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The means test and protest in 1930s south Wales and north-east England
Author: Stephanie Ward

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.

Stephanie Ward

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

in Unemployment and the state in Britain
Brian Marren

2 Employment and unemployment on Merseyside, 1945–98 Throughout the late twentieth century, the presence of mass unemployment was a consistent feature of Merseyside. Indeed, for much of this period the name Liverpool itself became synonymous with joblessness and all the negative images such deprived circumstances suggest. In this chapter, Liverpool’s connection to unemployment in the late twentieth century is charted. Prior to analysing economic trends and their relationship to employment and joblessness on Merseyside, we shall address the complexity of

in We shall not be moved
The effects of the means test, 1931–34
Stephanie Ward

-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

in Unemployment and the state in Britain
The establishment of the UAB and mass action
Stephanie Ward

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

in Unemployment and the state in Britain
Class, community and collective action, 1936–41
Stephanie Ward

-narrative, an essential detail to contemporary life. In doing so, the novelists demonstrate why the means test became one of the best remembered features of the 1930s. It was the dramatic imagery of the novels, and later feature films, alongside what Matt Perry terms the ‘lived experiences’ of 10_Ward_Ch-6.indd 200 7/12/2013 5:06:14 PM TOWARDS THE WELFARE STATE 201 the decade which explain the prominence of the means test in popular memories of the interwar period.5 While unemployment figures began to decline from 1935 as rearmament commenced, such improvements were not

in Unemployment and the state in Britain
Abstract only
The response of the unemployed 1931–34
Stephanie Ward

played by the wives of the unemployed; a picture of the experience of working women in protest has begun to emerge.5 The wives of the unemployed together with women’s sections in the labour movement played a fundamental part in marches and demonstrations. In both south Wales and the north-east of England where levels of formal female economic activity were low, women marched in solidarity against the effects of unemployment upon family and community life. Drawing upon a longer radical tradition, the protests of the earlier 1930s were also important in laying the

in Unemployment and the state in Britain
Abstract only
Stephanie Ward

or trade union and friendly society benefits, were horrified at the prospect of being viewed as destitute. Ideas of the deserving and undeserving poor were as important within working-class communities as they were to the government. Yet, while the means test may have represented a halt in the progress of welfare 11_Ward_Conclusion.indd 241 7/11/2013 12:56:30 PM 242 UNEMPLOYMENT AND THE STATE IN BRITAIN policies for the respectable worker, the repercussions of administration in the 1930s ultimately helped to transform welfare policies. The record of PACs in

in Unemployment and the state in Britain
Abstract only
Stephanie Ward

-class families, forced girls into prostitution and starved mothers and their children. Such a perception of the means test and its place in working-class literature secured its legacy in popular memories and political 01_Ward_Introduction.indd 1 7/11/2013 1:55:06 PM 2 UNEMPLOYMENT AND THE STATE IN BRITAIN culture as a potent symbol of government failure, hardship and suffering.4 This image lingered long after the 1930s. It influenced debates about the post-war welfare programme, and even in the twenty-first century, the memory of the means test still has the ability to

in Unemployment and the state in Britain
Local government, the unemployed and Whitehall
Stephanie Ward

financially necessary but would prevent the workshy from claiming the hard-earned funds of taxpayers.3 The maintenance of the unemployed was one of the largest areas of government expenditure, and by May 1931, 410,000 people were receiving transitional payments, at a cost of £30 million, from the ranks of the now over 2 million unemployed.4 The need for economies in the maintenance of the unemployed was highlighted in two key enquiries, the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance and the Committee on National Expenditure. In an effort to sway public opinion, the

in Unemployment and the state in Britain