Page:Britain's Deadly Peril.djvu/38

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The most important of our domestic commodities are wheat, flour, meat, sugar, and coal. Inquiries made by a Committee of the Cabinet have shown that, as compared with the average prices ruling in the three years before the war, the price of wheat and flour has risen by something like 66 per cent.! Sugar has increased 43 per cent., coal about 60 per cent., imported meat about 19 per cent., and British meat 12 per cent. The rise in prices is falling upon the very poor with a cruelty which can only be viewed with horror. Imagine, for a moment, the plight of the working-class family with an income of thirty shillings a week, and perhaps five or six mouths to feed. Even in normal times their lot is not to be envied: food shortage is almost inevitable. Suddenly they find that for a sovereign they can purchase only fifteen shillings' worth of food. Hunger steps in at once: the pinch of famine is felt acutely, and, thanks to the appalling price to which coal has been forced, it is aggravated by intense suffering from the cold, which ill-nurtured bodies are in no condition to resist.

I am not contending that there is any very abnormal amount of distress throughout the country, taking the working-classes as a whole. Thanks to the withdrawal of the huge numbers of men now serving in the Army, the labour market, for once in a way, finds itself rather under than overstocked, and the ratio of unemployment is undoubtedly lower than it has been for some considerable time. The better-paid artisans, whose wages are decidedly above the average at the present moment, are not suffering severely, even with the high prices now ruling. But they are exasperated, and some of them are making all kinds