Work Camps for the Unemployed: a Forgotten Past.
People have been talkling about “RESIDENTIAL TRAINING COLLEGES FOR THE DISABLED AND THE UNEMPLOYED.”
Back in the 1970s, the old DHSS (Department of Health and Social Security) ran what were called “Re-establishment Centres” for the long-term unemployed.
One was located in Newcastle, and another one near Glasgow inside an “open” prison! No doubt, other Re-establishment Centres” existed elsewhere. I suppose you could easily have called them “Residential” centres – given that the inmates had to be transported away from their homes to serve their “sentence”.
“Candidates” had to spend several months away from home while they were transformed by the State from workshy idlers into something more productive.
Don’t underestimate how easy it would be to create modern “Work Camps” for the unemployed in this country today.
I recall one person in Coventry who I knew around that time who was long-term out-of-work.
He was sent off to a camp, where they made doll houses.
However I think that Lucy is right to say that there is no talk today of compulsion and that in some cases we may (I say may) be referring to real training for disabled people.
Apart from anything else anything like this today will be expensive to run, what with all the palms of private contractors to grease, and legal challenges.
But Tobanem has already mentioned the 1930s.
Here is some detail.
As unemployment nudges closer to two million, the government is being forced to re-evaluate ways of helping those out of work to get jobs.
But as the recession deepens, the concern is about how to maintain the skills of those thrown out of work.
BBC Scotland’s Social Affairs Correspondent, Reevel Alderson, looks at the way the problem was tackled in the Great Depression 80 years ago.
It may seem incredible to us now, but it was Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government which introduced work camps – officially called “Instructional Centres.”
A network was established throughout the UK with a number in Scotland. They were at Carstairs in Lanarkshire, Glenbranter near Strachur in Argyll and Glentress near Peebles.
Ministers were concerned that many men who had been unemployed for long periods were no longer fit for work.
An official at the Ministry of Labour wrote of “the younger men who, through prolonged unemployment, have become so soft and temporarily demoralised” that they required to be “hardened” or “reconditioned.”
Those attending the camps came from the depressed industrial areas of Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Glasgow. They stayed away from home for up to 12 weeks – and if they refused to go, their dole money was stopped.
But many were in such poor physical shape when they arrived, they needed decent food before they could carry out the work.
Professor John Field of Stirling University’s Department of Lifelong Learning, who has studied the work camps, said: “They were certainly successful in getting people up to a better standard of physical fitness.
“There were medical reports which showed that people had put on quite a bit of weight, for example. We’re not talking about obesity, we’re talking about muscle.
“They were doing very hard heavy manual labour in the hills and in the forests.”
Typically the men worked for 10 to 12 hours from 6am, living in dormitories in wooden nissen huts, and they were supervised in military-style discipline by former police officers or sergeant majors.
They received part of their unemployment benefit, with the remaining nine shillings being sent to their families.
And they were provided with suitable clothing for their work, including corduroy trousers and waterproof boots.
In total about 200,000 men were sent to the camps, which continued in operation until 1939.
But it is estimated that fewer than 10% of those who had been trained there were able to get work when they went back home.
The camps were reviled by the Left. The Daily Herald called them “concentration camps,” but Prof Field dismisses that notion.
“It certainly wasn’t forced labour in that people could walk out at any time,” he said. “And certainly after 1932 when the Labour Government fell, it was only on a voluntary basis.
“That said, it was obviously not the best experience; it would have been far better to get a job, and most people would have preferred to get a job.
“And one of the reasons for not coming here that people gave was that they were more likely to get a job if they stayed at home and hung around and waited for their uncle or their cousin or their friend to tell them of an opportunity, and they were right.”
The BBC is naturally not to be wholly trusted about the political details (or, since the judgement on The Future State Of Welfare, written and presented by Radio 4’s John Humphrys, about anything to do with the unemployed).
Here is the real, more complicated, political background (from
During the prolonged unemployment of the 1920s the British government proposed a scheme for transferring labour from the worse effected areas to training schemes in the South of England. For this purpose an Industrial Transference Board was set up in 1928 to monitor and control the transfer of labour form unemployment black-spots. The ITB soon brought to the attention of the Ministry of Labour a ‘class’ of men not easily fitted into the broader scheme, men deemed ‘soft and temporarily demoralised through prolonged unemployment’. These men were considered a danger to the morale of the other men and were considered unfit for transfer until they had been ‘hardened’.
The scheme for ‘hardening’ in Labour Camps (on penalty of loss of the dole) was devised by Baldwin’s Tory government, but was carried through with Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Government and expanded by the 1931 National Government. They were supported by the TUC as well as the Labour Party, and were opposed and exposed only by the National Unemployed Workers Movement, in which the Communist Party was the leading influence.
Between 1929 and 1939 25 secret concentration camps were built in the most remote areas of Britain and more than 200,000 unemployed men were sent to these camps. The Labour Camps were conducted under military discipline and men were interned in the centres for three-month periods, working for up to nine hours a day breaking rocks, building roads and cutting down trees. In August 1939, in preparation for the war against Germany, the Ministry of Labour issued instructions that the managerial records of its own concentration camps should be weeded out, and much of the documentation was destroyed.