Attitudes to Poverty in the 20th century

Victorian attitudes to poverty, what changed their attitudes, and why the Liberals introduced welfare reforms.

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  • Created by: Tiula
  • Created on: 13-06-10 11:01

Victorian Attitudes to Poverty

Victorians believed that poverty was self-inflicted, and they it was brought on by:

  • laziness
  • overspending
  • laziness

In order to prevent laziness and drunkenness, they limited help available. There were only two sorts of help poor people could get:

  • outdoor relief
    • poor people could get small money handouts
    • very limited availability
    • shameful
  • the workhouse
    • shelter, food and clothes
    • but only the bare minimum
    • very harsh work
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What changed attitudes to poverty?

  • Books
    • people began to write books about poverty, so for the first time people began to understand about poverty
    • statistics were included in books
    • examples: Seebohm Rowntree, who created the 'poverty line' (the bare minimum at which people could get by)
  • The Salvation Army
    • William and Catherine Booth went out on the streets and gathered them into the Salvation Army
    • They raised awareness by going out in uniforms, smartly dressed, bands playing in order to raise money for the poor
  • The Boer War
    • when the Boer War started in 1899, Britain introduced conscription. However, poverty was so bad that in some places 90% of people failed their medical tests as they were malnourished
    • this made people realise that something had to be done about poverty
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What did the Liberal government do?


  • Free school meals became optional in 1906 and compulsory in 1914
  • School medical inspections started in 1907 and medical treatment offered in 1912
  • The Children's Charter was introduced in 1908
    • separate children's courts, borstals, children couldn't buy alcohol, tobacco or fireworks, children's working hours were limited, and it became illegal to mistreat children


  • Pensions were introduced for the over-70 in 1908
    • only for people who were not drunk, imprisoned, unemployed and who had lived in the country for 30+ years


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What did the Liberal government do? - cont.


  • Trade Boards were set up to help workers (e.g. setting minimum wages) in 1909
  • Labour Exchanges were set up to help people to find work in 1910
  • National Insurance was set up 1911
    • Part I - sick pay
      • workers paid 4d, employers 3d and the government 2d which gave the worker sick pay and medical care
    • Part 2 - unemployment pay
      • worker, employer and government paid 2.5d which provided unemployment benefit
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Why did they introduce Welfare reforms?

Moral Reasons

  • Liberal ideas - wanted to help the poor
  • findings of social reformers


  • Lloyd George who had experienced poverty as a child
  • Churchill who had read reports

Nationalist Reasons

  • the need to defend the empire
  • imperial pride - the greatest nation has the worst poverty

Political Reasons

  • when the Labour Party was formed Liberals had to help the people or risk losing votes
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