There was a recent programme on television looking back to the days of the Edwardians.

The programme covered the first 20 years of the 20th Century. The grainy films showed children with rickets. Crowded, bustling streets and waterways.

It was not a particularly nostalgic look back, despite the references to empire - Britain being the richest country in the world at that time.

A closer look revealed poverty among the people and a real law of the jungle type existence. People worked 60 hour-plus weeks. Weekends as such did not exist. Things like football matches at the weekend came in after this time because then working people simply did not have the spare time to even attend a game.

The beginnings of the Welfare State were introduced in 1911 by the then Liberal government. This included things like a very basic pension starting at 70.

Move forward 100 years to today and the changes have been huge. People now have holidays, sick pay, a welfare state - including the NHS. The weekend has been an established part of people's lives for many decades. To a large degree, the mass of people have been able to flourish.

Most of this change came about through the struggle of ordinary people, mainly through the trade union movement and Labour Party. The welfare reforms, including the NHS, of the 1945 Labour Government set the blueprint for much of what we have today. It was built upon by future governments.

Popular support for the unions and Labour Party were key to making these achievements happen. At the most basic level, it was the vote that underpinned these changes.

There have been efforts over recent years to unpick the huge advances made since those stark Edwardian times. The trade unions have become weaker. Employment rights have been eroded. Membership of the EU has helped prop up the most basic rights. The NHS has been attacked and undermined. The retirement age gets ever closer to the 70 set back in 1911.

It is a sobering thought that we now live in a country that in absolute terms is richer than it has ever been. A country of 150-plus billionaires, with more than one million people going to foodbanks. A country that cannot provide a roof over everyone's head, with rough sleeping growing on the streets. These are the deliberate acts of those in government now, who, under labels like austerity, seek to turn the clock back to those Edwardian days of children with rickets and 60-hour working weeks.

The weekend has been incredibly eroded over recent years, with the two days increasingly seen as ordinary working days for much of the population.

People need to remember that the transformation of life from those Edwardian days to the relative comfort of recent years resulted from the struggle of working people. It was not the result of some benevolent act of the rich.

Today, we need to realise how important the vote is. It is one of the few levers that working people have in deciding their own destinies. We also need to be aware as to how the improvements since Edwardian days came about and how easy it would be to drift backwards.

  • Paul Donovan is a Redbridge councillor for Wanstead village and blogger. See