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History of poverty

Please Sir, I want some more! What do these words have to do with poverty? Watch the video to find out more.
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Please Sir, I want some more! Some say these are the most famous six words ever written by Charles Dickens as he outlines the grim conditions in which Oliver Twist – alongside many children of the time – had found himself. His clothes torn, his face dirty, his working hours long – Oliver received three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week, and half a roll on Sundays. He was probably one of the luckier ones! A work of fiction, yes. But poverty had become noticeable in the big cities of the industrial revolution - from London to Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and here in York.
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By the late 19th century the issue of poverty – or more extreme destitution – was a key source of debate and action. Workers’ associations – forerunners of what would become the trades union were pressing for better working conditions and financial support, while the ruling classes – across politics and business, were beginning to take an interest in the welfare of the citizenry. Many individual philanthropists supported benevolent causes, but some went further – transforming our understanding of poverty and in turn, laying the foundations of modern social science. Charles Booth – a shipowner – conducted a study in London that sought to establish a ‘poverty line’ and estimate how many people lived below it.
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He spoke directly to the poor, to local doctors, teachers and priests and estimated that approximately 1/3rd of Londoners lived in poverty. Not long after, Seebohm Rowntree of the Rowntree cocoa dynasty, conducted a similar, perhaps even more extensive study in York and also estimated that roughly a third of the population of York lived in poverty. Both put forward an identical monetary poverty line (21 shillings per week), and linked living below that line to illness and death, and concluded that people were not to blame for the conditions they faced and could not simply pull themselves out of poverty. Indeed, those most at risk of poverty were the very young and the very old – something that hasn’t really changed since then!
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The next fifty years are really about the development of perhaps the greatest anti-poverty strategy of all time – the formation of the welfare state. From the clearance of slum-housing, to compulsory education, illness and retirement insurance and in 1948 – the opening of the National Health Service. Despite these advances and achievements, it is estimated that some 120 years after the studies of Rowntree and Booth, almost a quarter of the UK population lives in poverty. For children that figure is over 30%.

For all the world has changed, and structures of welfare support have emerged, we face a simple fact: poverty still exists.

Today, children still go hungry, houses are too cold or damp, clothes don’t fit and people are victims of crime.

Is this a failure?

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Understanding and Solving Poverty and Inequality

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