinion adverse to liberal determinations (Evans et al 2007). Local financing is only one of many variable factors that affect the comparisons. The main advantage was that welfare legislation and comprehensive social security schemes were adopted in all regions (Wakeman 2003, p. 59). This action by the national government has great significance with respect to preparedness for any future depression or another emergency that may necessitate granting relief to large numbers. In each state, there will be a going organization with at least its headquarters at the state level and with administrative arrangements for covering every political subdivision of the state. There will not be again the confusion, delays, and difficulties that are more or less inevitable in bringing a far-reaching organization into existence almost overnight. State laws and in some instances state constitutions have been amended to make the state practice conform to the requirements of national policy (Gilbert and Large 2002).

Welfare benefits and employment laws helped Britain to rebuild its economy and overcome the post-war crisis. The national law left to the states a very considerable leeway for the exercise of legislative discretion with respect to the form of organization which they should adopt. No attempt will here be made to describe the organization in each state. We shall confine our efforts to attempting to indicate some of the administrative issues that arose and the tendencies in solving them (McWilliams and Piotrowski 2001). The Social Security Act provided grants-in-aid, it will be recalled, for three categories of public assistance, the aged, the dependent children, and the needy blind. It made no provision for the ancient residual category, general public assistance. Under the national law, the states could, if they would, have a separate state agency for each federally aided category and leave general public assistance entirely to the local governments. Some states set up different organizations for dealing with each federal aid category (Gilbert and Large 2002). In states in which an existing state agency was already working with the blind, there was a tendency to give the administration of aid to the blind to it. The general trend was toward the establishment of a single state department of public welfare with fairly comprehensive jurisdiction. The national law left each state free to determine whether its welfare department should itself administer directly or whether local agencies should administer under its supervision (Wakeman, 2003).

An important issue in assistance administration is in the form of the organization of the state agency, including its relationship to the governor. Some students of public administration believe in what is often termed the strong executive form of organization. Under this form of organization, power and responsibility are centered on the governor, who appoints and removes the one-man head of the administrative agency. In its extreme form, the appointee of the governor is not subject to confirmation by the state senate or other legislative body, and if there is any board or council, it is purely advisory and has no legal powers (Wakeman, 2003). Child placing institutions developed in the communities that accepted this new point of view. They encountered difficulties in finding good foster homes and exercising the necessary supervision over them to see that the children received proper care. It became apparent that many children were being placed in institutions or in foster homes because their widowed mothers were too poor to make a home for them. If the mother went out to earn living, the children were frequently neglected. Relatives who might have made a home for the family often lacked the means to do so. Many social workers thoroughly disapproved of this distinction. They believed that the grants should be more generally used and that the families should be carefully supervised in an effort to correct the difficulties, some of which may have resulted from a lack of means. “Full employment, a living income with moderate wage raises, and social welfare services were the material gains for co-operating with modern capitalism in what Harold Wilson called the “social contract” (Wakeman 2003, p. 64). The national government, as just stated, used the grant-in-aid principle to induce states to adopt a particular and not all-inclusive program for the care of dependent people. It was not unnatural that under such circumstances, some states should establish as their maximum allowances the maximum as the limit to what the state would pay (Horrell, 2000).

Full employment was the main goal of the state after the war. “The plan – for its day- was revolutionary. A job for every able-bodied man. Minimum wages. Child allowances. An all-in contributory system of social insurance. A positive health service. A bold building plan – to start immediately war ended – to root out all the slums. The same kind of education for all up to fifteen, with the public schools brought into the general system. Holidays for all…and much more which today [1970] we take for granted” (Addison 1985, p. 9). In the further consideration of this discrimination in favor of low-income employees and employees with relatively short periods of service, it may be helpful to distinguish between employees who were present in covered employments when the system was introduced and employees who entered covered employment after the system was installed. For brevity, the terms present employees and future entrants are frequently used. An employer in establishing a contributory retirement system is confronted by the fact that contribution rates which will produce a retirement allowance satisfactory for young future entrants and for the younger present employees with long periods of service ahead of them will not yield satisfactory annuities for his older present employees. If the employer is to have the immediate advantage of a retirement system, he must provide some benefits with respect to past services, at least of his older present employees. Since the older employees cannot pay any considerable part of the cost of benefits with respect to past services, the employer must contribute most of this cost from his own funds (Wakeman, 2003).

One view suggests that the increased influence has resulted from changes in public mood or ideology. Another attribute is to developments in institutional rules or structures. Most citizens had little awareness of issues or ideologies. In voting, such citizens did not choose between parties or candidates on the basis of their liberalism or conservatism; they did not even understand those terms. Nor did most citizens use particular issues to make choices (Wakeman, 2003). Instead, they chose between candidates primarily on the basis of personal qualities or party labels; and they chose between parties on the basis of the parties’ broad appeals to social groups or their apparent success in producing peace and prosperity. Accordingly, parties and candidates emphasized group appeals and symbolic themes in their campaigns. “Now that a popular morale was regarded as a crucial factor in the ear effort (as 70% of the population were manual workers that were contributing to the war effort, i.e. ammunitions, etc.) the system began to adapt to accommodate working-class needs and expectations” (Addison 1985, p. 2). With the public making more specific demands, policy experts should also lose some of their influence. In the face of powerful pressures from public opinion, policymakers will no longer treat experts’ judgments about the workability of policies as a decisive consideration in choosing them. In fact, the integrity of expert advice will also suffer. If the pressures of public opinion make policymakers less willing to listen to experts, some experts will slant their advice to cater to policymakers’ inclinations, and indeed, therefore, to public opinion.


In sum, the post-war period was marked by changes in all spheres of social life including social security reforms and employment. The role and duty of the government were to restore and rebuild the economy and improve standards of living. Special-interest benefits were paid for children and the unemployed. Policymaking was also more vulnerable to popular leaders advancing dubious claims of entitlement, offering emotional release.

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Adas, M. and Stearns, P.N. and Schwartz, S.B. 2006, Turbulent Passage: A Global History of the Twentieth Century ((3rd ed, Longman, New York.

Addison, P. 1985, Now the War is Over: A Social History of Britain 1945-51 Pimlico, London.

Calvocoressi, P. 1991, World Politics since 1945 (6th ed., Longman, London.

Evans, P. and Hewitt, J. and Puckering, A. and Spur, M. and Sweeney, S. 2007, Twentieth Century History: 1945-2000 (HTAV, Melbourne.

Gilbert F. and Large, D.C. 2002, The end of the European era: 1890 to the present, 5th ed. (W. W. Norton, New York.

Horrell, S. 2000, Living Standards in Britain 1900-2000: Women’s Century. National Institute Economic Review, p. 62.

McWilliams, W.C. and Piotrowski H. 2001, The World Since 1945: A History of International Relations. 5th ed., Lynne Rienner, London.

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Wakeman, R. (ed), 2003, Themes in modern European history since 1945 Routledge, London.

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