Attitudes Towards Poverty: 1850-1950

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I.Victorian Era (1850-1900)2
II.Influential authors4
a.Charles Booth4
b.Seebohm Rowntree4
c.Henry Mayhew5
IV.Reasons for the change in attitude7
Writings on poverty7
Britain’s realisation7
Extension of the right to vote8
Spread of socialism8
Trade unionism8
Emergence of the Labour Party8

This research paper will analyse how English conceptions of poverty changed through the time frame 1850-1950 ,why it changed and some of the authors who contributed to this change. To explain more clearly the ideas, events occurred during those times will be used to support the arguments. We will proceed in a chronological way. Victorian Era (1850-1900)

1850: Victorian Era. By 1851, the industrial evolution shifted large mass of people from rural areas to urban areas where various jobs were available, however inexperienced and unqualified workers received low and irregular wages. The repeal of the Corn Law and the enclosure movements discouraged people from investing in agriculture in rural areas, so they moved to towns to work in factories. Many Victorians struggled to understand and explain poverty. They did not know whom to hold responsible for poverty: was it the poor themselves because of their laziness and irresponsibility or was it all due to circumstances? However they were numerous in adopting the “self-help” attitude. They believed that everyone should fend for themselves and should be responsible for their own survival and that they should not seek the help of others. According to them, poverty could be overcome by hard work and anyone could be successful. “Many Victorians (not all) felt that the poor were to blame for their poverty”. Historians had mixed opinions about the impact of industrialisation on poverty: on one hand, some believed that industrialisation brought upon better living conditions and higher wages, on the other hand some argued that industrialisation degraded the life quality of workers (unsanitary and overcrowded housing, low wages, poor diet, insecure employment and the dreaded effects of sickness and old age) unless they were skilled workers. Slight improvements had been brought about only around 1870s. Furthermore, the poor relief system (the Poor Law) had been changed during the Victorian age. “Paupers” were no longer allowed to seek refuge in their parish. In order to receive help, the poor then had to go to workhouses. These were set in place with harsher conditions (unpleasant work, strict rules, disintegrated families) in order to discourage the poor from seeking help. This measure seemed to work since workhouses were feared by the poor: only orphans, deserted wives, widows, solitary elders continued to stay at workhouses despite the severe living conditions because they had no other options. Thus amendments to the Poor Law forced poor people to rely upon themselves for their basic needs as far as possible. They preferred to fend for themselves instead to working and living in workhouses. The poor helped each other: friends and family cooperated; the slow emergence of trade unions also provided relief to the working class. Nonetheless, workhouse living conditions gradually improved in the late 19th century. Victorians became more tolerant and compassionate towards the poor. As explained above, many independent associations helped the poor. For example, poor children were provided with free breakfast in the 1890s as well as free boots or shoes in the 1890s. Many people were very poor in Victorian Britain and people accepted poverty as a part of life. This was discovered by Charles Booth, a British business and social statistician. Influential authors

Charles Booth
Charles Booth (1840-1916) was one among the firsts to study poverty. To his utter surprise, industrialisation had brought about poverty in major cities to a large extent. Between 1889 and 1891 he published 17 volumes...
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