Poverty eradication in 19th Century

With the turn of the century and Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 the Victorian period came to a close. Many of the ills of poverty, sanitation and diseases that spread prior to the 19th century were remedied through education, technology and social reform, and by the social consciousness raised by the immensely popular novels of Charles Dickens.

When looking for strategies to tackle the poverty within developing countries, primarily Africa and the Middle-East region we often face a convoluted mix of aid and development strategies.


The Millennium Development Goals for example, was the most common strategy set by the United Nations summit in early 2000. It established 8 points for developing nations to eradicate poverty by 2015. These were : –

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote Gender Equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDs, Malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure Environmental Sustainability
  8. Global partnership for development

The MDGs objectives continue to be met within developing nations and its objectives continue to be unreachable.

Attempting to achieve universal primary education for all without having addressed the extreme poverty issue will remain a premature and fanciful theory unless backed up with realistic and proven economic models to curb both unemployment and hunger.

Victorian history gives us insight into the steps British lawmakers took to lubricate the economic hinges and alleviate some of the dire social and economic conditions of the 19th Century.  Although writers such as Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray loathed the desperate conditions of the workhouses in which fictional characters such as Oliver Twist fell victim, when looking at the bigger picture the real workhouses provided a means of protection from starvation and contributed to re-vitalising of Britain’s economy throughout the 1800s. Workhouses integrated otherwise peasants and orphans with no means of income generation, into organised productive labour.

Through resilient economic practices and leadership to implement the changes, Britain removed itself from the pangs of poverty by executing the following:-

  1. Developing programs to buffer development and enabling the poor to be included into economic activity
  2. Build workhouses for the poor and improve manufacturing capacity and boost productivity
  3. Enact new laws to rid the nation of the “Bloody Code” and abolish public capital punishment on petty crimes and thefts
  4. Integrate the output of the workhouses to the rest of the economy and empower workers to participate in the shared national objective through “Poor Laws”.

At dinner, St Marylebone Workhouse, London, circa 1901 (1903). From Living London, Vol. II, by George R. Sims. [Cassell and Company, Limited, London, Paris, New York & Melbourne, 1903].

Today detention centres and refugee camps are bundling mass amount of human resources on idle asylum applications resulting in lethargy, lassitude and laziness in what could otherwise be highly productive manufacturing centres similar to workhouses administered in the Victorian era.

Human inactivity and unemployment are recipes for poverty and potential inaction.

Being able to carry out tasks whilst waiting for the outcome of asylum, a detention centre or refugee camp can be ideal place to administer low-skilled work in an assembly line, keeping the person engaged in productive roles, enhancing both the mental state of the worker and producing something of value for the community.

Through such programs individuals can be given the opportunity to gain further skills should they be permitted asylum or return to their homelands. Leaving the strains of war and poverty behind them, refugees can taste the experience of being employed within corporate entity, even if it does include financial incentives. Programs to include some sort of training and skills certificate scheme during detention will also allow for enhanced integration into future employment and cultivate the correct work culture fundamental for future roles.

There is still much room in the manufacturing sector that is still dependant on human hands to manufacture as opposed to automation such as clothing, textiles, piping and other low skilled employment similar to those carried out during Victorian age in Britain in the 19th Century.

Enhanced productivity and quality improvements will eventually create additional returns of investment and generate economic activity to bring income into the region, further investment and gradually pull the workers and their families out of the pangs of poverty.

“To be shelterless and alone in the open country, hearing the wind moan and watching for day through the whole long weary night; to listen to the falling rain, and crouch for warmth beneath the lee of some old barn or rick, or in the hollow of a tree; are dismal things – but not so dismal as the wandering up and down where shelter is, and beds and sleepers are by thousands; a houseless rejected creature.”

Charles Dickens (1867). “Barnaby Rudge: And, Hard Times”, p.90

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s