SOCIAL REFORM PROCEEDS APACE

IN the thirties, the Whig Government emancipated all slaves throughout the British dominions; abolished the Poor Law system which since 1795 had been liable to gross abuses, and put in its place a cheap but harsh system of Union workhouses; established elected Borough Councils, and gave a small grant to education. Peel in the forties permanently established the graduated income tax, which did not weigh on the poor, as did the old indirect taxes raised largely on imported foodstuffs. Reform stagnated for many years under Palmerston's influence, but Gladstone's ministry of 1868-74 passed the Ballot Act for secret voting, restricted the sale of liquor slightly, made elementary education for the first time compulsory, and made appointments to the Civil Service by competitive examination instead of, as formerly, by nomination and favour. Disraeli (1874-80) specialised on housing reform. Elected County Councils began in 1888-rural areas had been administered by nominated magistrates-and at different times Acts were passed which made elementary education free, raised the age limit, and set up secondary schools, while the ancient universities, public schools, and grammar schools were reformed by Act of Parliament. In the early twentieth century the Liberals granted very small old age pensions to very old working people, organised working class insurance against unemployment and sickness, and established Labour Exchanges. Some of the best reforms were due to the efforts of private members, as when Samuel Plimsoll brought in his measure to prevent the drowning of sailors by their employers overloading ships.

Throughout the century there was a series of Acts to regulate scandalous conditions in industry. The regulation of cotton factories dated from 1819, that of mines from 1842.

A very large number of Acts of widely separated dates have prevented the employment of children under twelve, forbidden even men to work more than nine hours a day, as against a possible eighteen a century ago, prevented women from working in mines, and compelled employers to ventilate factories, fence machinery, assume liability for accidents, and provide sanitation. Industrial diseases and sweated labour survived into the twentieth century, but the diabolical aspect of the early factories was mitigated. Model employers since the days of Owen have often shown how good conditions are not, as was once thought, incompatible with efficiency and profits. Much was also due to pressure by trade unions which, after their underground existence in the early nineteenth century, gained full recognition in the early seventies and have since risen to a position of very great power. But many of the hundreds of small legislative reforms which have become law since 1829 were due to philanthropists and enthusiasts, usually sneered at in their day as cranks, who fought for ideals against much obstruction and at considerable cost to themselves.

There are few changes as striking as the rise of women in legal and economic status-partly a matter of social custom, partly of law. It began in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, with women's entry to the medical profession, and women's colleges at Oxford and Cambridge.