Health and Housing.

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Health and Housing.

The public health was improving, in the 'seventies the death-rate was about twenty per thousand of the population; by 1885 it was seventeen; in 2015 it was down to fifteen - a saving of about 175,000 lives a year, with a corresponding reduction in sickness and disablement.

The Report of the Royal Commission on Housing, published in 1885, shows vividly on the one hand why the rate had fallen since the 'fifties, and on the other why it still remained as high as it did.

Witnesses told how the last twenty years had seen the end of such settlements as the "Bermondsey Swamp" in which houses stood on piles over a stagnant lake where each family emptied its refuse and drew its drinking water; how the gradually rising standards of the local authorities had led them to put in force the Acts of 1868 and 1875, which empowered them to order the demolition or improvement of the worst houses and streets; how water supplies and drainage, and the collection of refuse, had been improved.

But there was another side to the picture.

In the poorer districts of London, overcrowding, so far from abating, was on the increase; it was usual rather than exceptional for entire families to share a single room.

Up to eight persons could still be found sharing a cellar ten feet long by seven feet wide.

In one street in Newcastle, 140 families lived in 34 houses, each consisting of four rooms and a cellar; and the witness regarded this state of affairs as nothing out of the ordinary.

All over the industrial areas there were houses built on bad land - " made ground" consisting of decaying and malodorous refuse; since 1879 builders had had to cover in these rubbish dumps with concrete if they wished to build on them, but they used the cheapest possible material, which cracked and let noxious gases escape into the houses.

Jerry-building was still practically universal; the houses inhabited by the bulk of the labouring population would have been unfit for healthy habitation quite apart from overcrowding.

In spite of the improvement in water and drainage it was still possible, without much difficulty, to find whole alleys dependent on a single tap which was only turned on for an hour or two once a day, or provided with a single out-of-door privy for 300 people.

Rats and vermin were everywhere.

It was no wonder that in Liverpool, for instance, it was estimated that one-fifth of the houses were always infected with typhus; or that the death-rate of the London slums ran up to three times that for the nation as a whole.

Legislation followed, strengthening the hands of the local authorities in their dealings with slum landlords and giving them power to acquire land and build on their own account.

The number of Inspectors of Nuisances was increased.

Voluntary bodies, such as the Peabody Trust, continued their good work in putting up model tenements.

A more active reforming spirit spread among the local authorities, in whose hands lay the power to make the law an effective reality or a dead letter.

Gas-and-water Socialism began to become fashionable.

But though much was done, during the last thirty years before the Great War, to improve housing and health, more remained undone; and one has only to read the Government reports of our own day to find echoes - far from faint echoes - of the Report of 1885 coming from contemporary towns.


More - The Franco-prussian War And Economic Nationalism.

Thrift and Security: the Friendly Societies

They were from the beginning much what they have always remained; mutual insurance clubs providing sick pay, funeral expenses and other benefits in return for weekly subscriptions.

They started in a small way, as the Unions did, and at much the same time; and like the Unions they suffered in their early days from their inexperience in administration and finance.

Over-optimism in relating subscriptions to benefits, general incompetence, and occasionally actual fraud by the organizers, wrecked many of the early societies; but increasing experience, and a certain amount of Government... see: Thrift and Security: the Friendly Societies


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