Photograph: The poor and unemployed line up for food in England’s north
April 4, 1932
The home of Britain’s traditional ‘heavy industries’ is the hardest hit from this depression, with unemployment rising at staggering rates.
The industries of ship building, coal, and steel manufacturing were already struggling prior to the depression due to their failure to modernise post-war; however, the current depression could mean the end for these companies, and the destruction of towns that rely upon them for employment.
Demand for ship building has fallen over ninety per cent in the past three years, meaning demand for related industries, such as steel and coal have also fallen dramatically. It is estimated that north eastern towns, such as Sunderland are the worst, with unemployment here reaching a staggering seventy precent. The north east is also suffering from a deteriorating export based textiles industry.
The unemployed are turning to church-run soup kitchens to be fed, and some even turn to digging for coal with their bare hands to keep warm. Author George Orwell described the scene: ‘several hundred women scrabble in the mud for hours… searching eagerly for tiny chips of coal in slagheaps so they could heat their own homes. For them, this arduously-gained ‘free’ coal was more important almost than food.’
While the Government does provide welfare, it is based on a means test for need, which many of the poor find extremely humiliating and as a result, turn to other means of making money.