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"Did the Liberal Government of 1906-14 create the early Welfare State?"

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"Did the Liberal Government of 1906-14 create the early Welfare State?" The Liberal government returned to office on 4th of December 1905 after a ten-year absence. In January 1906 the Liberals won the general election by a massive majority of 400 seats to the Conservative Party's 157 seats. From 1906 to the start of the First World War the Liberal government embarked on a numbers of social reforms that were to lay the foundations of a system under which the state (rather than the individual) would take responsibility for the welfare of its citizens. These reforms aimed to ease the plight of the poor and improve their standard of life. Before the creation of the welfare state in the 20th Century the 'Poor Law' was the only form of aid that was offered to the poor. The 'Poor Law' consisted of a combination of out door relief and the workhouses. The living condition for those not in steady employment were harsh to say the least. The choices that many poor people were faced if they were unable to finds work was to, beg, steal, prostitution or starve to death. The latter may seem some-what extreme, but many people at this time would have rather starved themselves to death, rather that go into the workhouses. The workhouses were extremely harsh and deliberately striped away any dignity or self-respect of whose who were desperate enough to enter them. ...read more.


All these issue lead to the debacle of the Conservative Party and united the Liberals. Another factor that lead to the demise of the Tories was that Liberals and the newly formed Labour party made a pact to prevent anti-Conservative votes being wasted. The Liberal Party was also better organised than it had been in the past. Here we will examine the circumstances that lead the Liberal party to lay the foundations of the Welfare State in Britain and whether the measures were effective in alleviating the levels of poverty that existed in Britain. Prior to 1906 the Liberal Party adopted a laisse-faire approach to social issues such as poverty and unemployment and were reluctant to interfere in the lives of its citizens. Their policy had always been to keep expenditure as low as possible and knew that the introduction of any forms of legislation that dealt with the needs of the poor could only be done so by increasing taxes. Even after the success of the 1906 election the their leader still remain reluctant to commit his party to any type of social reforms that would increase expenditure. This 'Glastonian' ideology would begin to charge at the beginning of the 20th Century as a new form of the Liberalism would deal with social issues such as poverty and introduce social reforms that aimed to alleviate the abject suffer of the poor. ...read more.


The work of Charles Booth showed that the main cause of unemployment was no idleness or ignorance. The main cause of unemployment was sickness and periodic dips in trade. Another point that should be made it the fact that the National Insurance Act only covered seven trades. In conclusion it could be argued that the Liberal Government of 1906 to 1914 did not create the early Welfare State. Most of these reforms failed to alleviate the problems of poverty that existed during this period. The school meals and medical inspection did not become compulsory until 1914 and were the result of pressure from the education authorities and the civil service. The old age pension was too low to meet the needs of the elderly and National insurance Act of 1911 only covered certain trades. The Liberal Government also failed to address the problems of housing and education in any shape or form but what this government did do was lay the foundations for future social reforms and broke away from the old laisse-faire ideology of the Liberal Party to one the was prepared to take responsibility for the welfare of its citizens by increasing taxation to finance social reforms. Evidence may suggest that the emergence of the Labour party, the threat of socialism and outside pressure from social reformers such as Booth and Beatrice Webb lead the Liberal party to change their ideology from "Old Liberalism to "New Liberalism". Without this change in attitude these reforms would never have taken place. ...read more.

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