British Depth Study 1906-1918


Living and Working conditions in the 1890s

Housing - damp, cold, overcrowded. Many lived in slums and often whole families had to live in one room. Poor sanitation led to disease.

Old people - No government pensions to support old people who could no longer work. Many had to live in work houses because they couldn't afford to live at home any more.

Work Houses - Originally established by the Poor Laws. Provided basic lodging and food in return for long hours of work in fairly awful conditions. It was considered shameful to end up in one.

Malnourishment - Too expenisve to eat properly which led to 40% of recruits for the Boer war were not fit enough to fight because of disease or malnourishment.

Unemployment - High in some areas. There were no unemployment benefits to support those who were out of work.

Children - Many children didn't go to school so that they could work to support their families. The child mortality rate was high (1 in 7 children died before they turned 5)

Hospitals - No National health service, and many people couldn't afford doctors or medicine.

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Social reformers reactions to the social problems

Seebohm Rowntree - a wealthy man who hired professional researchers to investigate poverty in York. These researchers spoke to over 46,000 people. Rowntree published a book about the research calles Poverty: A Study of Town Life. In this book it was revealed that 28% of people in York were living below the poverty line. It also revealed that people were most vunerable to poverty as children, new parents and when they were old. 

William and Catherine Booth - Established the Salvation Army to help people turn away from sinful living (alcoholism and prostitution) They dressed in army style uniforms and had brass bands to attract large crowds.

Dr Thomas Bernado - Set up children's homes to provide shelter to orphans.

Charles Booth - also carried out lots of research. His team interviewed 4000 londoners very thoroughly, 3 years of studying revealed that 31% of Londoners were living below the poverty line and 85% of these people were poor because of low wages or unemployment. His study was entitled Life and Labour of the People in London.

Booth's and Rowntree's books were very influential, read by many politicians. They had previously thought that poverty was down to laziness, alcoholism and stupidity.

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Why did the Liberals win the 1906General Election?

Boer War - very expensive and the British Army had been defeated many times in battle. The war and concentration camps were hugely unpopular.

Free Trade - The Conservatives had previously put tariffs on cheap American and German goods to encourage trade with the empire. This had made prices high in Britain which made the Conservatives very unpopular.

New Liberalism and poverty - Churchill, Lloyd George and Asquith promised help for the poor. These reforms had the support of the poor people. The Conservatives had thought about introducing pensions for old people but had changed their minds because of the cost. 

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Why did the Liberals introduce reforms?

New Liberalism - Moved by the reesearch carried out. Thought they should abandon the policy of 'Laissez faire' (leave things to sort out themselves) and intervene.

Threat of the Labour Party - The Labour Party was gaining support amongst the working class. They also had ideas about social reforms but they were more Socialist than the Liberals. The Liberals were worried they would lose support from the people if they didn't implement reforms.

Boer War - The fitness and health of the men going to war was worrying. The peopl needed to be fit incase of a major war in order to defend Britain.

National Efficiency - An educated, strong, healthy working class was required to ensure that Britain remained a world power.

Local Success - Liberal local authorities had introduced lots of successful schemes. The Liberal Party wanted to expand these schemes to the whole country.

Foreign competition - Both Germany and the USA had already introduced reforms. It was important that the economy could keep up with the economies of other world powers. 

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The Liberal Reforms

1906 - Free school meals

1907 - School medical inspections - compulsory medical checks in schools although free treatment was not available until 1912

1908 - The Children's Charter - parents could be prosectued for cruelty, under 14s not allowed into pubs and cigarettes could not be sold to under 16s. Children's homes were registered and frequently inspected. Juvenile courts and Borstals were established so that naughty children didn't have to go to prison

1908 - The Pensions Act - old people over 70 were eligible for a pension. Singles recieved 5 shillings a week (the equivalent of about £15 now) while couples recieved 7 shillings and 6 pence (the equivalent of about £20 now)

1909 - Labour Exchanges Act - provided a place for the unemployed to look for work and for employers to advertise vacancies

1911 - National Insurance Act (sickness) - provided 26 weeks worth of sick pay, free medical care, all low paid workers had to join. They had to pay a portion of their salary to the scheme.

1911 - National Insurance Act part 2 (Unemployment) - 15 weeks of benefit for seasonal workers.

1912 - Free medical treatment in schools  

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How popular were the reforms?

Popular amongst poor people

Some employers and workers resented paying the 'servant's tax' for National Insurance

Insurance companies were losing buisness because of the government reforms

Taxes had to be raised to fund all the new reforms which affected the middle class

Some people still believed that poverty was down to laziness so the government shouldn't encourage it

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The People's Budget 1909

David Lloyd George was the Chancellor of the Exchequer (minister in charge of taxes)

He proposed a budget in 1909 that would tax income and inheritance tax which would hit the rich particularly hard

The budget passed in the House of Commons but the Conservative Party blocked it in the House of Lords. 

A General Election was called in 1910 which the Liberals won.

The House of Lords gave in and passed the Budget.

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How effective were the Liberal reforms?

The Poor Law - Work houses were still up and running

National insurance - 22% of the population was covered by National Insurance for sickness. However it only helped those who made contributions and it didn't cover dependents.

National insurance against unemployement only covered some industries (building, shipbuilding and engineering) which meant that only 2.25 million people qualified (5% of population)

Pensions - only 1% of the population qualified for the pensions. The old people had to be over 70, there were many other restrictions also. The pensions were very small and didn't make the people that much better off.  

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Women in the 1890s

Politics - women were able to vote for local councils and become councillors, but they were not allowed to vote in national elections. Lots of women were involved in local government through charitable work or by sitting on school boards. 

Marriage - Women were allowed to divorce their husbands for cruelty or desertion but not for their husbands committing adultary. They had no rights over their children if there was a divorce.

Work - Almost all of the working class women worked as servants or in workshops and factories. They were paid badly, the hours were long and the conditions weren't great. Women were paid less than men generally and if they got married they had to leave work altogether. 

Universities, however were beginning to accept women and there were even some teacher training colleges specially established for women. Women could become doctors, architects, teachers, nurses, typists and telephonists but not lawyers or bankers.

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Arguments for female suffrage


Deal with other inequalities - suffrage would allow more women's rights laws to be passed. 

Improve men's moral and sexual behaviour - female suffrage would reduce pre-marital sex, prostitution and venereal disease

Other countries had already granted the vote to women including New Zealand which was part of the empire

Female involvement in politics - women had demonstrated that they were capable and interested in politics

Changing role of women - many women were doctors and teachers

It was fair and democratic if women were to finally get the vote - women owned properties and paid taxes. All men including the illiterate and uneducated were allowed to vote so why shouldn't women? Not giving women the vote was undemocratic.

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Arguments against female suffrage


'Seperate spheres' - the woman's place was at home, they were not as suited to politics as they were to cooking, having children and looking after the house. Many people were worried that family life would collapse if women got the vote. Scientific thinking said that women were interlectually inferior to men and prone to 'hysteria'.

Women's role was local government - They were not suited to national politics

Women were already represented by their husbands 

Did not want the vote - only a small number of women actually joined the NUWSS or the WSPU which led many people to believe that only those women really wanted the vote.

Did not fight for their country - They didn't deserve the right to vote because they were unable to fight in wars for the country. Some people worried that women would not support future wars even though Britain's power was in decline.

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The Suffragists

NUWSS - The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies

Established 1897 

Leader - Millicent Fawcett

Campaigned for a number of women's issues including the rights of a married woman

Mainly middle class women joined, men were allowed to join and some working class women were members too

Their tactics were to hold political meetings, writing petitions to parliament and writing letters to MPs

They were worried that the Suffragette's violent methods would decrease support

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WSPU - Women's Social and Political Union

Established 1903

Led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Cristabela and Sylvia Pankhurst

Their only aim was to gain suffrage

Men were not allowed to join, mainly middle and upper class women joined.

They had violent tactics which included bombing, civil disobedience, criminal damage and attacking opponents.

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Tactics of the Suffragettes and Suffragists

Attacking people

Attacking property - Arson and bombing, telegraph lines cut, acid poured into letter boxes, window smashing.

Hunger strikes in prison which led to force feeding (lost the government support)

Civil disobedience - refused to pay taxes, refused to fill out Census forms

Propaganda - they had a newspaper called Votes for Women. They also produced posters.

Meetings and demonstrations - Large meetings held attracting huge numbers of people (250,000). There was also a pilgrimage in 1913 which was reported favourably because it was peaceful. Newspaper coverage was good for them and the more meeting, parades and marches held, the more coverage they got.

Pressure on Parliament - petitions were drawn and some had over 250,000 signatures. Constant letters were sent to MPs

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How did the government react to the WSPU violence?

Repression - Women banned from Liberal Party meetings, police fought back the demonstrations with violence. Black Friday in 1910 was when the police supressed a protest with violence and sexual assault

Cat and Mouse Act 1913 - allowed hunger strikers to go home until they recovered before they were rearrested to serve their sentences

Force Feeding - force fed through the nose in prison for hunger striking. The government believed it necessary for the female prisoners' health

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Did violent tactics help the Suffragettes?


Attracted huge newspaper coverage

Kept the movement in the public's attention all the time

Showed how much it meant to the suffragettes

Made the government adopt unpopular tactics such as force feeding which would turn public opinion against the government


Asquith was already firmly against the women's right to vote 

Violence gave the government an excuse not to give women the vote

MP support turned against women's voting rights. They were put off by the violence

Proved women were prone to 'hysteria'

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Women's votes campaign during the war

NUWSS and WSPU ended their campaigns and encouraged members to support the war

WSPU became patriotic (renamed themselves the Women's party) and handed out white flowers to men who didn't join the army

Some Sufragettes were pacifists and kept up the campaign 

The NUWSS recruited women to work and set up schools to train the women

Hospitals and ambulance units were set up in Belgium and France by the NUWSS

Continued NUWSS meetings and petitions

The women worked so well during the war, they were granted the vote in 1918

The government was under pressure to change the voting laws anyway 

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Why did women get the vote in 1918?

Lloyd George replaced Asquith as prime minister in 1916.

It was compromised that women could have the vote if they were over 30 years old

The women's contribution to the war effort had demonsrated what they were capable of, they were rewarded with the vote. The war was a convenient way for the government to back down. It was also a convenient time for the government to change the law as men had to have lived at the same address for more than 1 year but as they were away at war they were unable to do so. 

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The Representation of the People Act 1918

The act passed in the House of Commons in 1918

All women over 30 were allowed to vote and become MPs

All men over 21 were given the vote

The women under 30 didn't get the vote because they were worried that young women would outnumber the men and also not be responsible enough to vote.

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How were civilians affected by the war?

Bombing -

  • In 1914 German battleships shelled Hartepool, Whitby and Scarborough, killing 119 civilians
  • German Zeppelins began bombing in 1915. They killed 564 people
  • Gotha aircraft began bombing Britain in 1917, killing 835 civilians
  • Damage and casualties were minor, but psycological effect was high
  • There were 'invasion scares'

Food and Rationing -

  • The majority of Britain's food came from the USA. In 1916 German U-Boats sank a quarter of merchant ships before they reached Britain. Shortages became severe. By 1917, Britain only had 9 weeks' food left which made it very expensive.
  •  People were encouraged to eat less bread. The price of a loaf was subsidised so that everyone was able to afford it
  • Despite the war, there were many strikes against low wages and high food prices. 
  • Rationing was introduced in 1918 and for some items was not removed until 1920
  • Convoys were introduced to reduce the sinking of merchant ships by German U-Boats
  • Local committees were set up to turn pasture into agricultural land. 3 million acres more land grew food by 1918
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How were civilians affected by the war? cont.

Buisness as usual - tried to keep morale high in Britain. However it undermined the war effort according to Lloyd George. Pub opening hours were restricted, bank holidays and national events were cancelled or postponed.

Casualties - 750,000 men died in the war and many more were injured.

Recruitment and Conscription - In the first few years the recruitment campaign proved successful attracting 2.5 million volunteers for the army by March 1916

Many soldiers returned mentally and physically scarred by the war, communities lost out on their young men

Conscription was introduced in 1916. All men aged 18-41 were elegible. A third of all men were conscripted in the period 1916-18

Conscientious objectors were offered non-combatant work such as driving ambulances or war work in Britain

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How did Britain run during the war?

Munitions - production modernised.

  • 1915 Munitions Scandal - there was a shortage of weapons and ammunition on the Western front

Railways and Shipping - the gov. took control of all railways, ports and ship construction. The convoy system to protect ships from German U-boats was introduced in 1917.

DORA - The Defence of the Realm Act allowed the government to pass laws without consulting parliament first. Pub opening hours were restricted to ensure better productivity from workers. The police were given powers to arrest and search suspects. The maximum penalty was death.

Mining - The gov. took control of the coal industry, profits and wages were fixed and miners weren't conscripted.

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Women's contribution to the war effort

Employment - by 1915 there was a severe labour shortage due to so many men joining the army

Trade unions blicked hiring of women as they worried that women would keep men's jobs and work for less money once the war was over

More women bagan working

Women employment rose by 25% from 4 million to 5 million between 1914 and 1918

The Women's Land Army was set up to work on agricultural land but it only attracted 16,000 members

The Women's Army Auxilary Corps employed women in the army as cooks, drivers and clerks

It was dangerous and unhealthy to work in munition factories as the women's skin turned yellow and they were nicknamed 'canaries'

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Changes on the home front for women

Fashions changed in favour of shorter skirts. Women were allowed to smoke in public. 

The government worried about sexually transmitted diseases amongst soldiers spread by prostitutes and working class women. Regulation 40D made it against the law to infect a soldier or a sailor with an STD

Sufragettes made it their buisness to regualte the behavior of 'wayward women' by setting up female police units

Birth rates fell expectedly so a National Baby Week was introduced to encourage women to have children in 1916

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Government Propaganda

Mini films produced at the beginning of films in cinemas. Over 10 million people watched them. The Battle of the Somme (1916) was watched by more than 20 million people.

Some propaganda was designed to persuade other countries to join the war (including the USA)

Photos and paintings - official photographers and painters were given access to the army to capture the lives of those in the army

Photographs of the dead and dying were banned early on in the year, however this was relaxed in 1917 as Lord Beaverbrook wanted to collect a historical record of the war

Newspapers were censored, casualty reports weren't published until May 1915 and Euphemisms were frequently used. 

Posters, postcards and cartoons - 110 were published in the first year of the war. 

Successful? Morale was generally kept fairly high throughout the war. 2.5 million volunteers for the army in the first few years, however conscription did have to be introduced in 1916. Soldiers felt betrayed by the propaganda as it didn't capture what their experience was actually like. Lots of workers still went on strike despite the propaganda.

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