Helping the Poor
Friendly Visiting, Dole Charities and Dole Queues

By Robert Whelan
December 2001
Institute for the Study of Civil Society (Civitas)
ISBN: 1-903-386-16-0
180 pages
$22.50 paper original

In the nineteenth century charities competed against each other for the support of the public: whichever ones found the most effective ways to help the needy would flourish.

The Victorians developed to a high degree the practice of ‘friendly visiting’. ‘Visiting charities’ worked on the assumption that you could not help a person without getting to know that person’s situation fully. Family, employment history, membership of church or mutual aid societies, all needed to be taken into account in order to find the best way forward. ‘Visiting charities’ were fiercely critical of the older ‘dole’ model of assistance, which gave out money or benefits indiscriminately.

Helping the Poor compares the Charity Organisation Society, the most famous of all visiting charities, with the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House Fund of 1886 for the relief of the unemployed. The furious spat which broke out between the representatives of both bodies illustrates the difference in approach. Unfortunately, as the state ventured further into the field of welfare provision in the twentieth century, it took as its model the dole charities. We are still struggling with the consequences, such as massive welfare dependency, which the Victorians would have regarded as entirely predictable.

Helping the Poor draws on a unique series of casebooks, relating to the Fulham and Hammersmith district committee of the Charity Organisation Society, which have survived from the end of the nineteenth century. Never before published, they give a fresh insight into the ways in which COS committees actually responded to requests for assistance.


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