He lost a leg in the war, but with the prosthesis in his rucksack and crutches at the ready, this man is a symbol of both the devastation of last five years and a new awareness of the importance of a nation's welfare. This latest picture from The Independent and the Hulton Getty Picture Collection, 98 for '98 - the Century in Photographs, is from a year when politicians spoke without thought to social or financial hierarchies. The United Nations, which replaced the ineffectual League of Nations, was a prime example: it involved 51 nations, and included the United States and Russia, which the League hadn't. At the inaugural session, the British prime minister's speech referred to a common world desire: "It is for the peoples of the world to make their choice between life and death."

The new peacetime government in Britain, under the Labour leader Clement Attlee, had come to power via promises of social reform. The people's willingness to prioritise this made a marked change from the indifference which had greeted Lloyd George's attempts at socialist reform in the first decade of the century. In February, Aneurin Bevan, the Health Minister, pledged to transform the unco-ordinated and unrelated health system into a single, comprehensive national health service, without regard to wealth. There was also plans for 20 "new towns", to ease housing shortage and rehouse victims of the war. The socialist aims of the Attlee government had been helped by economists such as John Maynard Keynes, who said that increased government spending (eg on railways and mines), was the best cure for depression. Socialists hoped that nationalisation would lead to a more positive ethos, where workers and consumers would feel a new pride in industries that they "owned". Germany's heavy reparations bill after the First World War was thought to have helped Hitler's rise to power, so when Germany was gripped with food shortages Attlee sent wheat and potatoes, though this meant they had to be rationed at home in Britain.

Although there were early indications of the "never had it so good" prosperity that was to characterise the Fifties, such as an 80 per cent increase in wages in less than a decade, the world had first to face the scarce supply of food, raw materials and machinery because of the war. The black market thrived, supplying scarce goods such as nylon stockings, chocolates and perfume.

The Labour government in Britain provided a system which would look after the man in this photograph. With justification, RA Butler (later to be Lord Butler) described it as "the greatest social revolution in our history".

Photo 98 is a series of high profile national events and exhibitions, for information contact 01484 559888, or refer to www.photo98.com.

Current exhibitions: Heads of State, work by Faisal Abud'allah which investigates social stereotypes and personal identity. Gallery II, University of Bradford, Chesham Building, off Horton Road, Bradford BD7 1DP (01274 383 365). To 3 April.

Jennifer Rodger