A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



At the request of the War Cabinet Offices a survey has been made of public attitudes to the proposed fuel rationing scheme.

Interviewing was carried out during the week of May 26-30th; details of the sample of the population which was interviewed are given below.


The main questions which the survey sought to answer were:—

1. What is the public's attitude towards rationing as a device for meeting the fuel shortage?

The survey showed that 53.5% approved and 35.3% disapproved of rationing. Disapproval was more marked among men than among women. 60% of miners who were interviewed disapproved of the idea.

2. What is the public's attitude towards points rationing as a suitable rationing system for fuel?

The survey showed the 48.6% approved of points rationing, and 26.8% disapproved. Approval was more marked amongst people in the lower income groups.

3. What is the public's attitude towards the need for individual reading of meters?

The survey showed that 29.5% had read their meters and 70.5% had not done so. Some 85.3% of women had never read meters, of those who had never read meters, 83.4 % expressed the belief that they could learn to do so.

The sample

The sample was designed to give national representation, i.e. all the main segments of the population were represented proportionately.

Regional representation
London 155
South and East England 233
Midlands 145
Northern England 265
Scotland 134
Wales 70
Men 445
Women 557
30 and under 22.2%
30-45 37.4%
Over45 40.4%

Additional interviews were made to supplement the separate figures which follow for housewives and miners.

In order to get an accurate picture of public attitudes at the time of interviewing it was important that investigators refrained from instructing those whom they interviewed. Only the minimum of explanation necessary for completing the questionnaire was permitted.

All those interviewed were asked had read or heard of the fuel shortage, with the following results:-

Had heard 93.4%
Had not heard 6.6%

In no section of the population was there greater ignorance than this.

3 4

1. Public attitude towards rationing

All were asked if they approved if disapproved of rationing as a way of dealing with the fuel shortage.

Approve 53.5
Disapprove 35.3
Indifferent 11.2
Sample 999

(Indifferent applies to those who were unable to indicate clearly either approval of disapproval ). A further breakdown showed:

All Women
Approve 51.0 55.6 49.5
Disapprove 44.0 28.5 29.3
Indifferent 5.0 15.9 21.2
Sample 435 564 420

It will be seen that women approve slightly more than men, and men disapprove markedly more than women. There is a tendency – particularly apparent among housewives – for women to be unable to make up their minds.

Enquiries among miners also showed marked disapproval:-

Miners Total
Approve 35.8% 53.5%
Disapprove 59.5% 35.3%
Indifferent 4.7% 11.2%
Sample 106

There was a slight tendency for lower income groups to approve more than upper income groups.

Reasons for disapproval of rationing Proportion of those disapproving
A. People do not waste fuel. It should be left to one's own judgment.
Women are more inclined than men to advance reason A (34.5% of women disapprove as against 24.1% of men). This is the biggest reason amongst women for disapproving.
B. Plenty of coal in the country, miners should go back into the mines.
Men are much more inclined than women to advance reason B (34.8% of men as against 7.7% of women). This is the biggest reason among men for disapproving.
C. We don’t get enough, now. The ration would not be big enough.
Women are more inclined than men to advance reason C (24.0% of women as against 12.8% of men.
D. Don’t see how it would work.
Women are somewhat more inclined than men to advance reason E (15.6% against 8.6%).
E. Rationing would not be fair. People have different sorts of houses, rich people would get more. 11.8%
F. Other Reasons. 5.5%

It should be borne in mind that figures are proportions only of those disapproving rationing (35.3% of the sample). Thus, those disapproving of rationing for reason A amount only to 10% of the sample.

Among housewives reasons A and C are advanced by 60% of those who disapprove.

Miners differ strikingly in their reasons for disapproval:

Total Miners only
Reason B 22.6% 58.4%
Reason C 17.8% 26.6%

Reasons B and C account for 85% of miners’ reasons for disapproval it will be remembered that nearly 60% of miners disapproved of rationing.


2. Public attitude towards points rationing for fuel

At this stage it was necessary to make sure that those who were interviewed understood points rationing as applied to fuel; investigators were, therefore, given the following explanation of the situation:

No complete scheme has yet been announced by the Government, but the Beveridge report proposes to allot points which can be used for any of the different fuels - coal, gas, electricity, paraffin, or any artificial fuel made from coal or coke. These points would be for fuel only and additional to those already issued for other commodities. They would have to be given up when buying coal or when money was collected for gas or for electricity. Investigators were told that after explaining this, they were not going into any further details of the scheme.

All the people interviewed were then asked: “If fuel is to be rationed, would you approve or disapprove if a points scheme were brought in?".

Approve 48.6% 52.8%
Disapprove 26.8% 18.8%
Indifferent 19.4% 12.3%
Opposed to rationing 5.2% 16.1%
Sample 997 106

19.4% were unable to make up their minds, whilst 5.2% were so much opposed to rationing that they refused to consider the question.

Again a tendency appeared for women to be unable to make up their minds.

In order to secure some indication of differences among social groups, a separate analysis was made grouping upper income housewives, managerial and professional people, lower income housewives, and other occupational groups.

Upper income Lower income
Approve 36.0% 51.1%
Disapprove 36.0% 24.9%
Indifferent 24.0% 18.7%
Oppose rationing 4.0% 5.3%
Sample 175 855

It will be seen that points rationing is favored markedly by the lower income groups.

Reasons for disapproval of a points scheme:

Proportion of those disapproving
A. Not fair; a small family needs as much as a big one; different sized houses, etc. 32
B. Don't see how it would work 22.2
C. Difficult for the housewife; can’t understand points 16.7
D. Disapproval of points scheme because you don’t get enough points. 15.6
E. Miscellaneous 13.5

It will be seen that reasons A and D really express a fear that the scheme will not take individual needs into full account. These reasons were given by nearly half of those disapproving of a points scheme.

People who disapproved were asked if they would prefer another system of rationing.

Proportion of those disapproving points
Yes 64
No 14
Don’t know 22

It should be remembered that only 26.8% of the whole sample definitely disapproved of a points scheme.

People who said they preferred another scheme of rationing were asked what method they preferred but only about half of them were able to indicate an alternative. The other methods mentioned were:—

Number mentioning
Proportion of last year's consumption 19
According to size of house 14
So much per house 12
Coal dealers should manage rationing 13
Weekly or monthly ration of coal 13
Control from source, turn on so many hours a day 7
Give less for money 4
Miscellaneous 14

These numbers amount to less than 10% of the sample.


3. Attitudes towards meter reading

To the question: “Have you ever read your own gas or electricity meter?” answers were given which showed:

Had read meter 29.5% 44.5 14.7
Had never read meter 70.5% 55.5 85.3

The marked difference between the number of men and the number of women who had read meters was found to a smaller degree between the upper and lower income groups.

Upper income
Lower income
Had read meter 41.5 25.62
Had never read meter 58.5 74.4

It is obvious from these figures that public education would be necessary on a wide scale if a scheme is framed which would require individual meter reading. Figures given below indicate, however, that there is little apprehension of this possibility in the public's mind.

Those who had never read a meter were asked: "Do you think you could learn to read it?".

Could learn 83.4%
Could not learn 7.8%
Don’t know 8.8%
All Women
Could learn 88.5 81.5 76.3
Could not learn 4.8 9.0 10.7
Don’t know 6.7 9.5 13.0

It will be seen that there is somewhat less certainty in the mind of housewives as to the possibility of learning. This is probably to be explained by the fact that housewives, as a group } include more "older people” than occur in other groups of the sample:-

People who had never read their meters were asked: "Has any other member of your family ever read the gas or electricity meter?”. The answers were:

Yes 25.7 33.8
No 64.5 54.5
Don’t know 9.8 8.7

From these figures it may be expected that a considerable proportion of those unable to read meters will be able to rely on some other member of the family for this purpose.

These figures, of course, give no measure of the ability to learn to read meters, among those who were interviewed. They do show, however, that there is no large measure of apprehension on this account.

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