The Liberal Reforms (1906-1914)
To what extent did the Liberal Reforms (1906-1914) improve the lives of the British people?
Between 1906 and 1914, the lives of many British people were improved due to the introduction of a series of welfare reforms by the Liberal Government. Yet in 1906, the Liberals won the general election based on the values of "old" Liberalism, which favoured Laissez-Faire rather than government intervention. However, with the resignation of Campbell-Bannerman in 1908, and the appointment of Herbert Henry Asquith as Prime Minister and David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill to the cabinet, these values were replaced by the values of "new" Liberalism. Both Churchill and Lloyd George were New Liberals who believed that the state should look after the Welfare of those who could not help themselves. Consequently, the government identified, and attempted to aid, five main sectors of society who were in need of help; the young, old, sick, unemployed and employed.
After it was made compulsory for children to attend school until the age of ten, it became obvious that many children were going to school hungry, dirty and/or suffering from ill health, hence were unable to focus on their work. This meant that children were not fully benefiting from the education system. Margaret Macmillan, an educationalist, firmly believed in the adage, "Feed the stomach, then the mind", and she promoted educational reforms. Also, the government had recognised that the national efficiency of Britain was facing decline, and decided to counteract this by first helping the young people of the country.
Labour backbencher, William Wilson, put forward the idea of free school meals as a Private Member's Bill. It was so well received in the House of Commons that the Liberals gave it government time. Consequently, the Education (Provision of Meals) Act became law in December 1906, which allowed authorities to "take such steps as they think fit for the provision of meals". Parents were to be charged only if they could afford it or else the local authority could put a halfpenny on the rates.
As a result of the Act being introduced, the number of school meals provided rose from 3 million in 1906 to 9 million in 1910 and 14 million in 1914. By 1914, the voluntary ages had become overwhelmed by the scale of the scheme and most of the provision was in the hands of the local authorities, who in turn were given a 50% grant from the treasury. Within a short time, a publicly funded welfare service, administered by the Board of Education (BOE), was beginning to replace a patchwork of local charitable efforts. The lives of a number of children were improved thanks to the introduction of free school meals. However, in 1912, over half of the local authorities were still to set up a school meals service, so many children's lives had yet to be affected by the Act.
Following the introduction of the Education Act 1906, Margaret Macmillan drove Robert Morant, the Permanent Secretary of the Education Board, to introduce school medical inspections. The government was not enthusiastic about this proposal, as it knew that inspection would inevitably reveal chronic health problems and would be costly. Nonetheless, Morant smuggled the school medical inspection provisions into the innocuous Education (Administrative Provisions) Bill, which was seen as a formality therefore was not thoroughly read through by the government as they assumed it did not contain any new provisions. The government unknowingly signed the Bill, which then became law in 1907. Statutory school medical inspections were introduced to take account of the following: previous diseases; general conditions and circumstances including height, weight, nutrition, cleanliness and clothing; throat, nose and articulation; external eye disease and vision testing; ear infection and deafness; teeth and oral sepsis; mental capacity and present diseases or defects.
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