Spot The Difference Attitudes towards people onwelfare benefit in the 19th and 21st centuries

To be clear on the people who receive welfare benefits, it is necessary to divide everyone into classes. Even if people refuse to admit they are in a ‘class’ there are clear characteristics of what class they belong to. This division that is still active now, was even more operational in the 19th century. It was a way of life that the higher you were in the social class and hierarchy, then the more successful and prosperous you were to become in life.

It was also some times a case of where you lived. It was Charles Booth that marked on maps of London where each social class lived. Places like Mile End Road and Orsman Road contained the ‘vicious poor’, the people at the bottom of the hierarchy. They were labelled as; ‘The lowest class which consists of some occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals. Their life is the life of savages, with vicissitudes of extreme hardship and their only luxury is drink.’

Although this may seem that Booth is being ‘snobbish’, it was noted that Booth had sympathy for the poor. He worked with the lower class, and reported that it wasn’t always necessary to have money to be happy. He described that although the poor were more likely to die of disease and less likely to survive, he thought that they seemed to be happier, without nurses and servants etc. That the rich are more likely to suffer from being spoiled than from harshness, ‘that the simple natural lives of working-class people tend to their own and their children’s happiness more than the artificial complicated existence of the risk.’

Now in the 21st century, these locational divides are still in place, although the locations of the ‘vicious’ poor have changed. While it is more noticeable in the 19th century maps, the upper class and lower class virtually side by side, it is possible that people were more willing to tolerate each other, nowadays there are more clear divisions. This change could be due to people’s tolerance and attitude towards different classes.

However, it seems more apparent that there are different attitudes towards social classes. Usually, people aren’t willing to live near people of a lower class, places like council estates accommodate people of the same status, but they are prepared to pay taxes towards their welfare and benefits.

During the 1800’s the conditions of the workhouses, and the ‘relief’ from the government or parishes was of little help. People still struggled to make ends meet. The rule was that no one got above the lowest workers wage, which was 12s to 15s a week. It was said that for a comfortable life, a worker needed a wage of 30s a week, concluding that few people had a comfortable life.

In 1885, it was reported that 25% of the population lived in poverty, however, after Charles Booth investigated, and wrote Labour and Life of the People, he found that actually 35% of the population were in poverty.

In simple terms, it was harder to receive help in the 19th century. Today there are fourteen types of benefits, including: benefits in kind for employees, child maintenance, council tax benefit, disability and carers benefits, housing benefit, incapacity benefit, income related benefits, invalid care allowance, mothers, widows and families benefits, retirement allowance, statutory sick pay, unemployment benefit, unfit for work benefits and war pensions and industrial injuries.

While in the 19th century, it was an innovation to have the poor law, today there are 2.7 million people claiming incapacity benefit, and the government are trying to reduce this number.

1.610% of the population are on incapacity benefit; this is

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an immense difference from what it was in the 1800’s. Although there are so many types of benefits, the government has become more active in getting people into work.

The attitude of the government is that they need as many people in work as possible; they have introduced schemes such as EMA, something that would never have been thought of in the 19th century. People’s attitude was that the government were doing something about the increasing poverty, at the expense of the economy.

But why is the government making changes to benefits? The bottom line is that society has a responsibility to care for those unable to work.

The government have introduced new schemes to prevent people from abusing benefits, the same thing that the government did in the 1800’s when welfare was introduced. The changes proposed are likely to separate the seriously disabled or those suffering from terminal conditions such as cancer, who are unlikely ever to return to work, from those claiming to be incapacitated by a “bad back” or depression.

People’s attitudes have changed enormously from the 1800’s to the present day. In the poor law days, going into the workhouse was shameful; people did as much as they could to prevent this, it was the lowest they could go. The workhouse conditions were terrible, starvation was often a common factor, families were separated and people’s dignity and rights weren’t an issue.

People’s attitudes today have changed a great deal over the years not because welfare benefits have changed, but because people’s basic human rights have become more of a factor. It is expected that people who cant feed and look after themselves or their family, can receive help from the government. This way of thinking has developed partly from the original poor law. People started thinking that they needed to help others, even if it meant paying in taxes.

Today, although people aren’t ‘proud’ of receiving benefit, it has become more acceptable; it is possible for people to stay on benefits their whole lives however, it costs the government �12 billion a year to fund benefits. This extra spending has been criticised by certain groups.

There a lot of differences between 19th and 21st century welfare benefit. People’s attitudes today mean that it is common for people to receive benefits. They know that they can fill in a form and receive at least �55 a week, not including child allowance. Today people can live just as well as people who work, which has caused some protest.

While it seems that in the 19th century, welfare was a last resort, they didn’t want to receive help, partly because the standard of help sometimes wasn’t better than being left to starve.

From old maps of London, it can been seen that people used to live close to others of different classes, while today, it is more likely that people move to places that are within the same income bracket. This displays another way that attitudes have changed, that people aren’t willing to live near people who cannot support themselves, or they live near people of similar means.

However, some similarities can be found, although it can be assumed that today attitudes have become more relaxed, today’s government tries to remain vigilant as it was years ago. The government are aware of people mistreating the benefit, and so have chosen the attitude to fight those who misuse it. This could include imprisonment and fines etc.

People had more of a superior attitude towards people on benefits in the 1800’s, it was assumed by some that these poor were too lazy to work and the same can be said for today.

But the underlying principle still remains, in the 19th century and 21st, welfare benefits are aimed to help people, and although people may have different feelings about those dependant on welfare, the benefits will still remain in place.

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