OCR B British Depth Study: The Liberal Reforms

These cards build on the Focus Points of the Liberal Reforms according to the OCR Specification for History B. Enjoy, rate and comment :)

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Working and living conditions for the poor

  • Extremely bad: 10% of the population had 92% of the country’s wealth. Disparity in Britain in 1890s could be classified as that of an LEDC’s in modern terms.
  • Government and society believed in self help and that it was the people’s fault that they were poor, so they didn’t provide anything for the poor.
  • As a result, poor medical care, there were no unemployment or sickness benefits and it was difficult to climb out of poverty
  • Most poor people believed that accepting charity was like admitting defeat
  • They feared the workhouses as the conditions were bad and it was humiliating.
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Social Reformers

How were Social Reformers reacting to the social problem of the 1890s?

  • The Salvation Army was run by Catherine and William Booth. They ran labour exchanges, training centres, a farm and brickworks to employ and train the poor.
  • Charles Booth discovered through a 17-year investigation that 31% of Londoners lived below the poverty line and that 85% of Londoners were in poverty. He wrote a book on his findings in 17 volumes called ‘Life and Labour of the people in London’
  • Seebohm Rowntree did two years of research in York and discovered 28% of York’s population lived below the poverty line. He wrote a book called ‘Poverty: A study of Town life’
  • All three provided evidence that most poor people were poor because of conditions out of their control like old age, illness, and ups and downs of the trade cycle.
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Why did the Liberals win the 1906 elections?

Liberal support, Conservative ineffectiveness 

  • The Tories had been in power almost continuously since the 1880s.The public had grown weary of this and favoured a Liberal government.
  • The tariff reforms: Joseph Chamberlain's "Imperial Preference" and taxation of foreign products had divided the conservatives and worried the British public as it may cause food prices to rise.
  • Alternatively, the Liberals supported ‘free trade’, something the British public supported too.
  • Balfour, the conservative leader, was seen as very ineffective and only PM because he was the nephew of Salisbury.
  • Balfour's Education Act, 1902, that abolished all school boards, had seen lots of controversy and had angered non-conformists.
  • New Liberalism and the idea of welfare reforms may have pushed the new voters: working class men, to vote for the Liberals.
  • Salisbury had promised quick victory in the South African war but the war had dragged on.
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Why did the Liberal government introduce reforms?

  • Due to the influence of idealistic politicians in the Liberal Government like David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill.
    “I see little glory in an Empire which can rule the waves and is unable to flush its own sewers.” Winston Churchill 1899
  • Due to public pressure as social reformers showed the public their findings.
  • To improve Britain’s workforce as Britain had lost its lead in industry and had been overtaken by USA and Germany by the 1900s. Germany had good welfare laws and therefore its people were healthier and better-educated leading to an efficient workforce.
  • To improve Britain’s army as out of the recruits that volunteered to fight in the Boer War (1899-1902), around 50% were unfit. The minimum height had to be lowered too.
  • To fight socialist movements that currently troubled Russia, France and Germany, by keeping the working class happy.
  • To keep opposition from Labour Party at a minimum as they seemed appealing to working class men who were able to vote by 1906.
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How effective were these reforms for CHILDREN?

Before ReformsReformsBenefitsLimitations 

  • No real system
  • Some help for orphans
  • Help from charities
  • 1906: Free school meals
  • 1907: Free school Inspection
  • 1908: Children and Young Person’s Act
    It was illegal to insure a child’s life and parents could be prosecuted for neglect. Children under 14 were sent to Borstals instead of adult prisons and Juvenile Courts were set up for young offenders
  • 1912: Free school treatment 
  • Children became healthier and better fed. In 1914, 14 million school meals were served up. Children were better protected.
  • It was up to local councils to provide meals so only half of them did. Same applied for the healthcare acts.
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Before ReformsReformsBenefits, Limitations 

Charities, voluntary labour exchanges, workhouses, private insurance schemes

  • 1909: Labour exchanges Act
  • 1911: National Insurance Act
    Workers paid 4d/week and got sick pay for 26 weeks/year.
  • 1912: The National Insurance Act II
    Workers paid 2.5d/wk and got unemployment benefits for 15 weeks/year.
  • Important boost for low-paid (<£160/year) and unemployed workers.
  • Free medical care for the insured.
  • Employer and gov. had to contribute 3d/wk and 2d/wk respectively to the NI Act 1. For Act 2, they contributed 2.5d/wk and 1.5d/wk respectively. 
  • Workers hated paying the extra money, even though contributions from gov. and employers were added.
  • Worker’s family didn’t get free medical care.
  • Not enough money to support family. 
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Before Reforms

  • Charities
  • family
  • workhouses


1908: The Pensions Act
Single: 5s, Married: 7s5d (later increased to 10s)


Directly funded by gov. and not locally. It was non contributory. 1st year 650,000 people collected pensions and outdoor relief fell by 80,000.


You had to be 70+, out of prison for past 10 years, annual income<£31 and worked to the best of your ability all your life.

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  • Conservatives opposed the cost and the idea of a ‘nanny state’. They believed state interference could make people lazy, dependent, and waste the country’s wealth.
  •  The House of Lords tried to stop these reforms, which caused a reduction of their power.
  • Doctors weren’t convinced of the health insurance.
  • The rich resented paying taxes, which gave Lloyd George a ‘robin hood’ reputation.
  • The Labour Party criticised the fact that workers had to fund their own benefits
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Good - covers most of the main issues

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