Food rationing began on 8 January 1940, four months after the outbreak of war. Rationing of other items followed and it would be 14 years before it ended.

At first limits were imposed on the sale of bacon, butter and sugar, then on 11 March 1940 all meat was rationed. Clothes coupons were introduced and a black market soon developed while queueing outside shops and bartering for extra food became a way of life. Rationing of sweets and chocolate began on 26 July 1942.

Each person was issued with a ration book. Children under 6 got half the adult ration, children aged 6-16 had ‘blue’ ration books, with no tea allowance.

1,300 local Ministry of Food offices distributed the ration books, licensed food dealers and enforced regulations. Retailers registered with specific wholesalers, and consumers registered with specific retailers for every basic commodity except tea, clothes and soap, which could be purchased at any shop.

Regulations were always being added and it became illegal to sell cakes with icing or to feed bread to wild birds as the war progressed.

From 1 December 1941 additional points coupons were issued: 16 points for four weeks. Consumers chose what to ‘spend’ these on:

  • Tinned meat, tinned fish, tinned vegetables
  • Dried fruit, pulses, pasta etc

Points could not be carried forward but could be used in any week in the period. Retailers were told how many points to ‘charge’ for items.

Three years after the end of the war, a Gallup Poll asked readers of the 'News Chronicle' which of their problems they would most like to sit down and discuss with the Prime Minister: 17% of the respondents said food; 13% the high cost of living; 12% housing; 6% fear of war; 3% clothing; 3% cigarettes; 2% household goods; 1% petrol; 1% household fuel; and all others less than 3%. Economically, workers were complaining that food shortages were adversely affecting their ability and incentive to work hard.

People felt that they had been fed better during the war. Bread rationing had only been brought in in 1946. According to the government’s own ‘Social Survey’ of April 1948, 55% of respondents felt that they were not getting enough food to keep them in good health, compared with a figure of 28% of people in 1942, while 5% of all workers and 66% of all manual workers felt that they would be able to work harder if they had more and better food.

Restrictions were gradually lifted from 1948, three years after war had ended, starting with flour on 25 July 1948, followed by clothes on 15 March 1949. On 19 May 1950 rationing ended for canned and dried fruit, chocolate biscuits, treacle, syrup, jellies and mincemeat. Petrol rationing, imposed in 1939, ended in May 1950 followed by soap in September 1950. In 1953 sales of sugar were off ration and in May 1954 butter rationing ended.

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