15. Establishment of the Open University (1969)
The OU’s provision of distance learning and its open entry policy, stating that previous academic achievement was no bar to course enrollment, allowed thousands of adults to gain qualifications while still in full or part-time employment. By widening access to higher education, the OU has arguably been a significant contributor to social mobility. Today the OU is the largest academic institution in the UK, with over 250,000 people enrolled in its courses.
14. Defeat of the Poll Tax (1990)
The Community Charge, also known as the poll tax, was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government from 1989. A campaign of opposition, including an infamous riot in London’s Trafalgar Square, expressed the huge unpopularity of the tax, and contributed to the resignation of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in November 1990. John Major announced the poll tax’s replacement by council tax in his first speech as Prime Minister.
13. Payment of MPs (1911)
Today, raising the salaries of MPs is not considered to be a popular or progressive thing to do, but before 1911, the lack of payment for parliamentary duties meant that only those wealthy enough to possess an independent income could enter politics. Payment for MPs was one of the chief demands of the Chartist movement for political reform, and was achieved with passage of the 1911 Parliament Act by Herbert Asquith’s Liberal government.
12. The National Minimum Wage (1998)
Created by an act of the same name in 1998, a national minimum wage of £3.60 per hour for adult workers over the age of 22 came into force on 1st April 1999. The policy was a key pledge in the Labour Party’s election-winning 1997 manifesto. Around one million workers are paid the minimum wage today.
11. Trade Disputes Act (1906)
A crucial piece of legislation for trade unions, in that it prevented them from being pursued in the civil courts for damages incurred during strikes. The act was encouraged by several earlier legal judgements that had ruled otherwise and therefore threatened the principle of collective bargaining. This act essentially enshrined the ‘right to strike’ and was a cornerstone of union power.
10. Formation of the First Labour government (1924)
The Conservative Party failed to win a majority in the 1923 general election, thus enabling Ramsay MacDonald to become the UK’s first Labour Prime Minister, with the support of the Liberal Party. The breakthrough was, however, short-lived, with the coalition collapsing after just 9 months. The infamous forged ‘Zinoviev letter’, claiming a link between Labour and Soviet communists, was blamed for the 1924 election defeat. Labour had to wait until 1929 for a return to government.
9. Decriminalisation of Homosexuality (1967)
The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 made private homosexual acts between two men exempt from prosecution, provided they were at least 21 years of age. It was proposed by MP Leo Abse and Lord Arran, in response to a rise in prosecutions of homosexuals, and following the recommendations of the 1957 Wolfenden Report which said that the state could not realistically control the private sexual affairs of consenting adults. The same freedom was not spread to Scotland and Northern Ireland until the 1980s. The act was the only major piece of LGBT rights legislation until the 1990s.
8. Comprehensive Education (1965)
Although some ‘experimental’ comprehensives had existed since 1946, it was during Anthony Crosland’s period as Secretary of State for Education in the mid-to-late 1960s that comprehensive education was first rolled out nationally. The logic of the comprehensive was to provide a common standard of education by ending the bipartite system of grammar schools and secondary moderns supported by the division of children by ability at age 11. By the mid-1970s, most schools had been converted, despite Conservative Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher ending the compulsion on local authorities to do so.
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