The Public Health Act 1848 Essay

Living conditions had become extremely poor in industrialised cities, which led to great housing difficulties. Houses were built back to back and there were often several families forced to live in a single house. There were no roads and no public transport so houses were built as close to factories as possible where smoke and fumes were pumped out. The was also no drainage system and a poor water supply- the local river where people got their water for cooking, cleaning and washing was also the river where their waste was dumped. Due to the cramped living space and the poor conditions illness was rife and spread quickly. The healthy, the middle classes, lived where the roads were paved and near running water or with access to running water in their homes.

It was thought that the reason why the poor were often ill and died so young was due to their way of living- spending money on drink rather than on food for example. It was never put down to the environment they lived in. This is why for a long time nothing was done to improve living conditions. Gradual build up of research showed it was in fact the environment that was the problem.

It was eventually noticed that the middle-classes were being attacked by major cholera epidemics, which had originated in the slums. Though diseases like typhoid killed a much larger number than cholera, only the latter was acknowledged because it did not just affect the working classes, it also affected the rich. Edwin Chadwick carried out research, which clearly showed the link between environment and illness. Class killed- the poorer you were the younger you would die. He also found that people in rural areas, whether working class or middle class had a longer life expectancy than those in urban areas. In 1838 Chadwick stated that “…expenditure on poor relief could be reduced if preventative action with regard to the environment…” (Fraser 1973) was taken.

Middleclass factory owners would not want their work force dying at the age of seventeen to twenty after spending money training them to use machinery. It would be in their interest in more ways than one to help improve sanitary conditions. This would make them more willing to pay higher rates, which would have been needed in order to build an entire sanitary and waste disposal unit, if it meant their workforce would have a greater life expectancy in the long term.

The National Insurance Act 1911

David Lloyd George had been poor himself when growing up so knew exactly how it felt. There had been a huge divide between the rich and the poor for a great number of years. Lloyd George decided to do what he could to help those with lower incomes so that if they earned less than a certain amount, for every child in the family a small sum of money would be paid to them. Though the sum was small it showed acknowledgement of the burden poorer families faced (Fraser 1973). For the families that earned more than a certain wage, a supertax had to be paid. Soon, land tax was developed so that the rich ended up paying even more tax on top of what they originally paid. This led to an air of resentment from the middle-classes. In effect this form of taxation was working to redistribute wealth which they disagreed to as they felt they had earned their wealth fairly.

The House of Lords, themselves being wealthy disagreed with Lloyd George’s methods and wanted to disregard his budget. It was however argued that the House of Lords could not make decisions for the whole country, as they were a minority group. In the end the budget was rejected which caused a stir between the House of Lords and the House of commons, which was only resolved when the National Insurance act was passed.

Lloyd George wanted to help more than just the elderly. He also wanted to help the widowed and the orphaned but found that benefits could not be extended because the cost of pensions alone was so much greater than expected. It was suggested that instead of charging high taxes, those in employment would pay 2 pence towards their future insurance i.e. when ill or unemployed, and to help, the state would add on an extra penny for each of those 2 pence. It was however only restricted to the skilled jobs and did not apply to women.

This was more widely accepted due to the fact that people felt they had earned a right to receive benefits through their contributions. People had paid their way, earned a living, and this was a way of being repaid for their hard work. The idea of the undeserving poor, i.e. those who were in a bad situation due to their own fault was scrapped. If you fell ill due to self-neglect for example you were still entitled to medical treatment.

The Insurance Act was also used as a way of preventing socialism, though many thought it was in fact a step towards socialism. Winston Churchill saw socialism as being against capitalism and so against the economy, “Socialism wants to pull down wealth, Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty…Socialism attacks capital, Liberalism attacks monopoly.” (Fraser 1973)

Edwin Chadwick

Edwin Chadwick was born on 24 January 1800 near Manchester. He was the son of James Chadwick. Chadwick and his family moved to London in 1810 where he was privately educated until he began training as a lawyer. While studying he worked as a journalist, writing for the Morning Herald and other papers.

In 1832 Chadwick accepted the post of Assistant Commissioner on the Poor Law Commission which was about to start its work. In the following year he was appointed a Chief Commissioner due to his vast knowledge of the existing system of Poor Law management. His methods were opposed to begin with but eventually his ideas were implemented.

In 1833 he was involved with the Royal Commission appointed to investigate the condition of factory children, he was the chief author of the report which recommended the appointment of government inspectors and the limitation of children’s work to six hours a day. Eventually the report led to the passing of the Ten Hours Act (1847) and the establishment of the half-time system of education.

In 1834 Chadwick became secretary to the new Poor Law Commission, which oversaw the operation of the Poor Law Amendment Act between 1834 and 1846. He was largely responsible for devising the system under which the country was divided into groups of parishes.

In 1846 the Poor Law Commission came to an end because of the disagreements between Chadwick and the two commissioners. In 1847 he headed a commission to inquire into the health of London; the report suggested the separation of sewage and drainage systems. Chadwick conducted a campaign that ended with the passage of the Public Health Act of 1848. This legislation followed his belief that public health should be dealt with locally, to encourage the people to participate in their own protection. Chadwick was created a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1848, the same year the first Board of Health was formed. He was a commissioner of the Board of Health between 1848 and 1854 when it was merged in the local government board. Chadwick was extremely unpopular and in 1854 he was pensioned off on �1,000 a year.

During the Crimean War (1854-6) he recommended that Lord Palmerston send out a commission to inquire into and help deal with the problem the troops faced. In 1855 the Administrative Reform Association was founded in London.

His public services were recognised in 1889 when he was given a knighthood. Chadwick was elected a corresponding member of the Institutes of France and Belgium, and of the Societies of Medicine and Hygiene of France, Belgium, and Italy. He died on 6 July 1890 at Park Cottage, East Sheen, Surrey.

Outline the main concerns of the Beveridge Report.

Beveridge’s aim was to attack the so-called five giants, which were, Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness in other words, poor health, poor education, poor living conditions, unemployment and poverty). These five giants would be dealt with through three separate assumptions.

A – Children’s allowances for children up to the age of 15 or if in the full-time education up to the age of 16.

B – Comprehensive health and re-habilitation services for prevention and cure of disease and restoration of capacity for work, available to all members of the community.

C – Maintenance of employment, that is to say avoidance of mass unemployment (Biscay 2004)

Children’s allowances would be paid whether the parents were in work or not and If children’s allowances were means tested, then the low-paid with large families would be better off out of work than working unless benefits were very low. Here arises the problem of the “wage benefit overlap”. Beveridge believed that the birth rate was falling and in the long term this would mean the country would suffer, as a result of this he tried to encourage women to have children and ensured they weren’t disadvantaged for doing so. These women who had children would have the role of “housewife”, a role acknowledged as an occupation.

Beveridge felt that problems like poverty and ill health had to be dealt with as a whole rather than tackling one issue as it arose, and that past experiences should help pave the way of how to deal with future problems. Beveridge does not openly criticise the way welfare is run but he does state that Britain falls short when compared to other countries for example in the field of medical services and in the field of cash benefits.

Beveridge proposes the idea of a pension where people in employment pay a certain amount into the “kitty” and the government does the same. This would mean that but the time they have retire, or are no longer able to work, they will have saved up enough money for themselves to be able to live on. (This highlights the reason Beveridge encouraged women to have children. When they are older they pay towards the pension of the older generation and when they eventually retire, their pension is paid by the next generation and so on.)

The report promised insurance benefits, based on insurance contributions and children’s allowances based on taxation since you have to give in order to receive. This would provide people with a subsistence level, and the harder you work, or the more you earn, the greater your reward in the form of a pension.


* Biscay, M (2004) “The Beveridge Report” [Accessed on 09/2/04]

* Bloy, M (2002) “The Victorian Web” [Accessed on 08/12/04]

* Fraser, D (1973) The Evolution of the British Welfare State, London, Macmillan