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1951-1964 Conservative management

Conservative disagreement

In 1952 houses are allocated by lottery. People waiting for homes vastly outnumber supply.

In 1952 houses are allocated by lottery. People waiting for homes vastly outnumber supply.

The Welfare State went against Conservative principles. It meant high taxes, large-scale government spending and government interference in the lives of the individual. So when the Conservatives came to power in 1951 under Winston Churchill, many people predicted the Welfare State would be dismantled.

There was plenty of disagreement within the Cabinet. The Tories did not dispute the principle of the Welfare State, but disagreed with each other about the variety of services that should be provided. Cost was usually the root of the disagreement. In reality, however, it was the political cost that would have been too high. The post-war political consensus between the parties on social issues remained intact. As Winston Churchill himself put it in 1952:

'Four-fifths of both parties agree on four-fifths of what should be done, and after all, we all sink or swim together on our perilous voyage ever accelerating into the unknown.'

In January 1958 the Chancellor, Peter Thorneycroft, resigned over excessive welfare spending by the government. The Conservatives took heart from Beveridge's insistence that the Welfare State should not be a dependency state and tried to make it into more of an 'opportunity state'. For example, if people started up their own private pension scheme they rewarded them with tax breaks. They also gave tax breaks to people who bought their own property instead of living in a council house.

Rising welfare costs

Despite Tory efforts, the cost of welfare continued to rise. Cabinet papers are dominated by discussions on the cost of services and how to pay for them. The rising costs clearly demonstrated that poverty and other social problems did not just go away. In York in 1950 the social reform campaigner, Seebohm Rowntree, published his last report on conditions of the poor. His findings identified that in York the major cause of poverty was now old age.

In 1953 Beveridge acknowledged that a quarter of people on retirement or widow's pensions had to go to the National Assistance Board (NAB) for extra help. In the 1950s and 1960s although prosperity generally rose, so did prices, leaving many elderly people struggling with their pensions. Similarly, people relying on benefits found themselves in difficulty.

The government responded with a series of measures. In 1961 a scheme of graduated insurance was introduced. Workers began contributing according to their earnings. Nevertheless, by the end of Conservative dominance in 1964, the Welfare State had not tackled all of Britain's social ills.