Rationing

Photo:Ration book issued to Lydia Spurrier

Ration book issued to Lydia Spurrier

Lydia Spurrier

An equal share

'To every member of the community an equal share'

When rationing was introduced on 8 January 1940, it was with the intention ‘to ensure to every member of the community an equal share’. As a primary industrial and urban country Britain was a net importer of food. The consequences of war and submarine warfare required the British Government to set up plans for rationing to avoid shortages of food supplies in the shops and the high prices that were sure to follow. The rationing scheme was to ensure that the population had access to the basic foodstuffs necessary to maintain fit and healthy. The amounts of the rations were based on the requirements of other imported commodities such as armament and raw materials. Whereas bacon, butter and sugar were among the first things to become part of the rationing scheme, other foodstuffs such as potatoes, fruit and fish were never rationed.

'People soon forget everything was on ration, meat was precious'

The rationing of meat led to more complaints that any other, manual workers were vociferous in their complaints that they could not be expected to do a full day’s manual labour with the rations allowed.  By February 1943, it was reported that 72 per cent of men in heavy industry were convinced that their diet was inadequate for the work they had to do. With the lack of meat perceived as the biggest deprivation, the Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin, suggested that morale could be in ‘serious danger’ unless the meat ration was increased. Many found it difficult to come to terms with the rationing allowances and the shortage of food. June Doray recalls the irrational response of a neighbour after an air raid:

‘Mrs Tegg a neighbour stood in front of her house which was badly hit, looking at a small joint of meat which was covered with glass and dirt crying her eyes out saying ‘Look what they have done to my dinner’. Never mind what they did to the house. People soon forget everything was on ration, meat was precious’.

Inequality within the system

Although rationing of food was generally accepted by the general public, inequality within the system was a constant issue. The wealthy could more easily supplement their rations as the food products not rationed generally only could be acquired at a high rate. Resentment of other advantages available to the rich such as the non-rationed restaurant meals was also evident among the British people. Concerned about the effect this inequality could have on morale, the Ministry of Food considered various schemes, and in 1942 a maximum price of five shillings was introduced for all restaurant meals. Nevertheless, the restrictions could without problems be circumvented and throughout the war resentment continued to simmer as inequalities persisted. 

‘Make do and Mend’

Rationing also applied to such commodities as clothing and footwear. The war made it no longer possible to import supplies of clothes from overseas and as clothes manufacturers in Britain had to produce commodities supporting the war effort, a shortage of clothes was inevitable. The ‘Make do and Mend’ campaign introduced by the Government was intended to encourage the public to ‘make do and mend’ the clothes already in their possession.

Rationing of commodities

Simply because an item was not rationed did not necessitate the availability of the commodity in the shops, often items not included in the rationing scheme were hard and expensive to acquire. Although such items as soap were rationed, other cosmetic products remained scarce even with the Board of Trade fighting stoutly to maintain a supply of cosmetics which it deemed essential to the preservation of female morale.  With ration coupons only available for necessities, Anne Hawkins’ leisure time was inevitably affected by the rationing scheme. 

‘I always met up with Cecely and her sister Lillian and we would go into the town centre hoping we may be lucky enough to join a queue outside a shop which may have cosmetics to sell. Failing this we just walked around window shopping as we rarely had coupons to buy clothing. For a laugh we sometimes went into John Lewis’s Department store chose a selection of expensive dresses, coats even very expensive fur coats and tell the floor assistant we wanted to try them on, it passed the afternoon away.’

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 04/11/2011.

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