Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood

Published in 1933, Love on the Dole became a huge influence on the British public’s view of unemployment and social deprivation, and even prompted an investigation by Parliament, leading to reforms. This is a work of fiction, but is very closely based on the lives of real people – Greenwood himself and the people he grew up with – and later studied from street corners – he always carried a notebook with him to make observations for later use.

Although the lives of the residents of Hanky Park seem bleak there is a real feeling of solidarity and community amongst them. They help one another out where they can, even though the majority of them having nothing much to offer. They exist by pawning items on a Monday morning – from the husband’s ‘Sunday best’ to their bed linen – and then reclaiming it on Friday when the men get paid.

Young lads got taken on as apprentices at the local factories at the age of 13/14, only to be laid off as soon as they reach 21 when they would have to be paid a man’s wage. After that, only a few lucky ones get jobs, the rest face life on the dole.

Eventually, even the dole was withdrawn if the ‘means test’ showed that other members of the family earned enough to ‘support’ them. This meant that quite often, daughters would end up supporting entire families – and in reality, her money was not enough to live on.

Despite the rife poverty and the feeling of ‘doom and gloom’ there is plenty of humour amongst the characters too, which is reflected in the story and prevents it from being entirely depressing – and things don’t turn out too bad for the Hardcastle family in the end.

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