chapter  5
Work, leisure and unemployment
ByG. Jones Stephen
Pages 24

Probably the most significant economic and social problem of the inter-war years was mass unemployment. Although there is an absence of satisfactory statistics which makes comparison over time difficult, it is evident that unemployment increased significantly over the 1920s and 1930s. Whereas in the thirty years or so before 1914 the unemployment rate averaged about 4.8 per cent, in the years between the wars it averaged 14 per cent of the insured workforce. Moreover, by 1932 the unemployment rate reached a peak of 22.1 per cent, meaning that nearly 3 million were without work. What made the situation worse was that unemployment was concentrated in the so-called depressed regions of Central Scotland, the North East coast and South Wales, areas stifled by the economic decline of the old staples – coalmining, shipbuilding, and iron and steel. Those areas in the South and Midlands which benefited from the establishment of the new industries were less badly hit. It has therefore been claimed that on average in the period 1929–36 22.7 per cent of the labour force was unemployed in the North East, but only 11.1 per cent in the South East. Not surprisingly, there were also considerable variations between towns. In 1934, whereas 68 per cent of the insured labour force in the N.E. town of Jarrow was without work, the figure for Coventry was only 5 per cent. 1 One further important point is that superimposed on the general level of unemployment were more specific problems such as unemployed school leavers and prolonged or long-term unemployment.