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Britain Between the Wars Essay

The armistice came into effect at 11.00am on 11th November 1918 and effectively brought the fighting on the Western Front to a close. In more than four years of war Britain and the Empire had lost more than 750,000 dead in France and Flanders, with many times that wounded and sick. The political and social life were ruined not only by the war, but also by the severe crises and by the dividing of the society into classes. The 1920’s and 1930’s were unhappy decades for most of the people in Britain.

The Liberal Lloyd George enjoyed wide support by the Conservative party and duly formed a new coalition government. He immediately transformed the British war effort, taking firm control of both military and domestic policy. A general election the first for 8 years was held in December 1918. This election was often called “the coupon election”. Conservative leader Bonar Law identified candidates who agreed to support them with a letter of endorsement, signed by both, and known as a “coupon”. Coupons were issued to 159 Liberal candidates and 364 Conservatives though in some cases, they were rejected. This election are also considered the first universal elections in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in which for the first time the majority of poorer British and Catholic Irish adults were allowed to vote for Parliament.

The decision of Lloyd George to create a coalition between the Liberal and Conservative party hardened the divisions within the Liberal party and after the election the division of the Liberal party was even deepened. In 1920’s the Labour party succeeded in overtaking the Liberal party and establishing itself as one of the country’s two main political parties.

By the end of 1921 unemployment has risen beyond 2 million. There were several reasons for the decline in industry after the First World War. Structural weaknesses in the British economy meant a disproportionate number of jobs were in the traditional industries. A lack of pre-war technological developments and post war competition damaged the economy and the new industries which emerged employed fewer people. At the same time Britain began to lose her overseas markets due to strong foreign competition. A committee on unemployment was set up in 1920 and recommended public works schemes to ease unemployment, this led to the establishment of the Unemployment Grants Committee. The government wished, also, to return to the gold standard, a move which would have required cuts in public spending. In Unemployment Insurance Act 1920 extended unemployment benefits to cover all workers who earned less than £250. The “Seeking Work Test” was introduced in 1921, it stated to receive full unemployment benefit there had to be evidence the recipient was looking for work.

The Addison Act after Dr. Christopher Addison, the then Minister for Housing was passed to allow the building of new houses after the First World War, and marked the start of a long 20th century tradition of state-owned housing, which would much later evolve into council estates.

Education Act or know as Fisher Act was enacted in the 1918, it extended educational provision, increased the powers and duties of the Board of Education, raised the school leaving age from 12 to 14 and gave all young workers right of access to day release education. (The raising of the leaving age was not immediately implemented, however, and had to wait until the 1921 Act). Other features of the 1918 Education Act included the provision of ancillary services (medical inspection, nursery schools, centres for pupils with special needs, etc.).

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