The Origins of the Liberal Welfare Reforms 1906–1914 by J. R. Hay (auth.)

By J. R. Hay (auth.)

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If the Liberals wished to embark on social reform, they had really only two choices. They could reconstruct the whole basis of local authority finance, to iron out the major inequalities between areas, and provide sources of revenue which would grow to keep in step 40 with nsmg expenditure, or they could provide new services nationally. But the reconstruction of local finance would give rise to major problems, as many local authorities stood to lose heavily by any redistribution. Chancellors of the Exchequer were also very reluctant to give local authorities expanding sources of revenue for fear that financial discipline might be weakened.

Social justice required that each privilege and institution was not absolute but relative to the wider welfare of society. This ideal provided a guide through practical debate and an answer to 'any determinist (individual or collectivist) attempt to realise ultimately similar goals through the impersonal working of industrial and economic forces'. Such a reinterpretation was absolutely necessary because Liberalism faced, for the first time, the challenge of an alternative radical philosophy - socialism.

Each of these measures was designed to benefit the respectable poor, to incorporate them into society and to strengthen their resistance to the blandishments of socialism. As A. J. Balfour put it, 'social legislation . . is not merely to be distinguished from socialist legislation but it is its most direct opposite and its most effective antidote' [quoted in Fraser, 1973, 129]. This opinion was to be echoed by Lloyd George and Churchill in the Liberal era. The final aspect of the change in opinion is often referred to as the rise of collectivism [Pinker, 1971, 85-92].

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