I was watching the film Suffragette recently and she mentioned her husband having the vote.

I thought he looked too poor to already have the vote, but this didn't look like a film to just ignore history.

Ok the 1884 Reform Act introduced:

all adult householders and men who rented unfurnished lodgings to the value of £10 a year.


Which I can imagine was quite a substantial property in 1884, but who did it cover by 1918? Would it have covered a worker in a factory as the film says?

So money she was paid 18 shillings a week, which comes out to £48.6 pounds a year, her husband was paid a few shilling a week more to say £90 pounds between them.

So it is possible they could afford £10 a year rent between them, but in that case which working men got the vote in 1918, if a factory worker could already afford a £10 a year house.

I have just realised the possible significance of unfurnished, did poor people all rent furnished property?

The film said this ordinary working man had the vote, my calculations show it was possible he had the vote.

But the 1918 Act gave "working men the vote".

So one of these two statements must be wrong. Were working class men able to vote before the 1918 Act like the film depicts?

  • 3
    It's a bit unclear what you're asking. You've cited the qualifications required for voting before the 1918 reforms, and they seem pretty clear to me. Are you asking how many men were eligible to vote? Or whether it was realistic that this one man being cited in your question was able to vote (your calculations demonstrate it is quite possible)? Please clarify.
    – Semaphore
    Aug 22, 2018 at 12:16
  • @Semaphore is that any better?
    – WendyG
    Aug 22, 2018 at 12:23
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    Judging by my (admittedly more modern) extensive experiences of looking for accommodation in London, a definition of 'furnished' might be useful here. Landlords seem to have often quite different ideas about this. Aug 22, 2018 at 12:32
  • 1
    @WendyG I think I understand now. Are you questioning how could it be that the 1918 Act gave "working class men the vote" if before then, a working class man like the one presented in the film already had the vote, right? If so, I suggest something iike "Were working class men able to vote before the 1918 Act like the film depicts?" would be more clear for people to understand. At any rate, I have posted an answer on the assumption that I understood you correctly.
    – Semaphore
    Aug 22, 2018 at 13:07
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    18 shillings per week multiplied by 52 weeks per year (multiplied by £0.05 per shilling) is £46.8 per year, not £31.2 per year. Your calculation implies 30 shillings to the pound, but it's 20.
    – phoog
    Aug 22, 2018 at 14:46

2 Answers 2


The film said this un-extraordinary working man had the vote, my calculations show it was possible he had the vote. But the 1918 act gave "working men the vote". So one of these 2 statements must be wrong, why didn't working men already have the vote in 1918?

These statements are not as contradictory as you seem to think.

The key here is that "working men" is a very broad term covering a wide range of circumstances. In 1918, the working class was a much larger fraction of society than in our modern economy - around 78%, in fact.

Throughout this period the working classes were a large, though slowly declining majority of the English people: they made up 78.29 per cent of the whole population in 1921 [and] 78.07 per cent in 1931.

McKibbin, Ross. Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951. Oxford University Press on Demand, 2000.

If only non-working class men had the right to vote, you would expect them to number less than 22% at the most. However, that was not true after the 1884 reforms. In fact, by the time of the 1918 reform, a small majority - 58% - of British men were already eligible to vote.

Only 58% of the adult male population was eligible to vote before 1918

"Women and the vote".

We may surmise therefore that roughly half of the male, working class population had already received the vote by the time of the Representation of the People Act of 1918.

Therefore, it's true that the 1918 Act "gave [millions of] working men the vote", but it's also true that millions of other "working men" (like the husband character) had already been eligible to vote before then.

  • 4
    ahh - so it is over simplification hyperbole (working men got the vote as well not just women).
    – WendyG
    Aug 22, 2018 at 13:07
  • Also some working got the vote at a higher age as their income increased with skill level. Aug 22, 2018 at 15:39
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    @jamesqf You're doing a literal analysis on the phrase, whereas the topic is clearly about the component of Britain's class system. Refer to Thompson's seminal work on the British Working Class. Either way that's a pretty tangential trivia to the answer as a whole.
    – Semaphore
    Aug 23, 2018 at 9:03
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    @jamesqf: In the British social system people like doctors, lawyers, programmers, traders etc. are not working class. They are middle class. Middle class people also earn a living
    – slebetman
    Aug 23, 2018 at 10:57
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    @slebetman and the 1884 act was already intended to cover the middle class
    – WendyG
    Aug 23, 2018 at 13:52

All men over 21, with no property restrictions, and women over 30 or some property owning women. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representation_of_the_People_Act_1918

  • 6
    with semaphores help, we got my question asking what i actually wanted to know. You may want to adjust your answer.
    – WendyG
    Aug 22, 2018 at 13:30

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