A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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Immediately the war broke out the main staple foods with the exception of flour and potatoes were rationed and since then a number of other foods have been included in the scheme.

The Survey carried out 5 separate investigations into people’s attitudes to rationing. In the beginning of 1942, about one and a half years after rationing had come into force, 4577 people all over England were asked “What do you think about food rationing?” Every one of these 4577 people said that they approved of rationing in principle.

In analysing some of the motives which may have given rise to this 100% positive attitude, one finds the following ambivalent considerations.

Rationing means for many people a considerable cutting down of food stuffs which they were accustomed to eat and for them this is certainly a disagreeable experience. At the same time there is a strong fear based on experience of past wars that war might mean starvation. This general fear is based on the concrete disagreeable experience many people had in the last world war of queueing, black markets, rising prices, under-the-counter deals and shortages. Because of these experiences, they look to rationing as the only means by which adequate supplies can be maintained, and many say quite conscientiously that they don’t mind cuts in food consumption because they feel that they are doing something to help the war. Very few people mentioned the irksomeness of the many regulations rationing involved.

The main positive motive for the acceptance of rationing in principle is that it is fair, in the sense that it gives everybody the same share. To judge from the comments made, the feeling that nobody has more than oneself gives people great peace of mind and makes them feel quite prepared to accept restrictions.

Though every one of the 4577 people asked accepted rationing as a good principle under the circumstances, certain criticisms were made.

0.2% of the housewives and 4% of the general population complained about loopholes which allowed the rationing scheme to be handled unfairly.

Many more voices were raised in the demand for increased rations. 4% of the housewives and 14% of the general population wanted more of certain foods. These foods were most often fat, meat and sugar.

In 1942 and 1943 two investigations were carried out in which people were asked “which of the foods now in short supply would you most like to have more of if this were possible?”

Housewives Factory Workers Agriculture Mining Building Clerical Distributive Managerial Professional
% % % % %
Fats 30 13 17 29 26
Meat 11 25 36 10 16
Sugar 20 9 15 14 8
Eggs 10 15 6 13 19
Milk 5 6 1 5 5
Fruit 3 5 2 8 10
Tea 5 6 5 2 1
Sample 869 605 331 448 144

In the case of the heavy worker it is above all meat of which more is wanted. Housewives and all other occupation groups are most concerned about their fat ration.

How far this need has a biochemical basis or how far it is just an expression of former food habits it is difficult to say.

That people would not like any further cuts in their rations is quite clear from the results of two questions. “Do you think more foods should be rationed?” and “Do you think any of the present rations could be cut down to make more room for shipping.

Do you think more sorts of foods should be rationed? Do you think any of the present rations should be cut down to make more room for shipping?
% %
Yes 25 20
No 60 62
Has no opinion 15 18
Sample 2665 2665

If these tables are further analysed it is found that of the 25% who want more food to be rationed, 8% wanted fish rationed - hoping in this way for a fairer distribution of fish; 8% wanted bread rationed, stating that bread is plentiful and rationing might avoid waste. It is evident that neither of these groups expect from rationing a cut in their own consumption. The rest of those who wanted rationing extended mentioned one of the other foods, but less than 1% mentioned any one of these foods.

Of the 20% who said that they thought the rations could be cut, 6% suggested that the cheese ration could be cut (the investigation was carried out during the time of the double cheese ration), 5% mentioned certain tinned goods on points, and other foods were mentioned by less than 1% - these were usually foods which were disliked by the particular informant.

The most positive aspect of rationing in the minds of the people is the fairness of distribution. Asked “Do you think rationing should be made stricter in any way?” the answers were:-

Yes 21
No 63
Has no opinion 16
Sample 2761

Further analyses of the answers of those who said that rationing should be made more strict, split their opinions so greatly on the different points on which rationing could be made more strict that the most frequent suggestion - “to stop under-the-counter trading” - is only mentioned by 4%. These figures suggest that the majority of people are reasonably satisfied with the fairness of the rationing scheme and the others are not agreed on any ways of improving it.

Rationing involves a number of special schemes. It was, therefore, desirable to examine people’s attitude to these schemes. 2530 housewives were asked whether they approved or disapproved of the following seven food schemes:-

Approve Has criticism to make or disapproves Has no opinion
% % %
Rationing 91 4 5
Points rationing 86 7 7
National and Priority Milk 77 8 15
Price control 80 6 14
British Restaurant 40 4 56
National Wheatmeal bread 52 35 13
The scheme for selling oranges first to people with children under 5 47 39 14
Sample 2530

On rationing and points rationing a small minority has criticism to make, and a small number have no opinion, but the majority accept the scheme as it is.

The National and Priority milk scheme has also only a small percentage of disapprovals or criticism, but the number who have no opinion is greater than for rationing and points rationing.

The same is true of opinions on price control.

The British Restaurant scheme is criticised only by a few, but more than half the sample has no opinion on them as a great number of housewives have never used or even considered using a British Restaurant.

The two schemes which meet with considerable criticism and disapproval are the National Wheatmeal bread, and the scheme for making oranges available first to the under fives. The taste of National Wheatmeal bread is still disliked by a considerable number of people as we shall show later.

That the scheme for selling oranges to the under fives is so much disliked is rather interesting because it is the only scheme which is not made watertight by clear regulations.

Not only do a considerable percentage of the people who have children older than five or no children disapprove of the scheme, but also a quarter of the people who have children under five dislike it.

Approval and disapproval of the scheme for “Oranges to the under 5s” .

Informant with children under 5 Informant with children 5-14 Informant with no children
% % %
Approve 65 42 45
Disapprove 24 47 39
Doubtful 11 12 16
Sample: 642 838 1379

In one inquiry housewives were asked “which of the following food schemes would you like to be continued after the war”.

Would like continued Would not like continued Don’t know. Indifferent
% % %
Rationing 49 36 15
Points rationing 50 35 15
National and Priority milk 61 14 25
Price control 82 4 14
British Restaurant 37 9 54
National Wheatmeal bread 31 55 14
Sample 2944

Price control is definitely the scheme most liked by the housewives, and this attitude is not influenced by the economic status of the informant as shown by income group analyses.

About half of the housewives want the National Wheatmeal bread discontinued after the war.

Over a third want rationing and points rationing stopped, but the only reasons given are that some of the rations are too small. Nothing is said against the principle of rationing.

The number who want British Restaurants or National and Priority milk discontinued is small, though more than half the total number have no opinion about British Restaurants.

To sum up, it may safely be said:-

(1) that people have accepted rationing as a scheme; many of them are not opposed to it after the war, but they would like the meat, bacon and fat rations increased.

(2) Price control, even after the war, is not only accepted, but welcomed by the majority of housewives in all economic groups.

(3) Only a very small opposition exists to British Restaurants and their continuation after the war, but there is a considerable amount of indifference to, or lack of experience of, them.

(4) The opposition to the National and Priority milk scheme is not very great and, no doubt, would become much smaller if there were enough milk to allow people to get back to their pre-war consumption.

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