Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, from 1834, poor people across England and Wales faced new obstacles when they could no longer feed or clothe themselves, or find shelter. Parliament, in line with the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Malthus, feared hand-outs had become so attractive, they stopped people working to support themselves, and encouraged families to have more children than they could afford. To correct this, under the New Poor Laws it became harder to get any relief outside a workhouse, where families would be separated, husbands from wives, parents from children, sisters from brothers. Many found this regime inhumane, while others protested it was too lenient, and it lasted until the twentieth century.
The image above was published in 1897 as New Year's Day in the Workhouse.
Professor of Modern British History at the University of East Anglia
Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Lincoln
Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Leicester
Producer: Simon Tillotson