‘The health of the people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a state depend’ Benjamin Disraeli, 1877.
Studies conducted into the nature of poverty in Britain helped change people’s views on its causes. They also showed just how widespread the problem was.
The Second Boer War (1899-1902) demonstrated that poverty was linked to ill-health. It also raised questions about national efficiency and Britain’s ability to maintain its status as a world power.
Germany, Britain’s main economic rival, had already introduced a system of social welfare.
There was also support from within the Liberal Government for a move away from laissez-faire and the adoption of a more interventionist approach to the issue of poverty.
Some of this was due to genuine humanitarian reasons, to help those who could not help themselves. However, now that the issue of poverty was causing widespread concern, it was to the Liberal’s political advantage to be seen as the Party doing something about it.
The rise of the Labour Party and the growth of the trade unions also put pressure on the Liberal Government to address working-class concerns and introduce reforms.