Life during the Depression

Life during the Depression


  • The Great Depression began in 1929, drastically affecting the economic and social landscape of the UK.
  • The depression caused mass unemployment and pushed many into poverty.
  • Economic disparity increased, particularly between industrial North England and the comparatively prosperous South.

Economic Impact

  • Nationwide, around one in four workers were unemployed at the height of the Depression in 1932.
  • Sectors heavily reliant on export such as shipbuilding, iron and steel, and textiles, were most affected.
  • The Jarrow Crusade of 1936, where unemployed shipyard workers marched from Jarrow to London, encapsulated the desperation of this period.

Government Response

  • The government was initially reluctant to intervene directly, believing in laissez-faire economics (non-interference in economic affairs).
  • The introduction of the “Means Test”, designed to assess who was deserving of unemployment assistance, was heavily criticised.
  • In response to escalating crisis, the government launched public works programs such as road building to create jobs.

Social Impact

  • The Depression brought widespread poverty, malnutrition, and poor living conditions.
  • Untouched by the Depression, the relatively prosperous South East and Midlands saw a growth in service industries and light engineering.
  • The divide between the affluent South and deprived North widened, resulting in internal migration in search of work.

Cultural Impact

  • The harsh reality of the Depression was reflected in literature and visual arts.
  • The period saw the rise of the British documentary film movement, with filmmakers such as John Grierson portraying the challenges faced by ordinary Britons.

Political Impact

  • The economic hardships led to a shift in political allegiances and the fall of the second Labour government.
  • The National Government, a coalition of the three major parties, was formed in 1931 under Ramsay MacDonald.
  • The Communist Party grew throughout the 1930s as people looked for radical alternatives.