Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 July 2014
The interwar period posed unprecedented challenges to the English government. Unemployment, poverty, and fiscal crisis dogged policy-makers throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Governmental efforts to deal with the social and economic dislocation caused by the world-wide, post-war depression did not meet with much success. Opinion, both popular and scholarly, has tended to judge the government's domestic record rather harshly. The growing range of government activity overseen by an increasingly homogeneous civil service centralized under the direction of the Treasury has engendered some suspicion about the role of official advice in formulating policies widely regarded as, at best, ineffective and, at worst, wrong-headed and even oppressive. The Ministry of Health seemed more concerned to stem the demands on the Exchequer than to ameliorate living conditions among the poor. The Ministry of Labour, engulfed by the administrative nightmare of unemployment insurance, could not also devise programs to reduce the rate of unemployment. The Treasury not only failed to produce any innovative strategy for the country's fiscal problems, their insistence on reducing government expenditure and maintaining a balanced budget—the so-called “Treasury view”—hung like a millstone around the necks of the spending departments. Even if officials had pressed aggressive and creative programs of social welfare upon political leaders, the Treasury obsession with what we now call the “bottom line” would have effectively denied them the resources necessary to implement any new program.
A grant from the American Philosophical Society supported the research upon which this essay is based.
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23 Meeting 10 Jan. 1930. MAF 48/207.
24 Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Agricultural Tied Cottages. Cmd. 4148, p. 32.
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34 French to Blunden, 11 Feb. 1931; Price to French, 13 Feb. 1931; Thomas to H.B. Usher, 10 March 1931. MAF 47/15.
35 This revision led to legislation that created the Unemployment Assistance Board. The issue of the position of agricultural workers with respect to unemployment relief and unemployment insurance constituted a relatively minor subplot in the larger drama of conflict and controversy surrounding this attempt to achieve a definitive solution to the problem of large-scale unemployment relief. For the full story see Miller, Frederick M., “National Assistance or Unemployment Assistance? The British Cabinet and Relief Policy, 1932–33,” Journal of Contemporary History 9 (1974): 163–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar; “The Unemployment Policy of the National Government, 1931–1936,” The Historical Journal 19 (1976): 453–476CrossRefGoogle Scholar; “The British Unemployment Crisis of 1935,” Journal of Contemporary History 14 (1979): 329–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Briggs, Eric and Deacon, Alan, “The Creation of the Unemployment Assistance Board,” Policy & Politics 2 (no. 1): 43–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gilbert, Bentley B., British Social Policy 1914–1939 (London, 1970), pp. 162–192Google Scholar.
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41 Stanley, 7 Nov. 1938; Mitchell, 9 Nov. 1938; Secretary, 16 Nov. 1938; Minister, 21 Nov. 1938. MAF 47/22.
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47 See, for example, Dale, H.E., Daniel Hall: Pioneer in Scientific Agriculture (London, 1956), pp. 128–30Google Scholar. When Hall gave evidence to the 1919 Royal Commission on Agriculture he was called upon to explain his supposed view that most farmers were “deficient in brains and capital.” Hall did not accept this as a totally accurate description of his views, but he did not reject it outright either. In reply to this question he observed philosophically, “you have to take people, including farmers, as you find them. If you want the land cultivated, they are the only people who can cultivate it. You have not another race of heaven-made farmers to put in their place.” Royal Commission on Agriculture, Minutes of Evidence (1919) Cmd. 345, p. 11.