Student Question

Why did Great Britain continue food and petrol rationing after World War II?

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The UK's economy was ravaged by the war, in which approximately 25% of the nation's wealth was lost, some seven billion pounds, about 17 billion 1940s dollars. The national debt had tripled, and economist John Maynard Keynes estimated Britain was falling behind its means by some two billion pounds per year. Lend-Lease had made that possible during the war, but that had to change. Britain arranged loans from the US ($3.75 billion at 2% interest) and Canada (C$1.25 billion) and then cut the level of imports, increasing exports and applying more regulation to industries. Imports were cut by reducing consumer goods imports, not raw materials. More products were rationed after the war than during it, including even bread (never rationed during the war), plus all things already rationed including petrol, nylon, chocolate, tea, eggs, clothes, rubber, fuel oil, cooking oil, typewriters and much more. The 1945-1951 Labour government under Clement Atlee was known as "the years of austerity." Even potatoes were rationed after 1947, and rationing covered approximately half of consumer expenditure on food. Atlee also negotiated a period of voluntary wage restraint by the trade unions. Of course this economic weakness had a great effect on hastening the dissolution of the Empire.


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