I've just gone all cold. Just google "1930s Means Test"
I cried a bit.
If you follow this blog, I think you'll feel much as I did. Hers's an example from an article in the Times, from 2008.
November 17, 2008
There is nothing mean about a means test
We should not let the petty cruelties and errors of the 1930s cloud our debate today about how to reform the welfare state
Forget dinosaurs and Roman orgies. If a Time Machine were invented tomorrow, we should just whirl back 80 years and bang a lot of official heads together. Their errors haunt us still: in the realm of emotional politics Britain is still paying a heavy price for misjudgments and cruelties in the years between the wars. OK, the Establishment was in shock, grieving for the war dead and wobblingly insecure about the loss of Edwardian certainties and reliable valets. But that is no excuse. Get back there, roll up the sleeves, give them a shake.
The damage done in the 1930s rings down the decades. It prevents sensible husbanding of public resources, muzzles plain speaking and ruined the Labour Party with years of sentimental infighting. Seventy years on, two words are still sabotaging the social security system: Means Test. If those two words convey nothing, try them out on your granny and stand well back. If you have no 1930s working-class adults handy, here is a brief summary.
In 1918 postwar relief for unemployed ex-soldiers and civilians was a comparatively generous “non-contributory donation”. It seemed that the degrading days of the Poor Law were over, and the nation was at last properly respectful of its workers and former cannon fodder. But through the 1920s conditions of unemployment benefit got narrower. Then in 1930 the Depression threw government into a fiscal panic, and the poor got the sharp end with the Family Means Test.
You had to prove just how poor you were, in intimate domestic detail. It imposed form-filling, impertinent questions, and regular, shamingly visible, visits from investigators licensed to peer into your cooking-pots, rule that one chair per person was enough, and order you to sell your spare blankets. John Craig, an apprentice fitter, recalled: “You got so much off the labour exchange, but they kept control, and following you about would come to your house. Mother had a lovely big organ in the house. The inspector says ‘Well, you don't get any more money for four weeks until you sell that organ'. And my father belted him down the stairs.” It broke up families into homelessness: adult children lost all benefits if anybody in the house earned 31 shillings a week, so they had to move out.
From 1934, 190,000 unemployed men were made to attend “training camps” simply because there were no jobs. One contemporary interviewee asked: “How could anyone expect an unemployed man to do physical jerks on 15s a week, or play ping pong, while his wife was sitting at home before a half-empty grate with only margarine to eat?” This humiliation visited on a formerly proud working class by the means test led to the Jarrow March: which demanded, let me remind you, not handouts but work......