Poverty and Hardship

Soldiers Separation Allowances. Source © IWM (Art.IWM PST 5160)

With many of the men away on military service life was hard for those who were left behind. This was particularly so following the introduct ion of conscription in 1916 which included married as well as single men. The government were fully aware that hardship would be the outcome so the Separation Allowance was introduced by the Governm ent to provide weekly payment s to families to shield them from such hardship. Initially it was administered by the SSFA (Soldiers and Sailors Families Association) with its 50,000 voluntary workers, the task later being taken over by the Post Office.

'One of the criteria for claiming separation allowance was that the wife should be 'of good character' so it was subjective and required moral judgements by the SSFA epresentative. In December 1914 the Home Office, likely, at the behest of the War Office, issued instructions to Chief Constables to keep a record of soldiers wives with a view to ensuring money was not spent on alcohol. The Chief Constables refused and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, together with the Chief Constables of Manchester and Glasgow, amongst others, made their feelings known to the press.'
Source: https://www.ssafa.org.uk.

If there was no other source of income the family/dependent could apply to the SSFA for a 'top up' payment. By November 1914 claims for the Separation Allowance exceeded over half a million.
https://www.ssafa.org.uk/about-us/our-history/world-war-100

The amount and degree of hardship brought about by WW1 varied considerably around the country. Munitions workers were well paid it appears but women taking on men's roles were usually paid much less. Male and female cotton weavers were usually paid the same because they were paid piece rates but many would argue that the rates were less than what they would have been if the occupation had been dominated by men.

Married women who went to work would find that their extra income was quickly eaten into by having to pay child minders and pay for their washing to be done as well as buying more ready made food such as fish and chips and pies. 'Time Poverty' was a serious problem; long working hours and housework to be done without our labour saving devices of today made life very hard. Extended families and neighbours all gave a hand where and when they could.

As the war progressed The Cotton Control Board brought in a rota system which allowed employers to lay off workers on a temporary basis and prevent redundancies by paying workers during these periods. The success of the scheme can be judged by the fact that when the Government planned to open aircraft factories staffed by women in Preston, Blackburn and Burnley in 1917 the plan had to be shelved as there simply weren't enough workers to be found.
(John Singleton 'The Cotton Industry and the British War Effort 1914-18' Economic History Review vol 47, No 3 1994).

Without doubt it was the very poor who were hardest hit by the war years. It was the increasing price of bread, a food staple in particular of the poor, which caused great hardship. A bread subsidy was introduced in September 1917 fixing the price at 9d for a 4lb loaf. The impact of the German U-boat campaign made food shortages a serious problem by 1918. Malnutrition was seen in poor communities and as a result the government introduced rationing in 1918.

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