Sunday, 10 June 2012

To what extent were the lives of the working classes improved by Gladstone and Disraeli respectively in their ministries between 1868-1880?



Both yes and no. Some significant pieces of legislative reform and institutional reform introduced by Gladstone in his Great Ministry.

Forster’s Education Act established the principle of universal elementary education. The state was taking on board the responsibility and the costs of educating all children up to a certain age.

This had a link with meritocracy because Gladstone wanted the working classes to be aspiring: education would encourage workers to be more reflective and focus on moral and ethical progress. This was not necessarily appreciated by the working man and woman. Gladstone’s high-minded ideals was very far removed from the daily experiences of the ordinary family who were trying to scrape together a living. Ensuring that children had to receive schooling meant that there was less money coming into the family household. Disraeli’s Education Act 1876, clarified Forster’s Act and made employment of children under 10 illegal. Arguably, Neither Gladstone or Disraeli had any significant understanding of the plight of working class lives especially in a pre-welfare age.

Gladstone was the first PM to recognise the rights of Trade Unions to exist. His legislation of 1874 gave the unions legal protection and the freedom to exist and collect subs. On first reading, then, it would seem that Gladstone truly understood the concerns of working men and collective security against unscrupulous employers. However, the Act did not allow Unions to go on strike which irritated the Radicals. It was a half-hearted measure that alarmed the Whig-conservative elements and frustrated the hopes of working men. Many saw it as a pointless decision, and it took Disraeli in 1875 to allow Union the right to strike.

Disraeli’s legislation differed from Gladstone’s in that he was much more practical in his social reforms. Gladstone’s reforms required cooperation from the working classes; it places demands on them to respond. Disraeli’s approach was to provide non-controversial legislation that was benefit to all in society.

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