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How successful were the Liberal Reforms of 1906-1914?

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Vicky Stanforth-Green. October 14, 2001 How successful were the Liberal Reforms of 1906-1914? At the General election of 1906, the Liberal Party, led by Henry Campbell-Bannerman won a landslide victory over the Conservatives. They won 377 seats, giving them an enormous majority of 84 over all other parties combined. Henry Campbell-Bannerman was the first Liberal Prime Minister for 20 years, and then following his reign was Herbert Asquith, who came into power in 1908. Asquith appointed two radical ministers - Winston Churchill (Chancellor of the Exchequer) and Lloyd George (Board of Trade). These characters were very influential in the idea of "New Liberalism" which was totally committed to radical, social reforms. This is exactly what the government tried to enforce between 1906-1914 and the "Lib Labs" (radical Liberals) passed several reforms to try to liberalise Britain from the previous Conservative rule. The huge scale of the Liberal party's victory in the 1906 general election guaranteed many new faces among the ranks of Liberal MPs, in favour of change in the field of social welfare. Between the years 1906 and 1914, the Liberals took steps to improve the health standards and the living and working conditions of the lower class. The main areas of people new legislation was targeted on was the working class under risk of poverty due to sickness or unemployment, their children and old age pensioners. ...read more.


Although work on schemes to introduce sickness and unemployment insurance was well advanced by 1909, their eventual implementation was delayed until the National Insurance Act of 1911. Many government politicians such as David Lloyd George were determined to introduce this scheme. The National Insurance Act was in two distinct parts. Part one dealt with health insurance and part two with unemployment insurance. This act was a positive move by the Liberals towards reducing poverty, as due to health levels being so bad at the time many were left sick with no way of receiving money. On the other hand, this Act may not have been very successful due to a number of reasons. The fact that this scheme did not cover hospital treatment, except admission to the sanatorium intended to benefit tuberculosis sufferers, increased the risk of poverty. The Act only covered workers and not their families, which meant that there was still a risk of poverty if a member of the family needed medical treatment. The government did attempt to improve the scheme by abolishing the reduced benefits for the second 13-week period in favour of the full benefit for a period of 26 weeks. Although this was an improvement, many workers were sick for longer than this, especially those who could not afford to pay for hospital treatment. ...read more.


The fact that there were huge exclusions to Liberal legislation adds to the idea that Liberal rule was not successful with dealing with poverty and need. It can be argued that the Liberal rule and reforms were very successful in terms of the scale of task with which the new government was faced. The fact that the House of Lords was mainly Conservative meant that the Liberal legislation programme was regularly opposed, because Conservatives regarded Liberal policies as confiscation to property rights and a threat to any idea of individual responsibility. This can justify the amount of time taken to introduce various laws, such as the National Insurance Act and the Pensions Act. The amount of people below the poverty line at the time was estimated at being as high as one third of the population. A view that no other government could have dealt with the situation of poverty any more effectively at that time adds to the theory that the Liberals were as successful as they could have been under the circumstances. Liberal legislation between the years of 1906 to 1914 laid the foundations of a welfare state. Even still, the Liberal government of 1906-15 was one of the great reforming administrations of the twentieth century, it attempted to pass many reforms to improve Britain, and it broke the power of the House of Lords and laid the foundations of the modern welfare state. ...read more.

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