A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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For internal Circulation only.

Conditions of English town life as disclosed by evacuation.

1. Introduction

This report is a brief summary of a detailed investigation carried out for the Women's Group of Public Welfare (Chairman, Miss Margaret Bondfield) on which Home Intelligence is represented. The purpose of the investigation was to find out how far the allegations made by “the country” against the evacuees were substantiated by fact; and how far such charges could be attributed to town-dwellers, as such, or to the environment from which they came. The methods of investigation include the examination of witnesses (health visitors, housing estate, managers, teachers, social workers, billeting officers, civil and local Government servants) and correspondence with school medical officers etc., as well as a large volume of first-hand experience.

It is thought that this report may be of value in considering any question of further publicity in reception areas on the subject of evacuation.

2. The Outcry

It is common knowledge that the condition, habits and behaviour of the evacuees, both children and adult, caused a feeling of extreme dismay in most reception areas. Except in rare cases (e.g. hop-pickers) the inhabitants of the poorest districts had seldom stayed away from their own neighbourhoods for as long as a night, and were a revelation to the country people among whom they went.

3. How far was it justified ?

On investigation the complaints appear to have been much exaggerated. One member of the Committee, with long experience of visiting, assessed only from 5% to 10% of the people visited as of really low social standing, and from 70% to 80% as being self-respecting and decent people. The “submerged tenth”, however, represents a large number of people; furthermore, it is likely that this “submerged tenth”, being perhaps more “feckless”, will be among those who evacuate at an early moment.

4. Home condition of evacuees

Investigation into the background of the children leads the Committee to list the chief abuses as follows:-

Vermin Bad feeding habits
Skin diseases Bad sleeping habits
Insanitary habits Juvenile indiscipline and delinquency
Bodily dirtiness
Dirty and inadequate clothing Wrong spending

5. Vermin

Hospitals records in the reception areas showed that, in some cases, up to 50% of the evacuee children admitted were verminous; if this applies to the 735,000 unaccompanied children received, the magnitude of the problem can well be realised. Although the reception areas were far from stainless, it can be said that the cleanest of the evacuated cities was dirtier, and the majority overwhelmingly dirtier, than the main reception areas, with the possible exception of Bradford on one hand and Lancashire on the other.

In pre-war statistics of verminous children attending public elementary schools, great discrepancies are to be found: thus of 1,230 children, and 593 girls, examined by a Lancashire School Medical Officer 4.7% and 9.2% respectively were found to be verminous. But of 3,916 children and 1929 girls examined by the school nurses, 14% and 22.5% respectively were found to be verminous. It appears, therefore, that either the routine inspections by Medical Officers are not sufficiently thorough, or that school nurses see vermin where none exists.

At a London inspection in 1938 the results were as follows:-

Children found unclean at routine medical inspections 2.3%

Children found unclean at nurses' examination 16.4%

At a Liverpool inspection in 1938:

at routine medical inspections 4.5% boys, 13.1% girls

at nurses' examinations 20% all children.

The presumption therefore is that inspections by nurses are of a considerably more thorough nature.

6. Skin diseases

Scabies, impetigo, ringworm and other skin diseases are a major problem, causing much absenteeism. Re-infection after cure is very common and adds considerably to the difficulties.

7. Insanitary habits

The prevalence of insanitary habits, such as bed-wetting, soiling, and personal dirtiness is thought by the Committee to be due chiefly to indifference and lack of training by the mothers, and to the shortage and inadequacy of sanitary conveniences, and washing facilities in their town homes.

Information on the subject of menstruation is so difficult to obtain that the Committee has not attempted a full enquiry, but reports have been received of evacuated mothers and girls who wore no protection whatever. This was confirmed by an experienced health visitor, and from Juvenile Instruction Centres, and from domestic training centres; here it was reported to be “commonplace”. The old-fashioned wear was the washable towel, usually of Turkish towelling, but as this is unpleasant to store and difficult to wash, it is not advocated. The modern soluble towel is beyond the means of poor women.

Instances are quoted of the number of families obliged to use one closet in over-crowded tenements. In Clerkenwell this averages seven or eight “tenancies”, or even higher, while a Sanitary Inspector told the Committee that in Shoreditch the majority of houses only had outside closets. The difficulties of even the best-intentioned mothers in training their children are therefore obvious; the Committee advocates the enforcement of bye-laws governing the maximum number of people entitled to use each closet.

8. Clothing

The condition of children's clothing is reported to be most unsatisfactory. Social workers and teachers state that children of the lowest stratum have no change of underclothing, nor any night clothes; they achieve warmth only by adding one layer of garments to another, excluding all air from the body, and seldom have any satisfactory footwear.

The standard and conditions of sale of clothing to the poor need thorough investigation. A table of methods of buying clothing among the poorest class gave the following figures:-

Place Pawnbrokers and Secondhand Clubs and Secondhand Stalls and Markets Shops for Cash None bought while unemployed
London 15 7 10 5 8
Birmingham 12 10 2 3 5
Total 27 17 12 8 13

This covered seventy-seven enquiries among the “long unemployed”.

Clothing clubs, with their “poundage” and commission charges, are shown by enquiries in London and Liverpool to have reduced the purchasing value of the £1 in some cases as low as 12/6, while an informant from Hanley places it at 16/-. Further, a customer is forced by her inability to pay cash into taking the shoddiest class of goods at these inflated prices.

9. Money lending

Evasion of the law by money lenders is reported and it is stated that no law is broken so often and so openly. In spite of the law forbidding money lenders to exact more than 48% per annum interest, the recognised rate of interest is 1d in the shilling on weekly loans, which represents 433% per annum.

10. Conclusions and suggestions

The three main remedies suggested are:-

Further investigation

Education and propaganda

Legislation and administration

Among the suggestions made are:-

Further investigation .

  1. The presentation of statistics relating to the incidence of dirt disease is misleading; there should be more accurate classification and the results of periodic inspections by school nurses should be included in the reports of the school medical officers.

  2. More intensive research is required into a cure for scabies and other skin diseases.

  3. Investigation is urgently required into:-

The supply of clothing of the very poor,

The footwear of the very poor,

“Tithen sales”.

Education and Propaganda

  1. Publicity campaigns and propaganda in ‘lousy’ areas to teach that ‘lousiness’ (often taken for granted) is a disgrace. Much stronger support in this from the Bench and other official quarters.

  2. More education on the proper feeding of children.

  3. A campaign of hygienic education, both to parents and in schools.

  4. A campaign for better sleeping conditions and sleeping hours.

In each of these cases such education should be directed towards a very limited section of the community only.

Legislation and Administration

  1. School nurse and health visitor should be a combined office; her training should include social case work; and she should have a smaller territory where she could gain the confidence of her families. Health visitors should spend 60% of their time on home visiting.

  2. Compulsory disinfection of second-hand clothing, bedding etc., before re-sale.

  3. Manufacture and free distribution of cheap hygienic equipment (soluble sanitary towels etc.,) in mass quantities.

  4. A great extension of nursery schools where training in sanitary habits, personal cleanliness, feeding etc., will filter back into the homes through the children.

  5. Drastic reform in the sanitary condition of property; increase in the number of W.Cs and in washing facilities; prohibition on the occupation of condemned property, whether rent is being paid for it or not; much more frequent inspection of such property.

  6. A minimum standard of clothing for children.

  7. The supply of protective foods to the poor at wholesale prices.

  8. More drastic enforcement of the law relating to money lenders.

JANUARY 21, 1942 .

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