Back to the land! History of the allotment movement and campaigns for a Land Value Tax

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“Allotments for all”, 1918

The TUC Library contains a unique collection of pamphlets on the subject of the allotment and smallholdings movement, and demands for progressive land reform. The modern allotment movement dates from the 1908 Smallholdings and Allotments Act, which placed a duty on local authorities to provide sufficient allotments to meet demand. Further Allotments Acts followed in 1922 and 1925.

A guide to the 1908 Act, published by the Independent Labour Party.

Mass unemployment in the 1930s prompted a renewed interest in the provision of land for the unemployed to grow food.

Leaflet produced by the Central Allotments Committee, 1931

An account of Spade Clubs established by the Sheffield Allotments for Unemployed Committee, 1931

There was also some resistance to the “Back to the Land” mentality, which was seen as too simplistic in a modern economy. In the 1920s and 1930s the Homecroft Movement called for workers to remain in their factory and industrial occupations, but find ways to grow food and work a smallholding in their leisure time.

Pamphlet explaining the Homecroft Movement, 1929

The campaign for smallholdings also merged with wider progressive movements for the redistribution and taxation of land. The leaflet below was published by the United Committee for the Taxation of Land Values. It called for wider powers for local authorities to acquire land and the introduction of a land value tax, separating the taxation of the land itself from the improvements made upon it.

Small holdings and Land Valuation, c. 1907

Many such reformers were known as Georgists, as they were inspired by the economist Henry George who had advocated a Land Value Tax in his influential book Progress and Poverty (1879). The pamphlet below, Land Values: Why and How They Should be Taxed, by Josiah Wedgwood MP, explains the reasoning behind the system. It starts with a parable:

There was a Sultan in Egypt, and he taxed the people. For each fig-tree he took payment of ten dinars. So it came to pass that the people cut down their fig trees. Then another Sultan arose, and he took the tax off fig-trees, and taxed instead the soil from which all good things grow. And behold the people planted fig-trees with diligence, and the land flourished exceedingly.

“Land values: why and how they should be taxed” by Josiah Wedgwood MP, 1911.

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