The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in 1953 In the years following World War II, Britain rapidly lost its empire. Eventually, it joined its European neighbours in an economic and political union, the EU. During this period, the country has undergone huge changes. The National Health Service (NHS) and a welfare state have been set up. Power has devolved (been handed over) to Scotland and Wales. One thing has not changed, however: Britain remains a monarchy, with a king or queen as head of state. The current queen, Elizabeth II, has been on the throne since 1952.
In the general election held just before the end of World War II, in 1945, a Labour government led by Clement Attlee was swept to power, promising widespread reforms. The Bank of England, coal mines, iron and steel works, railways, civil aviation, road haulage, the docks, and the gas and electricity industries were all taken into public ownership. A National Health Service was set up in 1948 paid for by taxes and available for all to use. A welfare state paid for by compulsory contributions from workers provided unemployment benefits, widows’ pensions, sickness and maternity payments, and other benefits. Mothers received child benefits for their children.
In its foreign policy, the government joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to defend Western Europe from possible Russian attack. In 1951, the Festival of Britain was held to celebrate Britain’s post-war recovery.
Although World War II ended in 1945, the shortage of many foods meant that rationing continued until 1954.
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