The Workhouse

The Victorian workhouse was founded on the 1834 Poor Law Amendment that claimed that the poor were not entitled to any relief unless they lived in a workhouse. The government during this period believed that people who were poor deserved no help, and were poor as a result of their own idleness and laziness, making life incredibly hard for many poor people during this period. As the welfare state in Britain was not established until Attlee became Prime Minister post-World War Two, the social state of many people in the Victorian era was horrifically shocking, with poverty, squalor, and hunger rife, particularly in newly-found industrial cities. When people began to migrate to newly industrialized cities during the industrial revolution, just before the Victorian era, they quickly found that housing was overcrowded and expensive, meaning many poor Victorian families resorted to living in slums. However, those who could not afford even the slums had two options, starve on the streets or enter the workhouse.

Workhouses were large institutions that housed thousands of families who could not afford housing or food. They earned their stay by committing to tedious, grueling and often dangerous jobs, with little regulation and appalling hours and conditions. The machinery operated caused many deaths and medical issues, while the little amount of gruel that was offered for meals meant that many Victorians died from resulting illnesses after basic starvation and overworking. Families were separated when entering the workhouse and kept separate, meaning that even children as young as months old were unable to see their parents, increasing the hatred and sadness associated with the workhouse. People in the Victorian era would try their hardest to avoid entering the workhouse as it was so horrific and devastating, however, due to the industrial revolution and mass migration, many did not have the luxury to choose.

The workhouse offered a bed, food, clothes, free medical care and free education to children who lived there. However, education was often not received by children who were forced to work in order to earn extra money for their families, meaning that the workhouse became quickly associated with child deaths. The work was hard and tiring, the food was tasteless and repetitive and the public often shamed those wearing a workhouse uniform due to the traditionalist prejudice against the poor throughout the nineteenth-century. Being poor in the Victorian era, albeit rife, was significantly harder than today, meaning it is hard to imagine the terrible toils that those poor people must have experienced daily.

From, The Victorian Blogger


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