The welfare state was established in Britain at the end of World War 2. After the war ended, a general election was held between Winston Churchill and the Conservative Party against Clement Atlee and the Labour Party.

The Conservative Party thought that they would win the election by a landslide because their leader, Winston Churchill, was very popular throughout the country. Because they thought Churchill was so popular, they didn’t propose any new policies that they would enact after the election.

On the other hand, the Labour Party campaigned in the election with the main focus of social reform. This included nationalising healthcare, expanding free education and public housing.

What is a welfare state?

A welfare state is where the government provides services for their citizens that aim to protect their citizens economically and socially. Examples of these services include free government-run healthcare and benefits for those who are unemployed or cannot work for whatever reason.

The idea of the welfare state was first proposed by economist William Beveridge, who published a report in 1942 as a solution to five issues that he saw in Britain at the time.

A portrait of William Beveridge

The National Health Service

The National Health Service, or the NHS, was a key part of the establishment of a welfare state. The aim of the NHS was, and still is to provide a range of health services that are comprehensive, universal and free at the point of delivery.

Although some services (such as dentists and opticians) are no longer free for most people, the NHS is still a major part of the welfare state in the UK.

The NHS logo

Expansion of free education

Before the welfare state was established, the government provided free education for all children up to the age of 11. During this time, they were taught basic reading, writing and mathematics (such as adding and subtracting.)

The welfare state expanded free education for everyone up until the age of 15. An exam called the 11+ was taken by all children to determine what type of secondary school they should go to. This exam is no longer taken by all children, but only those who want to go to a grammar school or another type of selective school.

Expansion of national insurance

National Insurance was a system established in 1911 that introduced a benefit system using money paid by both the employee and the employer. Clement Atlee’s Labour government expanded this scheme.

Until 1975, there was a flat rate for National Insurance contributions, regardless of what you earned. After that, how much you contributed depended on how much you earned. If you earned below a certain amount, then you wouldn’t pay anything at all.