National efficiency was a movement sustained by parties on the left, new liberals and even imperialists. It started to develop in the 1890’s and went on into the early years of the 20th century, as concern’s about Britain’s future as a major power throughout the world started to develop. The main problems where the poor fitness of volunteers, embarrassing defeats and waste of resources at the Boer war, poor conditions for the lower class’ of society and education. The rate below the poverty line in the early 20th century Britain was agonizingly high due to individuals being solely individual and responsible for themselves and their family.
It was claimed that a third of the population was living below the poverty line after a man named Charles Booth, a shipping magnate published details of his ‘scientific’ investigations. Seebohm Rowntree reflected Booth’s work, though prompted partly by humanitarian concerns and violent demonstrations. It showed that those who where most badly hit by the concern were the most vulnerable of society. Obviously due to their older age and deteriorating health, the old people often had a poor quality end of their lives.
This was due to not having saved money while working due them having to provide for their own families, who now have there own families to worry about. At the other end of the spectrum where young children. A child born into a poor family would end up poor; this is how society worked at that time, with break out of poverty being increasingly hard without action. Child labour was cheaper than most forms of labour therefore was often used as children were forced to work due to the parents needing money or be subject to domestic abuse.
However, attendance at school was high due to it being an escape and a place of warmth, in comparison to work and home. This is where the education act caused conflict. Other reasons include unemployed found it hard to get a job, the death of a wage earner in the family, illness, low wages and large families. In addition, as Britain was the world’s leading industrial nation in the 19th century but as industries and economies started to grow in other countries. Jobs were starting to be lost in Britain as other countries could provide the same service for cheaper.
Britain’s national efficiency needed state intervention, as it was clearly needed in order for Britain to improve. The three main aims of national efficiency in the 20th century were; to improve the social standards for all classes, the economy and the military. As the USA, Germany and Japan started to become more dominant as industrial countries, this created competition for Britain’s once leading economy and put it under threat. Due to their new industrial techniques, this was a major factor in why these countries soon became rivals to Britain’s economy along with their rapidly growing population.
The USA and Germany had introduced tariff’s that restricted the countries import and export so more national good’s were bought within the countries. This made industries like textiles suffer, this was a major industry for Britain as is was dependent on old traditional industries that could not be expanded or modernised with innovations. Weaknesses in Britain’s military power were clearly noticed after the Boer War. It also show Britain’s greed for resources as the only clear reason why they decided to attack Boer was for their rich mineral resource.
The loss of 20,000 lives at the cost of i?? 200 million showed how poorly trained and competent the soldiers were. In order to ‘protect’ civilians from the guerrilla warfare used by the Boer’s as well as try and counter-attack this new form of attack, they were moved to concentration camps. Poor training of troops meant the camps where incredibly dirty and unsanitary, which lead to disease to spread across the country like wild fire killing around a thousand civilians while trying to ‘protect’ them.
Opposing leaders accused the government of using barbaric tactics to counter a barbaric form of attack. Alliances had also started to form within other countries in Europe, with the most noticeable being the now industrialised and economically strong Germany and Austria-Hungary. Though Britain had its Empire, there was a risk colonies could/would not help Britain defend from a direct attack if needed. Social reforms were called up for the government but all failed to deliver. One questionable act was the Education act of 1902.
This was because it meant that parents had to start paying for their children to go to catholic school’s. This did not go down with non-conformists who believed that if people wanted to learn about religion it should be at church on a Sunday. In retaliation to this, 70,000 people did not pay their taxes because of this. Competition for economic dominance started to form with Germany, the USA and Japan stepping to the mark with their economic and industrial strength rapidly building. The Boer war demonstrated Britain’s greed and badly trained military personal.
However, this stems from how Britain could improve their national efficiency and that is by reducing poverty. As Britain’s military was none conscription so volunteer’s were needed. The most likely people to volunteer were the unemployed, who were most defiantly lower class, therefore if the government could improve the quality of life and health of the lower working class, bridge the social divide. They would have an efficient workforce to drive Britain’s economy back too the top and have a hard working military force, well enough to be a good enough standard.