West Monmouthshire, a Community in Crisis: To What Extent Was the Extreme Poverty Experienced in West Monmouthshire During the Inter-War Years Affected by Changing Local and National Attitudes Towards Relief, and Itself an Influence on Public Perception of Welfare Issues?

Hayes, Siobhan Mary (2019). West Monmouthshire, a Community in Crisis: To What Extent Was the Extreme Poverty Experienced in West Monmouthshire During the Inter-War Years Affected by Changing Local and National Attitudes Towards Relief, and Itself an Influence on Public Perception of Welfare Issues? Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
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Abstract

West Monmouthshire grew with the nineteenth century iron industry, but by the end of World War I, apart from residual steelworks located in Ebbw Vale, was almost entirely dependent on coal. Both industries were in decline and by 1921 mass unemployment was taking hold. This study examines firstly government and non-governmental influences on West Monmouthshire’s poor, followed by the experience of poverty during the inter-war years. It asks whether West Monmouthshire’s experience influenced public perception of welfare issues, and local and national attitudes towards poor relief.
Initially, the government’s view was that poverty was a local problem, which the local community should relieve from within its own means. The local Bedwellty Guardians however, continued to provide relief based on perceived necessity rather than their ability to pay, and were suspended by Minister of Health Neville Chamberlain in 1927 for being over-generous with relief, and ignoring government loan conditions. The paid guardians who succeeded them drastically reduced relief scales; single, unemployed men were not granted relief, and with no work available locally, many were forced to migrate. Conditions in West Monmouthshire continued to deteriorate through the days of the Means Test and Unemployment Assistance Board, until the needs of World War II restored full employment.
The study concludes that although the relative prosperity prevalent in Britain made people slow to grasp the situation in West Monmouthshire and other distressed areas, gradually people did become aware, and at the end of the nineteen-twenties, expressed their sympathy by contributing to a national appeal, the Lord Mayors’ Fund, which attracted more donations for the distressed areas than it had done for any previous cause. As exposure of conditions in West Monmouthshire continued through Hunger Marches and coverage associated with Royal visits, it became evident to both politicians and public that poverty of this magnitude was a national rather than local problem, influencing the move towards nationally-funded and administered benefits which were eventually incorporated into the Welfare State. West Monmouthshire’s approach to provision of cost-effective medical care was a further influence on the Welfare State, through local MP Aneurin Bevan.

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