Why did British politicians see the need for welfare reforms in the early 1900s?

In the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an important change in attitude was taking place in Britain with respect to the lives and conditions of the poorest in society. In the past, the poor had generally been blamed for their own problems. But attitudes began to change. As this letter shows, members of England’s most wealthy and powerful people were taking an interest in social problems.

This interest was soon followed up with action. Governments had passed some new measures in the 1890s and by the early 1900s there were far-reaching reforms including Old Age Pensions and National Insurance.

But why did this change happen at this time rather than any other time in Britain’s history? Did politicians suddenly start to care about the poor or were there other factors at work?

Lord-Morley-Letter

A letter from Lord Morley, a senior Liberal MP, to the MP Winston Churchill, December 1901. The Carlton refers to the Carlton Club, which was an old and prestigious club in London where Conservative MPs met. See the full document in the Archive here.

Your challenge

We have a box of sources from the Churchill Archive for you to investigate.

  • Your challenge is to study the sources in the Source Box, decide why politicians took these actions and then present your case.
  • Your teacher will be able to help you with a recording framework and suggestions on how to present your work.