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To what extent did the Liberal Reforms improve the lives of the British People?

Updated on August 3, 2012
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Liberal Reforms

Between 1906 and 1914 the Liberal reforms tried to deal with the problem of poverty. In doing this the government focused on giving aid to the old, young, sick and unemployed. These reforms are often regarded as the foundation stone for the welfare state but how successful were they really?

Children were one of the most critical groups for the government to help because they’re unable to truly help themselves. In 1906 local authorities were allowed to provide free school meals for destitute children; this wasn’t however made compulsory until 1914 and so only a few councils took it on board right from the start. These free school meals were found to have vastly improved children’s diet and growth. Studies have been carried out which found that during school holidays poor children’s growth slowed and body weight declined seeming to show that school meals had become crucial to maintaining a healthy diet. 1907 free medical inspections were provided in schools but it wasn’t until 1912 that free medical treatment could be provided as before this the illnesses were observed but little could be done by poor families who could not afford treatment. Both of these improvements were noticed to have not gone far enough after under 10years of them being introduced so it seems to show that not enough was truly being done to effectively make change and that the illusion of change was suitable enough. However, the arguably most important of reforms for children was the Children’s Charter introduced in 1908.The general idea of it was to protect children from cruelty and corruption: juvenile courts were set up, imprisonment would occur in borstals, identity was protected, neglecting parents could be fined and age restrictions were placed on products such as alcohol and cigarettes. The minimum age restrictions to products had limited success to start off with but it has made a difference. Overall, the Children’s Charter was believed to guarantee better lives for children.

The old were helped by being given an old age pension. In 1908 the government paid up to 5 shillings a week to people over 70. The pension received depended on income and was set on a sliding scale so those with the highest income for the least (or none) in pension money. The idea of pensions was admirable but there were many unfair features of it when first introduced. Not all elderly British citizens could qualify for it; those who had avoided work, had a criminal record, or were habitually drunk were disqualified. Also, the fact that it was provided for over 70’s meant that not only that many people didn’t live long enough to receive their pension but also that those who did had not received it early enough as monetary aid would have been required many years before it was provided. Finally, the pension given didn’t raise the elderly income about the poverty line; Rowntree’s minimum income for comfortable survival of over 35 shillings a week. Therefore, despite the idea and intensions being good they didn’t go far enough to ensure security for the elderly.

A contributory scheme was introduced for workers in case of illness. At the time there was no free national health service and the poor usually couldn’t afford medical help. The National Insurance Act of 1911 gave some medical benefits for the worker who, when well working, had paid into the scheme which their employer and the government would then add to. Due to sickness and subsequently absence from work was one of the main causes of poverty so any amount of income during absence from work would benefit the worker and their family greatly. There were however problems with the scheme. For a start the workers didn’t like the idea that 4 pence of their money every week would be taken from them despite the possibility they may not claim and they may need the 4 pence for their own survival at the time. Also, it was only the workers themselves who were able to claim from the insurance despite the difficulties another illness in the family may put upon the worker or just how sick the other family member was. Thus, to be of greater use viewed in greater favour by many this scheme would need to cover a broader spectrum of difficulties within the family unit and appear more obviously beneficial to the majority rather than merely a theft of 4 pence.

Unemployment was another important factor of society which the liberal reforms attempted to tackle. The did this by introducing Labour exchanges where workers could easily find where work could be found. Part of the National Insurance Act dealt with unemployment; it was a contributory scheme like that from illness from both the worker and the government for which they would receive a payout when unable to find work. However, this payment only lasted for up to 15weeks so if unemployed any longer no help was given. The scheme also only applied to 7 particular jobs; 7 of the most seasonal jobs. It wasn’t designed to deal with long term unemployment so after the great war it suffered greatly as those contributing wasn’t enough to cover those being given money.

The change from the laissez-faire attitude of the government to that of a government addressing the problems which had once been thought of as up to the individual was drastic and greatly more beneficial to people than before. Despite the fact that the reforms didn’t provided enough money for the person to live on they were drastic and greatly more beneficial to people than before. Despite the fact that the reforms didn’t provide enough money for the person to live on they were drastic improvements than what the person would have had to deal with before. There were however many vitally important factors of poverty which had not been tackled by the liberal reforms such as housing, education, and causes of unemployment. The liberal reforms undoubtedly didn’t go far enough to eradicate poverty but the Liberal government only introduced them as a first step on which to add later on after initial dislike if the schemes were overcome. Upper classes were against the idea of paying for those poorer as they thought it wasn’t their responsibility. Some middle and working classes opposed the state interference so the Liberals would have had difficulty trying to introduce more ambitious or radical ideas. Overall, the Liberal reforms went as far as they were able to in tackling poverty without causing uproar among the public but it is certainly the case that additions had to be made before Poverty was tackled.

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    • jadesmg profile image
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      jadesmg 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      ye, American views on politics is something i don't think i'll ever fully understand. I don't know if it's a cultural belief that helping the poverty stricken is too close to communism or something but it does seem a little odd for an aarently great democracy which prides itself on it's public freedom that the poor have to just struggle through with no aid from the government or wealthier members of the population. I guess though i'm just used to the idea...

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Yeah, jade. Here we are in the 21st Century America arguing that people should help themselves with no help from the government. I went to the American Empire and all I got was this tee-shirt.

    • jadesmg profile image
      Author

      jadesmg 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks UnnamedHarald. Ye, they were certainly revolutionary for Britain at the time, often having been very much of the political stance that people should help themselves so it was a great first step towards a state interested in the publics welfare.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      When you look at the period before World War 1, these measures were unparallelled. I don't think many countries had anything like these benefits even though they were meager enough. At least the ordinary British person started to get something out of the Empire. Very interesting.