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Wellcome Film of the Month: Child welfare, 1962

24 Sep, 2010

One of our country’s greatest assets is the health and well-being of its children… the state invests in its future – the happy healthy child has every chance to develop into a healthy intelligent citizen and its natural powers to the full.

The rhetoric in these words may seem familiar to us, spoken by many current politicians across the political divide. These lines are in fact from the narration at the beginning and end of this fascinating film made by the Central Office of Information, which dates from the time of Harold MacMillan’s Conservative government of 1957–1963.

The film provides a window into the past showing just how comprehensive, and mostly free, state welfare provision was for children and their parents. In what may become an anachronism to future parents in the 21st Century, the ‘Childrens’ Allowance’ (which had been available since 1945 and was the precursor of Child Benefit) is extolled; health is described of little value alone without every children having financial provision.

Apparently, “no child is deprived of having a healthy, happy life” and this is achieved by providing every child with free milk until age 11 and a subsidised hot mid-day meal at school (no turkey twizzlers in sight). Comprehensive healthcare monitoring programmes are carried out in school – with the focus on checking functional health such as hearing, eyes and teeth (discussion of lifestyle, and obesity in particular, does not appear in educational films of this nature until the late 1960s).

The evidence is that the robust health of this generation (the tail end of the baby boomers spanning the mid-1940s to the 1960s) led to significant advances in longevity. According to the Government Actuary’s Department, adult male life expectancy has increased from 67.79 years in 1962 to 75.73 years in 2001.

You can learn about the Wellcome Film project here. If you would like to make use of this archive footage in your own projects, please visit the Wellcome Library catalogue to download the original file, which is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence.

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