The NHS Edit

The NHS in the early 1980s was beginning to feel the strain of a population that was not only getting older but thanks to the baby boom was running low on resources and experiencing long waiting lists. For example, more women than usual were going through the menopause and required hormone replacement therapy, forcing the government to look for cheaper alternatives. Whilst medical science made leaps and bounds, a severe lack of funds left the NHS unable to introduce new treatments for diseases that richer countries were successfully combatting.

The NHS did enjoy a small cash boost in 1980 which meant that it could, amongst other things, perform it's first heart transplant operation however such operations were rare. CT machines and bone marrow transplants were also brand new to the medical world but the NHS was tied to strict budgets and in reality, many died through a lack of funds. For those who had the money to pay for private treatment, there were many new fields to explore. In 1978 the first IVF baby had been born successfully but the treatment wasn't avaliable to NHS patients.

The Labour Government had been reluctant to rely on private investment in the NHS or in the promotion of private treatment believing that the NHS had to cater to all. They even restricted the number of pay beds per hospital in an attempt to get rid of them altogether. This was unrealistic financially and the Thatcher government realised that there was no option to turn to private clinics and other forms of patient-funded treatments to relieve the enormous burden placed on the NHS which would only get worse when the AIDS epidemic was at it's peak in the mid 80s. In 1981, an estimated 25% of the salaries for surgeons and consultants came from private practise and other health workers were paid very little but expected to work more. Community hospitals also dwindled in number thanks to Labour closures.

The patient experience was still very dated. Food was famously awful, waiting lists were huge and patients spent several nights in hospital for operations that could have been directed to an outpatient service. Mental health suffered from a lack of attention and investment and asylums relied heavily on private donations forcing many to close. Hospital mergers were being resisted by the Labour government but were seen as a viable option by the Thatcher administration. Thatcher had promised to end consensus management, introducing something called general management. Basically, this gave one or two people control over internal hospital budgets, rather than a committee. This effectively meant running the NHS more like a business than the traditional hospitals of the 1960s. Contracts with private companies to take charge of cleaning and provide supplies also opened the door to a corporate NHS which the Conservatives hoped would free some badly needed funds. However, by 1981, these plans hadn't been put into place and were simply promises.

Education Edit

Educational responsibilities are devolved in varying degrees to ministers of the four countries of Britain. The SoS for Education and Science is responsible for all aspects of education in England and for relations and support for Universities throughout Great Britain. The Secretaries of State for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have responsibility for non-University education in their respective countries. Local Education Authorities (LEAs) are responsible for the provision of school education and most post-school education outside the Universities. Universities are autonomous but the Government provides financial help through the University Grants Committee.

Over 80% of pupils in maintained secondary schools in England and Wales and over 50% in Northern Ireland attend mixed schools. In Scotland nearly all secondary schools are mixed. Schools supported from public funds are of two main kinds in England and Wales: County Schools and Voluntary Schools. County Schools are provided and maintained by LEAS and paid for wholly out of public funds. Voluntary Schools, most of which were established by religious denominations, are wholly funded by the public but some governing bodies do contribute to capital costs – about one third of schools in England and Wales are voluntary schools.

Each school has a governing body and the 1980 Education Act provides for greater representation of parents and teachers on these bodies, with a minimum of two of each. No fees are charged and all books and equipment are free in schools in England and Wales; schools in Scotland may charge fees if this doesn’t affect the adequate provision of free education, but no state funded schools make use of this provision.

Compulsory education begins at 5, but over half of 4 year olds and 20% of 3 year olds receive education in publicly maintained schools. The usual age of transfer is at 7, when children go to Primary Schools or departments and then at 11 to Secondary Schools except in Scotland when the age of transfer is 12. Some areas have first schools for aged 5-8, middle schools for ages between 9 and 14. Over 85% of pupils in the maintained (state) sector attend comprehensive schools for all abilities. There are about 250 Grammar Schools and 500 Secondary Modern Schools in areas where the 11+ exam still exists. The 1980 Education Act removed the compulsion on LEAs to reorganise their schools on comprehensive lines.

There are 2,400 registered independent schools catering for all ages, of which about 460 are the more prestigious ‘public schools’. The average combined tuition and boarding fees at the public schools are £2,600 a year. LEAs can assist with the payment of fees for children attending independent schools.

There are some 2,000 separate special schools for pupils with disabilities or special educational needs. For a number of years, the general trend has been to provide special educational treatment within ordinary schools.

The curriculum in schools is the responsibility of LEAs or the school governors. Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools are responsible for the inspection of all schools, including independent schools.

There is no national school leaving exam, but students may attempt examinations in various subjects leading to either CSE’s or GCE ‘O’ Levels, which are taken at the age of 16 (in the 5th year of secondary school education). The exams are set by 14 regional bodies for the CSE’s and eight for O Levels. The highest grade at CSE (Grade 1) is seen as being of the same standard of at least a Grade C at O Level. A Level exams are taken at the age of 18 after two further years of study and are the standard exams to gain entry to university. In Scotland, pupils at 16 in the 4th year of secondary education sit for the Ordinary Grade and then two years later for the Higher Grade.

There are 45 universities in the UK along with 30 polytechnics in England and Wales, 14 central institutions in Scotland and the Ulster Polytechnic in Northern Ireland. About 288,000 students attend Universities and another 233,000 take courses in other institutions. Approximately 90% of students in higher education receive some help from the Government towards living costs.

Trade Unions Edit

If the 1980s were the taming of the trade unions, the 1970s were the golden age. In 1970s Britain, a Labour government were extremely sympathetic and this ultimately led to a stand off between Margaret Thatcher and the trade unions that set the tone for Thatcherism. To understand the importance of trade unionism in 1981, you essentially have to look at the 1970s.

In 1972, dockers had forced the government to call a state of emergency by going on strike in their thousands. They had also used the controversial tactic of secondary picketing, that is boycotting at customer level in order to force a lull in trading by a company or organisation. In 1974, this tactic was used again by coal miners which resulted in the extreme measure of the three day week. Since 1973, the National Union of Mineworkers had been pursuing a policy of work to rule. This meant that they were doing no more than fulfilling the terms of their contract and refusing to do extra work such as maintainence or overtime. For example, if a shop tells a sales assistant he must sell 3 coats to get paid, he makes only 3 coats and ends work for the day as a protest. When the NUM did this, it meant electricity was in extremely short supply and Edward Heath was forced to declare a three day week, meaning that comercial users of electricity could only use electricity for 3 working days a week. Harold Wilson was elected a few months later but the unions had made it clear that they held the reins of power over government. Jack Jones and Joe Gormley, transport union leader and NUM leader respectively, held most sway but other organisations and industries such as the Post Office, ferries, steelworks, dockers and many others all pursued strike action throught the decade.

When Margaret Thatcher won the 1979 election, she did so on a pledge to control the unions and dramatically cut their power. The general belief in Britain was that, though unions should provide the worker with a voice, they had become too disruptive and needed taming. Thatcher essentially won the 1979 election because of the Winter of Discontent. (see wiki link). The economic policies of Thatcherism were designed to tackle union strength but the opinion on it's success is divided. There is no doubt that Mrs Thatcher did cut union influence but a huge number of manufacture industry workers lost their jobs in the recession of the early 1980s and union membership plummeted from an approximated 12 million to just 3-4 million. Margaret Thatcher essentially made it clear that she opposed militant unionism which she equated with communism and had promised in her '79 manifesto to end the closed shop. She called striking "the British disease" and was determined to cure it.

In 1979, the Thatcher government closed the Corby Steelworks when steelworker union bosses wouldn't play ball. This prompted a 3 month strike and the Government forced Britain steel to offer a 2% pay rise. The steelworkers believed it to be a victory but it ultimately wouldn't be. Between 1980 and 1982, the world was recession. Jobs had to be lost and the Government made cuts in manufacture. Companies such as British Leyland and Lukas lost nearly 50% of their workforce and the number of unemployed soared. In 1980, the government had introduced a bill to made secondary picketing illegal, to limit primary picketing and to give bosses the right to gain injunctions against union members to prevent the closure of their places of work. It also meant that the police could arrest strikers and disperse them. It caused outcry amongst unions but instead of a mass walk out, the Unions lobbied parliament which was ignored by the Conservative government but the bill wasn't passed. Walk outs in protest at the rise in unemployment began.

The unemployed working classes turned to militancy to demand jobs. The TUC supported the "People's Marches for Jobs" which infuriated Margaret Thatcher and prompted her to stick to her guns. The media waited for the inevitable U-turn but it never came. "U turn if you want to", declared Thatcher, "The lady's not for turning". And so she didn't. The Conservative Government and the Unions were set against one another and the Labour party took the obvious side. The Conservative policy was not to eradicate unions however, it was to weaken them. The government successfully passed measures which forced all those taking part in the "Right to Work" marches to undergo vetting at job centres to ensure they were not in employment and that they didn't have criminal records. The police were used to control the marchers. The battle lines were drawn.

Transport Edit

Transport in the United Kingdom had been set back in the 1970s by crippling strikes but by 1981, things looked brighter.

Trains, Overground and Underground.

In August 1980, the Tyne and Wear Metro opened which provided the very first transition from heavy rail to light rail. Steam locomotives had been withdrawn in the mid 70s and British Rail came into it's own. A national company, it became identified by it's blue livery and double-arrow logo. Engineering was undertaken by British Rail Engineering Limited. The Conservative Government of 1979 didn't promise to privatise British Rail but they did pledge to 'sectorise' it which would see routes catering for a specific material. For example, in 1977 passengers could catch the late night milk train which delivered milk and was used by late night revellers as a back up to get home. This would be ended with one train for milk and one for passengers. Gone were the days of trains killing two birds with one stone.

The London Underground had been the worst affected by the strikes of the 1970s and was enjoying a revival in 1980/81 as people began to trust that it would be running when they arrived at the station. These strikes were causes by rail workers but also by those building the extensions to the network. As well as the district line, the northern line, the piccadilly line and the metropolitan line, the Underground now had the Victoria line (1968), the Jubilee line (1977) and new stations on the Bakerloo line. Cleaning was an issue because cleaning staff had been let go in economy drives in the late 70s but hadn't been re-employed. Grease, dust and debris became an increasingly dangerous concern and led to the Kings Cross Fire of 1987.


1980 saw the close of manufacturers SA.E.C and the Park Royal Coachworks and so buses were no longer built in London for London. All future buses were bought from private firms on a need/supply basis. Margaret Thatcher was quoted as saying in 1980 that any man over the age of 25 using a bus was a failure and public opinion seemed to go in her favour with the majority of Britons preferring to use cars rather than buses. The company Stagecoach stepped in to try and make this a thing of the past with new buses with a more personal look and service. In 1981, all bus routes were planned, controlled and regulated by local councils.

Air Travel

Air travel was enjoying a golden age. Cheap package deals had seen Britons flock abroad to places like Spain and Greece and it was a hot spot of British industry. This meant that the old holiday camp style holidays enjoyed by the majority of UK citizens had to compete. Britain had been at the forefront of air travel in the 1970s, supplying the demand for cheap flights courtesy of British Airways which had merged the British Overseas Airways Corporation and British European Airways in 1974. In 1981, Sir John King became Chairman of the company and upon the instruction of the Thatcher administration began to prepare the company for privatisation.