What was rationing?
During World War II the government limited the amount of food and other items which British people could buy. This was called rationing.
Why was it important?
Before the war Britain imported an awful lot of food such as meat, sugar, tea and fruit. During the war Germany decided to attack the ships which brought food into Britain, making it very difficult for the country to receive its usual supply. The government were worried that if certain foods became rare the price of them would go up and poor people wouldn’t be able to afford them. They wanted everyone to get their fair share and so started to ration certain things.
When did it begin?
On January 8th 1940 bacon, butter and sugar were rationed for the first time.
What was a Ration Book and how did it work?
The government gave everyone a Ration Book which had coupons inside. These coupons were given to or signed by shopkeepers every time the owner bought rationed food. Without the coupons the shopkeeper wouldn’t serve you and you had to be very careful not to use them up to quickly as once they were gone they were gone. Your rations had to last you at least a month.
What foods were rationed?
Over time more and more foods became rationed. On March 11th 1940 meat was rationed and cheese, rice, tea, jam, biscuits, eggs and milk quickly followed. In July 1940 there was even a ban on the making and selling of iced cakes! Fish and chips were one of the few foods not rationed and quickly became the nation’s favourite meal.
What problems did it cause?
Understandably the rationing caused a number of problems. Some people thought it was very unfair that products such as butter and milk were being rationed when people living in rural areas had very easy access to them. Poorer people were also annoyed that food in restaurants wasn’t rationed, so rich people could enjoy as much food as liked by eating out every night. Desperate to get more food people also bought it illegally on the Black Market.
How were the problems solved?
Not all of the problems could be solved but the government tried hard to make everyone happy. Restaurants were banned from serving more than three dishes to anyone at one sitting, and they couldn’t serve meat and fish in the same meal. They also introduced the “Dig for Victory” campaign in 1939 which encouraged people to grow their own vegetables.
Was food the only thing which was rationed?
No, a number of different things had to be rationed during the war. In 1941 clothes were rationed and people were given a Clothing Book similar to their Ration Book. They had enough coupons to buy only one new set of clothes a year! Soap and petrol were also rationed and a lot of people stopped buying cars.
When did it end?
Although the war ended in 1945 rationing continued for another fourteen years. The war had cost Britain a lot of money and the government needed to think of ways of getting the country back on track. Spending money on food was not top of their list.