Poltics and Economics
Events gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Events of 1901
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The Big Issues

Many political issues of 1901 are still debated by politicians today.

Should the state provide social services, health care, old age pensions and housing, or should this be left to the individual and the free market? Poor law expenditure was booming at an alarming rate as more and more elderly people who had no pensions entered the workhouses.

Were the 'irresponsible poor' to blame for their own poverty? Many Liberal reform manifestos linked the problem of poverty with that of alcohol. The Times in July 1901 claimed that drunkenness was 'the most pressing of all the social questions of the day'. However, Seebohm Rowntree's 1901 report (Poverty: A Study of Town Life) argued that primary poverty had nothing to do with how the poor spent their incomes.

Was British industry in crisis? Could union members' desires for higher living standards and better working conditions be reconciled with the need to maintain profitability?

How was Britain educating its children to meet the growing threat of trade competition from Germany and the USA, where the quality of technical training appeared to be better than provision in Britain? There was an education crisis that government was failing to tackle.

Was free trade a blessing that guaranteed cheap food imports, or a curse that over-priced British exports against subsidised foreign competition? Fears of a Tory 'stomach tax' helped bring the Liberals to power in the general election of 1906.

Liberal election poster - link to an enlarged version

Was a 'tide' of foreign immigrants from eastern Europe bringing overcrowding, squalor and unemployment, or did the newcomers provide a much needed flexible labour force?

The 'Irish problem' had split the Liberal Party between those who wanted 'Home Rule' for Ireland and those who wanted to maintain the Union of Great Britain and Ireland that had come into being exactly 100 years before. An increasingly frustrated minority of Irish nationalist MPs, seeing parallels with the Boers' struggle for freedom from British rule, disrupted the proceedings of Parliament to draw attention to their cause. Faced with so large a government majority, however, they could achieve little.

Politics in 1901 The Big Issues The Golden Age? Trade