University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Pawn Shops and the 'Never Never': Poverty on the Home Front in the Second World War

King, Elspeth (2015) Pawn Shops and the 'Never Never': Poverty on the Home Front in the Second World War. In: Women’s History Network Annual Conference, 2015, 4th - 6th September 2015, University of Kent. (Unpublished)

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Pawn Shops and the ‘Never Never’: Poverty on the Home Front in the Second World War

The Second World War is often depicted in popular history as a time of equality of sacrifice and fair shares for a common good: a ‘Peoples War’ for the defeat of Nazism. Academic history has shown otherwise. Contrary to the myth of the ‘People’s War’ poverty and deprivation remained a very real lived experience for the ‘submerged tenth’ in society.

Although experiences of the depression of the 1930s varied geographically, unemployment in Britain never dropped below 10% nationally and in places such as Jarrow was double or triple that figure with many jobless for life. Whilst wartime conscription and limited absorption into industry helped to partially relieve the situation (being a privates wife was actually a principle cause of poverty) poverty did not disappear during the war.

During the course of the Second World War, as previously experienced in the nineteenth century, those living in poverty were held morally responsible for their plight with the ‘inefficiency of the mother’ together with a higher than average birth rate and old age pensioners who needed assistance from the Public Assistance Board regarded as being at the centre of the problem. Indeed Mary Douglas in her book Purity and Danger likened these mothers and their children to ‘pollution’. Solutions such as training for mothers in domesticity aimed to lift them from this ignominy whilst recourse to the Poor Law and Public Assistance was a fate many dreaded but sometimes found unavoidable. Despite the growth of labour exchanges (often viewed with suspicion due to their association with ‘the dole’ and the humiliation of means testing) most found any work obtained by casual means through contacts and family.

Together with poor housing, health and clothing, rising food prices helped to compound the misery. Before price controls were in place, the first eighteen months of the war saw inflation hit poorer groups hard with arguably the greatest price rises in poorer districts for cheaper food. In a period when the country was supposedly pulling together and never more united this paper will consider the implications for the ‘underclass’ in society and how rationing and shortages impacted on their lives including the use of pawn shops, W.V.S. clothing centres and charities.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Other)
Additional Information:

Conference title: 'Female agency, activism and organisation'

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Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: Second World War, popular history, time of equality, sacrifice, common good, poverty, deprivation
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Humanities
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Elspeth King
Date Deposited: 29 Nov 2016 10:50
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2020 17:14

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