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Michael Portillo explores the pre-war attitudes to poverty, both in town and country, and looks at the reforming zeal of the Liberal party.

The one hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World war looms on the horizon. 1914 is a date forged into the British consciousness, just as it's carved into monuments the length and breadth of the UK and many places beyond. With that awareness comes an understanding that it was the war to end all wars, shocking the culture, politics, and societies of Europe, but particularly Britain, out of their comfortable progress and reshaping everything.
But in this series Michael Portillo challenges that notion. Looking at a series of themes, the suffrage movement, the Irish question, the decline of the liberal party and the arts, he argues that to a large extent Britain was already in a state of flux by 1913 and many of the developments we think of as emanating from or being catalysed by the war, were actually in full flow.

In the seventh programme in the series Michael explores the pre-war attitudes to poverty, both in town and country. On the strength of forensic reporting by the likes of Seebohm Rowntree in York senior figures in the Liberal party were seeking to do something about wage rates, living standards and the damaging gap between rich and poor. Their reforming zeal lead to a series of compromises, not least over Irish Home Rule, but rather than an era content with its Edwardian lot, this was one of the most politically dynamic governments of the century. Michael argues that the passing of a National Insurance Act, which came into effect in January 1913, does not deserve to be lost in the memory of the War that followed.

Producer: Tom Alban.

Available now

15 minutes