Austerity: Post-war style

I’ve always thought of my parents’ generation and their parents’ generation as being the ones who had seen the big events and huge changes during their lives but I think that there have been tremendous things – both good and bad – happening during my lifetime. So I’ll try to remember them as they come along during this story. There were several such moments in the first few years of my life but I don’t have any personal memories of them.

A few days ago, I talked about the terrible winter which was in full swing when I arrived home to our little flat above the shop. The country was freezing while struggling to get back on its feet, less than two years after the end of World War 2. I was lucky enough to be one of the early beneficiaries of the national health service which came into being on 5 July 1948. When I was looking up the date for this event, I was interested to read that even in its first year of existence the NHS was suffering from a shortage of nurses and had cost £248 million to run, almost £140 million more than had been originally estimated. No surprise then that it is in the difficulties it finds itself in today. The resources needed have always been underestimated and, I guess, its users have always expected more of it than they were prepared to fund. My grandma, who lived with us in our tiny flat, did not welcome the coming of the NHS, which she took to be yet another socialist plot conjured up by Attlee’s government. She refused to join and continued to pay for her doctor’s services until my father signed her up without her knowing.

One welfare benefit that I know we didn’t benefit from was the so-called “Family Allowance”. In these early days it wasn’t given to the first child and I remember that my mum was always rather bitter about it. It doesn’t seem fair, as it is the preparation for the first child which was and still is, very expensive. My mum also had very definite views about mothers (and even married women in general) having to go out to work. She had obviously worked in the early days of her marriage during the war but, to her, one of the most awful thing to happen to a married woman was to have to go out work. After my dad died and she was in receipt of a widows pension of about £4 a week, she sometimes used to say, anxiously, “I think I’m going to have to get a job” but we seem to have managed and it never came to that. I wonder how she would have felt about today’s women, most of whom would hate to stay at home and not have a job.

I’ve been trying to think of what my earliest memory could be. I’m not one of those who claims to remember things that happened when they were just a baby. But I do remember – Rationing!

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