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Changing Attitudes Towards Poverty, 1880 - 1914

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Introduction

At the start of our period in 1880 and up until World War I changing attitudes towards poverty certainly seemed to be the most important development. Though successive pre-war governments had to face other major problems - the increasingly vociferous demands of the WSPU and NUWSS for the vote and problems in Ireland - they seemed to give priority to social welfare reform, with the Liberals passing acts which are sometimes seen as the start of the Welfare State. The Education Acts and the National Insurance Acts reflected a great change from the condemnatory attitudes towards poverty in 1880. This change had come about because the work of Booth and Rowntree in identifying the extent of the deserving poor and the 'Poverty Line', but mainly because of political and economic pressures - the need to maintain 'National Efficiency' at a time of great competition for the USA and Germany and the need to increasingly respect the needs of the working people enfranchised in 1867 and 1884. ...read more.

Middle

However at the start of WWI the freedom of women and industrial relations were more important than poverty. Strikes threatened war production 1915 and women were needed to replace men fighting. Lloyd George was able to secure the support of miners and other discontented workers by promising increased wages. The Munitions of War Act and Treasury Agreement gave women greater work opportunities and improved pay of poorest workers - in agriculture and railways. Women over 30 and ALL men over 21 eventually enfranchised 1918. Yet by end of the war, attitudes towards social welfare were once again important as the government needed to maintain loyalty during times of shortage of food and discontent over conscription, which led to further strikes in 1917. This led to Addison Housing Act, Fisher Education Act attempt to promised 'homes fit for heroes'. ...read more.

Conclusion

Politicians of all parties had come to realise that poverty could lead to rebellion if work or support was not provided. This was particularly true in Wales where unemployment rates were as high as 70% in some mining communities such as Dowlais and Brynmawr, where the work of charities and the support of the Miners' Institute became crucial. Changing attitudes towards poverty were probably the most important development: except for a short time at the start of WWI it was given priority over other problems, such as the enfranchisement of women. Moreover economic developments - the growth of unions and the problem of unemployment and pensions was directly connected to poverty. In fact it was probably the development of a more collectivist attitude that saved democracy in Britain during such a time of industrial difficulty. ...read more.

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