Language Paper 2 – A Refuge for the poor in London, 1863
This is written by a lady who was a witness to the appalling childhood poverty in Victorian London. In the days before universal education and social security, the poor had to fend for themselves; the “luckier” children might find a place in a “Ragged School”, referred to here as “the Refuge”.
They have among them one penny, with which they buy, while on their journey, a little bread, which they share equally. Alas! when they get to the Forest “they can’t find no holly,” and are obliged to tramp back to London again, sick and hungry, sleeping under hedges when their strength is spent. To the “Refuge” they come as their last resource.
Then, there is another little fellow—a dull boy, stunted and stupid with misery; he gained his living while he could by sweeping crossings, carrying parcels, etc. His mother died while he was an infant; his father, “a respectable tradesman,” so it is said, followed her when the child was ten years old; his brother was drowned at sea. In the summertime he could earn twopence a-day by minding children of the hop-pickers; but then summer had fled, and he must live through the winter till the good time comes again. He has even been driven from his favourite bedroom—an archway behind Surrey Theatre. His earnings have fallen off, and he, too, has come to the “Refuge.”
Then there is a handsome boy, also a crossing-sweeper. He has come from Bristol, and he has a cancer forming in his foot. When he went to the Hospital they told him to “rest his foot, keep it warm, and poultice1 it every night.” Why did they not tell him that a breakfast cup full of turtle soup and half-a-glass of whisky every three hours would be a benefit to his constitution? Poultice his foot every night! Why, if you gave him a poultice the child would eat it! He too, has come to the Refuge as a last resource.
One more instance, and we have done. One of the boys is a member of a family which consists of father, mother, and twelve children. His two eldest brothers are always in prison ” for doing handkerchiefs.” His eldest sister is now fifteen years of age, and is in a Reformatory. She was a thief in her infancy, and at eleven years of age a prostitute. This family collectively, appear in the long nights to have entered upon a very peculiar class of business. At two a.m. they would issue out from the cellar in which they lived, and work away till day-light at pulling down the posters and bills from the walls. The whole family in this way, by strenuous exertion, might succeed in tearing down half-a-hundred weight of paper, for which they could get 7½ d. One member of this firm has now come to the Refuge. It is useless, however, to multiply instances, when the narrative will be found at full length in another portion of our columns this day. There is a “Refuge” for females as well as one for boys close at hand, and he must be more or less than man who can read without emotion the story of its inmates. “A merry Christmas” to them, indeed! Cannot something be done for these poor creatures?
1 poultice – a warm paste made out of herbs, oats etc. Its warmth was meant to soothe a skin injury
Language Paper 2 – The Sunday Times Rich List, 2016
Every year, the Sunday Times publishes its so-called Rich List which estimates the wealth of the highest earners in the UK. In this article, John Robey warns that this list is a sign of an unequal society which is badly broken.
It’s that time of year again, when we are invited to gasp at the obscene amount of wealth stashed by the richest 1,000 people in the UK. But, this year, the ostentatious wealth parade that is the Sunday Times Rich List has provided something a little different: with a fall in the wealth of some of the country’s very richest, it seems the super-rich have fallen on hard times.
Lakshmi Mittal, who topped the Sunday Times Rich List in 2008, has apparently lost three-quarters of his wealth, and is now worth a paltry £7.12bn. Oil billionaires Carrie and François Perrodo and family have meanwhile lost 42 per cent of their fortune since last year, down to £3.35bn.
So what’s going on? Are we finally seeing a levelling-off of the wealth of the very richest? Could this be the start of a trend towards greater equality of wealth?
Unfortunately, that seems unlikely. While some have seen significant losses over the last year, by most meaningful measures the wealth of the very richest has actually increased.
The overall wealth of the richest 1,000 people rose by a staggering £28.5 billion last year – nearly £78 million a day. To put that into context, that increase alone could pay for over 1.8 million jobs, paid at the real Living Wage, for a year.
The idea of falling wealth inequality is equally suspicious if we expand the picture to look at the wealth of the richest 1 per cent. According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, the wealthiest 1 per cent has actually seen its share of wealth increase since 2010/12, with overall wealth inequality similarly rising.
Those on the Rich List now have more wealth than the poorest 40 per cent of families. Those in the wealthiest 1 per cent own as much as all the households in the bottom 57 per cent of the population put together.
The increase in the gap between the richest and the rest isn’t simply a matter of soaring wealth at the very top. The poorest 10 per cent have actually seen their average level of wealth fall, while the top 10 per cent have seen a large increase in their average wealth, from £752,900 to £895,400.
This growing inequality is mostly explained by the widening gaps in property wealth, a problem worsened by the fact that the main tax on property – council tax – hits poorer households hardest. The most recent report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission shows how we are failing to close the gap between rich and poor.
What has become clear in the last few years is that so many of the super-rich are not playing by the same rules as the rest of us. The Sunday Times Rich List sounds a warning-bell to remind us that we are living in dysfunctional times, and that our economy is serving the few and failing the many.
If we are to build an economy and a society where all can prosper, we need our political leaders to acknowledge the damaging effects of such vast wealth inequality, and commit to its reduction.