8 January 1940: food rationing is introduced in Britain

On this day in 1940, the Ministry of Food introduced rationing in the UK to ensure there was enough food to go round during the war.

When Britain entered the Second World War in 1939 it relied on the rest of the world for a large proportion of its food – 20 million tons of food a year was imported. With almost a fifth of our meat, a quarter of our butter and half our cheese imports coming from New Zealand, for instance, there was clearly great potential for the enemy to cut Britain's food lines and starve the country into submission.

To make sure there was enough food to go round and to prevent hoarding, the Ministry of Food introduced rationing. Initially, just bacon, butter and sugar were restricted. But rationing was soon extended to cover many staples, including meat, in March 1940, and cheese, milk and eggs. Every household in the country was issued with a ration book containing coupons, which had to be handed over to or signed by shopkeepers when buying food. Adults received different rations to children, and pregnant women and nursing mothers received additional rations, including a full pint of milk a day and double the normal ration of one egg a week.

Fruit and vegetables, however, were never rationed. Instead, the government's "Dig for Victory" campaign urged citizens to turn over their gardens and allotments to growing food, while many public parks were also planted with fruit and veg. Fish was also not rationed, but given the perils of catching it, it nonetheless remained in short supply. Vegetarians had their meat allowance substituted with extra cheese and eggs, while those who didn't eat ham or pork for religious reasons could also receive substitutes. It wasn't just at home that the menu was limited. Meals in restaurants were restricted to a maximum of three courses, only one of which could contain meat, fish or poultry. The maximum cost of a meal out was set at five shillings.

Once the war ended, rationing continued well into peacetime. Indeed, in 1946, bread, which had come off ration during the war, was re-rationed because of a poor harvest. And the long, hard winter of 1946-1947 resulted in potatoes being rationed too. Six years after the end of the war, the issue of rationing was central to the 1950 general election. The Labour government wanted to extend it, while the Conservatives ran an "anti-austerity" campaign. Labour won, but only by a narrow margin, and its majority fell from 180 seats to just 35. In the election of 1951, the Conservatives were returned to power (despite gaining a smaller proportion of the popular vote).

Recommended

Green finance is set to be the most powerful financial repression tool yet
Bonds

Green finance is set to be the most powerful financial repression tool yet

The government has launched its “green savings bond” that offers investors just 0.65%. But that pitiful return is in many ways the point of “green” fi…
22 Oct 2021
Equities are not a good inflation hedge
Economy

Equities are not a good inflation hedge

Institutional investors are definitely now worried about inflation. But they're not yet worried enough to flee to cash, says John Stepek
22 Oct 2021
Why fed-up workers are quitting their jobs
Economy

Why fed-up workers are quitting their jobs

Workers are leaving their jobs at an astonishing rate, especially in the US, leading to a shortage of workers. What will that mean for our economies? …
22 Oct 2021
China’s economy faces a triple shock
Chinese economy

China’s economy faces a triple shock

Power cuts, the pandemic and the property slowdown are slowing China's economy down.
22 Oct 2021

Most Popular

Properties for sale for around £1m
Houses for sale

Properties for sale for around £1m

From a stone-built farmhouse in the Snowdonia National Park, to a Victorian terraced house close to London’s Regent’s Canal, eight of the best propert…
15 Oct 2021
How to invest as we move to a hydrogen economy
Energy

How to invest as we move to a hydrogen economy

The government has started to roll out its plans for switching us over from fossil fuels to hydrogen and renewable energy. Should investors buy in? St…
8 Oct 2021
Emerging markets: the Brics never lived up to their promise – but is now the time to buy?
Emerging markets

Emerging markets: the Brics never lived up to their promise – but is now the time to buy?

Twenty years ago hopes were high for Brazil, Russia, India and China – the “Brics” emerging-market economies. But only China has beaten expectations. …
18 Oct 2021