Working Paper 7. Putting Childhood Poverty on the Agenda: The Relationship Between Research and Policy in Britain 1800-1950


The period 1800 to 1950 in Britain can be seen as a period in which there was a gradual growth in social policy that reached its culmination in the post-war welfare state settlement. In addition, it was a period that saw the development of a much more distinct, rigidly defined and more universal notion of the child and the nature of childhood. The distinct status of the child was itself partly created through the operation of social policy. Furthermore, it was only in the latter part of this period that there was a clear working definition of what constituted poverty. It was only after this point that the measurement and analysis of a specific phenomenon of child poverty became possible.

This paper charts the developments in research on child poverty and policy responses between 1800 and 1950, and considers their relationship and interaction. In doing so there recur a number of themes, which can be summarised as follows:

The complexity of the relationship between research and policy. That is, the impacts of research may occur neither at the time of the research, nor in ways that are predictable. The influence of research is not necessarily in the direction in which researchers intend and is mediated by the options available to policy makers at a particular time.

The need for research to be both radical and to relate to its time and place. That is, the nature of research and its influence will vary with the political complexion of the country and ideological and religious factors. It has both to make an impact but also to accord, at least in part, with existing mores.

The association of child and women's welfare. That is, interventions for children often assume the interconnectedness of both the status and the concerns of women and children. This acknowledges the extent to which mothers' welfare is often bound up with that of their children; but it can also cause child poverty policy to be obstructed, through political resistance to women's concerns.

The paper considers the increasing salience and sophistication of social research. It outlines some of the principal moments and figures in poverty research over the 150 years; and it provides an analysis of the extent to which and the ways in which policy responded to these findings. It argues that labour restriction and compulsory education, while not transparently increasing the well-being of the child, created the conditions under which child welfare research and policy could more fully develop.


ISBN 1-904427-06-5, 55 pp.

Working Paper 7. Putting Childhood Poverty on the Agenda: The Relationship Between Research and Policy in Britain 1800-1950

Help us improve GOV.UK

Don’t include personal or financial information like your National Insurance number or credit card details.