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London Report

By Donald M. Blinken

One year after the election of the Labour Government, England is a nation of doubts and contradictions; peace has brought almost no benefits and few concrete suggestions for immediate remedy are forthcoming. Yet, were the Labour Government to stand for reelection today, it would win easily. Completely unlike most Americans with their native optimism, most Englishmen face the future realistically: England will have a tough time during the next few years, and no government can work an overnight miracle.

Now housing is being constructed at snail's pace; most building materials are being exported for money. There are few new cars, radios, and clothes: here again, the overseas market is being served first. Nor is there much chance that the situation will improve in the near future, for England finds herself a debtor nation for the first time and is terribly anxious about her financial straits. A major worry of late has been the prospect that U. S. inflation will destroy whatever benefits the loan might bring by enabling England to buy far less in the U. S. with the extended credits. As a result, the price control battle in Washington has received news coverage second only to the loan in the British press. The English, whose price control has worked remarkably well during and since the war could not quite understand why Americans seemed willing to risk everything by abandoning OPA, and the Manchester "Guardian", England's New York "Times", commenting on affairs in the U. S., labelled America"...that great and irresponsible country."

Food is scare here--searcer than during the war. July 21 saw the inauguration of bread rationing in England for the first time in history. This measure was declared necessary if England was to help food starving Europe, and, at the same time, insure a minimum supply of bread at home. Unfortunately, bread rationing hits the lower classes harder than the upper, for sandwiches comprise a, large part of the ordinary worker's lunch. Considerable opposition to bread rationing developed, but Parliament supported the Government on this issue, and rationing will continue until the shortage is alleviated.

Prices in Britain vary greatly. Most meals are limited in price to five shillings (about one dollar) but night-club and liquor prices are double those in the States. Theatre tickets run about the same as on Broadway; films are far more expensive. Those commodities that constitute the necessities of life are rationed and priced reasonably, but any luxury sells at outrageous prices, largely because of the sale tax. The average cost of a new British automobile, smaller and less powerful than the smallest Chevvy or Ford, runs about three thousand dollars. Concomitantly, wages are ridiculously low according to our standards. A skilled rayon mill weaver or wool spinning worker makes between twelve and fifteen dollars a week--wages long since vanished from the American scene.

But the ledger has its brighter side. Working conditions have improved considerably. First of all, there is no unemployment in Great Britain today. Of equal importance is the government-sponsored Factory Act which has greatly reduced the number of hours worked per week. All workers must have one hour for lunch--and tea is now served twice daily.

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