Did the liberal Welfare Reforms lay the foundations of the Welfare State?
This essay will assess how far reaching the liberal Welfare Reforms were and how far they can be said to represent the foundations of the Welfare State. The Welfare State is when the Government takes care of the health and well-being of all its citizens from “cradle to grave”. The liberal Welfare Reforms did represent a move away from “laissez-faire” towards a programme of social reform. The liberal reforms concentrated on five main groups. These were the young, introducing school meals and medical inspections with the Education Act 1906 and 1907, the old with the Old Age Pensions Act 1908, and the sick who were helped with the first part of the National Health Act 1911. The employed were given compensation for injuries sustained at work with the Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1906 and other things such as an eight hour day for miners due to the Coal Mines Act 1908. A half day off was also given to shop assistants following the Shops Act 1911 and there was a minimum wage for “sweated industry” workers with the Trade Boards Act of 1909. The unemployed were given help to find work with the Labour Exchanges Act 1909 and unemployment insurance which was brought in with the second part of the National Insurance Act 1911. The first social reforms to be carried out by the Liberals were concerned with children and dealt with the provision of school meals and the medical inspection of all pupils. Now that education was compulsory it was made clear that many children were often coming to school hungry, dirty or suffering from ill health. A study carried out in a poor area of Dundee in 1905 showed that children were significantly underweight and under height when compared with the national average. The report said “... a large number of children who should be under medical supervision” and “... they cannot apply their minds to lessons while their stomachs are empty”. The Boer War in 1899 had highlighted the problem that Britain had with the physical condition of its citizens. When recruiting soldiers to fight in the war, the height requirement had to be dropped from 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 2 inches so that Britain would have enough soldiers. The leader of the Social Democratic Foundation (SDF) claimed at the time that 50% of the working-class recruits from towns and cities had been unfit to fight due to their poor physical condition. To bring Britain back to a good physical state, the Government decided it was best to start with children and did this with the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906. Much of the credit for this Bill lies outside the Liberal Party. There was a lot of public concern created by reports carried out in the wake of the Boer War. One of these was a report carried out by The Royal Commission of Physical Condition in Scotland and the other was carried out by The Interdepartmental Committee on Physical Deterioration. A labour backbencher called William Wilson introduced the school meals proposal which was so popular that the Liberals decided to give it a chance; this was then called the Education (Provision of Meals) Act. The act allowed local authorities to take steps as they saw fit to provide school meals for children either through voluntary work or using the local authority money. Parents were to pay for school meals if they could afford it, however, if they could not the local authority could pay a halfpenny. The number of school meals provided by the Government started at 3 million in 1906 and eventually rose to 14 million in 1914. Within a short period of time a Government funded Welfare system was beginning to replace many of the efforts made by charities. There was still a long way to go though as in 1912, over half of the local authorities had not set up a school meals service. In 1907 there was another Bill passed in order to take care of the health of school pupils. This was the Education...
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