Poverty was a concept that people in Britain in the Victorian age struggled with. Were the destitute victims of circumstances, idle and work shy or the victims of industrialisation? There was also the question of who should be responsible for the poor, should society take care of them or as many believed should they simply be left to their own devices? The hymn ‘All things bright and beautiful show a typical view on poverty; ‘The rich man in his castle, The poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly, And ordered their estate.’ With the onset of industrialisation and population shift, people began to question their place in society and anticipate whether they could indeed change this.
The reasons for migration from the country to the city during the 18th and 19th centuries is mainly threefold, for one the population in the country began to grow, this is attributed to the drop in infant mortality rate and the surplus in births over deaths, secondly the invention of farm enhancing methods drastically reduced the need for an agricultural workforce, that, in conjunction with the development of large mass producing factories within the cities drew people away as there was more employment opportunity. Lastly, the north became a hub for large scale industrialisation as it was in abundance with raw materials such as coal and iron which fuelled the rate of growth, while the south was the bread basket of the country. The population of northern cities such a Manchester grew from 25,000 in l772 to 303,000 by l850. By 1850, Britain was the only country in the world to have a larger urban population than rural. Social and occupational structure
At the beginning of the 19th century, British population was very much ranked in classes; this was a way of assessing ones wealth and developing a social structure. The land owners and nobility were at the top of this structure, these people were the ones in change of the county. This power derived from the fact that only the wealthy land owners were permitted to vote therefore they would only permit laws which benefited themselves. With the rise of industrialization a new ‘middle class’ was born. This was usually wealthy merchants who had invested in factories and become very rich. They were not however always land owners and therefore unable to vote. The mill owners began to feel they deserved the right to vote. They indeed paid taxes and contributed heavily to the economy and in many cases were far wealthier than the blue blood land owners. The Whigs saw the middle classes push for the vote as a way to gain power, they knew if they could get a reformation on voting passed they would gain masses of support from the middle class. The Tories however resisted this. After the Whigs came to power in 1830, they tried several times to pass a reformation act, which the Tories repeatedly blocked. This was only passed when Earl Grey appealed directly to the king, who agreed to create more Whig lords. This did not please the Tory lords who then gave in and agreed to pass the Reformation Act. The working class where unaffected by this reformation in voting and began pushing for power and began organising trade unions to stand up for their rights against employers. The employers however banned groups of workers congregating...