Victorian Philanthropy and its Critics

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As the debate about wealth in British society continues, Professor Hugh Cunningham presents a timely history of philanthropic giving

2. Victorian Philanthropy and its Critics

The Victorian era is often seen as the high-point of philanthropic giving and Hugh Cunningham starts his journey by recalling his own great-grandfather, Andrew Usher, a brewer and distiller who donated £100,000 to the city of Edinburgh to build the Usher Hall.

However, he has questions about such major capital projects, which might have enhanced the lives of the poor but did little to relieve their poverty.

Hugh also chases a less familiar story: that of the critics who believed that philanthropy would create what is sometimes today called a 'dependency culture'.

He travels to Stoke and to Manchester, exploring the lives of the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor; looking into how women increasingly participated in philanthropic activity and how this, in turn, helped their struggle for equality.

He hears about the Victorian trend towards the poor helping the poor.

He talks to historian and Labour MP Tristram Hunt, and to Nick Hurd, Conservative MP and Minister for Civil Society in the Coalition Government, about the obstacles which can stand in the way of philanthropists combating poverty today.

And he interviews Dame Susie Sainsbury, who speaks both of the major capital projects to which she has donated and about her willingness to give to the "less sexy items on the philanthropic shopping list".

Hugh Cunningham is Emeritus Professor of History in the University of Kent, and was academic consultant and co-writer of Radio Four's major narrative history series 'The Invention of Childhood'.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

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30 minutes

Last on

Mon 19 Dec 2011 20:00