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State Intervention escalates in Victorian Britain

The Industrial Revolution brought great success but also immense problems for Victorian Society

The Industrial Revolution and the explosion in population that accompanied it brought hitherto unseen problems for the country, mainly ones of crippling poverty, unsanitary conditions and unregulated factories, prisons and schools.

    • The plight of children, never before considered raised its head, in terms of work conditions, pauperism, mortality and education
    • The government, against all its instincts, was forced into intervention and from 1830 onwards, this continued in an accelerated manner.
    • The idea that the government would have any role to play in assuaging social problems was alien.
    • People such as Jeremy Benthem argued that the state needed to intervene if private enterprise was going to flourish.
    • By the end of the Victorian period it was observed that we were becoming a nation in which the government intervened at all levels.
Industrial Revolution

19th Century Living Conditions

This intervention was spurred on by a flood of information coming from newly formed government bodies such as the Royal Commission of Enquiry, the census data, birth, marriage and death information and inspectors of all kinds.

    • This can be seen in the number of ‘civil servants’ now employed to collect and deal with all this new data.
    • The number of government employees rocketed and taxes followed suit in order to pay for all this administration
    • The role of the state had been changed forever by the Industrial Revolution, the new society needed new legislation and the government were set on a new course to provide it.

The major measures of reform came in four areas

  • Parliamentary reform
  • Educational reform
  • Social welfare
  • Worker’s rights

Parliament itself could only enact social reform if it were prepared to reform itself. It did because it feared revolution but many of the measures on social, educational and workers reforms took decades to come.

Some leaders and Prime Ministers embraced reform, others did not, where there was industrial revolution might there not also come a people’s revolution? Yes educate the poor but be careful they don’t become so educated they rise above their station.

Control of the ordinary people might stave off the ideas of change and revolution, so more layers of bureaucracy were added. Who knew where the consequences of the industrial revolution might end?

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