A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



This inquiry was made at the request of the Campaigns Division of the Ministry of Information and the Directorate of Salvage Recovery.


The inquiry had four objects:-

1. To get up-to-date information on the salvage habits of the people, so as to discover in an objective way the effect of attempts by publicity to make people salvage-conscious.

2. To find out those articles which could most profitably be the subject of further salvage drives.

3. To discover what were the subjective reactions of the people to publicity- what had particularly impressed them, and what were their own ideas about simplifying the collection of salvage.

4. To gauge the effect of the Government’s attempt at enforcement, making it illegal to destroy or render unsalvageable rubber, rope, string and paper, by finding out how many people admitted having heard about these orders.

Questionnaire, Sample, etc .

The questionnaire was put to 3073 housewives by a team of 26 interviewers operating in 28 towns and rural districts. Three of these areas were in Scotland, seven in Northern England, four in the Midlands, three in the West, two in Wales, and nine in the London boroughs and Home Counties. (See Appendix I on Sample).

The interviews took place between May 14th and May 28th, 1943. A somewhat similar inquiry was made in March 1942, and we have made comparisons whenever these were possible.

The whole material is analysed by working/not working, urban/rural, and type of dwelling. Wherever significant group differences were found, we have presented them.

Local arrangements for collection and separation

Local regulations and arrangements for the collection and separation of salvage were bound to differ. In addition to interviewing housewives, investigators were instructed to discover these local peculiarities in order that the questionnaires could be set against their correct background. To do this, interviewers made a point of seeing the local salvage official (where he was sympathetic), the W.V.S., and any other organisation concerned in the collection of salvage.

In drawing up the report we were then able to make allowances for those housewives who were not separating salvage because they had been informed by the local authority that it was not necessary to do so.

An analysis of these reports shows that the large majority of Councils issued their own instructions to the people to keep separate the following articles - paper, rags, rubber, non-ferrous metal, kitchen waste and bones. A minority relied on national publicity, and issued no instructions of their own,

A number of the larger towns had separating machinery, some doing a complete job of separating all the different articles of value from the refuse, others of the electro-magnetic type extracting iron and steel only. In at least two of the towns visited, bones were converted into food meal at the cleansing station. These local differences should have been mirrored by a difference in the local publicity and instructions, but the evidence points to a good deal of confusion. In one northern town, for example, a housewife reported that she had heard on the wireless that she must not mix bones with the pig food, and was indignant with the local authorities for telling her there was no need to sort refuse. This kind of situation, linked with a half-assimilated knowledge that to destroy certain salvageable articles was an offence, led to the following type of remark:-

“There are too many regulations and changes. We don’t know where we are.

I’m almost afraid to put anything out now”.

Special reference should be made to the difficulties experienced in rural areas. In at least six cases we learnt that salvage was left entirely in the hands of voluntary organisations - usually the W.V.S. or the local school. Theirs was the responsibility for organisation, collection and disposal. In many cases their efforts were successful and appreciated, but tended to be haphazard. The problems of outlying farms and villages, and of getting salvage taken away, were either neglected or solved with very great difficulty.

In a majority of the towns there are evidences of very successful co-operation between the Council and voluntary bodies interested in salvage collection. There were reports of friction from one or two towns, usually traceable to inefficiency on the part of the Council - in at least one case, of a transitory character only.

Reports came in of different systems of collection tried out in the country - the 8 bin system seemed to be an economical and satisfactory solution. Another system - eight sacks labelled and nailed to a rail in each street - produced a greater flood of criticism, chiefly on hygienic grounds.

How the inquiry was received - Background

Most of the interviewers reported that the inquiry was received with interest and co-operation by housewives. Others reported a certain amount of exasperation; due very largely, it was thought, to waste and inefficiency over the organisation of collection. We are therefore noting what seemed to be the main deficiencies in this respect.

Foremost amongst the complaints were those of the large number of dumps and the Government’s failure to clear them. The Hackney Marsh incident was referred to many times. It was frequently found that organisation lagged far behind publicity, and that there was a lack of co-operation between neighbouring authorities where this might have smoothed the path of organisation. In one town there is a large tin dump referred to with scathing comments by many housewives. The tins could not be removed because the Council had no steam roller with which to flatten them. A neighbouring Council refused the loan of a steam roller. The tins remain in the dump, and the Council employs a caretaker to watch over them.

Propaganda urges the salvage of rubber. It is, in fact, illegal to destroy rubber, yet one man complained that he had to pay 9/- from his own pocket for the transport of rubber to the depot.

Conflict between national and local instructions should again be commented on in this connection. One investigator was confounded by vans exhibiting posters “Burn more refuse”. Housewives complained that this was hardly likely to encourage the economy of fuel or the collection of salvage.

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