Working Papers

Unemployment In Inter-War Britain

It was the autumn of 1929 when business began to decline. Where Neil Smith’s employer had needed six lorry drivers, now he needed only five. But Smith, a young Englishman, was not worried. With his employer’s cooperation, the six drivers formed a “pool” to share the remaining work. His foreman arranged to have a different member of the pool “play off” (be temporarily laid off) for three days at a time. When his turn came around, Smith signed on at the Employment Exchange. Having been unemployed for two three-day periods over the last two months, he had already registered at the Exchange and so qualified immediately for unemployment benefit. The 13 shillings he and his young wife received for each three-day period were not much less than his wages while employed, and even permitted a visit to the cinema during his short “vacation.”