The Liberal reforms 1906-1914
One government that is often seen as an example of 'reforming' by introducing positive changes that really improve peoples' lives is the Liberal government in Britain of 1906-1914. Many historians label this period the beginning of the welfare state [Welfare state: A state (or a country) where the government provides welfare benefits such as education, health care, and unemployment payment to its population free at the point of use, although paid for by general taxation. ], but why did the Liberal government introduce its reforms?
Important reforms - summary
Some governments in history seem to have implemented changes that have particularly improved people's lives. For instance, Roosevelt's New Deal in America, or the Labour government in Britain after the First World War. The dynamism and positive achievements of these governments make them look much better than the governments that came before or after them.
A study of poverty in 1901 by Seebohm Rowntree found that in a society where those who didn't work didn't eat, there were three times in people's lives when they were especially vulnerable:
- as a young child
- when they were old
- when they were sick or unemployed
After 1906, the Liberal government, with Lloyd George as Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced reforms to help these three groups:
- In 1906 local authorities were allowed to provide free school meals.
- The 1908 Children and Young Persons Act introduced a set of regulations that became known as the Children's Charter. This imposed severe punishments for neglecting or treating children cruelly. It was made illegal to sell cigarettes to children or send them out begging. Separate juvenile courts were set up, which sent children convicted of a crime to borstals [Borstals: In the UK, a place of detention for young male offenders. They were introduced in 1908, and are now replaced by 'young offender institutions'. ], instead of prison.
- In 1908 pensions were introduced for the over 70s, which gave them 5s a week, or 7s 6d to a married couple. Old people cried as they collected their pensions, and said: 'God bless Lloyd George'.
- In 1909 labour exchanges were set up to help unemployed people find work.
- The 1911 National Insurance Act was passed. Part 1 of the act gave people the right to free medical treatment, and sick pay of 10s a week for 26 weeks in return for a payment of 4d a week. Part 2 of the Act gave people the right to unemployment pay (dole) of 7s 6d a week for 15 weeks in return for a payment of 2½d a week.