12 things introduced by Labour Governments that we take for granted (UK)

12 things introduced by Labour Governments that we take for granted (UK)

Labour governments have shaped modern British society in countless ways. Many of the rights, services, and institutions we rely on daily were introduced by Labour. Here are 12 things we might take for granted that were actually Labour innovations:

1. The National Minimum Wage

Introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 1999, the National Minimum Wage ensured that workers received a fair wage for their labour. This policy significantly reduced in-work poverty and improved living standards for millions of Britons.
When implementing the policy, Blair stated: “Decent minimum wages are not a luxury. They are an essential part of a modern, competitive economy.”
The minimum wage has been steadily increased over the years, with the current rate for workers aged 23 and over set at £10.42 per hour as of April 2023

Decent minimum wages are not a luxury. They are an essential part of a modern, competitive economy.

Tony Blair, Labour Prime Minister

2. Peace in Northern Ireland

The Good Friday Agreement, brokered in 1998 under Tony Blair’s leadership, brought an end to decades of conflict in Northern Ireland. This historic peace deal established a power-sharing government and laid the groundwork for reconciliation between communities.
Blair reflected on the agreement: “It was a day when history was made, and a day when history could have been lost.”
The agreement has largely maintained peace in Northern Ireland for over two decades, though challenges remain in fully implementing its provisions.

3. Civil Partnerships and Marriage Equality

Labour governments made significant strides in LGBTQ+ rights. In 2004, Tony Blair’s administration introduced civil partnerships, giving same-sex couples legal recognition for the first time. This paved the way for full marriage equality, which was later achieved in 2013 with strong Labour support.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who played a key role in passing the marriage equality bill, said: “Equal marriage is about the way we value people in society and the way we treat each other.”
Since the introduction of these laws, over 100,000 same-sex couples have entered into civil partnerships or marriages in the UK.

Equal marriage is about the way we value people in society and the way we treat each other.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper

4. The National Health Service (NHS)

Perhaps Labour’s crowning achievement, the NHS was established in 1948 under Clement Attlee’s post-war government. This revolutionary system provides free healthcare to all UK residents, funded through general taxation. Former Labour Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan, considered the founder of the NHS, famously said: “No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.”The NHS remains one of Britain’s most cherished institutions, with a 2018 poll finding that 87% of the public believes it should be maintained in its current form.

5. Equal pay for women

Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act of 1970, passed under Harold Wilson’s Labour government, made it illegal to pay women less than men for the same work. While gender pay gaps still exist, this groundbreaking legislation laid the foundation for workplace equality.

6. The Open University

Founded in 1969 under Harold Wilson’s Labour government, the Open University revolutionized higher education by making it accessible to all, regardless of background or qualifications.
Wilson described it as a “university of the air,” saying: “The Open University will give everyone a second chance, and many people their first chance, at higher education.”
Today, the Open University is the largest academic institution in the UK, with over 2 million students having studied there since its inception.

The Open University will give everyone a second chance, and many people their first chance, at higher education.

Harold Wilson

7. Maternity leave

The current system of statutory maternity leave in the UK, which provides 52 weeks of leave, has evolved over time. It wasn’t introduced all at once by a single government.
However, a significant milestone in maternity rights came with the Employment Protection Act of 1975, under Harold Wilson’s Labour government. This Act introduced the right to return to work after pregnancy and childbirth, effectively creating a form of maternity leave.

The current entitlement of 52 weeks of maternity leave was introduced in 2003 under the Labour government of Tony Blair.

8. National Parks

The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 was a landmark piece of legislation introduced by the post-war Labour government. It provided the framework for creating National Parks in England and Wales, as well as establishing other protections for the countryside such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Nature Reserves, and public rights of way. The Act was the culmination of decades of campaigning by conservation groups and visionaries who recognized the importance of preserving natural landscapes and ensuring public access to the countryside. It was described as a “people’s charter for the open air” by Planning Minister Lewis Silkin.

Today, National Parks in the UK are immensely popular. There are currently 15 National Parks across the UK. They attract more than 100 million visitors annually, providing a haven for nature and allowing people from all over the UK and beyond to connect with their incredible natural beauty, tranquility, and recreation opportunities. The parks play a crucial role in conservation, education, and promoting public enjoyment of the countryside, continuing to fulfill the vision set out in the 1949 Act.

9. The Smoking Ban

The smoking ban in England, introduced on July 1, 2007, under the Labour government of Tony Blair, has been largely considered a success. Implemented through the Health Act 2006, the ban prohibited smoking in most enclosed public places and workplaces, including bars, restaurants, and offices.

A review commissioned by the Department of Health suggested that the ban resulted in significant positive changes in attitudes and behaviours. It led to reduced second-hand smoke exposure in children, a drop in hospital admissions for heart attacks, and contributed to a decline in overall smoking rates. Despite initial concerns from the hospitality industry and some opposition on grounds of personal freedom, the ban has been credited with changing social attitudes towards smoking in public spaces and has become an accepted part of public health policy in the UK.

10. Decriminalisation of homosexuality

Alan Turing, inventor of the Enigma machine which led to the modern day computer, arrested for homosexuality

The Labour government’s Sexual Offences Act in 1967, partially decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults in England and Wales. It has become widely recognized as a landmark piece of legislation in the progression of LGBTQ+ rights in the UK. While initially controversial when introduced, public opinion has shifted dramatically over the decades since its passage.

Its historical importance and role in paving the way for greater LGBTQ+ acceptance and equality is widely acknowledged and appreciated in contemporary British society.

Prior to this, homosexuality was illegal and in 1952 (under a conservative government) Alan Turing was prosecuted for homosexual acts. He chose chemically castration to avoid prison time and committed suicide on 7 June 1954, aged 41.

11. Drink-driving made illegal

The Road Safety Act of 1967 introduced the first legal alcohol limit for drivers in England, Wales and Scotland. This Act made it an offense to drive, attempt to drive, or be in charge of a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration exceeding 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. The Act also gave police the power to carry out roadside breath tests on drivers suspected of drink driving. This legislation was introduced under Harold Wilson’s Labour government. A year later the same government made it compulsory for all cars to have seatbelts.

12. Abortion made legal

The Abortion Act 1967 was a landmark piece of legislation that legalized abortion in Great Britain under certain conditions. Introduced as a Private Member’s Bill by Liberal MP David Steel and supported by the Labour government, it made abortion legal up to 28 weeks if two registered medical practitioners believed in good faith that continuing the pregnancy posed risks to the woman’s physical or mental health.

The Act came into force in 1968 and marked a significant shift in women’s reproductive rights, moving abortion from a criminal offense to a regulated medical procedure available through the National Health Service. While controversial at the time, it has become widely accepted, though debates about specific provisions continue. The time limit was later reduced to 24 weeks in 1990 through the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.