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I’ve noticed some people have been comparing the coalition’s workfare ideas – where the unemployed have to work for free or have their benefits taken away from them – to the ideas behind the infamous Victorian workhouses.

I’m no historian, but I’ve been perusing some interesting articles about the origins of the workhouses and it may actually not be such an exaggeration after all.

The workhouses, made famous by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist, were the result of an act of parliament in 1834 called the Poor Law Amendment Act.

And I’ve discovered something interesting. The reasons why Victorian politicians deemed it necessary to put the poor and the vulnerable in workhouses, are worryingly similar to the justification the government gives for modern workfare today.

These were the reasons given in 1834:

  1. the poor claim relief (help from the parish) regardless of their merits
  2. large families receive the most relief, therefore leading poor people to have more children
  3. women are able to claim for their illegitimate children, so the system encourages immorality
  4. labourers have no incentive to work hard and be thrifty, if they get relief without it being earned by honest hard work
  5. the poor have no respect for an employer when they know that their wages could be supplemented by the parish
  6. men are discouraged from providing for their families and aged parents because the old and the frail can get help from the parish

Sound familiar?

They should. Because these are exactly the same reasons the Daily Mail, the Sun etc have been giving us for the justification of the coalitions’ workfare policy in 2012:

  1. all the unemployed can claim benefits, regardless of whether they are willing to work or not
  2. large families receive the most benefits, therefore leading people to have more children so they can claim more benefits
  3. single parents are able to claim for children, so the system encourages the breakdown of the family unit
  4. workers have no incentive to work hard and save, if they can get benefits without it being earned by honest hard work
  5. people have no respect for employers if they know that their wages can be supplemented by the state with family credit etc
  6. because the old, the disabled, sick etc can get state help, people are discouraged from caring for their own family members and aged parents themselves

Here are the reasons again, in a table for easy comparison:

So the truth is – we’re not seeing a return to the bad old days of the 1980s under Thatcher as some people think.

What we’re really seeing, is a return to the bad old days of the 1830s under the Victorians.

Or to quote Scrooge when he refused to give some money to help the poor:

Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation?


Related articles by Tom Pride on this subject:

Did you know the government is subsidising McDonald’s with taxpayers money – your money?

The government has finally done something so outrageous even I can’t be bothered to satirise it

Government To Promote Equal Workplace Opportunities By Allowing The Disabled To Work As Slaves For Tesco’s Too

Struggling to find words to describe this government? Here’s a list to help you.

No hidden agenda behind government’s Training & Experience for the Sick, Crippled & Old programme

Tory minister – no shortage of jobs for disabled toddlers

Department of Work & Pensions – Death No Reason Not To Be Classified As ‘Fit For Work’

Government Responds To Banking Crisis By Cutting Benefits For Disabled Kids

Government – Light-Touch Regulation Of The Disabled To Blame For Economic Crisis


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