Liberal Social Reforms 1906-1914

During this period, the Liberal Party did much to challenge the traditional Victorian attitude towards state intervention. Many argue that the results were limited. However, at the time, the Liberal's social reform was essentially unprecedented and many believe that the resoursefulness and resolution used by the governmant in establishing its reforms helped to lay the foundations of the welfare state in place today. The main criticisms of the Liberal's reforms were the attitude to welfare was generally too cautious.

By 1913, only 1% of national income was spent by the government on pensions, sickness and unemployment insurance and labour exchanges. It was also argued that the reforms lacked thorough organisation, failing to deal with local government administration, and that the motive for demonstrating welfare was often more political than humanitarian. Another significant concern for the Liberal government at this time was the economy of the country. The general economic situation was rapidly deteriorating and lower income groups were affected badly.

In addition, the issue was made severe because of the rise in unemployment and fall in wages. The government instigated several laws to attempt to combat this issue. The Liberals initiated work at the Board of Trade to set up labour exchanges, which eventually resulted in legislation in 1909. Many argue that the introduction of labour exchanges was ineffective and did not allow the average lower income workers to pull themselves over the poverty line. Work was still as difficult to find and wages as low. Much work was done by the government during this period on schemes to introduce sickness and unemployment insurance.

By 1909, the concept had advanced far beyond anything attempted by previous governments. However, the implementation of legislations was delayed until the National Insurance Act of 1911. Many argued that the Liberals were very slow to reform reducing the welfare of the British polulation. The first payments for unemployment were not made until the summer of 1912 and it was not until the beginning of 1913 that the health act was formerly prompted into action. The National Insurance Act was on e of the most forward-thinking ideas brought about in this century.

It aimed to improve the inefficient standards of health care that were formerly excercised and stop the growth of unemployment. The Health sector of the National Insurance Act used taxes to fund insurance and some entitlement to benefits for the poor. Essentially, it was an effective idea but the act was heavily criticised by both the public and official organisations such as trade unions. The law was again initiated because of concern for national efficiency and in effect, few were covered by the act. It failed to provide medical treatment for dependants and the provision of hospitals was poor.

Many criticised the scheme for deducting money from already low wages. Also, the Friendly Societies, industrial insurance companies and doctors were badly affected by the intrusion of the state into provision. The Unemployment sector of the act extended the work done by the first labour exchanges, making insurance against employment compulsory. All workers earning less than i?? 160 a year and aged between 16 and 60 were included. Approximately 15 million people were covered by the act in total. It provided a sickness benefit of 10s per week for 13 weeks (7s 6d for women) and 5s a week for a further 13 weeks there after.

Others sections of the act included a 30s maternity grant, 5s a week disability benefits and free medical treatment under a panel doctor. Overall, the act was quite successful in reducing poverty. Health levels before this point were so bad that millions became ill and were left with no means of income. However, the act was also unseucsessful in many ways. The scheme did not cover hospital treatment, except admission to the sanatorium intended to benefit tuberculosis sufferers and the risk of poverty was therefore increased.

The fact that only workers and not their families were covered meant that the risk of poverty was increased furthermore if a member of the family needed medical treatment. The benefits of the act were also limited. They were only available for a certain amount of time and were relatively small amounts. Also, only certain trades were provided for such building, engineering and iron. The Old Age Pensions Act in 1908 provided 5s per week to those aged 70 or over The introduction of Pensions is often considered as one of the most radical admissions by the Liberal government.

However, there were many limitations to this act. Many were excluded from recieving a pension: only those who had annual incomes of i?? 31 or less were eligible for pensions; those who had claimed poor relief in the previous year or had been in prison in the previous ten years had no entitlement; those who had failed to work regularly were also excluded and until 1911, pensions were paid only to those considered 'deserving poor. ' Many, such as the MP Phillip Snowden argued that the pensionable age was so high that few would live to receive it.

Despite this, by 1914, 970 000 were covered by the pensions scheme and the government was spending i?? 12 million a year on its maintainance. One of the first reforms made my the new Liberal government in 1906 was concerned with the welfare of children. The issue of malnourished children had become increasingly significant because of the Boer war and the discovery that Britain's population were predominantly unfit for military service. The Conservative government attempted to tackle this issues in limited social reforms before this point.

However, the Education Acts of 1906 and 1907 and the Children Act of 1908 established much better protection and provision for children. Under the 1906 act, local education authorities were enable to provide school meals for destitute school children with a 1/2d raise to finance. Many regarded this as very progressive move by the Liberal Party. However, the act was passed primarily because of pressure from the Labour Party and because of a very imperial concern of the Liberal Party for military effectiveness and national efficiency.

As with many of the reforms introduced by the Liberals, this Law was not made compulsory for individual authorities and so often, were not maintained by many constituencies. Although the Act was seen as progressive, the fact that it was not made compulsory argues if it was effective enough. By 1911, less than a third of all education authorities were using rates to support school meal provision and it had taken until 1914 for the Board of Education to make such provision compulsory.

An exception to this was the Education Act in 1907, which made medical inspections for children compulsory. This was introduced in order to reduce the outbreaks of disease and was largely successful, helping to improve health levels in children nationally. However, there were still many faults to the legislation. Much the same as the previous law regarding children, it was passed only as a result of pressure from the Labour government and imperialistic views. Much more could have been done to improve the situation.

There was no similar provision for adults or children who did not attend school. In due course, the Children's act of 1908 established formally the legal rights of children. Measures were introduced to deal with child neglect and abuse, making parental negligence illegal and setting up juvenile courts and remand homes to remove child offenders from the adult courts and prisons. This Act ensured children were not living on the streets and that they had access to food and education.

The attempts made overall to improve child welfare were eventually successful, but the time taken to enforce the legislations meant that they only helped improve conditions for some children during this period. Overall, the atempts made by the Liberal government during this period were an encouragihng step towards the creation of the modern welfare state. Considering the difficulties faced by the Liberals, the reforms could be considered to be highly effective. However, the legislations had many restriuctions and nukmerous people were not covered by the acts. Much more could have been done to improve the situation further.