How poverty affected Britain in the late 1800s

Causes of poverty

Poverty was caused by many factors in the 1800s:

  • Unemployment – families had no means of support.
  • Large families – many children had to be catered for.
  • Death of main ‘bread-winner’ – no one to make money.
  • Disability/injury at work – loss of earnings through inability to work.
  • Illness – those off work due to illness would not be paid and had the added costs of medical consultation and treatment.
  • Old age – no income received if not working.
  • No national social security system to protect people against the worst effects of sickness and unemployment.
Dinner being served to hundreds of women in a London workhouse
Dinner time at the workhouse

The poor of Britain received little help from the Government in the 1800s. The Poor Law of 1834 provided two types of help:

  • Indoor relief – the workhouse, which was greatly feared.
  • Outdoor relief – food and money given to those at home, but which carried great social stigma.

However, many problems still needed to be tackled and the Government was reluctant to get involved.