Great expectations

Amid the chaos of burning cars, angry teenagers and riot police in London, August 2011, a local youth worker explained why he thought young people were rioting that night: “It’s a poor thing. This is young black [kids] who have had enough. The poor white working class kids are out there as well. They are not calling for a change in the government. It is the whole society they are against.”

Children: the deserving poor?

‘If there’s anything extra to buy such as a pair of boots for one of the children … me and the children goes without dinner.’ So says a working class woman from York interviewed for Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree’s painstaking study of poverty in late nineteenth century Britain. When conducting his research between 1898 and 1901, Rowntree was alarmed at what he found: This suffering may be all but voiceless, and we may long remain ignorant of its extent and severity, but when once we realise it we see that social questions of profound importance await solution. Yet, over a century…