Free school meals debate shows how Victorian attitudes about undeserving poor persist
THE CONVERSATION – The campaign led by footballer Marcus Rashford to provide lunches for children over a school holiday period in England has brought discussions over poverty and state help into the spotlight.
Central to this debate is an ideological position on how people view poverty: whether it is seen to be the fault of individuals and the choices they have made, or the result of policy failings.
The concept of the deserving or undeserving poor stretches back to the Victorian age. However, my research on food poverty shows that these attitudes are still alive today, and very much a part of how those in receipt of social security are viewed.
Who to help
The difference between the deserving and undeserving poor was established in the Poor Law of 1834. The deserving poor were those understood to be hard working people, who through no fault of their own found themselves in hardship. The key word here is that they were hardworking, and so deserved state help.