How Successful Were the Liberal Reforms?

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   Between 1906 and 1914, the Liberal government introduced a series of radical changes aimed at addressing the key issue of poverty in Britain. Various legislations were introduced with the aim of improving the lives of the working class Britons. These reforms took place against a backdrop of Victorian Britain where poverty was widespread and the government policy was that the population were self-sufficient and had no dependency on the state. Although the reforms were radical for their time, the Liberals failed to comprehensively address the issue of poverty. However the reforms were successful in achieving a significant degree of social change in Britain, and it was this that paved the way for the establishment of the Welfare State we have today.


   The Liberal government introduced social reforms designed on tackling the issue of poverty based off reports by Charles Booth (1899-1902) and Seebohm Rowntree (1904) in London and York. Previous to the reports it was believed that 2-3% of the population lived in poverty, but it was discovered that about 1/3 of the British population lived in poverty. It was these reports, and various other influences which encouraged the Liberals to pass the reforms.


   The first reform to be passed in 1906 was aimed at helping children. The School Meals Act was aimed at ensuring school pupils were not “in want in hunger”. The idea behind the reform was that if the next generation of the population was to be healthier than the previous then the Empire would continue to grow. However, the measure was only partially successful as it was not compulsory at first for local authorities to supply the school meals, and since no government money was provided many did not. Yet, some local authorities did adopt the scheme.


   The next act to be passed was the Free School Medical Inspections. The aim behind this measure was to help the children be healthier and better educated. Local authorities could now, if they desired to do so, provide school pupils with free medical check-ups. The scheme had very little success until 1912 when the government provided money for the service. However until the Public Health Act – the introduction of the NHS – was passed, treatment for illness and disease shown in the check-ups was still expensive. The scheme became successful when the treatment became free, along with the inspections.


   In 1908 the “Children’s Charter” (also known as the “Children’s


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