Changes in public health

Before the 1830s nothing had been done about public health for many years. Two important reasons for this inactivity were that:

  • most governments felt they should not interfere too much in people's lives. This was known as the principle of laissez faire
  • any large scale public health improvements would be very expensive, and taxes would have to be raised

The Industrial period

In the industrial period many factories were built and towns grew up beside them. The housing conditions were often very poor. The government was forced to intervene due to:

  • an increase in diseases such as typhoid and cholera
  • the work of Edwin Chadwick which showed the connection between health and hygiene


Public health provision was completely transformed as the 19th century progressed. Overcrowding, dirt, poverty and disease went hand in hand at the century's start, but by the 1900s energetic social reformers had comprehensively turned things round.

In the early 19th century, the growing towns of Britain were characterised by:

  • overcrowding
  • poor housing
  • bad water
  • disease

In 1842, Edwin Chadwick argued that disease was the main reason for poverty, and that preventing disease would reduce the poor rates.

In 1848, a cholera epidemic terrified the government into doing something about prevention of disease - through both public and individual health measures.