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Britain 1850-1979. The Liberal Reforms 1906-1914. Aims:. Define laissez faire and collectivism Identify the main features of the Victorian Welfare System. Identify the change in the role of the government between 1800-1900. Laissez Faire – The Role of the Government. Class Discussion

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britain 1850 1979

Britain 1850-1979

The Liberal Reforms 1906-1914

  • Define laissez faire and collectivism
  • Identify the main features of the Victorian Welfare System.
  • Identify the change in the role of the government between 1800-1900.
laissez faire the role of the government
Laissez Faire – The Role of the Government

Class Discussion

What types of problems/issues would

you expect our government to deal

with in today’s society?

laissez faire
Laissez Faire
  • In 1800 the main role of the government was to collect taxes and defend the country.
  • The key principles underpinning the role of the government was LAISSEZ FAIRE i.e. belief that the state (or government) should not interfere in the lives of people or the economy.
laissez faire the role of the government5
Laissez Faire – The Role of the Government

Class Discussion

What would be the advantages and

disadvantages of the ‘laissez faire’

approach of the British government?

a changing role
A Changing Role
  • From 1840 onwards the role of the government began to change. As the historian Cromwell puts it:

‘In 1800, England had virtually no

government: the peace was kept and her shores defended. By 1900 no citizen could fail to be aware of the activities of government’

  • By 1900 it is argued that there had been a growth in ‘collectivism’ i.e. the belief that the Government should intervene in peoples’ lives and the economy to achieve positive change.
the investigation of poverty
The Investigation of Poverty


  • To identify the findings of Booth and Rowntree who investigated poverty.
  • To examine the shift away from laissez faire by the end of the 19th century
charles booth
Charles Booth
  • Wealthy Liverpool ship owner
  • Investigated poverty in London
  • 1 million families investigated over 17 years.
seebohm rowntree
Seebohm Rowntree
  • Related to cocoa and chocolate manufacturers.
  • Investigated poverty in York
overall effects of social investigations into poverty
Overall Effects of Social Investigations into Poverty
  • Created a greater awareness of poverty among the middle classes and helped to shift public opinion away from laissez faire towards a collectivist belief i.e. that government intervention was needed in British society.
  • When the Liberal Government came to power in 1906, Booth’s and Rowntree’s surveys gave them a clear picture of the scale and the causes of poverty across Britain and made it impossible for them to ignore the problem.
background to the reforms
Background to the Reforms


  • To identify the importance of the 1906 Liberal election victory.
  • To identify the divide between ‘Old and New Liberalism’.
  • To identify the main reforms introduced to help the young in Britain.
old and new liberalism
Old and New Liberalism

Henry Campbell-Bannerman

Winston Churchill

David Lloyd George

background to the reforms13
Background to the Reforms
  • In 1906 the Liberals won the election with a landslide victory. They had an overall majority of 356 seats in Parliament – this meant they could pass any laws they liked.
  • By 1906 society was increasingly aware of the effects of poverty due to the investigations of Booth and Rowntree.
background to the reforms14
Background to the Reforms
  • In the 1906 election the LRC had won 29 seats in Parliament. The Liberals were also aware they had to attract working class votes to stay in power.
  • From 1906 onwards the Liberals introduced a number of reforms to tackle the key causes of poverty – unemployment, sickness, old age and low wages.
the young
The Young

Arguments in Favour of Reform:

  • Humanitarian arguments
  • National Efficiency

The Main Reforms:

  • School Meals 1906
  • Medical Inspections 1907
  • Children’s Charter 1908
1908 a turning point
1908 – A Turning Point


  • 1908 was a turning point in the pace of reform.
  • The introduction of old age pension in 1908.
  • The crisis caused by the People’s Budget 1909
1908 a turning point17
1908 – A Turning Point
  • Campbell- Bannerman resigned and was replaced by Asquith.
  • New Liberals appointed to the Cabinet – Churchill and Lloyd George.
  • Both men were aware of the growing threat of the Labour party, concerned about national efficiency and impressed by Germany’s example.
the old background to the reforms
The Old – Background to the Reforms
  • The idea of introducing pension for the elderly had been discussed for over 20 years with key figures such as Charles Booth supporting the idea.
  • Other countries had already introduced pensions before 1900 e.g. Denmark, New Zealand, Germany.
  • Two main obstacles existed – the cost and the opposition from Friendly Societies who provided pensions to the ‘thrifty’ working class.
the sick national insurance act part 1 1911
The Sick – National Insurance Act (Part 1) 1911
  • Workers up to the age of 70 who earned less than £160 a year had to insure themselves against sickness.
  • Along with the worker’s contribution, their employer and the government all contributed a weekly sum.
  • Insured workers were entitled to sickness benefit for up to 26 weeks (6 months) and free medical care from a doctor.
  • The scheme did not cover other members of the employee’s family who still had to pay doctor’s bills.
the unemployed background
The Unemployed - Background
  • Unemployment was still regarded as a moral problem of individual idleness or a cyclical/seasonal problem for certain industries e.g. shipbuilding where work was not always available.
  • Many of the unemployed now had the vote which meant that political parties now had to attract these new potential voters.
the unemployed
The Unemployed

The main measures to help the

unemployed were:

  • The Unemployed Workmen’s Act 1905
  • Labour Exchanges 1909
  • National Insurance Act (Part 2) 1911
the employed
The Employed

The main measures to help the

employed were:

  • Workmen’s Compensation Act 1906
  • Coal Mines Act 1908
  • Trade Boards Act 1909
  • Shops Act 1911
the effectiveness of the liberal reforms positive viewpoints
The Effectiveness of the Liberal Reforms – Positive Viewpoints
  • The Liberals tried to tackle the key cause of poverty and provide safeguards against old age, sickness etc.
  • Some historians – C Cross, G Williams, EJ Evan argue they laid the cornerstones of the modern welfare state that future governments built upon.
  • By our standards the reforms appear limited but they were radical for the time and the government was accepting responsibility for the welfare of its citizens.
the effectiveness of the liberal reforms negative viewpoints
The Effectiveness of the Liberal Reforms – Negative Viewpoints
  • The Liberals did nothing to tackle other important social issues e.g. extending education provision, tackling slum housing or providing free medical treatment.
  • Some historians – EJ Evans, ME Rose argued the reforms were limited in scope e.g. only covered certain people, benefits were only payable for a fixed amount of time.