How effectively did the Liberal Government (1906-14) deal with the problem of poverty?
Between 1906 and 1914, the Liberal Government introduced several social reforms. These were aimed to improve the conditions of children, the elderly, the sick and the unemployed below the poverty line. These were four main areas covered by the Liberals. Charles Booth and Seebohn Rowntree conducted surveys in London and York, discovering that one third of the population was living in poverty. This was shocking news and did not play well with Labour’s promise of ‘‘from the cradle to the grave’’.
The first reforms concerned the health of children living in poverty. The 1906 Education (provision of Meals) Act was introduced to attempt to let children have at least one square meal a day. This was a good step forwards, but the Act was not made compulsory until 1914, where 14 million meals were provided and the Government paid for half. In 1907 a compulsory medical examination for school children, The Education (Administrative Provisions) Act, was introduced. However, the poor families could not afford to pay for health care of their children. In 1912 the Government started to give grants to create school clinics, which did not usually provide medical treatment for serious illnesses. The Liberal Government meant well with their Acts, but these did not go into effect immediately, leaving the problem to be diagnosed without being treated. Although these were fixed, it was not very effective as the Acts did not come into effect quickly enough.
Rowntree and Booth’s surveys showed that old age was one of the main causes of poverty. In 1908 The Old Age Act was introduced for those over 70 years of age, earning less than £21 a year and would receive 5s a week. Churchill said ‘‘we have not pretended to carry the toiler onto dry land, what he have done is to strap a lifebelt round him’’, speaking for the Government that the new pensions may have ‘‘meant life itself’’ for the elderly that received the new pensions. However, the amount paid was still below the poverty line for pensioners of 7s a week. As well as setting the age limit to 70, roughly only 500,000 elderly would qualify to receive pensions.
The ill of health folk were also a factor of poverty. The Liberals introduced the National Insurance Act of 1911 (part one) to help the sick. The slogan, ‘‘ninepence for fourpence’’ came from the National Health Insurance Scheme where the Government, employer and employee contributed. This was compulsory for workers earning £160 a year or less. Women received 7s and 6d a week while…