Why were the Liberal reforms introduced


Why were the Liberal reforms introduced 1906-1914

Reports on Poverty

  •  There were many investigations into poverty in Britain towards the end of the 19th century
  • Two in particular had a big impact on political thinking and revealed the true, and mainly unsuspected, levels of poverty in Britain
  • They proved that poverty had causes, which were beyond the control of the individual and restricted peoples’ ability to control their lives
  • Charles Booth showed that 35% of London’s population lived in extreme poverty
  • Seebohm Rowntree showed that almost 30% of York’s population lived in extreme poverty
  • Rowntree pointed out that if York, a relatively small “typical” English city hid such problems, then so would other British cities. The problem of poverty was therefore a national problem.
  • The reports showed that poverty had cures, but these cures were beyond the individual efforts of the poor
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Why were the Liberal reforms introduced 1906-1914

National Security

  • Britain became involved in the Boer War in South Africa in 1899
  • Britain had a relatively small army so recruits were needed to swell the ranks. Volunteers rushed to join up
  • However the government became alarmed when almost 25% of volunteers were rejected on the grounds that they were physically unfit to serve in the armed forces
  • If men of military age were so unfit for service, the government worried about Britain's future ability to defend herself and her empire against a far stronger enemy
  • 1904 Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Medical Inspection stated that there were very serious problems with children’s’ health. They recommended free school meals and medical examination for school children
  • It is clear that concern over national security had a direct influence on the Liberal Reforms, as these points were among the first reforms introduced by the Liberals after their election victory in 1906
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Why were the Liberal reforms introduced 1906-1914

National efficiency

  • By the end of the 19th century Britain was no longer the strongest industrial nation in the world and was facing serious competition from new industrial nations such as Germany
  • It was believed that if the health and educational standards of Britain’s workers got worse, then the country’s position as a strong industrial power would be threatened
  • Another development which may have influenced attitudes was that in Germany a system of welfare benefits and old age pensions had been set up as early as the 1880s. If a main competitor could afford to do it then why could Britain not do likewise?
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Why were the Liberal reforms introduced 1906-1914

New Liberalism

  • New Liberalism grew up as the realisation grew that poverty itself imposed restrictions on the choices available to the individual
  • New Liberals argued that state intervention was necessary to save people from social problems over which they had no control.
  • A new generation of Liberal politicians genuinely believed that the government had a responsibility to help the poor
  • The “old Liberal” Prime Minister, Campbell Bannerman, died and was replaced by a younger man Herbert Asquith in 1908
  • New Liberals such as David Lloyd George, with their new “interventionist” ideas were given important new jobs
  • The arrival into government of younger politicians with New Liberal ideas is the main reason why so many reforms happened from 1908 onwards.
  • T.H.Green’s notion of positive freedom (State intervention was not threatening, rather, liberating)
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Why were the Liberal reforms introduced 1906-1914


  • Lowe “probably the most significant issue behind the reforms was the need for a healthy working class for military and economic purposes”
  • Robert Self “Although new Liberal ideas were disseminated to a wider audience… for a variety of reasons the Liberal party was slow to react to these ideas”
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An excellent summary of the different reasons for the Liberal reforms of 1905-12. The final card contains historians' views that could be linked to an essay on causation.

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