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phil andrade

Living Standards in Britain : pre 1914 and post 1918 compared

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phil andrade

Please help me out here.

There is a very widespread view that " The Land Fit for Heroes" turned out to be a fraudulent promise.

I have my doubts about the caricatured perception.

I note that a Labour Governemt was elected for the first time in 1924, and that welfare legislation was enacted in the form of a Municipal Housing Act.

What I really need is a quick reference point to provide data about how infant mortality, TB and general living standards stack up if we look at pre 1914 Britain and compare it with, say, 1924.

Any help much appreciated.

Phil (PJA)

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Jim_Grundy

Ten years' data is too narrow a sample to identify trends in changes to the rate of infant mortality, TB rates, etc. You will have to broaden your search parameters to establish whether what happened in one decade was significantly different to what happened before or afterwards or was part of an established trend.

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Terry_Reeves

I agree with Jim on this. You need to extend your research well into the 1930's . With regard to housing, there was a significant change in the purchase of housing, particularly with the purchase of private housing.

TR

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MichaelBully

Hi Phil, from the top of my head....the Labour Government was a minority administration and lasted only a few months.

This site here, which seems to be connected with the party itself, claims that as you say, some social legislation was passed ( with Liberal support).

http://www.labour.org.uk/history_of_the_labour_party

I think that it might worth looking at local newspapers at the time, a source which often gets missed. When looking at them, I often get distracted by the adverts to see what sort of consumer goods were on offer, but also accounts of the local administration. Seeing if during and immediately after the Great War , was there more of a sense of social obligation for the Council to provide more help to the sections of the population who were struggling.

Or just try studying a particular borough in the time period 1910- 1925.

It could well turn into a fascinating study if you want to look into the social policy changes from the early 20th century through to the 1930's and how much was a consequence of the Great War.

Regards,

Michael Bully

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phil andrade

Thanks for that constructive suggestion, Mike.

I obtained some data from a googled source, which cited The Registrar General for England and Wales, STATISTICAL REVIEW ( Part 1), 1931, 1940 and 1949.

Infant Mortality, UK, per one thousand live births :

1901-1910 : 127.55

1921-1930 : 71.86

That is a dramatic reduction.

The article which cited this source was titled :

INFANT MORTALITY AND THE HEALTH OF SURVIVORS : BRITAIN, 1910 -1950, and was written by Timothy J.Hatton, Australian National University and the University of Essex, March 2009.

How much do you think can be inferred from this about societal improvements after the war ?

Phil (PJA)

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seaJane

Phil,

It might be worth getting in touch with the Wellcome Library (for the history of medicine) and asking their reference librarian what would be the best sources for the information you need. In the Victorian era I would have been looking at the Bills of Mortality, but I don't know if they were still issued in your period.

http://wellcomelibrary.org/

sJ

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Guest

The definitive study on this is J M Winter's "The Great War and the British People" which has the following chapters;

1. Strategic Demography: Population Poverty and Military Power in Pre-1914 Britain

2. Manpower and Military Service

3. The Lost Generation

4. Civilian Health in Wartime Britain

5. Medical Care in Wartime

6. Health Administration in Wartime

7. Standards of Living and Standards of Health

8. The Demographic Aftermath of the First World War

9. Demographic History, Cultural History and Memories of War.

Edit: the is a mountain of statistical evidence that conditions improved for the population as a whole and infant mortality saw the sharpest decline of all in the post war years.

Chapter 4 includes sub-chapters on Mortality declines among civilians, occupational mortality rates, and mortality decline in civilian female population 1912 - 1921 and a sub-chapter on the course of the decline in infant mortality 1900 - 1930 and the decline in infant mortality in working-class communities.

Chapter 8 includes vital statistics from 1910 to 1922 of population, marriages, births, deaths (civilians only) natural increase and net outward migration as well as marriage rates, birth rates, general fertility.

MG

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Guest

Specifically on infant mortality using 1911-13 as the base of 100 the data is as follows;

1905-10........107

1911-13........100

1914..............97

1915..............96

1916..............93

1917..............95

1918..............92

1919..............101 (influenza pandemic)

1920..............89

1921-25........84

These are the summary data. There is also a breakdown of the data by month of death.

Source: The Great War and the British People by J M Winter - The Decline of Infant Mortality in Wartime Britain: table 4.9 'An Index of Infant Mortality Rates in England and Wales 1905 -25 at Various Periods of the First Year of Life (1911-13 = 100).

He also states that infant mortality rates halved in the first three decades of the century in England and Wales and dropped by a quarter in the same period in Scotland. Scottish infant mortality in seven counties was actually rising in the first ten years of the century.

I would strongly recommend this book if you are interested in the impact WWI had on the British people.

MG

Edit: J M Winter was the University Lecturer in History and Fellow and Tutor of Pembroke College Cambridge.

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phil andrade

Thanks, Martin, that is very helpful and informative. Your suggestion appreciated, too, Sj.

I'm aware that some people are a bit sniffy about JM Winter ; the data you cite look very useful, Martin, and I'll follow up.

In the light of that dramatic improvement in survival for infants post war, I have to say that I'm thinking that perhaps the popular view of the twenties and thirties as a dismal era for the British people is a myth as fragile as that of the " Lions led by Donkeys" : maybe I'm jumping too soon, but I can think of no criterion more important than infant mortality as a means of assessment.

Phil (PJA)

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MichaelBully

Phil - I don't think that the popular view of the twenties and thirties is of a 'dismal era' . Populist historians/commentators such as Andrew Marr have highlighted that the 1930's was the rise of suburbia. Even George Orwell who monitored poverty via 'Down and Out in Paris and London' and 'Road To Wigan Pier' had to concede this.

Certainly it is agreed that there where some areas which saw some some awful deprivation, such as South Wales and urban areas of North England amongst others.

I am sure there's a study to be done concerning the economic impact of the Great War in the following decades on Britian and the social policy implications.

Regards

Michael Bully

In the light of that dramatic improvement in survival for infants post war, I have to say that I'm thinking that perhaps the popular view of the twenties and thirties as a dismal era for the British people is a myth as fragile as that of the " Lions led by Donkeys" : maybe I'm jumping too soon, but I can think of no criterion more important than infant mortality as a means of assessment.

Phil (PJA)

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Alan Tucker

The interwar period was generally one of improved prosperity for those in work. However if out of work, particularly in a depressed area of staple industry, the opposite was the case.

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phil andrade

Hi Michael,

Yes, you make a good point.

I remember starting my A-level Economics syllabus in 1969, and being sent as a schoolboy guest visitor to the LSE where I heard a lecture by Tony Benn, who made some rather platitudinous comments about how the aftermath of the Second World War did not expose the British people to the misery and betrayal that they had suffered after the First.

Most of us would have accepted that, weaned as we were on a diet of Joan Littlewood and Alan Clarke.

Incidentally, I also took a look at statistics of UK deaths from TB in the years before, during and after the war. Deaths from the disease actually rose quite sharply in the war itself, which is interesting. In the decade after the war, the number of deaths dropped, but not with anything like the speed that I had expected, after I had seen the diminution in infant mortality.

I suppose that TB might have been contracted a long time prior to death, so the improvements in medical care in the post war era were too late to save many of the sufferers. I know sweet FA about the disease, so I mustn't venture opinion until I've learnt a bit more.

Phil (PJA)

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kenf48

I disagree that the bitterness felt by those most affected by the war, especially the veterans is a 'caricatured perception'. The real poverty and hardship experienced by ex-servicemen and widows is evidenced by FM Haig's own post war efforts which have been well documented in the many biographies.

Trade Union membership more than doubled through the war years and they used their industrial muscle to operate closed shops and promote industrial strike action. Returning servicemen were excluded from skilled trades by the unions as they had not served an apprenticeship. Careers were disrupted by military service, who could expect a twenty-one year old officer promoted from the ranks to become an apprentice? So added to the economic indicators, as discussed in the now locked thread, there was political polarisation and industrial unrest, culminating in the General Strike in 1926.

In reality there was no revoloutionary movement in Britain, as one of the leaders of the Communist Party commented 'The British worker is only interested in beer, tobacco and horse racing and it will take twenty years to educate him'. Nevertheless the five million working days lost to industrial action in 1919 did not contribute to economic well-being. After 1921 as unemployment increased and wages fell strikes became less effective, but that is not to say the workers did not have a grievance. For example in mining, employing over one million men, 5 miners a day died in industrial accidents and nearly forty were injured. In 1923 they earned £2 10 shillings a week (the industrial average).

As for council housing indisputably the Housing Act of 1919 encouraged a surge in housebuilding or 'Homes (not Land) fit for Heroes' as Lloyd George called it but rents were high and only affordable by those in work, once again the 'Heroes' and the poor were excluded and literally out in the cold.

To use one public health indicator (and a fairly narrow one at that) to debunk a myth, while ignoring economic (i.e. standards of living) and political indicators seems a rather insecure foundation for the argument. Those in skilled trades who had not fought may have been 'alright Jack' but by the time of the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression even if they had managed to hold on to their jobs they was little or no disposable income after food and rent. Ted Willis, brought up in a working class suburb of London wrote, 'it was impossible not to share the sense of fear and foreboding which lay on the district like a frost". In the Midlands and the North many towns and cities became so distressed they were labelled 'designated areas' by the Government.

It is not difficult to imagine the bitterness and anger of those who had volunteered and marched off to war in 1914 who, having survived the conflict found there was little or no work for them on their return; a medical board that Haig castigated before a Parliamentary Select Committee for placing obstacles in the way of fair pensions; strikes and unemployment not to mention the hope and ambition that was lost and the psychological effects of the war on survivors and their families.

To quote Winter, 'We need to confront the fact that the war lasted much,much longer than the conflict itself.'

Ken

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Guest

Having read Winter and others in some detail, it seems to me that few of the economic and social historians are really able to separate the secular improvements in health/wealth distribution/standards of living etc from the impact of WWI. The fact that measures such as infant mortality declined can not necessarily be attributed to WWI. The data might have a high correlation, but correlation does not prove causality. Decreases in infant mortality might be due to general improvements which were independent of the War efforts. It is difficult to isolate local or short term factors from the secular trends. How does one isolate a factor of WWI. Education, or the liberation of women in the workforce necessitated by the drain on manpower (for example) must surely be an indirect factor, but the magnitude of the impact is difficult to measure or model.

MG

P.S. I have a spare copy of Winter if anyone wants it. Just PM me. Edit. This has now found a new home.

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phil andrade

Ken,

With the very limited knowledge I have, it was not my intention to debunk a myth.

It does, however, seem worthwhile to reconsider it.

Infant mortality rates must, surely, stand as a very important indicator, even if not the be-all and end- all of societal development.

Phil (PJA)

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CarylW

Came across this chart for infant mortality while looking for something else (as you do)

Source: Britain Between the Wars 1918-1940 Charles Mowatt

mort3.jpg

Just passing it on

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slick63

A lot of factors have to be taken into consideration, not just infant mortality. Standards of housing, education, employment prospects and the introduction of free health care must come into the equation. Whilst a fair bit of slum clearance began in the late 20`s/early 1930`s, aided by the luftwaffe in the 1940`s, it could be argued that living standards, better health care, and employment prospects didn`t really increase by a noticeable amount across the classes in the UK, until the mid 1950`s.

There was a country estate near Bristol which up until the early 1950`s still never paid wages to their staff, they provided a weekly food allowance and housed them in estate cottages. If for instance an employee needed a new pair of trousers they had to see the estate manager who would ok it with the owner of the estate, then the manager would purchase the trousers for the employee with estate funds. The estate started to die out in the early 50`s due to the availablity of new social housing estates and the increased employment opportunities at the time.

Whilst mortality may have gone down due to treatments such as penicillin etc, childhood disease was still prevalent into the 1950`s, with polio, ricketts etc. still being fairly commonplace amongst the lower classes.

Edited by slick63

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CarylW

..........

I am sure there's a study to be done concerning the economic impact of the Great War in the following decades on Britian and the social policy implications.

Regards

Michael Bully

I agree Michael. The impact of the Great War is a subject that I'm particularly interested in and not least because of the effect on my own family. The book I have by Charles Mowatt (mentioned above) about Britain between the wars is one that I find very useful and dip in and out of often, but I'd be interested to hear of others that anyone else could recommend. (I notice one above by J M Winter)

Found some interesting figures in a 1927 "Snapper" journal.

'That the Great War will weigh heavily on our country for many a long year yet is brought out by the figures of the Ministry of Pensions. In receipt of pensions of allowances are: - 25,600 Officers; 1,144 Nurses; 509,500 men; 154,000 widows; 563,000 children.

There are stilll under medical treatment 33,827 cases. The total cost for one year was £66,916,268. Since it's establishment, the Ministry has spent £665,000,000'

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centurion

Between 1914 and 1920 the average income of all working class families had risen by 100%, cost of living had risen 75% so there was a clear average gain. The greatest gain was amongst manual workers.. There was a housing shortage estimated at 600,000 houses. A council house building programme for 70,000 a year in general failed to deliver although there were some notable exceptions in and around London. The Unemployment Insurance Act of 1920 extended cover to almost all those working, only non manual workers earning more than £250 pa were excluded.

see Bowly Prices and Incomes 1914 - 1920

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