Impact of war on women, food, industry, health and housing



  • Dramatic impact eg 93% of all working men involved in war effot
  • Politicans aware of the cost of this on the populace so therefore wanted to offer hope by way of Reports and promises about what reforms were to come to keep Morale high
  • WW2 arguably GB first experience of Total War= unprecedented level of state intervention and a LOWERING of civil and legal rights. Eg rationing, labour controls, travel controls, suspension of elections, INTERNMENT of political opponents (eg Mosley) and propaganda by Ministry of Information
  • Some historians claim that WW2 = social ReVoLuTiOn in GB when gap b/w rich and poor narroed. Is an exaggeration but class divide more on social consciousness and there was a desire not to return to 20s and 30s after the war when poverty and depression was the main experience for the poor
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  • 1939 Britain imported 70% of it's foog- 1 ton of food per person each year. German U-Boats had begun to sunk GB shipping since 1939, therefore, Gov set up a Ministry of Food led by Lord Woolton which tackled the problem in two key ways:
  • 1) Rationing of essential foods (prevent food being unavailable to poor due to high prices) eg meat, butter, sugar. Affected everyone
  • 2) "Dig for Victory" - campaign for people to produce more of their own food
  • Free milk provided for ALL children. Diet of working class people actually improved and there was a greater awareness of need for a balanced diet. 
  • Unrationed goods DID rise in price eg Milk and Bread
  • And, Ministry of Food prosecuted over 100,000 people for selling rationed good illegally on the BLACK MARKET
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Industry and Economy

  • ERNEST BEVIN - immense powers as Minister for Labour and National Service could direct labour wherever needed, eg in 1943 conscripted young men into the coal mines = "Bevin's Boys".
  • War ended the depression. Rearmament = massive demand for goods + therefore labour. By 1940 labour DEFICIT of 2 Million workers!!!
  • Government, of course, had to Borrow and SPend massively.
  • USA lent Britain $30 million under the LEND LEASE SCHEME
  • By the end of the war Britain's NATIONAL DEBT = £3.5 billion and TRADE DEFICIT = £1bn
  • Taxes were raised to pay for this, many people paying £50 in PAYE income tax by end of the war
  • Most workers enjoyed increased wages and purpose seen as they felt important in the war effot. Fuelled desire that GB key industries remained NATIONALISED post WW2, one of the reasons for rise in number of working days lost due to strike action in 1942:
  • TOTAL OF 3.7 MILLION working days lost
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  • By 1943 nearly half of all females ages 14-59 employed in WAR WORK .
  • Women increased status in war, but within few months of end of war, 75% of woman left jobs to return to traditonal roles
  • Increased status of women as head of household = problems when men returned. 
  • DIVORCES increased from 7,000 in 1939 to 60,000 in 1947
  • WRENS (Women's royal navy service) and WRAFS (women's royal air force)
  • 190,000 served in the ATS (auxiliary territorial service) 
  • 2x more women than in WW1 in war service
  • Dec 1941 childless widows and single women 20-30 conscripted into war work
  • Women made up a 1/3 of labour force in Munitions factories by 1943
  • Livves often better becuase there greater social freedom, more childcare, more canteen meals reducing home-work.
  • But, during wartime, women on average paid 59% less than men
  • And, members of Women's Land Army often given the worst jobs
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Health and Housing

  • Soon clear the system of National Insurance was NOT WORKING, and needed some sort of reform. 
  • Fear of MASS BOMBING meant the government set up an Emergency Hospital Scheme for civilian war casualities.
  • In addition, children evacuated to the countryside, local doctors unable to treat them because they were not registered with them. Therefore, need for a National Health Service
  • War work = 11-12 hour shifts and a rise in industrial accidents - over 1000 fatalities p.a 
  • City bombing = disrupted sleep and social life also
  • But somehow, 30 million people went to the cinema each week?


  • 200,000 completely destroyed houses and 250,000 uninhabitable houses BUT
  • 220,000 houses were built
  • 1944 Town and Country Planning Act enabled slum clearance and development to areas with war damage
  • 1944 Housing Act £150m set aside for Pre-Fabs 
  • War stopped the housing boom, only 7000 houses built in 1943. Bombing destroyed about 4 million houses = 2 million homeless.
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