The Liberal Reforms 1906-1914
Why did the Liberals introduce Social reform 1906-1914?
Ever since the Liberal’s implemented social reform 1906-1914, historians have been divided as to why such reform occurred. However, there are some key reasons why the Liberal’s implemented reform:
Reason 1: Social investigations of Booth and Rowntree
At the end of the nineteenth century middle class social explorers such as Charles Booth and the Quaker social reformer Seebohm Rowntree highlighted unprecedented levels of poverty in different parts of England. From Booth’s investigation of the social conditions of East London he published The Life and Labour of the People of London, which appeared 1889 – 1903. He found that 30% of East London were living below what Booth called a ‘poverty line’ which meant that the family income was insignificant to meet basic needs such as food, rent and clothing. These findings were amplified by Rowntree’s study of conditions in York which found that 28% of York were living in some degree of poverty, either what he called ‘primary’ poverty when a family income fell below the 21 shillings required to maintain physical efficiency, or ‘secondary’ poverty, where spending took the residual income below the poverty line. The importance of the findings by Booth and Rowntree as a motive for social reform was that it highlighted the fact that poverty was not due to personal inadequacies, but attributed to low levels of wages, the uncertainty or irregularity of employment, and from the ravages of sickness, infirmity and old age.1 One of the most famous investigations into poverty was carried out by Charles Booth. He conducted extensive research in London and presented his findings as hard, statistical facts – not opinions. He showed that poverty had causes often beyond the control of the poor themselves. These causes included low pay, unemployment, sickness and old age.
Another investigation into poverty in York was made by Seebohm Rowntree and was even more shocking. The Rowntree report showed that 28% of the York population lived in extreme poverty and people realised that if York, a relatively small English city, had such problems then so would other British cities and that the problem of poverty was therefore a national problem.
Reason 2: The Boer War and National Efficiency
The greatest motive for reform was the poor physical condition of recruits for the Boer War that brought the scale of poverty unearthed by Booth and Rowntree to the surface, and showed the inadequacies of a non-interventionist state. Conflict in the Boer War at the end of the nineteenth century sent warnings that Britain’s imperial supremacy could be in danger of disintegrating due to the physical inadequacies of a large number of recruits who were deemed unfit for service. In Manchester 8, 000 out of 11,000 would-be volunteers were turned away.2 However, even in conflict it appeared that Britain had lost its military supremacy as the supposedly mighty Imperial power, had some difficulty in defeating a relatively small number of Boer farmers. The lack of military efficiency on the battlefield and the physical inadequacies of the male populace led to the term ‘national efficiency’ becoming part of the political language of Edwardian Britain. The mishaps of the Boer War brought great concerns for the security of Britain against her European neighbors especially an increasingly militaristic Germany who were after their own ‘place in the sun.’ (Lands abroad)
Without the Boer War unearthing the horrors of poverty that an industrialised non – interventionist state had created, it would have been highly unlikely that reform would have played such a major role in Liberal politics between 1906 – 1914. When the Boer War started in 1899 volunteers rushed to join up but almost 25% of them were rejected on the grounds that they were not fit enough. If men of military age were so unfit for service, the...
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