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Why did the New Liberals attach so much importance to the reform of social welfare provision?

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Introduction

Why did the New Liberals attach so much importance to the reform of social welfare provision? A variety of ideological, social, economic and political factors came together towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries that stimulated an unprecedented reform of social welfare provision. Policies were spearheaded by a wilful phalanx of radicals within the Liberal Party after their 1906 election victory. The Ministry's reforms included old age pensions (1908), established labour exchanges (1909), trade boards (1909), a National Insurance scheme covering sickness, invalidity and unemployment (1911) and a Miners' Minimum Wages Act (1912). In the era of early 20th century mass politics feeling grew that the party who did not champion the importance of social reform would lose out to those that did. The largely enfranchised working class were increasingly deemed to be living in conditions that were unacceptable to them and 'New' Liberals humanitarian principles. Economically Britain was facing competition from Germany and the USA, chiefly in terms of a productivity gap that was in part caused by the country's inability to resolve problems of 'National Efficiency'. Germany had an impressive welfare system already that centred on keeping the work force and her armies healthy. ...read more.

Middle

Churchill's proposal to achieve this and one representative of 'New' Liberals was to 'draw a line'. Above it principles of Laissez-faire would run as before but below the 'left out millions', of whom he claimed the Liberal party was the party of, should not be allowed to fall below. His speech in Glasgow in 1906 unequivocally commits 'New' Liberal theory to becoming the party's social policy, 'The ever growing complications of civilisation create for us new services which have to be undertaken by the state. I should like to see the state embark on various novel and adventuruous experiments... the universal establishment of minimum standards of life and labour and their progressive elevation as the increasing energies of production permit.' While 'New' Liberals appreciated some individual's rights would be infringed they realised that the benefits to individuals, society, the economy, Britain internationally and the Liberal party's survival were potentially great and pressing. Individuals and society would benefit in that the range of public goods such as Defence would be broadened to include welfare services such as education and health. Historically the market delivered these yet by placing them in the public sector under the finance of the budget the users would enjoy non-rivalness and non-excludability. ...read more.

Conclusion

Thus in the same policy of social reform the Liberals could 'harness to their cause large sections of the middle class who would be frightened into reaction by a party based solely on labour.'5 The working class would be deterred from operating programmes outside the Liberal party exclusively for its own ends. This deterrent would simultaneously quell middle class fears about them doing so. Regardless of the ideology's re-alignment towards supporting a welfare state am independent political need had emerged. Classical Liberalism, 'New' Liberalism nor humanitarian principles entirely explain why the Liberals of 1906 - 1914 attached so much importance to the reform of social welfare provision. Redistribution of welfare was a drum the Labour Party and its associates were beating with considerable force by the early 20th century. Social welfare reform became a necessity to pre-empt working class political growth that would eventually challenge the Liberal Party if left unchecked. At the same time it was also a necessity to tackle neglected social, economic and military issues of a nation that could only be done so through a programme of social welfare reform. The ascendancy of necessity and humanitarian compassion for social welfare provision over its numerous costs resulted in the 'New' Liberals attaching a great deal of importance to its reform. ...read more.

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