Disraelis second ministry improve the condition of the people? Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 8 July 2017

Disraelis second ministry improve the condition of the people?

Disraeli’s second ministry needed to focus on areas that Gladstone’s previous ministry had failed to address. The working conditions of the people were difficult; relations between employers and workers were fractious, trade unions were not fully recognised legally, and the working population was bitter as a result of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, passed in Disraeli’s ministry, which prevented them from striking effectively. Their living conditions were increasingly squalid and crowded, resulting in the rapid spread of infectious diseases.

Acts passed in Disraeli’s second ministry had good intentions, but in attempting to move away from a laissez-faire style of government, many acts were mixed in their successes due to vague, potentially tentative, legislation and their permissive natures. Attempts to improve the living conditions of the people are evident in a number of the acts. The 1875 Public Health Act amalgamated weak and convoluted legislation regarding the condition of cities and cemented the idea of government intervention in peoples’ lives. The act was intended to reduce the death rate from infection.

It clearly defined the powers of the town councils regarding waste, sewage and sanitation which led to greater efficiency as councils now knew who was responsible for which areas of public health. Similarly, the Artisans Dwelling Act of 1875 tried to prevent the spread of infectious disease in overcrowded slums by rebuilding them. It gave councils a sum of money to demolish slums and construct sanitary, clean housing for the masses. It was the first ever legislation dealing with social housing, and was implemented by 10% of councils.

Birmingham in particular benefitted from this legislation. However, the housing the councils built could often be too expensive for previous tenants to rent, and the limited spread of the act meant that other councils still had huge, unhealthy slums in their cities unaddressed. The rise of industrial towns meant an increase in waste from factories, many simply dumping their waste into the rivers. Disraeli tried to prevent this by introducing an act in 1876 banning the dumping of solid waste into rivers, and restricting liquid waste to exclude “polluting substances”.

This act was largely unsuccessful as no more specific guidelines were introduced other than “harmful” or “polluting” substances, and no punishment stipulated if a factory were to be found polluting the river. In a similar vein, the Food and Drugs act of the previous year addressed a problem introduced by people buying more ready baked food, such as bread, which led to vendors taking advantage of the lack of guidelines on adulteration. Chalk was often added to bread to make it appear whiter, and salt added to beers to make people thirstier, thus buying more.

Gladstone’s Liberal ministry had attempted to address this, but failed. Disraeli’s ministry tried to rectify the problem by banning the addition of “harmful” substances to food. This act ultimately failed too, due to the permissive nature of the appointment of food inspectors, and the ambiguity of the terms – “harmful” could still mean adding salt to beer didn’t breach the terms as salt wasn’t inherently harmful. Finally, another notable act of Disraeli’s second ministry was the Enclosures’ Act, which set aside areas of the countryside specifically not to be built on, for people to enjoy in the future.

This awareness of the problems facing the public of the time is clearly evident in Disraeli’s second ministry, and although some acts were more successful than others, they were certainly well intentioned. Disraeli’s ministry was perhaps more effective in improving the working conditions of the people. 1874 saw the introduction of a law to shorten working hours in factories, preventing under 10’s from working and limiting the hours under 14’s could work. This led to a greater uptake of education by under 10’s.

Decreasing the working hours of the people also led to the formation of sports teams, improving community relations and their overall wellbeing. Four years later an act was passed to ensure this legislation extended to small workshops of 30 people or less, further improving the working life of the population. Perhaps the most successful acts passed in Disraeli’s second ministry were the acts recognising and allowing the integration of Trade Unions into everyday working life.

Disraeli passed acts to allow peaceful picketing, striking and meeting of Trade Unions, recognising the great power and importance they had for the working man, and making right the Criminal Law Amendment Act the Liberals passed in 1871 that rendered striking ineffectual. Furthermore, the Employers and Workmen act in 1876 changed the way working disputes were handled. Workmen were no longer referred to as ‘servants’, and they would no longer be dealt with as criminals in cases of law.

These laws recognised the growing importance of the working man and improved their working relations and conditions a great deal. Less successful was the Merchant Shipping Act of 1876. In an attempt to prevent vessels being sent out overladen and liable to sink – allowing their owners to claim insurance payouts – it was made compulsory for a ‘Plimsoll’ line to be drawn to indicate how laden the ship should be. This was intended to reduce merchant seamen deaths and also extend the reach of state legislation.

However, it failed miserably as no clarification was made on where the line should be drawn – leaving it up to the corrupt shipowners instead. The bulk of these reforms were passed in 1875/6, and there is little reform dealing with the condition of the people after 1876. Disraeli moved onto foreign affairs after this point and did not continue his introduction of social legislation, which could lead to questions over his commitment to reform, and possibly whether all those reforms were really a product of his own social spirit, or rather by provocation of his ministers.

Many of the reforms simply built on from previous, popular Liberal ideas. However, he did improve the working conditions and relations of the people, to a greater extent than he improved the living conditions perhaps, as this type of working legislation was not as new or tentative as the government becoming more involved in the lives of its people, and was welcomed by trade unions and workmen.

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