How important were concerns about the extent of poverty in Britain in the Liberal Governments decision to introduce social reforms between 1906 and 1914?



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How important were concerns about the extent of poverty in Britain in the Liberal Governments decision to introduce social reforms between 1906 and 1914?
Concerns about the extent of poverty in Britain played a major role in the Liberal Government introducing reform. After scientific reports conducted by Seebolm Rowntree and Charles Booth had identified the full extent of poverty within inner city Britain, the Liberals felt compelled to act.(1) However, there were other contributing factors which drove the Liberals towards reform.

The enfranchisement of the working classes meant the newly formed Labour party together with socialist ideologies were beginning to put pressure on the Government to introduce reform. (2/3)

The Liberals also had to contend with, as well as act upon, the poor state of the nation’s health, which was highlighted during the Boer War recruitment campaign. As well as its failing economy (4/5) The pressure for change which was going on within its own ranks from “New Liberal” thinkers such as Lloyd George and Herbert Asquith also played a pivotal part in the Liberals leaning towards social intervention and reform.(6) ( introduction complete, you have stated the points you are now going to develop and analyse)
The Liberal Governments decision to introduce reform in Britain was mainly due to their concerns about poverty, which were clearly highlighted in reports conducted by both Seebolm Rowntree and Charles Booth. These highly influential businessmen set out to disprove the idea that poverty levels were hugely exaggerated within Britain’s inner cities. (Content 1)

Booth chose to conduct his survey on 1 million families within London, this concluded that the level of poverty was not the initial 25% first thought, but was actually at a much higher level of 30%.With only 10% of the people being helped by the Government’s Poor Law system. (anaylsis1)

Furthermore, Rowntree also highlighted similar levels of poverty in York, where 27.8% were suffering the effects, he also more importantly, dispelled the myth that poverty could be avoided and was always the fault of the individual. (analysis1)

Both men set about gaining support from wealthy entrepreneurs in an attempt to pressurise and gain government intervention and were therefore a major reason for the Liberals introducing reforms.(we have directed the point back to the question)


By 1906 most working class men had gained the right to vote, the Liberals therefore had to contend with an ever increasing electorate, who had the voice of the Labour Party pushing for reform. (content1). They were also faced by a section of society which included social reformers such as Sydney and Beatrice Webb who believed the government could no longer stand back and watch societies young suffer.(content1) The Liberals would have been foolish to ignore this section of society whom the Labour Party believed were the most vulnerable, their decision to introduce reform was further compounded, not only by the fact countries such as Germany and New Zealand had already introduce a successful pension scheme to support their elderly and sick but also by the loss of 2 “safe seats” in local by- elections.(analysis1)

Although the extent of poverty was a major reason for Liberal reforms, the threat posed by the Labour Party cannot be underestimated. (We have now answered the question here!)
Furthermore, the recruitment campaign conducted for the Boer War also detected a need for change within Britain’s population. (content1)

This campaign highlighted the full extent of childhood illnesses that were still prevalent in adulthood, with nearly 50% of the urban working class recruits being deemed unfit for service. (analysis1).In Manchester alone, of 8,000 men who registered to fight, only 1200 were deemed free from childhood illnesses such as poor eyesight, and rickets. If this was replicated throughout Britain’s other cities it could cause huge concern for the Liberals if Britain were ever to become embroiled in a major conflict. (analysis1)

There was also the effect this was having on the countries output. Once the world’s leading industrial nation, Britain now found itself being overtaken by the likes of Germany and the USA as industrial superpowers.(content1), In order to gain its place as the workshop of the world, Britain was required to introduce reform in order to provide a safety net for its workforce in times of ill health and injury, as it was regarded that a healthy workforce would be more efficient and profitable( analysis1) Leading Liberals such as Lord Rosebery believed in order to achieve this the Liberals would require a “healthier and better educated workforce” . It was for this reason the Liberals introduced reform for the people of Britain.(relate back to and answer the question)
Throughout this period of time the Liberal party were governed by politicians who believed in “free trade” and self help. Leaders such as Campbell Bannerman practised a “laisse faire” attitude that resulted in minimal levels of reform for societies suffering. (analysis1)

However, this would soon change, in 1908 when Bannerman resigned due to ill health he paved the way for “New Liberals” within the parties’ ranks, individuals such as Lloyd George, Herbert Asquith and Winston Churchill soon came to the fore. (content1). Having previously visited Germany, Churchill was well aware of the benefits that social reform could offer. He was also very aware of the real threat posed from the rising Labour Party. (analysis1) Churchill whose attitude was borne from the fact he classed himself as “a man of the people, bred among them and happy to help them” was fortunate to have his views shared by both George and Asquith, between them they set about fending of the challenge of Labour and socialism and offering the young, old, sick and unemployed of Britain reforms which would provide a helping hand in their hour of need. (analysis1)


In conclusion, it could be argued that the Liberal government 1906 to 1914 introduced reform in an attempt to eradicate poverty in Britain as they were genuinely concerned of the impact this was having on the nation. (reverted back to our initial question) Nonetheless it cannot be overlooked at the minimal amount of reform that had been offered prior to the findings of Booth and Rowntree, neither can it be forgotten the state of Britain’s recruits during the Boer War conflict and the effect this posed to free trade profits. However, the fact the working classes had become enfranchised and also made up the majority of the population, meant any government would be required to listen to their cries for help and introduce reform in order to appeal to the electorate of Britain. (Conclusion has basically summarised our essay and ended by stating why reforms were introduced)

Essay is 990 words


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