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The Working Poor
Duration: 28 minutes
First broadcast: Tuesday 21 January 2014
Jonathan Freedland presents the programme which looks at the past behind the present.
Although there's unease in the air and many caveats included in any reports on the subject it would seem that the British economy is now strengthening. And yet a new challenge is growing, the growing number of people in work who are also facing poverty.
That's the story today with a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showing that the number of working families in poverty has now outstripped those without employment.
And it was also the story in the late 18th century where farm labourers, particularly in the South of England, found that their wages were being outstripped by the rising price of bread. It was an inflation made worse by a series of bad harvests and the disruption to food imports from war torn France.
But when Magistrates met at Speenhamland near Newbury to try and resolve the issue they may well have been concerned not merely by the conditions of local workers but by the upheavals of the French Revolution. Something had to be done.
IN this programme Jonathan and his guests tell the story of the Speenhamland system which encouraged local employers to improve their wages but also obliged Parish councils to support labourers with bread to make up for their straightened circumstances.
The Speenhamland system spread very quickly but it was roundly criticised as a way of creating a dependency culture and trapping people in poverty and the situation was eventually resolved by the Poor Law amendment act of 1834 and the institution of the Workhouse.
How much can we learn from Speenhamland today when the language of poverty appears to be very similar with notions of the 'deserving' and the 'undeserving' poor familiar in the news headlines.
That's the Long View of the Working Poor.
Producer: Tom Alban