Dickensian doesn\’t mean what you think it does dear

In a speech last night, Mrs Ward, a primary school teacher from Doncaster, said Labour had “tried hard on this issue” but had failed to fill the vacuum left by the death of the mining and manufacturing industries in many working-class communities.

She said it meant a “small, significant and growing minority” of children were being raised in families with low expectations and a level of poverty “mirroring the times of Dickens”.

No, not true.

In her speech, Mrs Ward said: “I am talking about perfectly healthy children who enter school not yet toilet-trained.

“Children who cannot dress themselves, children who only know how to eat with a spoon and fingers, and have never sat around a table to enjoy a home-cooked family meal. Children who think that the word ‘no’ means if you throw a wobbly it will miraculously turn into yes.

“Children who get themselves, and sometimes their younger siblings, up in the morning. Children who bring themselves to school at very young ages. Children who sometimes don’t know who will be at home when they get home – if anyone. Children who don’t know exactly who the father figure is in the home from month to month.”

She added: “I know of a pupil who actually saw, from the classroom window during a lesson, his house door being kicked in and his dad being led out of the door in handcuffs – this was during Sats week. He did not achieve the level he should have. Are we surprised?”

All of the above is many things, including appalling, but they\’re not equivalent to Dickensian poverty. For that we would need average life span at birth to be under 40 years (and that was the average for the entire population, not the poor) and something like 1 in five children not seeing their fifth birthday.

It\’s also extremely unclear how much of the above horrors have to do with the amount of money (ie, poverty) available. It simply ain\’t true that every poor life is caused by cash poverty.

7 comments on “Dickensian doesn\’t mean what you think it does dear

  1. And it should be remembered that the poor went to the Dickensians slums for a better life. Just because rural poverty had been invisible, whereas urban poverty was obvious shouldn’t blind us to that.

  2. She’s hopelessly confused: there are two groups here, both hideously neglected by their parents (and that’s the parents’ fault, not anyone else).

    Type 1: not toilet trained, can’t eat etc, throw strops when confronted.
    Type 2: incredibly capable (have to get themselves and their siblings up) and motivated (get themselves to school).

    How on earth does this moron manage to conflate the two?

  3. And it should be remembered that the poor went to the Dickensians slums for a better life. Just because rural poverty had been invisible, whereas urban poverty was obvious shouldn’t blind us to that

    Not really , the population explosion caused ( I guess’) by the preceding agricultural revoltution forced them into the shanty towns of yore where urban sanitation was as yet undiscovered. Cholera etc prduced historically high death rates to the popint that London’s population was actually shrinking net off inward migration . Its an interesting thing that in Ireland the same Population explosion took place without an Industrial revolution.

    Infant mortality is a bit of a red herring they were still using leeches fcs but my complaint is this . Dickens usually sends a middeclass child into poor or underclass territory to report back so to speak . It is the horror of debt and the proximity of penury that stalks these books .
    The modern underclass is a product of precisely the safety net the Dickensian child lacked

  4. “Except that this time we understand why we are using leeches.”

    Given that we are paying the buggers to sit in the House of Commons, we may as well make use of them..

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