Domestic impact of war: industry and economy

Domestic impact of war: industry and economy

Terms of Trade and Industry

  • The onset of World War I heralded significant shifts in trade and industry in the UK. There was a move from industries focused on domestic consumption to those serving war-related needs.

  • Munitions production saw an incredible surge with the implementation of the Ministry of Munitions in 1915, which was put in place to coordinate and accelerate arms production.

  • As other nations were consumed by the war, Britain’s global trade initially faced less competition leading to an increase in export-dominated industries. This gave rise to the so-called “War Boom”.

Changes in Employment

  • The shift towards war-oriented production led to an increase in industrial employment. Male workers were especially in demand in heavy industries such as shipbuilding and iron and steel.

  • The war also saw the advent of a larger number of women in the workforce. As men left for the front lines, women stepped into roles traditionally occupied by men, particularly in the munition factories.

  • Post-war, the return of servicemen resulted in a drastic rise in unemployment numbers. Servicemen found it hard to re-adjust to civilian tasks leading to widespread economic hardship.

Impact on Economy

  • War time expenditure led to an unprecedented rise in the national debt. To finance the war, the government had to borrow extensively from the public and foreign countries.

  • Post-war, it was necessary to reintegrate servicemen into the economy and to readjust industry and trade away from a wartime footing, leading to the Great Depression.

  • Unemployment and economic stagnation, prevalent in much of the late 1920s, further deepened societal resentment and disillusionment with the aftermath of the war.

Government Intervention

  • Increased government intervention in the economy was a key feature during this period. The introduction of Dilution of Labour by the Ministry of Munitions aimed at incorporating semi-skilled and unskilled labour force for mass-production of arms.

  • In the post war period, prime importance was given to solving the problems of unemployment and social unrest through government sponsored schemes.

  • The war also spurred the government to give increased attention to social welfare, with initiatives like introduction of the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919, aiming to improve living conditions of the working class.