Envy of the World? How the United Kingdom's National Health Service Created a More Equal Society

Open Access
Shean, Jack Oliver
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Tobias Heinrich Albert Brinkmann, Thesis Supervisor
  • Cathleen Denise Cahill, Honors Advisor
  • United Kingdom
  • Healthcare
  • Inequality
  • Organized Labor
  • Brexit
In an era of rising socioeconomic inequality, the importance of studying institutions that have historically increased equality cannot be understated. One of the most notable institutions fitting this description is the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, or NHS. This free, universal, and comprehensive healthcare system is not only fascinating in terms of health policy, but also as a cultural institution. Despite its shortcomings, the NHS is widely considered a pillar of modern British society. While such characteristics might seem odd to outside observers, they make perfect sense given the historical context that gave rise to the NHS. The history of NHS is the story of British society’s fight to overcome class divisions and to build a more just society. In this thesis, I critically analyze the history of inequality in the United Kingdom through the lens of healthcare in order to understand the kinds of people, movements, and ideas needed to challenge the status quo and to institute equalitarian reforms. Ultimately, the goal of this thesis is to provide insight into how inequality is overcome and to offer a road map for future reformers.