Poverty and Self-help: Britain in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
If two themes can be said to mark recent writing on the history of poverty in Britain, they are those of continuity and relativity. This contrasts with an earlier welfare history which told a tale of discontinuity and progress. The dissolution of the monasteries; the Poor Law Act of 1601; the Speenhamland system; the new poor law of 1834; the poverty surveys of Booth and Rowntree; the Liberal welfare reforms of 1906–11; mass unemployment in the 1930s; the Beveridge Report of 1942 and the legislation between 1945 and 1948 constructing the universalist welfare state were seen as defined stages in the progress of society towards its collective recognition of responsibility for the poor. Britain had gone from workhouse to welfare state in little more than a century. Attitudes to poverty had changed from harsh individualism (whipping beggars and setting the poor on work) to collective sympathy and state responsibility. Poverty, it was argued, was becoming a problem of the past. If proof were needed of this, the historian could cite the poverty surveys of York by the social investigator, Seebohm Rowntree. These showed that the proportion of York’s citizens living in poverty fell from 28 per cent in 1899 to 18 per cent in 1936 and then to a mere 1.51 per cent in 1950.
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References and Further Reading
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