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

China’s economy is heading for a sharp slowdown
Chinese economy

China’s economy is heading for a sharp slowdown

With a slowing property market, Covid lockdowns sapping growth and the CSI 300 stock index down by 22% this year, China’s economy is in trouble.
6 Oct 2022
What to do as the age of cheap money and overpriced equities ends
Investment strategy

What to do as the age of cheap money and overpriced equities ends

The age of cheap money, overpriced equities and negative interest rates is over. The great bond bull market is over. All this means you will be losin…
29 Sep 2022
Beating inflation takes more luck than skill – but are we about to get lucky?
Inflation

Beating inflation takes more luck than skill – but are we about to get lucky?

The US Federal Reserve managed to beat inflation in the 1980s. But much of that was down to pure luck. Thankfully, says Merryn Somerset Webb, the Bank…
26 Sep 2022
The MoneyWeek Podcast: you may not make any money this year – so just try not to lose any
Investment strategy

The MoneyWeek Podcast: you may not make any money this year – so just try not to lose any

In her final MoneyWeek Podcast, Merryn talks to James Ferguson, founder of the MacroStrategy Partnership, about why high inflation and rising interest…
22 Sep 2022

Most Popular

Should you take a 25% tax-free pension lump sum in instalments?
Pensions

Should you take a 25% tax-free pension lump sum in instalments?

Taking out a 25% tax-free lump sum sounds appealing but it might not be the best way to manage your pension
30 Sep 2022
Markets may have bounced, but this is not the end of the bear market
Stockmarkets

Markets may have bounced, but this is not the end of the bear market

Stocks are back on the rise, commodities and precious metals prices are up – even the pound has rebounded. But none of this is typical of bull markets…
5 Oct 2022
October’s Premium Bonds: how to check if you are a winner
Savings

October’s Premium Bonds: how to check if you are a winner

NS&I has added almost 110,000 more prizes to October’s Premium Bond draw – are you a winner?
4 Oct 2022