Urbanization and industrialization have brought with them social dislocation and urban poverty. Growing industrial militancy, fueled by demands for better pay and conditions, leads to widespread strikes. In London, 10,000 suffragettes take to the streets to back a motion that gives women the vote. The recent People's Budget that taxes the wealthy is joined by strident criticism of the aristocracy.
Following the creation of labor exchanges to deal with rising unemployment, the National Insurance Act is passed in 1911. One of Britain's most important pieces of social legislation, it lays the foundations for a welfare state. It provides certain tradesmen, known to be susceptible to cyclical unemployment, with benefits in time of slumps and provides health insurance to all workers when ill.
World War I is a major force for social change. With the conscription of all men aged 18 to 41 into the military, female employment rises dramatically. Women's new role leads to the questioning of traditional assumptions and to political, and to some extent economic and social, emancipation. The death of around 750,000 men results in the biggest change in land ownership since the Norman conquest.
The continuing decline of Britain's traditional industries, exacerbated by the conditions in postwar Europe, leads to growing unemployment and hardship and regional poverty. By 1925 it has become official government policy that workers must take pay cuts. Industrial action, resulting in the 1926 General Strike, provokes sharp social conflict across the country.
The onset of the Great Depression sparks soaring unemployment. The government even sets up 25 special labor camps where the long-term unemployed are set to work on futile projects. Among the poverty-stricken, tuberculosis becomes a serious problem, and since no health care is provided by the state, the poorest of families are hardest hit.
While unemployment remains high, the majority in Britain experience better living standards, shorter hours, longer holidays, and higher real wages. Consumer demand rises are met with an increasing number of cars, electrical appliances, and radios. A housing boom sees three million homes built, slum clearance programs enacted, and public housing provided.
World War II transforms the state-society relationship: Government scrutiny is omnipresent. Strict rationing becomes the norm for more than a decade. Mass evacuation of children from targeted cities is the biggest state-led move of civilians in British history. The 1942 Beveridge Report identifies five great ills -- want, disease, ignorance, squalor, idleness -- and calls for welfare programs.
Based on the tenets of the Beveridge Report, Labor proposes the creation of a "welfare state" as an alternative to a "warfare state." It nationalizes and centralizes comprehensive social security benefits, including unemployment, pensions, and free universal medical care. The 1948 British Nationality Act guarantees freedom of entry from the Commonwealth, boosting immigration to meet labor shortages.
A surge in automobile use has a dramatic impact on social trends: A major increase in commuting from newly created suburbs marks a distinct separation between home and work. The advent of and rising access to television causes a massive change in traditional pastimes, as television becomes central to social life.
The 1960s see an extraordinary change in youth and gender expectations. Youth culture, feminism, and the end of the dominance of the Christian moral framework are the orders of the day. With society's secularization come sexual liberalism, abortion rights, and decriminalization of homosexuality. Immigration changes the racial make-up of many areas as the Asian community grows.
The decline of Britain's traditional industries is brought to a head when Margaret Thatcher cuts subsidies and starts privatization. Rising localized unemployment damages whole communities and strains social cohesion. The gap between the haves and have-nots, between rich and poor areas, widens dramatically. Ethnic tensions, especially in London's Brixton neighborhood, lead to small-scale riots.
The end of Sunday trading restrictions and the availability of 24-hour stores blurs the traditional distinction between weekends and workdays. Shopping becomes the most popular leisure activity. In 1992 Britain signs the Maastricht Treaty but opts out of its Social Chapter, choosing to keep workers' rights a national issue, not one governed by European regulations.
The new Labor government adopts the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty, giving British workers further rights and protections, from paternity leave to statutory paid holiday leave and a minimum wage. A motion to curb hunting sparks a well-organized backlash from the Countryside Alliance, which declares the government is out of touch with rural affairs.
The Labor Party dominates the political agenda but proposes only incremental social reforms. Ending an old tradition, pubs are allowed to remain open all day. A slackening economy begins to raise worries. Strong public antiwar sentiment exposes Prime Minister Blair to criticism for his close alliance with the U.S. in the campaign against Iraq. Massive street protests result.
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