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Home > History > Liberal government 1906 to 1914 > Motives of Liberal reforms


Motives of Liberal reforms

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Why social reforms happened

Historians have identified various factors and motives for the reforms being passed.

National efficiency

Fears that Britain was in decline as a world power led to the idea that Britain had to improve its national efficiency by taking steps to improve the quality of the workforce. If Britain was to compete and maintain its position as a world power, then it had to be run efficiently with a strong, healthy and well-educated workforce.

The Boer War (1899 - 1902)

During the war, the British army experienced great difficulty in finding fit young men to recruit as soldiers. One in three potential recruits was refused on medical grounds. This led to questions being asked about the physical condition of the working class male. Would he be able to perform the tasks expected of him in the workplace and on the battlefield? The Government would have to do something to ensure basic health levels among the population.

Popular socialism

The Labour Party had just been established and it was winning public support for its campaigns for social welfare policies, such as old age pensions and unemployment benefits. The ruling Liberal Party recognised the threat this new party posed to its traditional support in many working class areas. To counter the threat from the socialist and Labour movement, the Liberals realised that they had to instigate social reforms or risk losing political support from the working classes.

A new liberalism

A new type of Liberalism had emerged by 1906, and it was this 'new liberalism' which provided the inspiration for the reforms. New Liberals, such as Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Herbert Asquith, argued that there were circumstances in which it was right for the state to intervene in people's lives.

The German model

The example of Bismarck's progressive social legislation in Germany, coupled with her economic and military strength, impressed both Lloyd George and Churchill. Among other measures, the Germans had instigated an early form of sickness insurance for its workers. Lloyd George and Churchill felt inspired to introduce similar style reforms in Britain.

'Gas and water socialism'

Public works schemes to improve living conditions and public health had been established in the late 19th century, often set up and run by Liberals. These small, local schemes raised the possibility of similar schemes being a success on a national scale.

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