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Working class life in Bradford 1900-1914 : the philanthropic, political and personal responses to poverty with particular reference to women and children

By Fiona Louise Bolam


The challenge that faced Edwardian Britain was how to respond to poverty and related social\ud problems. The Victorian ideas on poverty and philanthropy were under attack by the\ud beginning of the twentieth century and had not been replaced by those of the mid to late\ud twentieth century, large-scale state welfare. This meant that the first twenty years of the\ud twentieth century were a time when there was no consensus on how to respond to poverty.\ud The concern about poverty with the lives of the working-class highlighted by Booth, Rowntree\ud and the Boer War led to the development of new responses to poverty. Two groups who\ud attracted attention at this time were working-class women and children whose poverty and\ud related problems were highlighted during the first two decades of the twentieth century. In\ud Bradford there were developments in both the political and philanthropic spheres in response\ud to poverty. This thesis seeks to add to the knowledge of the early twentieth century through\ud focusing on responses to poverty within one English town, Bradford, concentrating on both\ud the philanthropic and political community. No study has investigated the work of both the\ud Guild of Help and the ILP together and examined how their work and their policies impacted\ud on poverty in Bradford. The Guild of Help looked to alleviate the poverty of those best placed\ud to help themselves whereas the ILP aimed to alleviate, if not eliminate problems for all of\ud those in poverty.\ud \ud \ud The working class in Bradford responded to poverty largely through the development\ud of practical strategies that enabled them and their families to survive. They were not able to\ud alleviate their own poverty on a long-term basis and in some cases needed outside\ud assistance in order to survive.\ud \ud \ud The main response of the philanthropic community was the establishment of the\ud Bradford City Guild of Help. It aimed to provide a community wide response to poverty in\ud Bradford and to act as a clearing-house for charity in order to eliminate fraud. This response\ud of the Bradford charitable elite aimed to investigate personal circumstances and provide help\ud in the form of advice rather than money. The Guild of Help looked to alleviate rather than\ud eliminate poverty and helped those in the best position to practice self-help. Although its\ud acceptance of a role of the state in areas that had had been the traditional preserve of charity\ud showed that the Guild of Help had moved on from Victorian charity, it still aimed to preserve\ud the status quo and would not advocate any measures that would change this. The knowledge\ud built up by the Guild of Help in relation to the problems of working-class women and children\ud ensured that it was well placed to deal with these problems. However it preferred to deal with\ud each case on an individual basis by individual Helpers which meant that there was no\ud consistency in dealing with the poverty of working class women and children.\ud \ud \ud The major response from the political community came from the Independent Labour\ud Party. The ILP looked to eliminate poverty and the social ills associated with it and if poverty\ud could not be eliminated without a change in society, then the ILP advocated that society\ud should be fundamentally changed. The ILP lacked a coherent plan to tackle poverty and\ud related problems in Bradford and had little success in responding to problems such as\ud unemployment. However, the ILP did make the issue of education their own and built on the\ud work of Margaret McMillan in Bradford. The ILP did challenge traditional views on\ud responsibility for children and their policies made a difference to the lives of working-class\ud children

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