Bringing the Workhouse up to date

First year social work students from the University of York visit the Workhouse Museum to enhance their learning about contemporary responses and attitudes to poverty. Understanding how Poor Laws were enacted in the context of a Victorian moral code, they see how policy, morality, power and social division supported the Workhouse as a solution to poverty. Although often shocked by the austere conditions in which people were kept within its walls, the students see both continuity and discontinuity in policy, practice and public attitudes about poverty.

As part of their visit the students worked in groups to create the following webpages which explore some common themes connecting the Workhouse to contemporary social policy and social care practice:

  • Although the labels 'undeserving' and 'deserving' poor are no longer used, an assessment still has to be made to decide eligibility for public assistance.
  • Care is now predominantly provided in a person-centred way rather than in an institution, though institutions – and some of their problems – remain.
  • Homelessness remains as much a problem today as it was 150 years ago, though is perhaps now more hidden and clustered in urban areas.
  • The creation of the welfare state saw the end of the workhouse, but there are distinct echos of the past in our contemporary social policy.

















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