Britain 1906 - 1918: The Liberal Reforms

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Britain before 1906

  • Poverty could be helped by Charities and The Poor Law.
  • By 1905 there were over 700 charities in London alone.
  • The Poor Law was seen as shameful and something not many people wanted. Workhouses were set up to provide food and shelter but inside they were awful.
  • People believed the poor were responsible for their own poverty. This view began to change thanks to The Salvation Army, Charles Booth and Seebhom Rowntree.
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The Salvation Army

  • Many Christian groups ran missions in inner cities trying to turn the poor away from their 'sin'.
  • William and Catherine Booth went further - they found the poor rather than waiting for the poor to find them.
  • William Booth made a circle of poverty.
  • Smallest circle = those who lived by crime
  • Middle = those who lived by vice (prostitution)
  • Largest circle = Starving and homeless, but honest poor.
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Charles Booth

  • He came from a wealthy family
  • From 1886 - 1903 he investigated living conditions, spending and income of over 4000 people. He published his findings regularly.
  • 31% of people in London couldnt afford food, shelter, clothing
  • 85% of people were poor due to unemployment/low wages - not their fault!
  • Class A-extreme hardship. 11,000 (1.25%)
  • Class B-casual earners, widows, part time labourers. 110,000 (11.25%)
  • Class C-occasional earners who would be hit by trade depression - 75,000 (8%)
  • Class D - low wages with barely enough to stay alive. 129,000 (14.5%)
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Seebohm Rowntree

  • Wanted to see if Booth's London findings were the same in York.
  • Worked out a family of 5 could live on 21s 8d a week
  • Found out 28% of people in York were in poverty.
  • Primary poverty - no matter how hard they worked just cannot provide
  • Secondary poverty - afford to feed, clothe and provide shelter. On the edge and any unexpected emergency could put them over the edge
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Reasons for reform

  • During the Boer War Britain had to turn down many soldiers as they were not fit enough
  • Britain struggled to compete against America and Germany's strong workforce
  • When Labour was set up in 1900 the Liberals worried they would lose votes - New liberalism was formed
  • Believed the state should help everyone to live in security and freedom
  • Recognised the poor were not to blame for poverty
  • Local authorites began providing clean water, street lights, clean streets - thought it could be done nationally
  • These ideas helped the Liberals win in 1906 with a massive majority
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Reforms to help children

  • Free School Meals - 1906 - local taxes put up to provide free school meals so by 1914 over 158,000 children had at least one decent meal - however they werent forced. A survey in 1911 showed only half of councils actually provided them
  • School Medical Inspections - 1907 - every council had to provide free medical check for kids - but didnt have to provide free treatment!
  • The Childrens Act - 1908 - Parents could be prosecuted for neglect/ill-treatment. Homes inspected. Children under 14 were tried in different courts and not sent to adult prisons. No drawbacks!
  • School Clinics - 1912 - free treatment given, but not compulsory so not all councils did.
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Reforms to help elderly

  • Pensions Act 1908 - Anyone over 70 who had no income got 5s a week. Married couples got 7s 6d. Meant old people could pay rent and not be a burden on children.

However 70 was old - not many working class lived that long. If you got more than £31 a year you didnt qualify. Could be refused if you hadnt worked, been in prison, or been abroad.

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Reforms to help sick and unemployed

  • Labour Exchanges Act - 1909 - set up offices to help unemployed find work. By 1913 3000 workers a day were finding jobs - but many jobs were short term and low pay.
  • National Insurance Act Part 1 - 1911 - Sickness payments of 10s a week when too ill to work, plus medical care. This for 13 weeks, then a further 5s for another 13 weeks. Employers provided 3d a week, goverment 2d - workers had to pay 4d and many were earning very little anyway! Only gave money to the person who made the payment so didnt help families
  • National Insurance Act Part 2 - 1912 - Further additions to NI Act.
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Reactions to the reforms

  • Doctors were not convinced by the health insurance
  • Some workers resented the deductions from their wages
  • Some charities and insurance companies didn't give the national insurance benefits to widows
  • The rich hated having to pay extra tax. They argued giving benefits would make the poor lazy
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Paying for the reforms

  • Higher taxes for rich and landowners
  • HOL was made up of wealthy - refused to pass the budget. Argued it would make the poor lazy
  • To get it passed there was an election in January 1910 - HOL had to accept that people wanted it
  • All of this lead to HOL losing some of its power.
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