The welfare reforms of the Liberal governments between 1905 – 1915
The welfare reforms of the Liberal governments between 1905 – 1915

The welfare reforms of the Liberal governments between 1905 – 1915

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When the Liberal government came to power in 1906 they had no stated intention of government intervention of social policy. Between the years 1906 and 1914, the Liberals took steps to improve the health, living and working conditions of the groups of individuals their policies were designed for. The victory for the Liberals was a surprising landslide which left the Liberals with 401 seats and Labour with 53 seats.

Even though Labour owed their seats partly to the Liberals as they made a pact to prevent anti-Conservative votes being wasted they showed no gratitude as liberalism was about tariff reform, taxation and foreign policy but labour had always concentrated on equal rights for workers. The Liberals main policies were over Chinese slave-labour and commercialism and were mainly trying to appeal to commercial factory owners; they had been forced to prioritise social policy because of the growing numbers of supporters Labour had gained. if the government failed to address social problems Labour would indeed become a great sweeping force in this country- a force that will sweep away Liberalism’. (Constantine, Lloyd George) The Liberals were not the first to implement social policy before the Liberal reforms began in 1906.

The Conservative party passed a number of acts like the Unemployed Workmen’s Act in 1905, and the Employment of Children Act 1905. Local councils passed bylaws on issues like child labour.They also cleared slum housing and sanitary measures had been successful. The problem was that action still depended on the attitude of the local authorities.

Some councils did take action. Others

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did not, usually because of the cost of measures like building new housing. These early Acts strongly suggest continuity in that these tentative measures seemed forced. The Liberals still had an `old’ Liberal wing antagonist to social reform; and they were also conscious of the hostility to social reform of the Conservative dominated House of Lords.The Boer war of 1899-1902 highlighted the physical deterioration in the British people. The war fought to preserve the Empire.

It revealed the fact that the British people were weak and unhealthy. Fears were expressed that generations of urban living, in often appalling conditions, were leading to degeneration of the national physique. Commentators pointed to the fact that Britain was the most urbanised society in the world with nine out of ten of its population living in towns and cities.The call for medical inspection and meals was sounded by the interdepartmental committee on Physical Deterioration in 1904 but the first real enactment of the Liberal government’s social policy was the 1906 provision of meals act.

This act meant free school meals for children but the significance of it was it had no stigma attached, it treated all school children equally. It came under opposition from the Charity Organisation Society as they felt the supply of free school meals was inadequate and ‘the want was found to be due to many different causes, and could only be removed by thorough treatment at the home. (Charity Organisation Society; Special Committee on the School Meal)The Liberals were pressurised to allow the introduction of school meals by Margaret McMillan and Fre

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Jowett from the Bradford School Board. Jowett argued, “If the state insists on compulsory education, it must take responsibility for the proper nourishment of school children”. The provision of School Meals Act was a rather cautious piece of legislation which only encouraged local authorities to takes measure as they saw fit. The provision of school meals did not become compulsory until 1914, however, research carried out in 1907 showed a clear correlation between weight gain during school terms and weight lost during the school holidays of children who received school meals In the following year the Liberals introduced The Education (Administrative Provisions) Act were children were given medical inspections in school and free medical treatment was also provided.

This piece of legislation was passed after the Government’s own civil service pressurised the Liberals to take action, but the educational authorities largely ignored this act’ (http://learningcurve. pro. gov. k/).

It was viewed by many that both of these acts were an infringement of parental rights, which undermined the roles of the parents. There was certainly, during this period, the argument that there was a new found acceptance of the need for government intervention. Ideas on the causes of poverty had altered during the 2nd half of the 19th Century from the Laissez-faire to the welfare beliefs. The Booth and Rowntree reports had shown that poverty was often not due to personal failings and that in fact it was impossible for some people to lift themselves out of poverty.

This was a shift in belief which was also backed up by scientific reports such as Booth and Rowntree who provided cold statistics to back up their arguments. New Liberalism, however, reflects change but at the same time smacks of continuity. In the case of the Old Age Pension Act of 1908 it emphasises this concept of the ‘deserving’ poor because this pension was a non-contributory based, those eligible were paid 5 shillings per week which was collected at the post office. Old age pensions were not available to those still collecting out relief, drunks or ex-convicts.

It at first imposed on the elderly means and character tests not far removed from the Old Poor Law. The concept of deserving and undeserving poor remained. Workers who had been fired as a result of misconduct lost all benefits. Victorian moral ethics were still being upheld. Unemployment Insurance covered only those with ‘high-risk’ jobs (building, shipbuilding and iron founding) therefore many of the poor found they simply did not qualify for insurance and their families and they were still at risk of poverty or the workhouse.The third set of reforms the Liberals introduced endeavoured to deal the problems of sickness, injury and unemployment.

The Workman’s Compensation Act of 1906 existed for insurance of workmen against accidents occurring in the course of their employment. The Act also provided compensation for certain industrial diseases and scales of compensation were increased. The first part of the National Insurance Act covered ‘provisions against the accidents of life’.Lloyd George himself is quoted to have said ‘with old age the suffering is confined the individual alone; but in these other cases it extends to

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