Thursday, 4 November 2010

Yet more utter misrepresentations of coalition policy and Victorian Britain

I did a lot of Victorian Literature as part of my degree, and it really really annoys me when people utterly misunderstand the Victorians. So we have had Tristram Hunt telling us that cuts to housing benefit will bring back the Victorian workhouse.  And now we have the Guardian telling us that the Browne review will send us back to the days of Jude Fawley.  Utterly unbelievable. Have any of these people actually read any of these texts or studied the Victorians? Let's point out some of the differences between modern Britain and Victorian Britain.

1. The principle of 'less eligibility' in Victorian times meant workhouses had to semi-starve people: the principle of less eligibility now means living in Putney not Westminster.
2. The Victorians had workhouses. We don't and aren't bringing them back.
3. Jude Fawley couldn't go to university because there was no funding for poor people and no access to loans at all.  If Jude had been offered a university education on Browne's terms, HE WOULD HAVE JUMPED AT IT. If any university today were offered a working-class student of Jude's ability and motivation, THEY WOULD CHUCK SCHOLARSHIPS AT HIM. How many working-class kids now do you know who spend their pocket money on Greek and Latin classics and stay up all night teaching themselves Greek and Latin?
4. In Victorian times, poverty did have an impact on people's educational outcomes because they had to work full time from a very young age and they didn't have money for the most important educational resource - books. Everyone in this country gets a guaranteed free 11 years education, and a free two extra years if they meet some basic standards. Everyone also has access to free public libraries.  So modern poverty, such as it is, is completely different in its nature and effects from Victorian poverty.
5. Tristram Hunt refers to Betty Higden in Our Mutual Friend being petrified of the workhouse. I prefer Hardy's less sentimental, more ironic take on workhouses.  Perhaps we should bring them back...

No comments:

Post a Comment