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How Successful Were the Reforms of Post War Labour Government 1945-1951 in Creating a Welfare State?

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Submitted By michaln
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How successful were the Liberal Reforms of 1906-1914 in meeting the needs of the British people?
Before the turn of the twentieth century, the government and people of Britain commonly believed in the policy of laissez-faire – the policy of non-intervention in relation to social problems. Due to this, the majority of those in poverty received no help whatsoever. However as time passed, people’s attitudes were changed by the publishing of various findings and the government seeked to help not only the poor but also other groups. The young were helped by aiding their nourishment and inspecting their health. The elderly were helped by supporting them with pensions. The sick were helped by creating insurance which would come to their help during times of sickness. The unemployed were assisted by funding which supported them at times during which they looked for work. Finally, the employed were helped by making their wages fairer and shortening working hours.
In 1906 the School Meals Act was passed. This Act addressed the problem of children being undernourished in school as this made them incapable of learning as much as they were expected to. A year later the Medical Inspections Act was passed which made it mandatory that a child goes through at least 3 medical inspections throughout their school career. Finally, in 1908 the Children’s Charter was passed. The Charter protected children in all aspects of life, making sure they were protected from abuse and neglect by making these punishable offenses and ensuring that they children were not living on the streets without food or education. It also banned under-16s from smoking, drinking alcohol or begging. Furthermore, children now had a separate legal system in which they weren’t tried as adults if they committed crimes. The induction of all these were very important. Children could now get proper sized meals which in turn helped them to learn in school. They would now know if they had any medical conditions which needed tending to as medical inspection were compulsory, even if treatment was not covered. Additionally, it prevented to an extent, abuse against children as it had now become an illegal act. Also, thanks to the setting up of juvenile courts children became protected by the state as they did not have to face the consequences that adults did. The Acts were all however very limited in the sense that they only focused on certain aspects of childhood and did not reform the flawed education system due to which many children lost out as their parents were simply not rich enough to guarantee them a good education.
The Liberal Reforms also looked to help the elderly. In 1908 they did this by passing the Old Pensions Act which provided money to those over 70 who needed it most. The poorer one was and the less money one earned, the better pension one received. Married couples were also given seven shillings and six pence for their pension. This Act was the first time that the government had shown some initiative to help the elderly of the country and this led to many seniors hailing and praising David Lloyd George for what he had done for them. However, the pensions were not strictly all that they were made out to be. They did not give the recommended amount to remain above the poverty line and most of those who were in need of it had already died by the age of 70 as they were simply unable to keep themselves going with the money that they had. This can be attributed to the fact that numerous individuals had to stop working well before that age due to medical problems and the likes. Also, if one claimed poor relief within the past year then they were not entitled to claim such a benefit. This also applied to those who had been in prison the past two years or had failed to work regularly. Overall, this Act was once again very limited and did nothing to tackle the problem of low wages and restricted employment. Instead the government implemented such an Act which only pacified the people making it seem like they had made great strides when in reality a majority of those that needed help, still did not receive it.
Moreover, reforms were aimed at tackling problems which sick workers faced. It was in 1911 that the National Insurance Act (Part 1) was passed. Said Act focused on creating unemployment insurance and the first labour exchange schemes where benefits would be collected. This way those who were out of work due to sickness were given funds to support them during these hard times. These schemes covered 15 million people in Great Britain and meant that each worker who put in 4p received 9p back during sick leave, thanks to the government’s help. However, the Act ensured benefits for only 26 weeks after which they were cut. Women lost out as they received less, and it was merely insured workers who received such aid. The Act is sometimes viewed as having bad influence on poverty as many who paid in money never saw any back. There was also nothing done to tackle health problems and reduce the time that people were ill for so they could remain sick for extremely long periods of time.
Part 2 of the National Insurance Act aimed to help the unemployed of certain industries, especially in practical and technical ones. These were the jobs which were considered to be most liable to varying employment levels at different times of year. In total the Act covered 2.25 million workers – it supported those who were looking for work and provided them with benefits for up to 15 weeks whilst they searched for work. This meant they would not immediately become poor if they had lost their jobs and become unemployed. The labour exchanges which were created also made it much easier to find new jobs as people could now go somewhere specific to look for employment. Nevertheless, since the Act only covered workers of specific industries, many did not receive help when they were unemployed. Also, workers had to give up some of their pay to contribute to this scheme which in certain cases made their problems even larger and worse. As the scheme only insured for 15 weeks regardless of industrial problems, many were unable to support themselves past this duration. Furthermore, the scheme only worked when under 5% of workers were unemployed, otherwise there would not be ample capital to subsidise it. Overall, the system did not really help the general British population as it covered only a small amount of the country’s workers. Plus, workers had to contribute to the scheme themselves which a lot of the time was impossible, especially for those who were already in poverty and this only made them worse-off.
Another group which the Liberal Reforms looked to help were the employed. This they did through the passing of 4 different Acts – The 1906 Workman’s Compensation Act which allowed all employees to receive compensation for injuries or diseases sustained in the workplace. The 1908 Coal Mines Act which granted miners an 8 hour day. The 1909 Trade Boards Act which set up boards to negotiate minimum wages in the box, lace, chainmaking and tailoring trades. And the 1911 Shops Act which entitled shop assistants to a weekly half-day holiday in addition to setting the maximum working hours in a week to 60. The Act was revolutionary in the sense of allowing 6 million to claim compensation, giving miners a secure working hour day, setting up trade boards to give fair wages and preventing shop workers from being overworked. However, the Acts still failed to establish minimum wages and working hours in many professions and shop assistants were forced to make up for the time off they had received during weekdays, meaning that they were not helped all that much by the Act. The Act was limited in the sense that it targeted certain industries so not all the employed people of Britain were helped. It would have possibly been easier and more appropriate to create a universal minimum wage covering the entire population as this way there would be less problems in terms of fair wages and pay
In conclusion, while many historians think the Liberal Reforms only made matters worse in the United Kingdom as they were unable to help all of the British people in terms of making everyone even and fair when it came down to benefits and help, I believe that while they did have their limitations, they were rather successful in helping the people of Britain by assisting them in all aspects of life as well as laying the foundations for further future reforms. Since a wide range of groups in the population were aided, these were good stepping stones for changes in the future. It is wrong to say that the Liberal Reforms had a negative impact on the populace of the United Kingdom as millions of people in five different groups were helped by them in numerous different ways which increased the standard of their lives. However, it must be said that the reforms had their boundaries as they did not help a big chunk of the British population.…...

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