Unemployment and the State in Britain offers an important and original contribution to understandings of the 1930s. This is the first full-length study of the highly controversial household means test introduced by the National Government in 1931. The means test was often at the centre of public and private debates about unemployment, and it generated the largest examples of street protests in the interwar period. The book examines the construction of the image of the means test and claims that it worsened the position of the long-term unemployed. The idea that the test led families to separate, malnutrition and ill health to increase and suicide rates to escalate ensured its lasting significance politically and culturally. How the unemployed responded to the measure and the wider impact of collective action is a central theme of this book. Through a comparative case study of south Wales and the north-east of England the nature of protest movements, the identity of the unemployed and the wider relationship between the working class, local authorities, the police and the government is explored. Based upon extensive primary research, this study will appeal to students and scholars of the depression, social movements, studies of the unemployed, social policy and interwar British society.
1 Unemployment and the depression in interwar Britain The man or woman who is in a job to-day may be out of a job tomorrow; and, save at times of exceptional trade prosperity, the fear of the sack is never long absent altogether from the worker’s mind. It means for every worker a constant sense of insecurity, a knowledge that the continuance of the means of livelihood depends on powerful forces which are almost wholly outside his control. Nothing does so much to suppress the worker’s natural instincts of resentment, to check the growth of a spirit of
The book provides a comprehensive account of work camp movements in Britain before 1939, based on thorough archival research, and on the reminiscences of participants. It starts with their origins in the labour colony movement of the 1880s, and examines the subsequent fate of labour colonies for the unemployed, and their broadening out as disciplined and closed therapeutic communities for such groups as alcoholics, epileptics, tuberculosis sufferers and the ‘feeble-minded’. It goes on to examine utopian colonies, inspired by anarchist, socialist and feminist ideas, and designed to develop the skills and resources needed for a new world. After the Great War, unemployed camps increasingly focused on training for emigration, a movement inspired by notions of a global British national identity, as well as marked by sharp gender divisions. The gender divisions were further enhanced after 1929, when the world economic crisis closed down options for male emigration. A number of anti-industrial movements developed work camps, inspired by pacifist, nationalist or communitarian ideals. Meanwhile, government turned increasingly to work camps as a way of training unemployed men through heavy manual labour. Women by contrast were provided with a domesticating form of training, designed to prepare them for a life in domestic service. The book argues that work camps can be understood primarily as instrumental communities, concerned with reshaping the male body, and reasserting particularistic male identities, while achieving broad social policy and economic policy goals.
a wider story. By 1932, few policy makers believed that unemployment was only a temporary hiccup. The scale, and duration, of the crisis placed enormous strains on Britain’s system of unemployment benefits, based in theory, if no longer in practice, on the insurance principle. Harold Butler, director of the International Labour Organisation, voiced the thoughts of many when he wrote that ‘Unemployment insurance was never conceived as being needed to ensure a quarter or a third of the industrial population against destitution’.4 In his history of the Ministry of
-term unemployment both on the individual and their families and recognised the great difference a few extra pennies could make to the weekly budget. Moreover, local officials were sensitive of cultural hierarchies in working-class communities.3 Within the depressed regions, many of those facing the means test were considered to be from the respectable working class – a group who expected state maintenance through insurance benefits. The means test, once it began operation, accentuated many of the worst effects of long-term unemployment for this group. Families shared the impact
highlighted how spontaneous action in January and February was provoked by the drastic benefit cuts introduced by the newly formed UABs. Established under Part II of the 1934 Unemployment Act, the primary function of the autonomous UABs was to remove vagaries which had existed in the PACs’ administration of means-tested benefit. W. R. Garside and Frederic Miller’s analyses remain the best accounts of the chaos surrounding the transition to the new scheme.5 They argue that heavy reductions were a consequence of the Cabinet’s and the central UAB’s blind faith in the power of
College on local activists and politicians. This chapter explores Sheffield's working-class institutions and details the role of certain political families in maintaining the close relationship between industry and politics. It examines the extent to which these institutions embraced new left ideas to meet the challenge of mass and youth unemployment, and describes the fate of Militant and other left-wing factions in Sheffield. The chapter ends by delving further into the 1984–85 miners’ strike to demonstrate how class politics and the labour movement remained important
century. Radicals took a particularly active interest in land reform, and debates over the rights and wrongs of landlordism reached a peak in the 1870s and 1880s.4 Given increasing public criticism of the Poor Laws, and growing recognition of its inability to deal with unemployment, it is not surprising that these two concerns came together. In his account of public responses to unemployment, underemployment and poverty in Victorian London, Gareth Stedman Jones has explored the unstable balance between belief in civic progress and moral anxiety over urban degeneration
demands for state aid were rejected by the Commons Select Committee on Colonisation which sat from 1889 to 1891. 2 However, after 1900 the economies of the self-governing dominions, especially Canada, Australia and New Zealand, expanded dramatically while the United Kingdom continued to experience cyclical unemployment problems and social unrest. Dominion governments and British
pursuits’. Barnett, then vicar of St Jude’s, urged the Whitechapel Guardians (of which he was a member) to purchase a plot of disused farmland within 100 miles of London, but was defeated by sixteen votes to eight.53 A handful of authorities pursued the idea, and the Whitechapel Guardians established an Agricultural Homes Training Committee in 1893, but most gave up on finding that their powers for dealing with unemployment were ‘utterly inadequate’.54 Barnett turned his attention elsewhere, but the prospect of combining the relief of poverty with land settlement