Was Permissive Legislation in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s a Response to Social Change or Did It Create It?

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Was permissive legislation in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s a response to social change or did it create it?
In 1959, six years before becoming Labour’s Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins said that ‘the state should not impinge excessively on peoples private lives and personal morality’. Permissiveness is routed in this idea of a new relationship between society and the individual, representing ‘striking changes in public and private morals’. According to Andrews, social change began in 1956 with a ‘class initiative’, caused by rapidly growing affluence. The affluence of the 1950s is proven by the proportion of homeowners in England and Wales rising from 31% to 44% between 1951-60, representing vast economic growth. Many politicians, particularly those on the Left, believed that ‘the affluent society was directly responsible for the permissive society’. Rising affluence occurred amid the re-emergence of Conservative values in the post-World War Two period, with Brown claiming that ‘the 1950s were about perfecting Victorian values’. The conservatism of the 1950s gave the 1960s a cause for rebellion, creating the unique conditions for permissive legislation to be passed. This paper will focus on acts passed between 1967-1970, including the Abortion, NHS (Family Planning) and the Sexual Offences Acts of 1967, the Divorce Reform Acts (1969), and in 1970 the Matrimonial Property Act. These permissive acts symbolised the breakdown of Victorian and Christian morals, particularly surrounding the family, thus causing social change.
Politicians from the era debated how far social change was caused by legislation, with Left-wing politicians questioning how permissive the legislation really was. Marwick claims that ‘it is a mistake to concentrate on politics and changes of government’ as social movements ‘continued largely irrespective of the political complexions of government’.…...

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