Churches and Social Issues in Twentieth-century Britain

By G. I. T. Machin | Go to book overview

6
Churches and Moral and Social Change, 1960-1970

The fortunes of the economy and of popular prosperity were rather less certain in the 1960s than in the previous decade. The 'stop-go' cycle continued, devaluation of the pound took place in 1967, and from that year the rate of unemployment (at over half a million) was higher than it had been since 1940. In the 1960s, however, there was nothing resembling the sharper and longer slumps and booms which were to be experienced from the 1970s to the 1990s. To most people in the country, the economic developments of the 1960s probably represented a slight intensification of the problems of the 1950s but not great infringement on the economic benefits of that time -- generally full employment, steadily rising real wage levels, increasing consumption, and growing home ownership. But there remained the problems of decline in traditional industries and the detrimental effects this had on the districts where they were situated; the removal of significant numbers of people from some parts of the country to areas of greater prosperity; and the corresponding need to revive the economies of some areas. All these matters were of concern to Church bodies, as was the major government social innovation of the decade -- the adoption of widespread comprehensive education.1

But the overwhelming social question of the decade was the concentrated growth in permissive or libertarian attitudes and behaviour, amounting collectively to so wide and penetrating a development that it brought about a pronounced change in public and private morals. The change was partly the result of scientific inventions, notably the contraceptive pill. But it was also the delayed consummation of demands for reform going back in some cases for several decades, even to the beginning of the century. Censorship, gambling, abortion, homosexual practice, and divorce

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1
e.g. RGACS ( 1960), 318-21, ( 1963), 370-2, 383-4, 393-4, ( 1965), 275-8, ( 1967), 173-80; PAGAFCS ( 1966),157; CT, 19 Feb. 1965, p. 3.

-175-

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