Exploring Reasons The British Government Abandon The Policy Of Laissez Faire?

2903 words - 12 pages

The desertion by the British government of the laissez-faire approach was instigated by a magnitude of rationales that induced this transformation of attitude. Laissez-faire translates from French to denote ‘let do’ or in English terminology to ‘leave alone’. In practice, this perspective meant that the government did not interfere positively or negatively in people’s lives. The belief was that if a person was impoverished they were accountable for it and it was due to their personal misguidance, for example gambling, alcoholism, idleness or solely due of their lack of ability in dealing with their finances. If the main wage earner within a family perished then it would cause the family extreme poverty. This was seen as an inevitable yet unfortunate part of society by the upper classes. In the late 20th century the government (under the Liberals) were seen to play two roles, to maintain law and order and to prevent invasion of Britain. No family allowances, pensions or unemployment benefits were available which meant that once in poverty, it was the responsibility of the individual to remove themselves from the situation without government help. This did however change, through reforms by the Liberal government who were heavily influenced by the surveys done by Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree, the Boer War and the shocking insight into the health of the working class it gave, attitudes of ‘new’ Liberals, ‘national efficiency’, the German model and the rise of the labour party.
The inadequacy of the Poor Law was made apparent through the options those in poverty chose to take. Under the Poor Law, when a person became destitute they should go to the ‘poorhouse’, a place that offered food and shelter but forced its’ residents to engage in strenuous, repetitive labour. This was probably to deter people from using their money frivolously. Conditions in the poor houses were so appalling that many of those in extreme poverty chose to sleep rough rather than face the harsh reality of the poorhouses. Those with a family had no choice but to go to the poorhouse where there was very limited space. People’s decision to live on the streets rather than submit themselves to the drudgery of life in the poorhouse gave Britain a dangerous reputation and made a mockery of the idealism of Britain as a prosperous and stable empire because it appeared they could not take care of their own people. Other aspects of the Poor Law included relief: usually financial aid. However this too was quite ineffectual – in the 1880s only a tenth of those in poverty received relief. Although the government was not helping the majority of those in poverty, humanitarian middle class people attempted to ease the pressure on those suffering due to lack of money by supplying some of them with private charity. The problem with this though was that as it was private it was exceedingly uncoordinated and unsupervised. Organisations also endeavoured to remedy the...

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