Just over 60 years ago, a young Princess Elizabeth took the throne and became Queen Elizabeth II. Al Martino’s “Here in My Heart” was top of the charts and everyone was getting to work on time despite the rationing of tea. When Elizabeth II came to power, the United Kingdom was a very different place – and so was the world.
For instance, Ethiopia and Libya were the only independent countries in Africa. The UK had control over a large portion of the Caribbean, part of the Middle East, and a number of territories in Asia. Current economic powerhouses such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong were each a jewel in the crown of the British Empire. Following the coronation the world has witnessed mass waves of nationalist movements that have allowed billions of people to be born into independence. The world’s progress on decolonisation has been so effective that the United Nations Security Council disbanded the United Nations Trusteeship Council, the organisation responsible for overseeing independence, in 1994.
Average life expectancy, in the United Kingdom and nearly every country in the world, has risen steadily since 1952. During the reign of Elizabeth II, the World Health Organisation has declared the eradication of smallpox and rinderpest. Smallpox, which was responsible for 300-500 million deaths in the twentieth century, is now a part of history. Greater medical technology, investments in preventive care and foreign aid, as well as an expanded understanding of the communicability of disease, have been the impetuses for a healthier world.
Thanks to the efforts of many governments, The Rotary Foundation and other partner organisations polio diagnoses have decreased by 99%. Although we are on the brink of making polio the third disease to have been eradicated, this will only be achieved if commitment and investment is maintained.
In 1952 around 50% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty; by 2005 that figure had been reduced to 25%. The Department for International Development has taken the lead on combating poverty and has implemented programmes to bring 3 million people permanently out of poverty each year. Thanks to government aid contributions, 92.5% of children currently enrol in primary school in Rwanda. Britain’s commitment to untied aid means that in accepting aid packages developing countries will not be forced to purchase UK goods and services.
We live in a world that is freer, healthier and has less poverty than the world of 1952. Over the past 60 years, we have achieved a great deal but much more needs to be done to support people in extreme poverty and tackle treatable diseases. So as we put the bunting away after Jubilee Weekend, the question that remains is how do we want the next 60 years of British and world history to be remembered?
*First image from the Prime Minister's Office