David Kynaston has written a history of Austerity Britain, 1945-51, drawing heavily on diaries – especially women’s diaries – of the time. Kynaston has a piece in the Guardian both describing the method and giving extracts from his sources:
There is a particularly telling description of how [Gladys Langford] went “to Local branch of Nat. Health Insur. to get a new card” soon after retiring from teaching. “The clerk was a most incompetent person and when she finally accepted the card the L.C.C. had returned to me she said ‘We will send you an arrears card as it is one stamp short.’ I said ‘Oh, I will get a stamp at the P.O. opposite and then it will be stamped to date and save unnecessary labour here and in the Post Office for delivery.’ The silly so-and-so refused to let me do this, repeating parrot fashion – ‘We will send you an arrears card’!!!”
And Kynaston concludes
It is an almost unique moment when we get close up to the new Welfare State in action – doing good, but ponderously.