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The consequences of the First World War for the British people 1914-24 Essay

The British people had to face many consequences due to the fact of the First World War was during 1914-24. For the British people there were many changes in society, economically, foreign policy, and the state, women’s role in British society, the change in the political system and the trauma of the war and how this affected the British people. I will also be considering viewpoints of famous historians such as Arthur Marwick, Gerard De’Groot and many more and what they felt the consequences of the First World War bought upon the British people.

For the British people there were many changes in society from 1914-24. The First World War affected everyone in Britain for example there were important effects on the labour party as they started to gain ground on the liberal party. The state intervention was greater then ever before they were a huge amount of conscription and food was being rationed. There were important steps forward in the emancipation of women, as the employment of women rose when the men went to war. There were major steps forward in the move towards full democracy as working class men were given the right to vote. Education was being improved as the working class people also got better living conditions, there was also a stimulus to aviation and broadcasting as there was a major growth of mass media and technology.

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There were also many downfalls in British society due to the world war as there was an appalling loss of life and limb as many people were killed or had major disabilities. There was a serious economic effect on Britain’s world position as Britain had enormous debts to pay to the USA. These economic effects also affected many different social classes as taxation was implemented. There was also less respect for authority as people in Britain became more ready to challenge there ideologies. These were many changes to British society due to world war one as we can see if effected everyone in Britain during this time but there were many more drastic changes to come in society for the people of Britain as women started to play a bigger role in society as the female balance rose from 595 per thousand in 1911 to 638 per thousand in 1921.

Many women were also widows these figures rose from 38 per thousand to 43 per thousands. Unemployment figures rose from 300, 00 to over 1million by 1920 and by 1921 it almost doubled to 2million but 1.6 million people were wounded an unable to work. But war also prompted democratic progress as the Representation of People Act 1918 gave the vote to all men over 21 and women over 30. They were 21 million electors in 1918 compared to 7.5million male electors in 1910. The First World War also arguably helped break down traditional social assumptions. For example class divisions and attitudes to women were less entrenched in interwar periods.

Many state benefits were extended during the wartime for example the provision of school meals. The British people also saw income tax rise dramatically to a standard rate of 6 shillings by 1919 and it applied to a much lower threshold of incomes over �130 per annum. But 3.5 million orphans and widows got war pensions or allowance and many husbands died during the war. There was also a serious decline in housing due to fewer being built yet demand increasing. This promote the rise to the “Homes fit for heroes” campaign, but the government had improved maternity care and it introduced British summer time and afternoon closing of public housing and cigarette smoking became more popular and beer rose in price.

Gerard De’Groot mentions ” since working class housing was already in a poor state before the war, the situation grew even more appalling during the 4years of neglect” De’Groot feels more should have been done by the government to help the British people and Arthur Marwick says that the housing act and education act, mother an child welfare act were all due to come eventually and that the government introduced it for a better post war world and the back log of problems caused by the disruptions of war to society had its many ups and downs for the British people in 1914-24, many people will say that equality between men and women was beginning to show after the first world war.

Many women particularly from the middle class were becoming more involved in politics women were also able to work but social classes played a significant part. According to De’Groot Women provided cheap labour for employers. Women knew that there jobs were temporary and that once the men returned from war they would have o surrender they jobs. Martin Pugh criticises Arthur Marwick’s view that women’s valuable work for the war effort radically changed male’s ideas about their role in society, Pugh says this seems to be simplistic and erroneous and over looks the pre 1914 changes to attitude. M.Pugh says during the 1920’s the idea that a women’s place was in the home was stronger then it ever was.

Post war Britain had also many problems with its foreign policies at the British Empire were breaking up due to the white dominion that weren’t guaranteeing support to Great Britain and wanted independence. India ere concerned with there own problems within there own country and started having non violent protests and passive resistant India were the jewel in the crown for Britain and Britain lost it Indian empire, which meant trade was low and unemployment rose, the empire provided cheap resources and raw materials.

Britain’s economy suffered major blows which affected the British people. A short term post ware boom bought a spiralling inflation at the end of he war but as interest rates were raised this gave way to depression. State intervention in the lives of British people was necessitated by war and now became the norm. The Laissez Faire approach by the government had disappeared. The British trade was hit b millions o tons of shipping being sunk and loss of overseas markets Britain also had tough competition in the textile market as India and china were damaging industry in Lancashire and British coal levels exports never recovered their pre was levels.

Over investment in the staple industries, iron, steel, ships, coal and textiles were no longer needed in peacetime. These industries lost their pre war primacy and entered a period of slow decline. Britain’s wartime capital expenditure and her empire were greater then other participants. Britain had massive debts to pay off especially to the USA because debtor such as Russia failed to pay up and USA required full payment, by 1918 government expenditure was over 50% of GNP.

In 1921 Britain’s unemployment rose to 2million and Britain’s share of world exports fell from 18% to 11%, so Britain wasn’t doing as well as it use to overseas anymore, this led to Britain’s overseas markets being lost to competitors. Along with the US dollar which replaced the British pound as the dominant international currency, unemployment was particularly bad in heavy industries such as mining, iron and steel it reached 67% in Jarrow.

Norman Lowe looks at the economic effects on different social classes; he says how heavy taxation to help finance the war was mostly concentrated on the aristocracy and the middle classes. Lowe mentions how aristocrats were forced to sell there estates, but they were still wealthy but had lost there position as a dominant political and landowning class. Lowe also says how the middle classes living standards fell and that they were unable to maintain such large households and fewer domestic servants were needed, and if fell by 50% over the whole country. On the other hand Lowe says how the working class had benefited the most from government intervention and on average wages doubled, working hours were reduced from 55 hours to 48 hours and that working class families were able to afford meat, but A. Marwick looks at the situation differently as he says “the working class in the 1914 was large and it was poor. In the early 1920s it was not quite so large and it was not quite so poor”.

The government also created the Defence of the Realm acts which laid the basis of government interference, the cabinet had the power to “issue regulations as to the powers of admiralty and army council” this was to ensure public safety. Later acts gave wide powers beyond economic control into such areas as censorship and control of the press.

During the period of World War 1 the state had a lot of intervention and a lot more hands on approach. As I mention before the state implemented the Defence of the Realm Act which gave way for emergency powers act, which led to a military style government. Industry and labour geared way to the war effort. The state had major controls on prices, production, work force and wages, they had control on agriculture e.g. food production and transportation was also under control by the state e.g. railways and shipping. Heavy industries like coal, iron and steel were taken under state directions. Labour was now directed for women, unskilled, semi skilled including men as well. Conscription was also extended theses were a raft of new measures introduced by the state.

AJP Taylor believe the first world war was a turning point between the government and the people he believed citizens weren’t obliged to perform state services and that the government had modest tax rates, the state implemented food and work restrictions to prevent people from catching infectious diseases and preventing workers from working excessive hours along with safety regulations, there were also educational benefits as children received education up to the age of 13 and pension schemes were introduced, but all this changed by the impact of world war 1. This shows discontinuity in the period of World War 1. A Marwick (the Deluge) also believes in discontinuity as he said the state controlled development to meet the needs of the war, new measures of tolerance were introduced for large scale intervention and that in the years after the war the country entered economic depression and mass unemployment.

But other historians such as W.O Simpson have two minds about the relationship between the government and the people, in “Changing Horizons” he is for discontinuity as he mentions there’s improvements made on social welfare and health and housing and that there is a better and fairer society. How teachers had now had a pension scheme along with a salary structure and that politicians showed a greater sense of obligation to the casualties of society, but on the other had signs of continuity is shown as he mentions this is a logical extensions on pre war legislation along with educational improvement.

Stevenson also feels this as he mentions in British society 1914-1945, he feels that discontinuity was carried on as new ministers of health and transportation were established along with the introduction of DORA, which was made permanent, but Stevenson also shows signs of continuity as he mentions how people in Britain had a desire to return to pre war conditions and normalcy and that the government was dominated by the conservative. M. Pugh in “State & Society” felt discontinuity as well as mothers and children welfare did continue to gain resources and social reforms were extended in result of the war, but there was certainly a measure of continuity, not only in terms of detailed policies but also in the survival of the parliamentary system and the monarchy in Britain. M. Pugh also feels there was a minimal taxation upon people and the government intervened less, and that there was a shrift closer to Laissez Faire. So certain historians had different views of the turning point between the government and the people.

The war losses had a massive impact on the British people as many loved ones were lost. 1.6 million Britain’s were wounded which made them unable to work. 745,000 Britain’s were killed during the war 9% of which were men under the age of 45. Out of 6,146,574 serving soldiers, sailors and airmen 11.8% were killed. These figures were compounded by 150,000 who died in the flu epidemic of 1918-1919. There were 425,000 widows. These losses were bad enough but knock on effect too those condemned to continue living. Gerard De’Groot said that the psychological effect of world war one was the least understood. Demographers were quick to rectified the losses by saying post was baby booms and changes in emigration patterns helped to condemn these losses. De’Groot quotes “The “Lost generation” did not consist of those who died, but those condemned going on living” the war had traumatised the whole country.

There was also a major change in politics as there was a decline of the Liberals and the rise of the labour party. The labour party won support from the newly enfranchised voters following the reform act of 1918, which had increased the electorate from 28% to 74%. So far more people had a say in British politics. Most of the new voters were from the working class. According to Derrick Murphy the labour were able to win over many liberal supporters due to the fact that the labour party had a major stand on foreign policy, which was able to end secret diplomacy and as a result the labour share of votes rose from 7.1% in December 1910 to 22.2% in 1918.

So in conclusion there were many consequences which the British people had to face because of world war one. The British society had its ups and downs during this time period, the economy suffered major blows in the time period of 1914-24 due to the wartime expenditure. Women had gained significant changes in society, like being able to vote and the state had changed its role due to the British people, and by improving living and working conditions for them. But the trauma of the First World War would always stay as many loved ones sacrificed they lives for Britain at the time.

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