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“Assess the reasonsfor and the success of the Liberal Welfare Reforms” (1906-14)

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"Assess the reasons for and the success of the Liberal Welfare Reforms" (1906-14) British politics' History Essay Following the unsuccessful electoral campaigns of 1890s the Liberals gradually began to accept the need for greater state intervention and more social reform. Following the 1906 electoral victory the Liberal party unintentionally set out to install a series of welfare reforms. According to the analysis of J. A. Hobson and L. T. Hobhouse the economic conditions in Britain caused inequality, inefficiency and the rise of radical pressure groups. In response to this 'New Liberalism' neglected the policy of laissez-fair and sought political and electoral co-operation from the Labour and Socialist intellectuals. Subsequently New Liberalism was constructed on the basis of state intervention and a gradual installation of a basic social service system, which increasingly worried the bourgeois section of society. Since George Dangerfield's influential study of the British society under the Liberal government, 'The Strange Death of Liberal England (1935)', many political historians produced coherent and successful attacks against New Liberalism. According to Dangerfield's interpretation the Liberal reforms of 1906-14 were rather limited if not doomed. Contrary to Daingerfield's criticism Peter Clarke's publication, 'Lancashire and the New Liberalism (1970)', emphasised the importance of the Liberal programme. According to Clarke the Liberal reforms, although meagre in essence, proved to be the first ever steps to modernise the infrastructure of the British society. ...read more.


As maintained by Murray both acts "gradually had an impact despite their opponents", who discredited the Liberal approach as being destructive by undermining the independence of the working class family. In spite of this it can thus be argued that the Liberal government took gradual steps to ensure that the disadvantaged section of society had access to basic education, medical care and free school meals, which arguably formed the foundation for a collective, welfare state and underlined the development of 'New Liberalism'. 'New Liberalism' was a radical, new attitude towards the state, which in many ways contradicted the classical approach of 'Gladstonian Liberalism'. Based on the conventional principles of laissez-faire and individualism 'Gladstonian Liberalism' dislocated the government from the economic affairs of the state. This meant that the role of the government had to be small, which as recalled by Potter "restricted the provision of limited social services." Contrary to this line of thought, many Liberals realised the need for more social reform especially to help the unemployed, the old and the sick. Influenced by the economist J. A. Hobson and the sociologist L. T. Hobhouse many government intellectuals accepted the fact that the Liberal party had to abandon the orthodox nature of 'Gladstonian Liberalism' in order to tackle the nationwide social problems. The introduction of Old Age Pension was an important component, which was part of the Liberal welfare package and the new line approach. ...read more.


Little was in order for the agricultural labourers who remained with unsustainable source of income. Between 1900 and 1914 the 'minimum wage standards' rose very little, and the Trade Unions were not impressed by the reforms, as they abandoned the somewhat drawn-out Liberal approach. Another disturbing fact was that in 1914 the percentage of army volunteers rejected as physically unfit was as high as it had been in 1900. However this as Lowe reinforces "was only to be expected". The sudden change made by the benefits of the 'new state aid' would have been unrealistic, there was bound to be a time lag. The deployment of criticism does not require much effort but it is important to remember that the Liberals had faced determined opposition from the Conservatives and sometimes from the right wing of the Liberal party itself. The danger of being perceived as socialists was ultimately there and the fact that many external groups still sustained the belief in individualism added to the pressure. In spite of this, the fact that the Liberals were willing to act upon the public needs should be granted recognition. Jo Grimond argues that "the Liberal reforms were so novel for the times they established all necessary basic principles and therefore as good as created the Welfare state." The vitally important point was that the government had laid the foundations for a welfare state, which Lloyd George and Churchill intended to build later. ...read more.

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