The ‘Low, Dishonest Decade’?
The years of depression from 1929 reinforced the centralising tendency in social policy. It is tempting to see this as part of a wider movement towards a managed economy, in which the government and the Treasury were slowly persuaded into a new financial world of monetary management, tariffs, marketing boards and rationalisation of industry. Attempts at management were both uncoordinated and circumscribed, but they help to define the limits of social policy in the 1930s, especially in the response to unemployment. Britain was not alone in feeling the pressures towards centralisation, but the National government did not confront a depression as severe as in America or Germany, and its proferred solutions were correspondingly less dramatic. The debate on social policy resembles the debate on economic policy, which tries to weigh economic theory against political expediency. Again it is necessary to distinguish the government’s theory of unemployment from its treatment of the unemployed, although the former partly determined the latter. Unemployment could be left to prolonged economic debate: the unemployed were an immediate political problem.
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