When we talk about people being below the ‘Poverty Line’ in modern-day Britain, we are generally talking about people who struggle to live on State Benefits, or are unable to find regular work. We think of those who cannot afford to eat anything but the basic foods, and are unable to own any of the electronic devices we now consider ‘normal’ in our lives. Some of them are in crippling debt to high-interest loan companies, or worse still have cash debts to unscrupulous money lenders who exploit them by calling door-to-door.
But in the Victorian Era, when our Empire was flourishing and many people were becoming obscenely wealthy, genuine poverty existed alongside all the grandeur. No social services, few charitable organisations, and families living their lives on the streets, trying to get by on a daily basis.
Children chopping wood to sell as kindling.
They would have scavenged the wood from discarded boxes, or broken fencing.
The boy’s axe might well have been borrowed, as he was unlikely to be able to afford to buy one.
Workhouses would take people in when they were destitute. In return for some work, and obeying strict rules, they would get bed and board.
This is the male dining room of Marylebone Workhouse in London, around 1880.
Families committing themselves to the workhouse were separated by gender.
This startling image is of a pregnant 11 year old girl.
By that age, she was already a well-known prostitute, and had a police record.
Child prostitution was very common in Victorian Britain, as was regular sexual abuse of very young children.
People would do any job to get enough money to eat that day.
This is a ‘Night-Soil Man’ during the 1860s.
His job was to collect the human waste from houses which used chamber pots or communal ‘middens’ shared by all the residents.
I wonder what they would think of a modern-day situation where having no TV, no Internet access, or use of a mobile phone is on the list of what is considered to be poverty?