Liberal Social Reforms 1905-1914 Essay, Research Paper
In December 1905 after the resignation of Balfour the Liberals returned to power and in the general election of 1906 the liberals being led by Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman won 377 seats giving them a massive majority of 84 over all other parties combined, the largest majority of the 20th century save the last labour victory. Ironically the election campaign had not been fought on the subject of social reform but mainly on the old issues of free trade, temperance reform and education. This liberal government would do more in the way of social reform than any government before it building what would become the first foundations of the British welfare state. Many of the reforms were delayed until Bannerman resigned but when his chancellor of the exchequer Herbert Henry Asquith took over in 1908 the social reforms for which this government is remembered truly were set in motion. Asquith immediate promoted two figures of the old cabinet to important domestic positions. Much of the vigour of the reforms is owed to the partnership of these two dynamic figures. Winston Churchill the young man in a hurry was promoted from under-secretary at the Colonial Office to president of the Board of Trade and David Lloyd George the Welsh wizard who previously held this position was promoted to Chancellor of the Exchequer.Some of the first acts to be passed by the liberal government were in regards to children s welfare. Educational acts were important first acts for the liberal government. after the Failure of Balfours educational act of 1902 in which the conservatives were highly criticised, particularly by none-conformists, for putting the educational responsibilities away from the school boards and into the hands of the local authorities the liberals needed to be careful about what reformative action they take. In 1906 the government passed an act enabling free school meals to be give to the poorest children, this action was fairly far reaching in that it help the incredibly deprived desperate children and would have gone some way in keeping these children fit and away from outright starvation. However restrictions placed on whom gets the free meal were harsh by to days standards and would have ignored many children who would also need this benefit. A year after this act in 1907 another was passed providing a school medical service. This was a reasonably large step as at the time medical assistance would have to be paid for, so the founding of a free school medical service could be considered far reaching. The children s act was also passed a short time after this in 1908. This act gave children added rites to those of adults, children, because of the act, were protected from imprisonment and separate juvenile courts were established, also parents could now be punished for neglecting there children.In 1908 and 1909 a series of acts were passed to show that the liberal governments actions toward industry, although it can be argued that they were not far reaching enough, were certainly moving away from the old laissez-faire ideology that has been followed by previous governments. In 1908 miners were given a statutory working day of eight hours and in 1909 the labour exchanges act was created to combat unemployment. This act, by means of privatising existing exchanges, established state labour exchangers, by 1914 these exchange s were dealing with 2 million workers a year. In 1909 the trades boards act was also passed, these trade boards were set up to fix wagers in designated industries where there was a very weak or no trade union and where wagers were usually very poor e.g./ Box making and Lace making. These boards led to the increase in many wagers especially for low-paid women. Although this act could be argued to go far in helping to stop exploitation of the workers in these selected industry s but the average income at the time would have been extremely limited by today s standards and women then were doing the same jobs as men for less money, the liberal government could be criticised for doing little to even this sexist wage distribution.
Two of the biggest and most far reaching pieces of Liberal legislation, both of which were introduced by Lloyd George, were the old age pension act and the national insurance act. The old age Pension act was introduced in 1908 and first began in 1909. this was an extremely radical and brave act for the liberals to pass, until the old age pension older people had to rely on either savings, family or charity to survive but now the government was willing to give pensioners a weekly allowance on which to live. Although far reaching the old age pension can be heavily criticised for not being as far reaching as it could have been. The pension was heavily conditioned and restricted, only people over 70 years of age were eligible to be granted a pension, only people who had lived in the country for at least 20 year and had not been in prison for at least 10 years were eligible to be granted a pension, full pensions only payable to those with incomes below 21 a year and pensioners were not to be paid to those who had habitually failed to work according to ability, opportunity and need these restrictions made it very difficult to be granted a pension and may people would needed one could not be granted it. The national insurance act of 1911 provided, on a contributory basis, for limited unemployment and health insurance for large sections of he population. This was a revolutionary step closer to the modern day standard of welfare we are accustomed to today but however the national insurance can be easily argued to be no far reaching enough. At the time the labour government criticised the act for it s lack of redistributive taxation which at the time was regarded by most peers as near to steeling. Lloyd George argued against this by saying that the individual only has to pay 4d because the employers contribute 3d and the state 2d so the employees getting nine pence for four pence. There is much evidence that the Liberal government were far reaching for there time and there is no question that they were the most far reaching government in terms of social reform than any before it. There is much debate as to why the Liberal government carry out so much social reform at this time in history, the cynical argument would be that the liberal government carried out the bare minimal amount of reform they could afford to get away with, that the government was forced into social reform for reasons of national efficiency, social control and politics. Even if the reasons given were factors this explanation alone inefficient as the liberal government could presumably got away with far less than what they did and so humanitarian reasons seem to explain it more straightforward. The liberal government far from trying to do less in the way of social reform may have even wanted to do more but would have know that the opposition and the lords would try to block it. Whatever the reason for the liberal social reform the actions of the government in 1905-1914 to pave the way for the welfare state relied on today.