You are here:   Text > The State of Charity
 
The Victorians held government in esteem, but expected little from it on social issues. They widely assumed that in serving good causes voluntary associations served the wider cause of religious and civil liberty. Charities gave a voice and influence to those who were excluded, or felt excluded from the political nation: minorities, dissenters, women and the working classes­ — perhaps above all to the working classes, whose charitable energies and effective organisation still await recognition. To most charitable campaigners, the state was an artificial contrivance, useful in punishing sinners but incapable of redemptive action. They were apt to think that government institutions were heartless and bureaucratic. Prisons and workhouses, for example, had an unhappy reputation for insensitivity among charitable activists, particularly the women, who were becoming more and more influential in the 19th century. 

The Victorian years saw the feminisation of philanthropy, in respect to both volunteering and subscribers. At the beginning of the 19th century, women comprised about 10 per cent of charitable subscribers; by the end of the century the figure was over 60 per cent. Removed from political influence and professional employment, large numbers of women turned naturally to charity as a form of self-expression, which led to a general softening of Victorian society. But their charitable activities were often hedged in by restrictions. Elizabeth Fry's experience in prison reform is but one example of "masculine officialism". In 1869, the prominent philanthropist Josephine Butler argued that large legislative welfare systems were "masculine" in character, while the parochial system of charitable ministration, with its corollary of recreating domestic life in institutions, was essentially "feminine". I will return to this theme.

Victorian philanthropists could boast of remarkable achievements. In 1885, the charitable receipts for London alone exceeded the budgets of several European states. But in the late 19th century, attitudes to poverty began to change, partly driven by the rise of social surveys. In an industrial economy under strain, people began to take the view that poverty was not simply a product of individual breakdown, as charity's advocates had long assumed, but of faults in the economy and the structure of society. Those who took the view that the state should intervene more decisively believed that their more "scientific" appreciation of the causes of poverty would lead to its elimination.

The story in the 20th century is a familiar one. Successive administrations were increasingly drawn into the social arena, at first piecemeal with the Liberal social reforms early in the century, and then, propelled by the Depression and the command economy of the Second World War, into more wholesale welfare changes. In time, a less personal approach to welfare, the belief in the efficacy of legislation and state intervention, became as compelling to its advocates as Christian service had been to the Victorians.

View Full Article
 
Share/Save
 
 
 
 
Malcolm McLean
November 11th, 2014
2:11 AM
Running a charity is a good middle class route to influence and government funds. There's usually an element of sincere motive, but pretty soon a grant or partnership comes along. That's so important to the charity that retaining this relationship becomes the overriding priority. People running the charity also benefit personally, if not by direct financial compensation, then indirectly by being asked to help formulate government policy, which is flattering, and tends to turn into financial benefit.

Malcolm McLean
November 11th, 2014
2:11 AM
Running a charity is a good middle class route to influence and government funds. There's usually an element of sincere motive, but pretty soon a grant or partnership comes along. That's so important to the charity that retaining this relationship becomes the overriding priority. People running the charity also benefit personally, if not by direct financial compensation, then indirectly by being asked to help formulate government policy, which is flattering, and tends to turn into financial benefit.

Post your comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.