Following the 1832 Reform Act, periodic demands for the extension of the right to vote continued. Further attempts at parliamentary reform took place in the 1860s. By 1865, both Liberal and Conservative leaders, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, were convinced of the case to extend voting rights. In 1866 reform demonstrations turned to riots in Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square. The Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884 extend parliamentary voting rights: firstly in 1867 to the urban adult male householders and male lodgers paying £10 for unfurnished rooms, and secondly in 1884 to men living in the countryside (under the same conditions).
During this period important rights for women were fought for, with some won and others not. Campaigners were generally the middle-class women who benefited from various acts improving the legal status of women, such as the Married Women's Property Acts of 1870, 1874 and 1882. The 1869 Municipal Franchise Act gave the vote to some women rate-payers in local elections and also enabled women to serve as Poor Law Guardians. The 1888 County Council Act also gave women the vote at county and borough council elections. However, they could not serve as members. This right was not granted until 1907.
In 1897 Millicent Fawcett formed the moderate National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) to further the cause of securing the parliamentary vote. The NUWSS co-ordinated the work of local suffrage groups, some of which had been in existence since the 1860s when there had been unsuccessful attempts to include women in the extension of the franchise gained under the terms of the 1867 Reform Act. In 1903 Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst formed the Women's Social and Political Union. This marked the beginning of a more militant campaign which included disrupting meetings, breaking windows, arson attacks and hunger striking when they were imprisoned. This leaflet describes the force-feeding of suffragettes in prison.
From the late 1880s there was increased activity in trade union matters. Apart from occasional large disputes in the 1850s and 1860s, it was not until the late 1880s and early 1890s (and again between 1910 and 1914) that trade unionism experienced any kind of upturn. From the 1840s the increase in 'new model' unions had concentrated on the organisation of skilled workers whereas the 'new unionism' of the late 1880s extended union organisations to unskilled workers.
The most notable strikes were those of the Bryant and May match girls in 1888 and the dockers and gasworkers in 1889. The use of the law by employers and rising unemployment in the 1890s led to setbacks. One of the most notorious anti-trade union decisions occurred after the Taff Vale Railway Company successfully sued the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants for damages for a strike in August 1900.
The case was a severe blow to the rights of trade unions and their members, as it made taking strike action a huge financial risk. The decision was effectively reversed by the 1906 Trade Disputes Act, which removed unions' liability to employers for financial losses due to strike action. One of the outcomes of the Taff Vale case was the determination of the trade union movement to secure representation in Parliament to remove the anti-trade union legislation and improve the rights of working people generally.
The establishment of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) in 1900 meant that there was a distinct Labour group in Parliament. The Labour Party was formed from the LRC in 1906. Only two candidates had been elected in 1900, with the first significant success in 1906, when 29 Labour candidates were successful.
The Liberal Party won a massive victory in the election of 1906. One of the demands of the trade union movement was a pension for the elderly, as opposed to poor relief. David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, was an opponent of the Poor Law, and stated his wish to lift the shadow of the workhouse from the homes of the poor. In 1908 he introduced the Old Age Pensions Act which provided a small weekly pension to some people over seventy. Although their reforms were widely welcomed, a criticism from many Labour politicians was that the level of benefits was low and they not given as of right. They claimed that pensions should be universal and not means-dependent. The Act was a success in breaking workhouse/poor relief notions from the economic problems of working people.
Ireland was a particular point of conflict throughout this time. In 1858 the Irish republican movement was founded in New York: members were known as 'Fenians' or the Brotherhood, later the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). From this time onwards, Irish home rule and the prospect of Irish independence was a continual item on the political agenda.
From the 1880s Irish nationalists were calling for Ireland to be independent of British rule. As early as 1855, William Gladstone, the Liberal Prime Minister, announced his support for the cause of Home Rule in Ireland. This would mean that Ireland would continue to be part of the British Empire, but would have its own parliament. This followed a general election in which the Home Rule Party, led by Charles Edward Parnell, held the balance of power between the Liberal and Conservative parties. Two Irish Home Rule Bills, 1886 and 1893, were defeated in the House of Lords. In 1911 an act limiting the power of the House of Lords made a third bill viable. A further Home Rule Bill became law in September 1914, although implementation of the Act was postponed during the First World War, to the frustration of Irish nationalists.
At the beginning of the 19th century only a minority of children, mostly from the wealthy ruling class, had any kind of formal schooling. Positive steps were made in education, through the Education Acts of 1870 and 1902. The 1870 Education Act (Forster's Education Act) established the principle of an elementary (primary) school place costing under 9d weekly for every working class child. It was an exercise in 'filling up the gaps' in voluntary provision through elected school boards creating a dual system: part board schools, non-denominational and supported by government grants, rates and fees; part denominational schools without rate-aid but with government grants, fees, subscriptions and endowments. Provision was made for free elementary schooling from 1891.
The 1902 Education Act (the Balfour Act) abolished the patchwork of local school boards and attendance committees and replaced them with county-wide local education authorities who were allowed to "supply or aid the supply of education other than elementary". This resulted in two types of state-aided secondary school: endowed grammar schools which now received LEA grants and municipal or county secondary schools maintained by LEAs. It was a positive but inadequate step; the majority of children continued to receive only elementary education. Those showing "promise of exceptional capacity" might receive a scholarship to a secondary school but annual fees put secondary education beyond the reach of most working class children.