To what extent did the Liberal reforms 1906, meet the needs of the British people? In the 20th Century poverty was a serious cause which was blamed on the individual themselves because of their carelessness and laziness. Before 1900’s the needs of people grew as there was many problems such as no health care, education, social services or unemployment benefit available at all provided. Families began to grow while people came seriously ill from lack of food and poor living conditions.
If you were poor and faced serious money problems then you were faced with finding your own way out of it without any help from the government. Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree were social commentators that set out to prove that it was indeed the fault of the individual who faced poverty. They were both shocked to find that poverty had causes often beyond the control of the poor and sick themselves. Rowntree did his research in York which showed that 28% of the population was in poverty, this made them realise that if York had such a problem with poverty then elsewhere would be just the same, if not worse.
Between 1906 and 1914, the liberal government passed reforms to attempt to deal with the problems of poverty and improve the lives of the lower class. The liberal government focused on five groups in society- the young, old, unemployed, the sick and the employed to try and meet their needs through these harsh times. The Liberal government came up with acts that helped to try and meet the needs of the young British people. In 1906 the liberal government passed a reform called the education (provisions of meals) act that enabled local education authorities to provide a free school meal to every student.
This was only the case if your parents could afford it as the government took advantage of those who could by making them pay. This started to prove being successful and meeting the needs of the young as the number of school meals increased from 3 million in 1906 to 14 million in 1914. There also downsides to this act as it was not made compulsory to provide a school meal to everyone until 1914. Due to this, over half of the local authorities had not set up the school meals service by 1912 which did not meet the needs of the young as most parents couldn’t afford a meal for their kids outside school.
In 1907 the Liberal government took steps towards helping the young’s health needs by creating another Education act which provided compulsory medical inspections three times throughout the child’s school years. The inspections showed that the children were not receiving the correct medical attention as the parents couldn’t afford it. The needs of the young were not met until 1912 when the government introduced a system of grants which provided treatment for those who needed it, therefore prior to 1912 problems were identified but not dealt with.
Overall the Liberal government took important steps towards meeting the needs of the young however they took several years to start becoming successful as the acts would only cover the families who could afford them until around about 1912 when payment systems were introduced, or 1914 when local authorities helped. The Liberal government introduced reforms to try and satisfy the older generation in Britain. In 1908 the Liberal government provided an act known as the old age pensions act that allowed single people over the age of 70 to receive a pension of 5 shillings a week and married couples could receive 7 shillings and 6 pence per week.
This reform met the needs of most of the old as by 1914, 1 million received pensions which removed the fear of the workhouse for many which was good as its proof that less people were struggling for money or facing poverty. However this act was not meeting all the older generation needs, those who failed to work regularly or faced prison in the past 10 years or whose who had not lived in the UK for the past 20 years were not entitled to the pension. This act also faced the main issue of the age requirement being set too high (70) which didn’t benefit the elderly’s needs as the life expectancy in 1908 was around 55 years.
Although the old age pensions act provided better living conditions for some, it was still seen as not enough. 5 shillings was seen as being 2 shillings short of what was needed to be kept above the poverty line which the government bravely agreed with but stated the money should be used as a ? life belt along with their savings showing that the liberals did not fully meet the needs of elderly. The Liberal government produced acts to try and meet the needs of the unemployed British.
The Liberal government set up the Labour exchanges act in 1909 which included job centres to be opened in search of work for those with the required skills and experiences. This was the first time a government tried to satisfy needs instead of using punishment like the workhouse. This act proved success as by 1914, 3000 people per day were being fixed up with work although the skilled workers were favored and the wages were extremely low which led to the impression that Labour exchanges were just a source of cheap labour. The needs of the unemployed were also attempted to be met when the National Insurance Act 1911 Part 2 was set up.
This helped workers who were insured to claim a benefit of 7s per week when they had been unemployed for a week. To claim their pay they needed to sign up at a Labour Exchange. Many of the unemployed needs were met by 1914, when 2. 3 million workers were covered however it was not beneficial to all as the act only covered 7 trades such as construction, engineering or shipbuilding. Due to this many workers were left with no insurance against unemployment. As there was no national health service available the liberal government produced reforms to try satisfy the needs of the sick.
In 1911 the Liberal government created the National Insurance act part one to try and help the needs of the sick in Britain. This act allowed insured workers who are earning less than ? 160 per year to collect sickness benefit of 10 shillings for the first 13 weeks then afterwards they receive 5 shillings per week. “. Medical inspections were free along with medicines and treatment which was suited to the sick’s needs, maternity pay was also provided at a total of 5 shillings per week. Workers were made to contribute 4d of their wages per week.
This act was proving beneficial as 15 million people in total were covered. There were also downsides to the act which didn’t meet the needs of the sick, the benefits did not cover the workers wife or children and didn’t cover all hospital treatment, only TB sanatorium. The act was only for those who were earning less than ? 160 per week which left those who weren’t meeting the requirement in lose as they needed to contribute 4d per week which was not satisfying their needs. In 1906 the liberal government passed the workmen’s compensation act to improve the employee’s working conditions.
This meant that people who worked were entitled to compensation for injury to health caused by working conditions as well as accidents. In 1909 the 8 hour day was introduced for miners along with the trade board’s act. The trade boards act set up boards to set im wages in 4 sweated trades. This act met the needs of many as almost 400,000 workers were covered by this scheme, mostly women. As this act was found effective, another 6 occupations were added which added 170,000 workers to the scheme. In 1911 the shops act was introduced which allowed shop assistants a half day off each week.
This act did not meet the needs of the shop assistants as it didn’t limit the hours of work meaning they often has to be made to work later on other days to make up the time lost from the break. All the employed reforms were helpful to those it was directed to however they were mostly aimed at specific groups of workers leaving others with no help. In conclusion the liberal government’s reforms only partially met the needs of the British people. Some historians believed the government only took little action against poverty as socials commentators Booth and Rowntree showed it wasn’t the individuals fault.
Winston Churchill summed up the aim of the liberals as he said This means that the liberal government provided very little help to the lower class so that they could help themselves escape poverty. Historians alleged that it could be estimated that as much as one third of the population would have been below the poverty line before the reforms and people feel no other government could have handled the issue of poverty any better at that time which shows the liberals were as successful as they could be towards the five social groups.
However The Liberal Government largely focused on specific difficulties in society but failed to introduce solutions to deal with issues such as housing or National Health Service that affects everyone. This shows that the Liberal reforms 1906-1914 were only successful on a small scale as it was unable to improve the poverty levels of the whole population.