The Liberal Reforms in Britain 1906-1918

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Before the Liberal Reforms - the 19th century

Living conditions: Housing was built back-to-back. It was cramped and dirty, poorly lit and without proper sanitation. Houses were infested with rats and vermin and epidemics such as cholera spread easily.

Working conditions: Working conditions were dangerous, harsh, unhealthy and difficult., and the sick were only given basic treatment. Workhouses existed for those who were poor, and outdoor relief was available for those who couldn't work. Jobs were unregulated - there were no rules and so many people suffered.

Social Reformers: Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree were both social reformers. Booth investigated London 1886-1903 and Rowntree investigated York 1897-1898. They both discovered that 30% of the population lived below the poverty line of £1 a week. 

Britain changed from a Laissez Faire system, which left people to pay for their own welfare, to a system of welfare state: measures designed to ensure a basic minimum standard of living.

The 20th century opened with a defeat for Britain in the Boer War, so attention was turned back to domestic issues. In 1906, the Liberals came to power and they introduced reforms.

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Why were the Liberal Reforms introduced?

The Rise of Socialism - In France, Germany and Russia, Socialism was becoming an increasing problem - it caused riots and revolutions. If the lower classes were happier they would not get Socialist tendancies. The reforms also undermined support for the Labour party, a growing party.

Industrial Decline - Britain's leading industrial power was being challenged by the USA and Germany - by 1900 they had overtaken it. In Germany, a welfare system was in place and so the Liberals did the same.

The Boer War - 50% of army recruits were unfit for service - in some places up to 69%. This alarmed the Liberals as they needed healthy soldiers so they decided to improve living conditions.

Liberal Leaders - David Lloyd George was born into a working class family - he sympathised with the poor and wanted Welfare measures put in place. Winston Churchill wanted to change the contrast between the rich and poor.

Political Rivalry -  The Conservatives, the Liberals' rivals, introduced welfare measures and so the Liberals wanted to do the same.

Social Reformers: Booth and Rowntree influenced the government due to their status.

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Who were the Liberal Reforms aimed at? The young a


1906 - A new Law is passed, allowing, but not forcing, local authorities to provide free school meals, however only 50% of Britain's local authorities had set this up by 1914.

1907 - Every local education authority had to provide school medical inspections, however these varied immensely from one local authority to another.

1908 - The Children and Young Persons Act is passed, making sure that parents could be prosecuted for neglecting their children - before, some parents used to kill them to earn money.

The elderly

1908 - Lloyd George, as Chancellor, introduced a government-funded old age pension. Anyone over 70 without an income would get 5 shillings a week. Married couples would get 7 shillings 6 pence a week. Anyone who earnt under £31 qualified, if they had lived in Britain for over 20 years. You had to prove that you had worked hard enough, otherwise the pension would be refused. Widows, however, did not receive a pension.

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Who were the Liberal Reforms aimed at? The sick an


1911 - The National Insurance Act gave anyone in a low-paid manual or clerical job earning under £160 a year 26 weeks of sick pay with 10 shillings a week in return for giving up 4 pence of pay a week.Free medical care was also provided. However, the workers' families were not given free treatment and the system was selective. It also was not useful for those with terminal illnesses.

The Underemployed or Unemployed

In addition to 4 pence for sick pay, workers had to pay 2.5 pence a week, which, added to 2.5 pence from the employer and 1.75 pence from the government, made sure that if a worker became unemployed, they would get 7 shillings a week for up to 15 weeks. However, this was not much money as the government didn't want workers to take advantage of the scheme too much.

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The Reactions to the Social Reforms

The Conservatives - opposed the cost and idea of a "nanny state".

Labour - criticised the fact that workers had to fund their own benefits. They thought it should come from the taxation of the wealthy.

Doctors - were not convinced about helath insurance.

Friendly Societies and insurance companies - prevented national insurance benefits being given to widows.

Workers - resented the deduction from their wages.

The Rich - resented the deduction  from thier wages.

The House of Lords - tried to stop the reforms from going through.

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