Documentary on BBC2  17/10/2016.

The phrase ‘the past is another country’ describes in very few words the strangeness and absence of familiar landmarks which studying in detail our own past of a hundred and fifty years ago.  The circumstances of everyday life; living conditions, working, eating and sleeping are so different from anything we know today it could be the Brazilian rain forest or life in the Arctic snows of Greenland.  For anyone interested in family history like me it is relatively easy to go back a hundred and fifty years and discover where my ancestors were and what they were doing.  Of course the words written down on the page have nothing like the huge visual impact of seeing living people living in one dirty depressing room, no bright colours, no soft furnishings, broken windows, nothing to look at at all.

The narration by Michael Mosely filled in some of the extremely harsh facts which formed the background to the lives of the families flooding into London at that time.  My ancestors came to the industrial towns of the North-east of England in search of work, mostly from the more rural parts of the country.  A hundred years later Parliament recognised the huge gap in living conditions between the 1% of the very wealthy and the poverty of the vast majority of ordinary people.  There had been talk and actions by the trade unions to improve the lives of working people. Most members of Parliament were very much against the amelioration of working peoples lives but the Lloyd George Liberal government passed the first Old Age Pensions Act of 1908, a non-contributory scheme paid to those over 70 (the deserving poor) and in 1911 the first National Insurance Act, a contributory scheme to pay out sickness benefit for a regulated time to the worker to ill to work.  This was the beginning of the Welfare State.

Mosely mentioned in the programme that the average age of death was 40 years and many people did not survive beyond 20 years and many children died of malnutrition and infectious diseases.  The broader aspects of the Welfare State were debated in the early years of the 2nd World War when there was a Coalition Government.  The Labour Party was keen to introduce a system of health care for everyone, free at the point of need;  an improved free system of secondary education to continue until the age of fifteen and support for those too ill to work.  The  Conservative Party appeared willing to go along with these ideas in order to get the cooperation of everyone  in the efforts to defeat Hitler and bring an end to the war.


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