Historians debate to what extent the welfare measures to help young people were the most successful of the Liberal Government of 1906-1914. When Britain went to war (the Boer War) in 1899, the army found out that two-thirds of the men that had volunteered were too unfit to join up. Also, the findings of Seebohm Rowntree in York found out that in 1901, over 28 percent of people did not have enough money to live on in that time in their life. The Liberals felt pressured to introduce more reforms because of Germany, which had a good system of state welfare for workers, and was passing Britain as a great industrial power. The Liberal Government aimed to help many different groups of people, the young, the old, the sick, the unemployed and the employed. David Lloyd George stated that there were many things that affected indigent people- ‘Four spectres haunt the poor – Old Age, Accident, Sickness and Unemployment.’ The Government aimed to help the young by introducing the Provision of Meals Act and the Children’s Charter. The government aimed to help the old by introducing the Old Age Pensions Act in 1908 which gave people over the age of seventy a pension. The Government aimed to help the sick by introducing the National Insurance Act 1911 to give money to workers who were ill. The Government also aimed to help the unemployed by introducing the National Insurance Act and the Labour Exchanges, providing work for people who became unemployed. The Government tried to help the employed by introducing the Workmen’s Compensation Act in 1906 for example, which provided compensation for workers that fell ill or were injured while at work. The reforms for these people were introduced to reduce poverty. The Liberals wanted to provide some help for the poorer people in society so that they would eventually be able to help themselves.
The first group of people that the Liberal Government tried to help was the young. The government set up the Provision of Meals Act in 1906, which permitted local authorities to provide free school meals for poor schoolchildren. This act was successful because it meant that by 1914, over 150,000 schoolchildren were getting one good meal a day. Local authorities were given grants from the Treasury to fund fifty percent of the cost of meals. This act was also successful because it replaced charity involvement, and children could depend on meals given at school which were free, which saved some families money. However, this act could be seen as less successful because it was very costly for the Government and children’s health deteriorated during the holidays. Also by 1914, many local authorities were still not providing school meals. The Administrative Provisions Act of 1907 provided schoolchildren with three medical inspections over their school years. This act was successful because it meant that school boards could act against parents who were sending their children to school in poor condition. However it is less successful because treatment was free only after 1912, and even so, some local authorities did not provide it. Another act that was introduced was the 1908 Children and Young Persons Act, or as it was commonly known as- the Children’s Charter. The Children’s Charter made it illegal for children to begin the streets. They were also restricted from buying alcohol or cigarettes until they were sixteen. Also, children convicted of any crime were sent to borstals rather than to prisons, and juvenile courts were set up to separate adult and child offenders. However, the Children’s Charter was less successful because it did not help with the causes of juvenile crime. Overall, the welfare measures to help with the needs of the young were met more successfully by the Liberal Government than the needs of the old. The many acts that were introduced to help the young detected a great deal of medical problems for example in Glasgow, where 30% of children were found to be “verminous”. The Liberals could be praised for their attempt to ensure that children were properly fed by providing a school meal once a day. However, the fact that the scheme was not compulsory (which led to less than a third of authorities not introducing it) meant that the 1906 Education act did not effectively tackle the issue of poor health in children.
The second group of people that the Liberal Government tried to help was the old. In 1908, the Old Age Pensions Act was introduced, and this gave pensioners (over the age of seventy whose incomes were less that £21 per year) five shillings a week. Married couples received seven shillings and sixpence a week, which could be collected at the Post Office. However, if a person over seventy had an income of over 12 shillings per week, the pension entitlement stopped. This act was successful for helping the elderly because by 1914, nearly 1 million people were claiming a pension. However, this act was less successful because the amount of money that they were given was not enough for people to pay for the barest necessities. Also, many elderly people needed financial help long before they reached seventy years of age, and most died before they could even receive a pension. People who had an income greater than £31.50 per year received no pension at all, as well as those who were unable to work or those who had previously been in prison. Overall, the reforms introduced to help the old were more successful than the needs of the young. The Old Age Pensions Act was beneficial to many elderly people, especially as they did not have to contribute to it and it took away the stigma that came with going to places like the Poor House. The act made many pensioners feel secure and independent and decreased poverty amongst the old in Britain, making the Liberals (as well as Britain itself) look caring and considerate of the needs of the people.
The third group that the Liberal Government tried to help was the sick. The Liberal Government introduced the National Insurance Act Part 1, and this act provided all workers between sixteen and sixty who earned less than £160 per year in income, if they were off work due to injury or illness. They received ten shillings per week for 26 weeks. To fund this, the workers contributed 4 pence, employers gave 3 pence and the Government gave 2 pence, which was contributed to the scheme weekly. This act also helped the sick because workers could also receive free medical treatment and medicine when they were off work. The National Insurance Act Part 1 helped with the needs of the sick successfully because the act showed that the Government were caring for workers by making sure that they had an income if they were too ill to work, as opposed to workers being off ill for a period of time, having no money than losing their job due to being off work for a long time. However, the act could be seen as less successful in helping the sick, for example, after 26 weeks absence from work, benefits were lost and the Poor Law (this law ensured that the poor were housed in workhouses, be suitably clothed and fed) had to provide for the worker. Another limitation of this act is that only certain people received income – self-employed people or those who earned better pay were not included. Overall, the acts introduced by the Liberal Government to help the sick were more successful than the acts introduced to help the unemployed. The National Insurance Act Part 1 (1911) was successful in recognising the problems that ill health caused workers. It was the first attempt at a social security system in Britain, but its limitations left it open to wide criticism. Not only did the Liberal Government realise this, even Lloyd George argued that the Liberal Government could not afford to do more to help. So under the circumstances, the act was a step in the right direction to helping people who fell ill.
The fourth group of people that the Liberal Government tried to help was the unemployed. The National Insurance Act Part 2 (1911)was introduced, and this ensured that an insured worker that lost their job would receive seven shillings a week for 15 weeks- to make this happen, the workers paid 2.5d per week, employers paid 2d per week and the state paid 3d per week towards it. This act was successful because it provided people with an income if they were unemployed, in the hope it would be enough to keep them going until they found work. However, the act could be seen as less successful for many reasons, for example, cover was only provided for a limited amount of time depending on the contributions – after this, the Poor Law had to be used. Also, insurance for workers was only available in certain trades, and only insured about two million workers. This act also became too expensive for the Government to uphold after the First World War. Another act that was introduced was the Labour Exchanges Act of 1909, which were early versions of job centres, and they would help unemployed people find work. By 1913, there were 430 Labour Exchanges set up, and by 1914, over 3,000 people a day were finding work. This act was successful in helping the unemployed because it was a big improvement on the previous situation where people would need to find work themselves. However, the act could be seen as being less successful because employers were not forced to notify the exchanges about vacancies so many jobs were not filled. Also, it was also criticised for only finding temporary and low paid work, so it did not reduce poverty. Many workers were upset and angry because to help the unemployed, they had a cut in their wages, which could have further encouraged poverty. Overall, the needs of the unemployed were met more successfully than the needs of the sick. The acts introduced to help the unemployed paid out when people were unemployed, and was also seen as being ‘respectable’. Also by 1913, 2.3 million workers who worked in industries were now protected from seasonal unemployment.
The fifth group of people that the Liberal Government aimed to help was the employed. An act that was introduced was the Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1906. This act was introduced to provide compensation for injuries sustained at work. This act was built on the previous 1897 and 1900 acts, but was more successful because the new act gave compensation to workers in nearly all trades, whereas the 1897 and 1900 acts covered only a few of them. This act was successful because nearly all employees were covered for accidents and sick leave. However, it could be seen as less successful because it was difficult and costly to prove the liability of employers. Another limitation would be that many cases could not be brought to court without trade union support. Another act that was introduced was the Coal Miners Act of 1908. This act gave miners an eight hour working day, which was something that they had been trying to gain for over 40 years. However, this act was less successful because it only affected those working in coal mines, not other workers who were working longer hours in different areas of work. Another act that was introduced was the Trade Boards Act of 1909. This act set up boards that were established to negotiate minimum wage levels for workers (mainly women, who worked long hours in box, lace, chain making and tailoring trades). This act was less successful because there was no attempt made to define what a ‘minimum wage’ was. Also, the minimum wage that was negotiated would not become a national wage, and would only affect those working in ‘sweated trades’. Another act that was introduced was the Shops Act of 1911. This was introduced to give shop workers a weekly half-day holiday because of the long hours that they worked throughout the week. This act was successful because it gave shop workers time off for lunch breaks and a weekly half-day holiday. Also, the maximum working week for shop workers was set at 60 hours, and also new washing facilities were provided in every shop. This act was less successful because it, similarly to the Trade Boards Act, only affected workers in that specific area of work, and not any other workers in any other line of business. Overall, the acts introduced to help the employed were more successful than the acts introduced to help the young. These acts were very effective, because for the first time, the government was becoming involved in the marketplace to establish minimum standards. This was a break from laissez faire and the foundation on which reforms could be built in the future.
In conclusion, the welfare measures introduced to help with the need of young people were arguably the most successful of the Liberal Government, 1906-1914.

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