and prosperity in Britain during the interwar years?In this essay I am going to examine how and why there was both prosperity and poverty within Britain throughout the interwar years.
The war left Britain with a weakened economy, after a brief post war boom ending in April 1921 Britain was in a position where the pre war staple industries such as coal mining were no longer providing jobs. This caused the problem of unemployment concentrated in certain areas. However there was another side to Britains economy that was on the rise, thought there was mass unemployment for some others where becoming very prosperous. Some of the population where living in good conditions, receiving paid holidays while others where unemployed and living in poverty. There was great diversity in the health care available in different areas. Prosperous peoples real wage rose as prices feel. Prosperous area had never had it so good while areas of poverty where living in poor conditions with bad health and insufficient food supply.
The prosperous people had a lot more on offer to them and leisure rose tremendously. People had more to spend on entertainment and leisure than before, in 1939 20 million people visited the coasts of England. Dance halls where also very popular in the 1930s as a source for enjoyment and for a nice evening out. Family sizes gradually lowered in working class families and this meant that they had even more money to spend.
During the interwar years there was a change between the vast amounts of blue-collar workers from before world war one to becoming more white-collar workers due to the growth of new industry.
The rise in real wages and the gradual decrease in family size meant that the middle class now had much more disposable income, this was seen by the amount spent on leisure. Gambling became Britains second biggest industry in 1939 with 10million people every week. A lot of the people in lower classes and from the areas of poverty also played in the chance of winning.
Due to mass unemployment many families where living in poverty, having worked previously in staple industrys theses workers found themselves unemployed with no jobs available to them.
During world war one the problems with staple industries had been masked by the need for war supplies. After the war the problem of employment in these industries then arose. This left the men who had been in job in the staple industries without a job. There was support from the government for the unemployed but the benefits they received were not close to the wage they had previously had. This made their life style very hard, the death rates in these areas rose greatly. Many of the parents would go without so they children could eat sufficiently making them weak and unhealthy.
One factor in the coexistence of poverty and prosperity was the geographical position of industries. Before world war one staple industries such as coal mining where heavily concentrated in the north of England, Scotland and south Wales. These areas where worst hit by unemployment and poverty. The great poverty in these areas was not seen in others because they had not relied on the staple industries to provide jobs.
The decline in old staple industries was accompanied by a growth in new industries such as electrical engineering, motor manufacture, man made fibres and chemicals. These newer industries where located mostly to the south particularly between the east midlands and London. Areas where new industries where located was where the prosperity was. People had well paid jobs. This in turn meant that the health was higher in these areas. It was higher for many reasons, many house holds would contribute small sums to support their local hospitals, in areas of poverty people could not afford to contribute so the hospitals where of low quality. Another way the health was better was because there was a better diet in prosperous areas, there was a greater range of foods and enough to go round. Although money was being put into health new facilities where unevenly spread, the services where unavailable to lower class families. The situation in areas of poverty was very different. There would not be enough food for the family and it was often seen that married women became very ill as they would put their family first and not eat sufficient amounts. These two very different conditions where able to coexist in the same country as they where separate from one another, the poverty and prosperity was physically separated.
During the interwar years a lot of housing development took place building family homes. The development of the motorcar meant that people could live further from their work. By September 1939 over 40% of British people where living in houses built since 1911, a lot of these where built in the expanding suburbs and often in the more prosperous areas such as the midlands. Yet nearly 8% of familys where still living in very overcrowded conditions with more than two sharing a room in 1939. 5% of the older housing was in such poor condition that they where scheduled for slum clearance. Few of the older houses had piped hot water and toilets where often outside.
For people living in the areas of poverty they where stuck where they were. They did not have the chance to move into the newer housing. They where to poor to afford this housing and often did not have a motor vehicle to transport there things even if they had the chance to move.
The people in areas of poverty where stuck where they where and unable to be part of the new developments or benefit from the improvements being made as the unemployed barely had enough to live on.
Education was also very different between areas. School leaving age had been raised to 14. Very few lower class children continued education any further, as familys needed the children as another source of wage. The cost of secondary school was also to grate for the unemployed and working class to afford. The effects of poor health, conditions and education continued the problems further. Young lower class people had no chance of getting skilled work or earning a high wage due to their health and abilitys.
Poverty remained as they was no way out of it at the time, industries where down in these areas and there was little hope of finding a job. There was no chance of moving to areas to get a job in new industries, as the population living in poverty simply could not afford to move. This keep both prosperity and poverty as the people living in poverty could not change anything and they people living prosperously where earning high wages and enjoying the developments to industry and improvements to there life styles. In 1939 1 out of 5 family had no possessions as they had pawned them for some cash and many where in debt. While in richer areas they had money to spend on luxuries such as motorcars.
There was little intervention made y the government to help the poor and poverty areas. The help provided by the government was insufficient to make the changes needed. In 1935 2million pounds was allocated to be shared out to distressed areas, once divided up and given where needed the sum received was small and its impact was not very big. The government also tried to persuade new companies to move into distressed areas, offering them support if they located here, this action made some improvement to unemployment with it having lowered to 11% in 1939 compared to 1932 when it was 22%. This action did make improvements but most of the action taken be the government did mot make sufficient improvements to change how the people in poverty where living.
In 1931 the government cut unemployment benefit by 10% this made it much harder to get the support. 53% of claims for assistance were disallowed or reduced within the first seven weeks. In 1934 the means test was introduced. This involved someone coming to your house and looking to see that you only had what you needed. People where forced to sell of or pawn things such as a chair if they had 4 in a family and 5 chairs. They then had to sell or pawn their possessions to get more money. The government assistance varied and often didnt help as much as was needed. Between 1929 and 1931 the government had worked in a take no radical action view, so before 1931 there had been no hope for any help from the government.
In conclusion there are many ways to account for the coexistence of poverty and prosperity. The weak economy after the war very quickly led to unemployment despite a small post war boom. Unemployment set in in areas where staple industries had been concentrated. This meant that unemployment was concentrated in these areas too. With the industries down the economy of these areas sunk dramatically. The location of new industries in the south, away from staple industries meant that these areas where safer from unemployment. With the development of new industries came the improvement of housing, health care and leisure for those with the money. The rise in real wage along with the decrease in family size meant that people had a lot more disposable income in these areas. The poorer people did not have access to any of the developments or improvements and where simply stuck where they where. With no money to move there was no chance of getting a job in a new industry, loss of possessions and being forced to sell and pawn items for money didnt provide enough for the people living in poverty. A key factor in the coexistence of poverty and prosperity is that they are geographically separate. The poor could not access the developments.
The new industries provided new things for the prosperous to purchase, motorcars gave them the chance to move in to suburban areas and drive to other places.
Another key reason is that the government did not do enough to bring about real changes to the unemployed and the people themselves where unable to get them selfs out of the poverty. Unemployment benefit was low and was not enough to allow families to save to move. It was only just enough to live on.
The population living in poverty had no options they where stuck where they where receiving to little or no help from the authorities, this left mass areas in bad conditions which could not be changed as there was no money to change the conditions with. People where healthy in the prosperous areas and in areas of poverty the people just had to make, doing as they could.