Britain during the Great Depression

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Causes of the Depression

The decline of the coal industry

  • The Welsh coal industry needed to  modernise. 
  • This made coal more expensive than coal produced in other countries.  
  • Prices fell even more because Germany was able to use coal to pay for the 
  • reparations payments set by the Treaty of Versailles.
  •  Oil was also starting to be used instead of coal.

The decline of other traditional industries

  • The iron and steel industries also felt the same problems.
  • Other countries were able to produce iron and steel cheaper than Britain.  
  • Britain also faced industrial disputes which slowed things down even more.
  • Workers went on strike over pay and conditions.  
  • In 1926 the General Strike brought Britain to a standstill.

The Wall Street Crash

  • In 1929 the US Stock Market collapsed.
  • Share prices crashed, banks closed and companies lost billions which had an impact all over the world.  
  • Trade between countries declined.  
  • American fell into the Great Depression and millions becameunemployed.
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What were the affects of the Great Depression?

Depressed Areas like South Wales became an 'unemployment blackspot' with 40% of the population out of work.   

The 'old industries' suffered even more.  Areas which relied on the old industries like coal, steel, ship building and cotton suffered badly.  

There was a worldwide fall in demand which made things worse.  Areas which relied on newer industries did better.

Skilled workers became unemployed and relied on the 'dole' to survive.  They carried out means tests to see how much money families should receive.  Families with savings or a small additional income had their dole reduced.

Protest marches were organised to persuade the government to do more to help.   They protested against mass unemployment and the means tests which many people found humiliating.  There were also hunger marches to show how desperate the people in the worst hit areas were.  The most famous march was the Jarrow March.      

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What happened during the Jarrow March?

Jarrow in Tyneside relied on the ship building industry. The shipyards closed and thousands of workers became unemployed.  

By 1936, unemployment hit 68% and many families did not have enough food to eat.  The town's MP, Ellen Wilkinson, called Jarrow 'the town that was murdered'

A protest march was held from Jarrow to London to carry a petition demanding action from the government.  200 shipyard workers marched 300 miles in 14 days to highlight the problems faced by their local community.  

The marches were fed and sheltered by sympathetic people along the way.  

They reached London but the Prime Minister refused to accept the petition and government ministers refused to meet them. 

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How were women affected by the Depression?

Women often suffered the most.  Mother struggled to 'make ends meet' and would go without food in order to feed their children.

Mothers would eat smaller meals or go without meals completely in order to feed their children.  They bought cheap cuts of meat to make affordable meals.  Clothes were handed down from child to child and family to family.

Some women struggled to keep up the morale of their unemployed husbands.  

Women suffered more illness and deaths in childbirth increased, especially in Wales. Healthcare was expensive.

Life became even harder after 1931 when the Means Test was introduced.  Women had to keep their family together and survive on a meagre (small) income.     They would try to earn some extra money by doing other peoples' washing or sewing.

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How did the government deal with the Depression?

The Conservative Government was trying to reduce public spending.  This meant that they were not willing to spend huge amounts to solve the problems facing Britain.

In 1934 they passed the Special Areas Act.  This identified four areas of the UK which were the worst affected.  A government commissioner was put in charge of trying to improve these areas.  £1 million  was provided to encourage businesses to move their factories to these areas.  

They tried to encourage factories to group together to make trading estates.  The largest  trading estate was near Cardiff. Many employers were reluctant to move from prosperous areas like the midlands and southern England.  

A new modern steelworks was built at Ebbw Vales in South Walesbut many people felt that the government did not do enough to solve the problems facing Britain.

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How were new industries affected by the Depression

In some areas industry expanded and people enjoyed an improved standard of living.  Mass production was used to produced goods quickly and cheaply.  The manufacturing process was broken up into simple tasks and goods were made on a production line.

 'Light industries' grew which made consumer goods such as cars, aircraft, electrical goods like radios and branded foods.  New fabrics and plastics were developed like rayon and Bakelite.  This meant that cheaper goods were more readily available.  Companies such as Austin, Morris, Cadbury's and Mars boomed.

The government set up the National Grid to link power stations across the country. This meant that factories did not rely on coal and could be built nearer to the areas with a high population.  

More houses were connected to mains electricity.  Poorer families could only afford electric lights, but richer families could afford consumer goods such as vacuum cleaners, fridges and ovens.  By 1937, 50% of homes owned a radio.

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Why did people move from Wales to England?

1) Jobs and a better life 430,000 left wales in the 1920s and 1930s in search of a better life.  many of them were unemployed.

 2) 'Light industries' Traditional heavy industries were on the decline.  Unployed workers looked for jobs making the new light manufacturing industries which were making the new consumer goods. 

 3) Government schemes The Ministry of Labour encouraged them to move by setting up a scheme to help them find work and accommodation.  New housing estates were built to house the migrant workers and their families.This gave them a better standard of living than they had back in Wales.

4) High wages Welsh workers could earn higher wages than they could back home.  The Welsh were also willing to work for lower wages as they had been out of work for so long.  In some places they were not made to feel welcome as the English felt they were taking their jobs.

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How important was popular entertainment in the 193

People had less money to spend on professional sport so amateur sport did well.  Rugby, boxing, football and racing became popular.  Sport helped develop a community spirit.  People went to the races to bet on the horses or the dogs.  

New sets were developed which had loudspeakers instead of headphones.  Radios became mass produced and more affordable.  The radio was the main source of entertainment.  People listened to the news, music and entertainment shows.

This was the most popular form of entertainment.  At the start of the 1920s films were silent; but by the end of the 1920s 'talkies', films with a soundtrack, were shown.  New luxury cinemas were built to accommodate the growing audiences.  Ticket prices were cheap so even the unemployed could afford to go for an occasional night out. They became household names.   Cinema provided escapism.  It enabled people to escape the reality of everyday life to  a world of 'make believe'.  

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