How effectively did the liberal government deal with the problem of poverty between 1906 and 1914? Between 1906 and 1914 the liberal democrats where in power, at this time it was becoming apparent that poverty was a big problem in Britain and reports from two men, Charles Booth and Seebolm Rowntree who had interests in social reform and the poorest off people of Britain, showed that many people in Britain where living below the poverty line. The liberals realised that in order to stay in power they had to make social changes and leave behind old laissez faire liberal ideas.
Because of the level of poverty many families lived in bad housing had a poor diet and poor health. The Liberal government began a series of reforms aimed at helping the impoverished people of Britain. This essay will discuss how effective the measures taken by the liberals where in combating the problem of poverty in Britain. In 1906 the liberals began their welfare reforms with the provision of free school meals act which was to be paid by property tax.
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This act was targeted at children who, after education becoming compulsory, where revealed to be suffering from many ailments. At this time there was also worry that the British people where suffering from a physical decline. The free meals, it was hoped, would improve the health of these children and remove health problems such as rickets. A good meal every day was a significant improvement to a malnourished child but the issue of how effective the scheme was as a whole is debatable.
Though the meals where available the scheme was put in the control of local authorities many of whom were slow to act and, to begin with, only 150,000 children where receiving a free school meal. This number did rise. However, information available from 1912 shows that over half of the local authorities in England and Wales had still not set up a free meals service. Although the free school meals where an effective means of improving children’s health as it was not available to all children it could not have been wholly effective. Another act in 1907 was passed in order to improve the medical health of children.
This was the Administrative Provisions Act which involved medical inspectors going into schools to test the health of children and to identify any treatments that the children needed. This act revealed that many children where suffering from health problems because their family could not afford expensive doctors bills. The ill health that the inspectors found, such as 9% of the children inspected suffered from rickets as evidence by T Ferguson Scottish social welfare 1864-1914, put pressure on the government to provide healthcare and the first school clinics where set up.
This act did tackle some of the health problems but because it was not hugely popular with many members of the government, who did not believe that treatments could be afforded at this time, it did not receive the amount of funding that, was needed to make it an effective act. Also many of the treatments did require a contribution from the child’s family and as some of the families could not finance this the treatments where often only temporary and the health of the children was only improved for a short time. From this evidence we can conclude that this healthcare did not solve all the health problems facing children at this time.
Following from The Administrative Provisions Act, The Children’s Act of 1908 was passed in order to prevent parental cruelty and neglect toward children, as well as protecting children from other difficulties including smoking, drinking and children being sentenced to adult prisons. This act made it a criminal offence to neglect a child and this discouraged cruelty by parents. However, the effectiveness of this act was limited as children did not have the ability to voice the cruelty of their parents, and many children were scared and did not come forward with their problems.
Other parts of the act included children under 14 not being sent to adult prisons, protecting children from the harshness of prison life, and the consequent after effects, and the introduction of probation officers who looked after young offenders leaving borstal discouraging children from reoffending. Finally, forbidding children to beg (making them vulnerable to street life), or drinking under the age of sixteen. This protected children from the harshness of living on the street, related health damage and alcoholism.
It can be said that this act had important benefits for protecting children although parental neglect and cruelty was still not adequately combated. The liberals also passed an act to reduce poverty amongst the elderly. This was the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 which provided a full state pension to people who had earned less than ? 21 a year and then provided a sliding scale of pension rates to people who had earned between ? 31 and ? 21. To begin with 650,000 people came forward to claim from the pension scheme though this represented very few of the people who were eligible for it.
This number had increased significantly to nearly one million by 1914. The act reduced the poverty level of the elderly who had previously relied on support from their families, which in turn may have relieved the poverty off the families. The act was very popular with the elderly especially as it was not seen as charity, and at this time charity was seen as something to be ashamed off. Though the act did alleviate many elderly from their previous level of poverty the payment of 5s a week to single people over 70 was still below the poverty line set out by Seebohm Rowntree.
Also this act failed to include people who had been in prison or had been in detention under the Inebriants Act 10 years before qualifying for the old age pension. The Act did not include immigrants who had been living in Britain for less than 20 years and, importantly, did not cover British people who had left to work overseas and returned to retire. As a number of elderly people eligible for the scheme did not receive a pension, as well the fact that the pension received was below the poverty line set out by Rowntree, it is clear that the act did not altogether remove the problems faced by the elderly.
The liberals off this the time realised that unemployment was also a key factor in causing poverty, and in 1909 they passed the Labour Exchange Act to help workers find employment. The Labour Exchange (or Job Centres as we know them now) worked by communicating between workers and employers to help find jobs. This was an improvement on the previous system where workers would wait outside of factories to get picked to work. The labour exchanges where effective in helping workers find employment because it provided a headquarters that both workers and employers could use.
The labour exchanges were national and this allowed movement of workers around the country for the first time which meant workers could fill unemployment gaps around the country. In 1913 the number of labour exchanges was 430 and this number shows they where needed. However some evidence shows the labour exchanges where not enormously effective because information from the time shows that in some cases 75% of people listed with a labour exchange failed to find work through them.
The labour exchanges did reduce poverty by providing help for the unemployed to find work, however some individual labour exchanges where ineffective. In order to help employed workers who could become unemployed or poverty stricken through illness or injury, The Insurance Act was passed in 1911. This act protected workers from temporary unemployment and was paid for by through contributions from the worker, the employer and the government. This nsurance act was compulsory to all workers in low paid jobs and if a worker became ill or was injured they received 10s per week for 13 weeks and then 5s a week for a further 13 weeks, this money would be paid out from the Labour Exchange. This act gave more security to workers and was effective in reducing the temporary unemployment of injured and ill workers. The act also covered free medical care for the insured workers. The Act, however, failed to cover all workers and only aided those on a low income and workers with higher incomes remained susceptible to poverty if they became ill.
Despite The Act covering 14 million workers, failed to protect their families who did not receive any medical care or insurance against the poverty that would be suffered if the earner of the family was ill or injured. The Insurance Act was an important stepping stone in the Liberal welfare reforms but because it did not cover all workers or the families of workers it did not prevent poverty from unexpected unemployment. The liberals also saw that there was a need to protect workers who where periodically out of work, such as ship builders whose work was seasonal.
A second Insurance Act was passed in 1912 and this act was again paid for by through contribution from workers, employers and the government who each paid 2d for a worker. Within two years of the act coming into action 2. 3 million people where receiving unemployment benefits. This act was the beginning of the benefits system for the unemployed in Britain. The act had similar problems to the previous Insurance Act and did not include the families of the unemployed and only the low income workers where insured and capable of claiming unemployment benefit.
Lastly as this act only covered seasonal workers it did not benefit all of the unemployed people living in Britain. The liberal government did have success from its schemes not least the popularity that the gained from the public, protecting them from the threat of the growing labour party. The liberals did manage to reduce the level of poverty of people in Britain through the aid they gave to children, the elderly and the unemployed which brought improvement to many people living in Britain.
However, the Liberals had not entirely reduced the poverty level and problems such as national insurance covering only workers and not their families, the slow move to action by the local authorities with concern to free school meals and insurance against unemployment only applying to seasonal workers meant that poverty had not been banished by the Liberals. Also the Liberals failed completely to address the problem of poor housing in Britain. To conclude, it can be argued although there was room for improvement the Liberals did have a foot in the right direction.