To What Extent Did The Liberal Government (1906 To 1914) Set Up A Welfare State In Britain? To what extent did the Liberal Government (1906 to 1914) set up a welfare state in Britain? A welfare state is a state with social services controlled or financed by the Government. These services aim to protect society’s weakest members from the cradle to the grave; from birth to death. As Beveridge described it, a welfare state is the provision of services for the prevention of “disease, squalor, want, idleness and ignorance.” As the national Government from 1906 to 1914, the Liberals passed several reforms which many, including the historian G. Williams, claim heralded the arrival of the welfare state. The Liberal Government addressed the problem of disease and the overall poor health of the nation, as revealed by the physical deficiency of the country’s people, by passing several bills, each aiming to protect the vulnerable members of society, such as children. In 1907, the Medical Inspections Act dealt partially with the problem of disease in schools. Free medical inspections took place following this Act, but, although the Act highlighted the ill health of the nation’s children, it did nothing to alleviate the problem, for most parents could not afford medical treatment; this was not offered by the Government.
Part one of the National Insurance Act of 1911 provided health insurance for workers who earned less then 160 annually. This Act was triggered both by the issue of “national deficiency” and from the tuberculosis outbreak which was claiming 75,000 lives every year. Though this Act was significant in that it was the first time that the Government had offered such insurance, it failed to provide for the sick employee’s family, only for the employee himself. Also, sickness benefit lessened as time passed, and after 26 weeks, it was infinitesimal. The final reform Act passed by the Liberals which concentrated on lessening poor health was the Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1906, which provided compensation for injury sustained whilst working. The problem of want was one which affected many living in Britain, particularly the working class. People living in poverty wanted for money and food, and the Liberal Government combated this indigence through reforms such as the Old Age Pensions Act, the School Meals Act and Acts which established a minimum wage. The first reform passed by the Liberals which targeted want was aimed at children: the School Meals Act of 1906. This was a cautious measure, successful in terms of the number of school meals provided: from 3 million in 1906 to 14 million in 1914, but limited in that there was no compulsion in the Act until 1914, and by 1912 over half the local authorities had not set up school meals.
The Liberals also provided for the elderly, through the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908. This provided a pension of 5 shillings to any person over the age of 70. However, the amount offered was simply not enough to raise poor pensioners above the poverty line. Also, the pensions were only given to those over 70; the average life span of a working class adult was much shorter than this. The National Insurance Act of 1911, Part two, provided unemployment insurance for people working in industries which were badly hit by periodic unemployment; seasonal trades such as shipbuilding and construction. This Act was limited in its effectiveness because it only covered seven trades and unemployment benefit lasted for only 15 weeks in one year. However, it was the first time that the Government had accepted any responsibility for the unemployed instead of thinking that unemployment was a result of individual idleness.
Through the Sweated Trades Act and the Trade Boards Act of 1909, the Liberal Government set up boards to negotiate minimum wage levels for non-unioned “sweated trades”. The problem with these Acts was that they failed to establish an exact definition of a minimum wage. Idleness was perceived as a problem by society, which continued to be influenced by laissez-faire attitudes of the previous century, at the time of the Liberal Government. Despite the fact that the problem of unemployment was not solely caused by idleness, the Liberals passed a bill aimed at stopping laziness: The Labour Exchanges, 1909. Labour Exchanges enabled employers and employees to register requirements at a central location, and was, therefore, much more effective than the previous system, where unemployed men waited outside factories, hoping to be employed. This Act was very successful in providing jobs for the unemployed; by 1913, 3,000 people were employed through the scheme daily. Ignorance and squalor, two key features, according to Beveridge, of a society not protected by a welfare state, were virtually ignored by the Liberal Government. Though the Education Act of 1910 provided some guidance for students who were leaving school, nothing else was done to improve the conditions in schools.
Those in state education continued to leave school poorly educated with few, if any, qualifications. The Liberals passed no reforms which tackled the issue of squalor. Better housing would have lessened poverty and disease, and therefore would have produced a more healthy nation. Despite this, no attempts were made to alleviate the problems of slum housing and the consequent squalor. Through a welfare state, individuals are protected.
The Liberal Government attempted to protect workers through reforms such as the Coal Mines Act of 1908, which established an eight hour for miners, and the Shop Hours Act of 1911 which entitled shop assistants to a weekly half day holiday, established a maximum working week of 60 hours and which provided washing facilities in every shop. The problem of these reforms was that they targeted only small groups of the working class, such as miners and those in sweated trades, and many continued to be unprotected by the Government. In conclusion, the Liberal Government of 1906 to 1914 helped to establish a welfare state but by no means completed the transition from a laissez-faire Government to a a true welfare state. The Reforms were a radical step forward, and they helped the elderly, through the pension scheme, the sick, through health insurance, the young, through schools meals and free medical inspections, and the unemployed, through unemployment benefit and Labour Exchanges. These Reform Acts signified the acceptance by the Government of their responsibility for the welfare of the nation. However, most of these reforms were limited and failed to make true inroads into the problem of poverty.
The issue of housing and education were not tackled, unemployment benefits were limited to a select few trades, and a national health service was merely hinted at by the establishment of the health insurance scheme. Therefore, Liberal Reforms were stepping stones towards a true welfare state, by establishing the principle of Government duty to intervene, but the Government only laid the foundations for a welfare state; they did not set it up. History.