History: Britain 1906-1918

Useful for OCR GCSE British Depth Study: How did British Society Change 1906-1918?

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  • Created by: Rachel
  • Created on: 19-04-11 11:33


 In the first 20 years of the twentieth century, British society changed dramatically. This British Depth Study covers:

  • The Liberal Welfare reforms 1906-12
  • Votes for Women 1900-1918
  • The Home Front during WW1 1914-18


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How did the Liberals help the poor?


Above: the origional four Liberal members.

In 1906 a new Liberal government was elected by a landslide. They promised to reform the Poor Law, although many people did not expect what was to come - the Liberals embarked on the most ambitious and expensive programme of welfare reforms ever undertaken in Britain.

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Why did the Liberals help the poor? (1)

  • Self-help v. Welfare state - attitudes were changing. Prior to the 1900s people thought individuals should look after themselves or seek the help of charities. But Liberal reforms acknowledged that it wasn't always the fault of the poor that they were poor, and so the gov. should support them.
  • Social Reformers - such as Seebohm Rowntree who published Poverty: A Study of Town Life in 1901. He concluded that poverty was mainly caused by old age, illness or ups and downs of British trade - it was not usually due to being careless with money. He discovered 27% of York were below the poverty line, because of his wealth and connections, Rowntree was able to influence the gov. to help these people.
  • Political Rivalry - Liberals were competing with the Conservatives who had introduced Welfare measures of their own. For example in 1905 the Conservatives introduced the Unemployed Workmen's Act, this cold be a vote-winner among the working class.
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Why did the Liberals help the poor? (2)

  • Key individuals - including David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. Lloyd George grew up in poverty in Wales, and thus sympathised with ordinary people, he was Chancellor of the Exchequer by 1908 and also friends with Rowntree. Churchhill had been a Conservative, but switched to Liberals in 1906 when Liberal Reforms began. In 1908 Churchill became President of the Board of Trade. 
  • The Boer War - 1899-1902 Britain was at war defending its territory in Southern Africa. Half of the volunteers were unfit to fight due to ill health and stunted growth. This was alarming for the gov. as the needed to be able to call on a strong army at short notice.
  • Industrial decline - other leading powers such as Germany had impressive welfare programmes which Lloyd George noticed. He saw that the healthier, better-educated and efficient workforce lead to Germany's rapid development.
  • The rise of Socialism - if working classes were happier and healthier, there would be less chance of the revolutionary Socialist movements that were troubling parts of Europe at this time coming to Britain. It also undermined support for the new Labour Party, who promised reforms too.
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How effective were the Liberal reforms? (1)

  • CHILDREN 1906 School Meals allowed (but didn't force) local authorities to provide free school meals. Half of Britain set up a meals service.
  • 1907 Medical Care every local education authoriy had to set up a school medical service. Meant regular checks for children and from 1912 meant treatment was provided in school clinics too.
  • 1908 Children and Young Persons Act gave children 'protected persons' status. Parents could be prosecuted for neglect, and it became illegal to unsure a child's life. Special courts to deal with child crime, and Borstals to house young offenders separate from adult prisons.
  • THE OLD 1908 Lloyd George introduced a gov. funded old-age pension. Only over 70s with no income, who had worked well and lived in Britain for the last 20 years could receive 5s a week. Married couples 7s 6d. Still some threat of the workhouse, but it did help the elderly poor enormously. In 1st year 650,000 people collected pensions. Two revolutions: it was non-contributory and directly from the gov. not local rates.
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How effective were the Liberal reforms? (2)

  • THE UNEMPLOYED 1909 Labour Exchanges campaigners for scoial reform showed that unemployment and irregular work was a big problem. Labour exchanges had been run previously by volunteers. By 1913 labour exchanges were putting 3000 people into jobs every working day. Workers signed a register and they found out about available work.
  • WORKERS 1911 National Insurance Act Part 1 was sick pay. Workers in low paid manual and clerical jobs had to pay 4d out of their weeks wages, the employer payed 3d and the gov. 2d. In return workers received up to 26 weeks sick pay at 10s per week from a friendly society and frfee medical care for the insured. Part 2 was unemployment benefit. In trades were occasional unemployment was common (e.g. shipping) workers contributed 2/1/2d, 2/1/2d from the employer and 1/3/4d from the gov. Like in part 1 these paid for stamps. Then workers could recieve 7s per week for 15 weeks. The money wasn't enough to live on, and therefore encourage careful saving too. 
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Reactions to the Reforms

The reforms were controversial and met with some enoromous opposition. Conservatives hated the costs and the idea of a 'nanny state'. On the other hand the Labour Party criticised the fact that workers had to partly fund their own benefits, they thought more should be taxed from the rich. Some workers resented deductions from their wages. Rich people resented paying for this too. Doctors were not convinced about the health insurance. Moreover there were some loopholes and problems - e.g. the friendly societies prevented benefits being given to widows. The House of Lords tried to stop reforms going through, this caused a constitutional crisis. There are many cartoons which show viewpoints on the reforms.  

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How did women try to win the right to vote?

There were two main groups campaigning for female suffrage (the right to vote) although they did campaign for other things such as right to divorce and have equal education. The East London Federation of Suffragettes also existed, formed in 1914 by Sylvia Pankhurst it was made up of working-class women.

  • Suffragists The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) - formed in 1897 and led by Millicent Fawcett believed in peaceful, law-abiding protests. Mainly middle-class women however the organisation built up supporters in Parliament, but private members' bills to give women the vote all failed.
  • Suffragettes The Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) - used violent methods to get their views across. It was formed in 1903 and led by Emmeline Pankhurst. Also mainly middle class. It heckled politicians, held marches, members chained themselves to railings, attacked policemen, broke windows, slashed paintings, set fire to buildings, threw bombs and went on hunger strike when they were sent to prison. One suffragette, Emily Davison, ran out in front of the king's horse during the Derby of 1913 and was killed.
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What were the arguements for female suffrage?


  • Women had already gained new job opportunities and better pay, improved education and more legal rights in the 19th century.
  • The number of men who could vote had been steadily increasing recently.
  • Parliament's decisions affect both men and women.
  • Many single women and widows exist who bear the same responsibilities as men.
  • Women were seen as the spiritual spine of the nation - they went to church.
  • Two heads are better than one.
  • Women have special sills and expertise to offer, e.g. they know about education and the home.
  • Women pay taxes, so should be able to influence how that money is spent.
  • Women could already vote in local elections and have shown that they are able and can be trusted with a vote.
  • Many uneducated working men have the vote, but respectable women can't.
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What are the arguements against female suffrage?


  • Men and women have different interests and responsibilities.
  • It was mainly middle-class women campaigning for the vote. They may have little interest in laws to help ordinary working people.
  • Women weren't seen as rational, they were too emotional.
  • Women are pure and should be protected from the grubby world of politics.
  • With the vote women wouldn't need men.
  • Giving women the vote encourages them to neglect their family.
  • Giving the vote to women meant giving the vote to all men.
  • There are other pressing issues such as Ireland and the Trade Unions.
  • Women do not fight in wars for their country.


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How effective were their campaigns? (1)

In the years up to 1900, fifteen times the Parliament received a bill to give women the vote; fifteen times the bill failed.

1908 direct action begins...

The campaign intensified. Suffragette Edith New made speeches in Downing Street, she chained herself to railings and was arrested. Also this year suffragettes through stones through the windown of 10 Downing Street. In October Mrs Pankhurst was sent to prison for iniciting a crowd to 'rush' the House of Commons. The suffragettes were trying to make women's suffrage a serious issue, something the gov. couldn't ignore. Their actions showed how important the vote was to her, and kept the issue in the public eye. The reactions to these events were mixed; some people were sympathetic to their cause and some people like moderate MPs thought that their violent actions proved why they shouldn't have the vote. This is why there was tension between between the suffragettes and the suffragists who believed you couldn't claim a democratic right by undemocractic methods. Christabel Pankhurst wanted the two groups to unite, but Mrs Fawcett did not want to be associated with them. 

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How effective were their campaigns? (2)

1911 a setback in Parliament...

The gov. promised a Conciliation Bill which won support. The suffragettes even suspended militant action and the suffragists held 4000 meetings to support the bill. It got a majority of 167, the biggest ever, but then Asquith dropped the bill! He announced that he was introducing votes for all men, and that women's votes could be tacket on to that if MPs wanted. Campaigners were furious. Suffragists response: they lead a deputation to see the PM and try to persuade him to change his mind. They planned to support the Labour Party at the next election since it was the only party committed to female sugrage. They also organised a peaceful pilgrimage involving thousands of people from Carlisle to London.Suffragette response: violence escalated, they set fires, bombed churches, slashed paintings etc. Consequently many suffragettes were sent to prison. There they continued their protest by going on hunger strikes. The gov. responded by forcefeeding, suffragettes made posters about this degrading, brutal technique and it them gained public sympathy. In 1913 the government passed an act which allowed hunger strikers to leave prison, recover, and then return. Campaigners called this the Cat and Mouse Act.

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Key Event: The death of Emily Davidson

5 June 1913. World-famous horse race, the Derby. Tens of thousands of spectators including royalty, politicians, reporters. Emily Davidson, an experienced campaigner thought it was an ideal day for publicising the suffragette cause. As the horses rounded a corner, Miss Davidson rushed out to try and catch hold of one, but she was fatally injured.

  • Some people thought it was suicide - she could have been a martyr.
  • However it appeared to be a publicity stunt gone wrong. Davidson planned to attach a suffragette banner to the horse.
  • Brave or foolish?
  • Her funeral was attended by thousands of suffragettes and it was a major celebration of her ultimate sacrifice.


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How effective were their campaigns? (3)

It is agreed that the suffragette's violence alienated support for women. Although they certainly raised the profile of the issue, they gave their opponents a reason to reject women's suffrage. If MPs gave into violence on this matter, then what would happen if the Irish protested violently for home rule, or if dockers and miners rioted for higher wages? Lloyd George said in 1913: "The worst kind of campaigning for the vote is to try to intimidate or blackmail a man into giving them what he would otherwise gladly give?". Suffragette leaders saw things differently. They argued that gov. had become more serious about the bill after their militacy. Before militancy nothing had been achieved by suffragists. But in August 1914 the gov. declared war on Germany, and this changed everything. Suffragist and Suffragette leaders called off their campaigns and helped the war effort instead.

  • What consequences would this have for female suffrage in Britain? 
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The British Home Front during WW1 Key Dates (1)

WW1 was Britain's first total war - meaning it affected all areas and people in society. The gov. made sure everyone played their part. Below are key dates.

  • 1914 August - war declared on germany. Recruitment campaign launched, 500,000 joined the army in 1 month. DORA was introduced, giving the gov. special powers needed for the war effort.
  • 1914 Autumn - women's organisations set up - Women's Hospital Corps.
  • 1914 December - first bombing of British Civilians in Scarborough 119 killed.
  • 1915 January - air raids in East Anglian towns.
  • 1915 May - Coalition gov. formed to handle growing crisis in Britain. First Zeppelin air raids on London.
  • 1915 July - Munitions crisis, where troops had a shortage of shells and bullets. Lloyd George set up Ministry of Munitions. He and Mrs Pankhurts organised a women's march for jobs to recruit women in factories.
  • 1915 Autumn - many employers refused to take on women, so gov. agreed with trade unions that women would be paid equally to men and only until the men were back.
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The British Home Front during WW1 Key Dates (2)

  • 1916 January - conscription introduce for all single men aged 18-40.
  • 1916 May - 2nd Military Service Bill extends conscription to married men.
  • 1916 July - The Battle of the Somme began. Many deaths of British men.
  • 1916 August - Government film of the Battle of the Somme in cinemas.
  • 1916 November - Battle of the Somme called off, due to little progress and big losses. There was public criticism of the way the war was being run by generals.
  • 1916 December - Lloyd George who criticised army leadership, became PM instead of Herbet Asquith. He reorganised the gov. and focused on the war effort. Ministry of Labour was set up to deal with labour supply and the Ministry of Food to deal with food supply.
  • 1917 Febuary - Germany began another series of attacks on British merchant ships using submarines. Women's Land Army was formed.
  • 1917 April - German U-boats sank 1 in 4 British Merchant ships in Atlantic. Food supply was low, under DORA the gov. took over new farming land.
  • 1917 November - Voluntary Rationing scheme introduced. Failure.
  • 1917 December - Parliament agreed a law to give women over 30 vote.
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The British Home Front during WW1 Key Dates (3)

  • 1918 Febuary - compulsory rationing scheme introduced in parts of Britain, with strong penalties for offenders.
  • 1918 April - Rationing of meat, butter, cheese for entire country.
  • 1918 November - 11th hour, of 11th day, of 11th month the Armistice was signed. War over.
  • 1918 December - general election held in Britain, women over 30 voted for the first time.


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Recruitment and Conscription

There was a lot of propaganda aimed to encourage young men to recruit. This included posters, leaflets, recruitment offices and speaches. The media strengthened the strong anti-German feeling in the country with terrible stories. Conscription had to be introduced in 1916 because the number of volunteers was falling and the demand for troops was increasing. The volunteer system was problematic as some people were needed to keep their jobs, for example miners were needed to provide essential supplies of coal. Moreover the volunteer system was seen as unfair, as not all parts of society complied - e.g. the rich or fittest. 50 MPs voted against conscription, some people were opposed to it because of religious or political reasons. They were called conscientious objectors or 'conchies' and had to appear before a tribunal and prove they had a genine reason and weren't just cowards. Some were sent to prison, or to work on the front line in hospitals e.t.c. 


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In 1914 the Defence of the Realm Act was passed. It allowed the gov. to seize needed land or buildings, take over industries and censor things. It was immediately used to take over the coal industry and support the war effort.

Lloyd George introduced a range of measures under DORA to 'deliver the goods' (munitions). This stopped the crisis occuring by the end of 1915.

As food supplies ran short in 1917, the prices rose. The gov. responded to strikes that year by raising the wages of industrial workers. Laws were also passed to control the price of bread. But none of these methods were effective enough, so complusory rationing was introduced the next year. It was a fairer system, and actually improved the health of poorer people.

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Propaganda and Censorship

  • Good news only: the public were told only of great British victories or heroic resistance. When British battleship HMS Audacious was sunk in 1914 it was simply not reported. But in 1916 gov. approved journalists were allowed on the front. Newspaper owners (like Lord Beaverbrook Daily Express) were linked closely with the gov. so played an integral part in the war. Letters were censored, soldiers even censored themselves.
  • Forced censorship: a few independent papers published balanced or anti-war texts. The Tribunal was closed down, others were monitored. This done to ensure positive attitudes, and to stop sensitive info. leaking.
  • Books and other publications: leading authors such as Thomas Hardy signed a Declaration by Authors in support of the war, and produced patriotic publications for no fee.
  • Propaganda for children: toys, comics and books were created teaching children about the evil Germans and brave British.
  • Films: Patriotic films such as For the Empire were shown to 9 million by 1916. The Battle of the Somme film showed some real scenes, and was a huge success, it was close to the truth.
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Did the propaganda work?

It is very hard to measure, but support for the war did stay quite firm. Due to the sheer numbers that were exposed to propaganda it is likely it had some impact - 9 millin saw For the Empire and half the population read a daily newspaper, suggesting that the ordinary citizen was surrounded by what the government wanted them to see and hear. People joined patriotic organisations such as Fight for RIght Movement of their own accord.

At the beginning most people supported the war, although some socialists and pacifists protested they were treated as cowards and given little sympathy. But in the weeks after the end of the Battle of the Somme the gov. was seriously criticised. By the end of the war there was grim determination. The new PM Lloyd George brought some energy, but there were still critics such as Sassoon a celebrated war poet. In 1917 he wrote poems which accused the generals of being out of touch and incompetent. He wrote a 'soldier's declaration' which was read out in the House of Commons. He was sent for psychiatric treatement and later withdrew his criticism. The end of the war was a relief and triumph.

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How far did women contribute to the war effort?

  • Suffragists persuaded men to join the army. White feathers (symbols of cowardice) were given to men that weren't in the armed forces.
  • Suffragettes staged demonstrations demanding to be allowed to work in munition factories.
  • Women were employed in place of men in office jobs and in labour. Evidence soon showed that they were as skilled with men even with very little training. It gave the women a chance to prove themselves.
  • More and more women stepped in to fill the gaps. It was like a revolution. Women gained access to a whole range of jobs previously set aside for men e.g. Women's Volunteer Police Service, Women's Land Army, Women's Army Auxilary Corps and the Salvation Army sent women to aid soldiers and civilians in France.
  • Married women took on their husband's jobs or family businesses, but mostly unmarried women worked in factories.
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Why were some women given the vote in 1918?

In 1915 the gov. began considering changes in the electoral system, as it seemed unfair that citizens living outside of Britain (like soldiers) couldn't vote. Women had shown themselves to be capable and responsible under the strains of war. The House of Commons passed the Representation of the People Act in 1917 by a majority of 7 to 1. It was passed by a smaller amount in the Lords. It was law by 1918. It said:

  • All males aged over 21 could vote.
  • Women over 30 could vote.
  • Women who were over 21 and householders or married to householders could vote.
  • Women could stand for parliament.

In total this was about 9 million women. But only older, 'responsible' women were given the vote, and the young, single, working-class women who had contributed most to the war effort did not gain the vote, perhaps the MPs thought they might have radical ideas. In 1919 Nancy Astor became the first female MP. Full voting rights for women were granted in 1928, but this was still an achievement.  

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