In the first weeks following the outbreak of war two immediate and significant problems were the focus of attention for charitable and fundraising efforts. The first was the initial depressive effects of the war on British industry and the second the influx of thousands of refugees from Belgium. In many ways, these first responses also set the pattern for the sometimes uneasy relationship between voluntary and official action that was to characterise the entire war. The effect of rapid increases in prices and unemployment affected mainly two categories of people-firstly, the needy dependants of servicemen, especially reservists and territorials and, shortly thereafter, those of volunteers and secondly, those whose trades had been disrupted such as cotton workers, builders or those working on luxury goods. Parliament saw unemployment as their first concern and on 4 August a Cabinet Committee was established under the chairmanship of Herbert Samuel, President of the Local Government Board (LGB), ‘to advise on the measures necessary to deal with any distress that may arise in consequence of the war’. A special department was formed at the LGB and it quickly began to organise work at local level. Local authorities were called on to form their own committees with representatives of the municipal authorities, boards of poor law guardians, trades unions and philanthropic organisations. Four sub-committees, dealing with London, Agricultural Districts, Urban Housing and Women’s Employment, quickly followed with their individual remits. Unemployment amongst women was more serious than amongst men as they were overrepresented in both the cotton and luxury goods trades and by September nearly a million were unemployed or on short time.1 Disastrous, and long-term, unemployment was widely expected to follow the outbreak of war by those of all political hues. Ramsay MacDonald warned that ‘there are places like West Ham, where the whole population will encamp on the doorstep of the workhouse before the month is over.’2 In fact, concern about the depressive effects of the war proved unfounded. Very quickly, the agricultural sub-committee was disbanded ‘owing to the absence of distress among the rural population.’3 Even in the parts of the country thought most likely to be affected, such as the cotton towns of Lancashire, the situation was not anything like as

serious as had been expected. After ‘a good deal of unemployment in the first few months of the War, the contrary proved to be the fact later, and the cotton trade, particularly the heavy goods section . . . experienced a period of prosperity such as had never been known before.’4 By the end of the year Samuel’s Committee was able to report that ‘happily, the fears of a widespread dislocation of trade which were entertained in some quarters at the beginning of the War have not been realised. Except in a few districts and in a few particular industries unemployment has proved to be much less serious than was anticipated.’5