Essay: Poverty

By the early 20th, the laissez faire approach was slowly becoming outdated with more and more people crying out for government intervention. Research carried out by reformers such as Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree influenced the Liberals and enlightened them to the state of poverty in our country. Looking at the research the Liberals saw that more than 30% of the population were living below what Rowntree called the poverty line. Rowntree’s study showed that the causes of poverty, such as old age, illness, death of a wage-earner and unemployment were out with the people’s control. When the Liberal Government rose to power in 1906, they introduced a series of reforms to deal with levels of poverty and help the ‘deserving’ poor. The social groups that the reforms were targeted to help were children, the old, the sick and the unemployed.
Poverty due to retirement was a rising problem. As old age was out of people’s control, the elderly were seen as ‘deserving’ poor and the Old Age Pension Act 1908 was introduced. This ensured that people over the age of 70 would receive between 1 and 5 shillings per week depending on their income. . However, the amount given was not enough to keep the elderly from falling below Rowntree’s poverty line. To ensure a pension people had to have not avoided work and to have not been arrested under the Inebriates Act in the last 10 years. This proved a problem as many people in poverty used alcohol as an ‘escape’. The age at which someone could claim a pension as also an issue. The life expectancy of the worst industrial slums was in the mid-40s, meaning that the people who needed it the most would not live long enough to claim their pension. Another issue over the age limit is that working people suffered harsh ageing affects due to their cruel living and working conditions and due to this, most people could not continue with physical work by their early 50s and had almost 20 years to wait until they could receive their pension.
Nevertheless, by 1914 almost 1 million people were claimants of pension making life slightly better for the elderly who lived in poverty.

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