I looked up while showering this morning and a droplet of water briefly flooded my right eye. momentarily allowing me to read the words “MIRA Sport” , the nomenclature of the showering unit ,in very sharply defined detail.That is an unusual occurrence because without my spectacles I’m as blind as the proverbial flying rodent.I’m the kind of guy who needs spectacles to find his spectacles.What are the chances of a droplet of water flung from a shower-head , simulating a very precise optical prescription …if only for a second or two? It’s never happened before in my life-time but the feeling was the same as the time some forty years ago when foolish youthful vanity or insecurity ,allowed me to briefly , experiment unsuccessfully with contact lenses. That affectation lasted mere days until I fell asleep ,stoned, and had to painfully peel and tear the limpid lenses from my eyeballs the following morning.Ha ha …life can really be a blast sometimes! I was recently visiting my optician to order some new fancy Ray Ban spectacles and mentioned that I must have been visiting his establishment for some sixty years . The conversation went from one thing to another as we talked about his much -admired predecessor whom he’d partnered some thirty years ago and ended with him pulling out my old buff- coloured case-file. Thirty years already ?!…My life in spectacles …or my life as a spectacle? I could hardly believe it . How time had flown by in a succession of spectacle styles throughout the decades .
Some things have been long-since copied and computerised but not this file. There in neat purplish-blue “Quink” ink was penned the copperplate date of my first entry into the opthalmic world by his predecessor in 1956, when I was the ripe old age of four years. Indeed it was almost exactly sixty years ago to the very month that I’d first trod warily with my late mother, into that little darkened room with the funny alphabets and back-lit fuzzy lines.
It got me thinking about a lot of things ,later, such as how would any of us do without the National Health Sevice.Before the NHS life was a very different sort of gamble. We’ve only had it in our lives since 1948 and have gotten used to its presence to the point of apathy.It was introduced four years before I was born, almost to the day that summer ,on the 5th of July, mere days after my birthday- date; time enough for me to be of an age when the wheels of this institution began to get some speed up .There for the first time ever ,a generation was begun to be raised on vitamin C , free school milk and spoonfuls of cod-liver oil and a seriously thick and unctuous concoction which may well have been a mutated version of orange juice ,which came in large brown bottles.This wondrous stuff was the grease that oiled away rickets and other diseases, long-since forgotten by the present generation.Those forgotten horrors are still just a step away. There was another darker syrup,handed out, dark, gloopily -thick and strong like molasses which was also fed by the spoonful. Indeed this concoction had practically to be forced off the spoon and eaten like some mutated toffee. Apparently it cured all ills too.
Ever since the inception of the NHS , a system run entirely by taxation , successive conservative Tory governments have been attempting to gradually dismantle it. This is in no way surprising , given its origin -story.
It was noticed that when recruiting for the Second World War , an inordinate number of applicants were found to be unfit to serve. That may have rung a few bells in the ears of the Powers That Be because what use would an army be if the soldiers were so physically inept that they were unfit to fight.That may be a callous way to look at it but it had long -since been observed that something needed to be done to enhance the population of the United Kingdom.
A Liberal called William Beveridge delivered a very influential document which was a foundation stone in the founding of the Welfare State. It was delivered at the height of the World War Number Two, in November 1942, when you might imagine the hearts and minds of the populace might have been otherwise engaged. He identified the “Five Giant Evils”, as squalor, ignorance, idleness, want and disease. His proposal was to restructure and reform the then current system of social welfare.This was proposed as something of a social reward for all the hardships that the entire society had suffered during the war.This report naturally was very popular with the public and there was an overwhelming desire to see the plan put into effect.The big influential newspapers of the time , such as the Times and the Manchester Guardian weighed in behind the idea and the Daily Telegraph mentioned that it would be the final outworkings of the social revolution proposed and begun by David Lloyd George in 1911.
Although there was much enthusiasm , after some wranging it was thought that it would be better to await war’s end before attempting any changes.The Left wing were disappointed but also lifted somewhat by the general enthusiasm shared across the political parties.
War-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill was more circumspect and appeared to have had less enthusiasm for the project when ,in a broadcast on 21st March 1943, he warned the general public not to impose any great new expenditure on the state and said that there would be a four-year plan of post-war construction….These measures wer to include “national compulsory insurance for all classes and all purposes from the cradle to the grave”; the abolition of unemployment by government policies was also proposed ,which would “exercise a balancing influence upon development which can be turned on or off as circumstances require”; “a broadening field for State ownership and enterprise”; new housing; major reforms to education; largely expanded health and welfare services.”
Churchill was reticient to further commit to the idea of immediately creating a welfare state . His speech sounded like the kind of warm fudge we’ve all gotten used to hearing, flowing from modern politicians’ mouths. His enthusiasm was limited in any case and he and the Conservative Party opposed much of the implementation of the Beveridge Report.That included voting against the founding of the National Health Service.It really wasn’t the kind of thing that the conservatives would have been famous for.
That was the main reason why the Conservatives lost to the the Labour Party in 1945 when the war ended .it was one thing seeing Churchill puffing cigars through the war like some old British bulldog, talking about the Tommies fighting them on the beaches and so on, but it was another thing when the “land fit for heroes” was going to be the same old brutalism that preceeded the war. It looked like he was for was going to back to the same old humbug. The Labour Party , on the other hand, planned to unambiguously implement Beveridge’s recommendations in total and proceeded to work on a series of acts to that end. .In quick succession came the National Insurance Act, the National Assistance Act and the National Health Service Act), which were the foundation stones of the modern welfare state.It wasn’t all plain sailing because Labour wanted a state -centred scheme wheras Beveridge’s assumption was that it would operate on a more localised basis from individual health centres.
Strangely enough , it was the war years that actually provided the start that such a scheme unconsciously required . It seems like an odd time in retrospect but there were reasons .This was a time of rationing of course, but that meant that national diet was informed by a government- led structure. People were being advised on the right things to eat and how a balnced diet worked. They were encouraged to grow as much food as they could. Suddenly ,Infant, child, and maternity services were expanded, and Deputy PM and Labour leader Clement Atlee’s Official Food Policy Committee began to approve grants for fuel and subsidised milk for mothers and children under the age of five, beginning in June 1940. In July, the Board of Education decided that free school meals were to become more widely available and by February 1945, almost three-quarters of of children were receiving free milk in school, compared with only half around the beginning of the war in 1939. There were free vaccinations to ward against diphtheria, provided to children at school. By 1944 , the Town and Country Planning Act concentrated on those areas damaged in the German bombing attacks which helped local authorities to raze the old slums.There was a Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act passed in 1944 which released some £150 million for the building of temporary dwellings.Some of these “temporary ” dwelling have been refurbished since and are still in use some seventy years later. There are even many well-appointment “temporary” homes still inhabited locally.
What war and specifically the evacuation of families from the bomb-threatened cities finally revealed , was the extent of social deprivation that had been casually hidden fom view.About a third of families across the land in Britain of 1938 were chronically undernourished and it was only when war came that they experienced their first proper and adequate diet.After that, infant mortality decreased rapidly. Much of that was due to the magic of free milk.Other proposals that were adopted were the Family Allowances Act of 1945 , the National Insurance (Industrial injuries)Act of 1947, the National Insurance Act of 1946, the Pensions(Increase) act of 1947, the Landlord and Tenant(Rent Control) Act of 1949, the National Insurance(industrial Injuries) Act of 1948 and the National Insurance Act of 1949.
These came hot and heavy in the wake of the worst global conflagration in living memory. Had it been left to a Conservative government , there would probably have been much foot-dragging. They were never too enthusiastic about the welfare of the hoi-polloi or the poorest under their feet and it was almost thirty years later, on Margaret Thatcher’s watch while Education Minister under Edward Heath, that the free milk at schools was finally stopped being issued.In the early 1970’s the Conservatives began their creeping revenge by scraping about for some spare change while facing an uncertain economic future.They looked about to find substantial cuts to keep to their previous election promises. The removal of the free milk from the over-seven year olds seemed the greatest of ideas to the Conservative party mind.Many others , including the Labour Party saw it as the meanest , most notorius and unworthy thing that anyone had heard of or seen in over twenty years.It can now be judged as a signal of intent for similar things to come. Maggie Thatcher was later refused an honorary degree by Oxford University in 1985 specifically because of this action and her education cuts as Minister for Education. It gained her the sobriquet of “Maggie The Milk Snatcher”, a sly reference to Roald Dahl’s oleaginous creation “The Child Catcher” , a near-perfect retro- caricature of her and her Amateur Dramatics style of delivery, which followed her to her death and which is her truest legacy. The Conservatives and their minions have been attempting to dismantle the NHS ever since.