Fighting Poverty in Britain

The interwar period brought about a shift in Britain’s attitudes toward the poor.  Rather than continuing to believe that poverty was the fault of the poor, the British government began to implement programs aimed at helping them and increase awareness about their plight.  The documentaries Housing Problems and Enough to Eat are examples of these efforts at awareness.  Housing Problems interviews residents of a British slum about their living conditions while Enough to Eat describes Britain’s efforts at minimizing malnutrition.

In Housing Problems, the use of interviews with actual slum residents offers a more human look at the issue than simply a reading of statistics.  These people give their own emotional accounts of their struggles, which allows the viewer to feel more sympathy toward them.  This technique also helps to give the impression that the government views these people as individuals who they want to help, rather than just another aspect of creating a stronger nation.  The documentary gives faces and stories to the struggles of slum life in order to create emotion while at the same time separating the British government’s motives from those of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, whose main concerns were strengthening the state.

While Enough to Eat also creates the image of a more sympathetic government, it also implies the more far reaching effects of introducing nutrition to the impoverished.  At one point of the documentary, one of the men who is being interviewed states that the government’s methods are an “…important factor in restoring peace” because the promotion of nutrition will also help boost world trade again.  This implies that while promoting better nutritional habits amongst the poor is of concern, ensuring that Britain assumes a powerful role in trade is also of importance to the government, and they will do this in any way possible.  This documentary does a better job of displaying more of the underlying motives of helping the poor in Britain.

Could the British have had any greater motives in wanting to improve the housing conditions of the poor as well?

4 thoughts on “Fighting Poverty in Britain

  1. Interesting and well written blog. In my view, the British government wanted to win the loyalty and the support of the poor. Probably at that time they were affraid that the poor people might start protesting against the government, or start supporting “bad” political movements. The government probably also wanted to motivate the poor to work harder in order to improve the economy.

  2. Bismarck created a social security system in Germany during the 19th century in order to stave off a socialist revolution. It appears that ruling classes tend to administer reforms when they recognize a potential threat to the established order. Perhaps we can find a similar reasoning at work in this case.

  3. I think there were underlying motives in terms of the improvements for those in poverty. It is interesting that you noted the promotion of Britain as a powerful trade nation through “Enough to Eat,” because the video was skewed to appear to only benefit the health of children. It is interesting that almost all reform movements that appeared to benefit the downtrodden typically had a larger goal of improving the government and overall reputation.

  4. Good post. My favorite element of this post is your very quick change from summarization to personal reflection. I think you aptly nail down some important themes within this documentary and bring them to light through your post. Finally you connect the work to “Enough to Eat” in the sense of government care for the population. This connects well to your final question of what the purpose for the government is/ what their motives are for perpetrating this action.

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