Higher History-why Liberals introduced Social Reform


  • Throughout 19th century politicians led a laissez faire attitude towards social reform
  • Changed with Liberals landslide victory in the 1906 election
  • Fears over national security
  • genuine concern over poor and unemployed
  • National efficiency 
  • New ideas and liberalism within the party
  • Municipial socialism
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National Security

  • 1889, Britain at war in South Africa (part of British empire at time) and due to small numbers in Britain's army, volunteers required to fill ranks
  • Soon came to gov attention that 25% of voluntary recruits rejected.
  • Important because rejected due to being physically unfit to serve but Britain could not survive a war or protect empire while men unhealthy
  • Great concern resulted in interdepartmental committee on Physical Deterioation examining problems associated with public health in England and Wales
  • Scotland- Royal Commission carried out same task
  • Reports of 1904 suggested people in bad health
  • Also reccomended improving health and overcrowding (free school meals, medical examinations for school children
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Genuine concern for poor

  • Charles Booth, Seebohm Rowntree carried out investigations, revealed true extent of poverty in Britain
  • Booth researched London-concluded 35% lived in poverty
  • Rowntree showed 30% in York living in poverty
  • Argued same figures likely to be replicated throught country
  • Charles booth important-argued if gov did not interveen to help poor, socialist revolution
  • Rowntree drew up poverty line, defined poverty as primary or secondary
  • They provided statistical data which simply could not be ignored
  • Politicians realised people were in poverty through no fault of their own, could not escape
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National Efficiency

  • Britain no longer strongest industrial nation, facing serious compitition from other nations (Germany)
  • Great concern over ill health and bad education getting worse bc if they did, it would mean Britain's position further threatened
  • Great deal of unemployment, people didnt know where to look for jobs
  • Politicians increasingly concerned, motivated gov to deal with problems
  • Solution to unemployment-Liberals opened Labour Exchanges to help unemployeed sick jobs, increasing efficiency of Labour market. 
  • Lack of efficiency would impact gov members through diminishing profits as many MPs buisness men
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Political advantage/New Liberalism

  • from 1884 most men had vote, liberals tended to attract many of votes hw, by 1906 Labour competing for their votes.
  • Often argued that Liberal reform only passed to gain political advantage, no genuine concern for poor
  • Previously Old Liberals believed poverty due to defects of character, people should help themselves out of poverty
  • New liberal party believed people could not escape poverty despite efforts
  • New Libs believed gov should interveen in order to help poor
  • Old libs-Campbell Bannerman- died in 1908, new liberals-Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George- both introduced new reforms
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Effect of Municipial Socialism

  • Municipial socialism-local tax, used for social improvement, result of benefits that poor experienced from improvements made using money charged from local tax
  • Factory and Public Health Act: introduced to improve working and living conditions
  • Gov of various parties moved towards greater intervention
  • 1873, Liberal Joseph Chamberlain became mayor of Birmingham, used influence for 3 years to intro series of social reforms 
  • Birmingham water supply considered danger to public health, piped water only supplied 3 times/week and polluted
  • Chamberlain purchased Birrmingham's water and gas works, cleared slums
  • Glasgow - £1.5 m on water sourcing-great positive effect on people
  • Schemes esp important since so successful, influenced gov to make changes, reforms greatly needed
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