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War Economy

Farm Manpower Needs Overestimated

Farm Manpower Needs Overestimated

The estimate of minimum labour requirements for farming turned out to be far too high. Farmers and Primary Production Councils had overstated shortages, and there was no proper picture of labour trends on farms against which their estimates could be checked. Mechanisation and new methods on farms had reduced labour needs far more than was realised. Instead of 7000 men, expected to be needed by July for dairying alone, only 4286 men could be placed on all farms by November. The experiences of the National Employment Service in trying to place men released from 3 Division are outlined in Chapter 8.1

This unfortunate experience highlights the need for good background statistics in making the type of judgment which was required of the National Employment Service. For reasons which no doubt seemed adequate at the time, the 1931 and the 1941 population censuses had been abandoned. The result, however, was that the only comprehensive picture of labour force distribution after 1926 available to the National Employment Service was that given by the 1936 census. There was therefore no up-to-date picture of recent trends and, as a result, a good deal of wartime manpower policy lacked a firm factual background. There can be no substitute for a background of information of this sort, when important decisions have to be made. The extent of public clamour at the time does not provide any reliable estimate of the size of a problem, as the National Employment Service found.

In Chart 77, successive census results are compared, the use of male labour in each major industry group being equated to 1000 in 1936. The chart shows clearly the difference in growth of labour requirements in farming as compared with other industry groups. Between 1936 and 1951, the use of male labour on farms declined 21 per cent, whereas the use of male labour in all industries increased 13 per cent. It it easy to see that inadequate warning of this strikingly different trend in farming employment was likely to lead to wrong wartime judgments.

Labour force changes up to 1945 are confused by the fact that 45,400 persons were still serving overseas at the time of the 1945 population census.2 However, the wartime boost to the growth of manufacturing industries shows up clearly in the chart. Between 1936 and 1945 the numbers engaged in manufacturing increased page 494 page 495 15 per cent; those in farming decreased 22 per cent. The building and construction industry, in spite of the impetus of defence construction in 1942–43 and 1943–44, had 8 per cent fewer workers in 1945 than in 1936, but was to make a spectacular spurt after the war. Of the industry groups with a long-term upward trend, distribution and finance was most seriously affected by the war. It had 20 per cent less labour in 1945 than in 1936.

chart of labour statistics

Chart 77
Index Numbers: Base - Numbers at 1936 Census (= 1000)

1 pp. 193–4.

2 Including about 700 women.