Poverty in the 19th Century

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Poverty in the 19th Century We know more about poverty in the 19th century than in previous ages because, for the first time, people did accurate surveys and they made detailed descriptions of the lives of the poor. We also have photographs and they tell a harrowing story. The worst thing about poverty in the 19th century was the callous attitude of many Victorians. Many of them believed in 'self-help'. That is they thought everyone should be self-reliant and not look to other people for help. They also believed that anyone could become successful through sheer hard work and thrift. Logically that meant that if you were poor it was your fault. Many Victorians (not all) felt that the poor were to blame for their poverty. At the end of the 19th century more than 25% of the population was living at or below subsistence level. Surveys indicated that around 10% were very poor and could not afford even basic necessities such as enough nourishing food. Between 15% and 20% had just enough money to live on (provided they did not lose their job or have to take time off work through illness). If you had no income at all you had to enter the workhouse. The workhouses were feared and hated by the poor. They were meant to be as unpleasant as possible to deter poor people from asking the state for help. In workhouses in the mid-19th century you could not wear your own clothes. You had to wear a uniform. Husbands and wives were separated and children were separated from their parents. Inmates had to do hard, unpleasant work such as breaking stones or pulling apart old rope. There were also many strict rules. However in the late 19th century workhouses gradually became a little bit more humane. At the end of the 19th century attitudes to poverty were changing. In 1878 William Booth formed the Salvation Army, which did much good work among the poor (and
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