To make matters worse, in 1843, after long years of controversy over the right of the state to interfere in church affairs, a substantial proportion of the ministers, elders and members left the Church of Scotland and founded the Free Church. This 'Disruption' had far-reaching consequences. The Free Church set itself the task of providing a second network of churches, manses and schools, duplicating those of the established 'Auld Kirk'. The latter, weakened by the loss of almost half its members, was no longer able to meet its traditional responsibilities, and thus the provision of poor relief and of education at parish level became a matter for the state or the local authorities in counties and burghs.
Parliament had acted at various times during the century to remedy some of the worst consequences of industrialisation. A succession of Factory Acts had regulated hours and age of workers, and the Coal Mines Acts had prohibited underground working by women and children. But the issues of politics were still dictated by the interest and opinions of a minority. Despite the extension of voting rights in 1832, 1867 and 1884, only 58 per cent of adult males had the vote, and women not at all. Political battles were fought over the issues which interested the comparatively prosperous, comparatively secure sections of the community.
Unemployment was not an issue because few voters were unemployed. Housing conditions were not an issue because voters were, in general, comfortably housed. Poverty could be blamed on laziness and drink, because voters were seldom poor. Politics, as the century neared its end, were dominated by Irish Home Rule, the recurring massacres of Armenians and Bulgarians by Turks, and the proposal to abandon Free Trade and reintroduce protective tariffs.
For the problems of the industrial workers and the poor to secure attention a change in the whole basis of politics and parties was required.