On Friday Night at 7:30pm you may have tuned in to watch the annual BBC Children In Need charity event where over £32.6 million was raised for children and young people who are disadvantaged in the UK. Through the increase in technology, Children In Need has become a nationwide charitable event, raising more awareness of the rights of children – i.e. to be ‘safe, happy and secure and able to reach their potential’ – throughout the UK than ever before. However, if we look at the support for children back in the nineteenth century, using South Wales as an example, there are clear differences and similarities.
During the nineteenth century, Britain had a mixed economy of welfare which included home support, government support and support from charities. BBC Children in Need is a classic example of charity support which, like today, was a lot more important to disabled and disadvantaged children than government action in the nineteenth century, as the Poor Law was not very generous with their relief funding. Charity organisations focused on young people today depend upon the money raised through Children In Need to help fund local schemes and projects for children. In Wales during the mid-nineteenth century, outdoor relief programs were seen as cheaper and possibly more helpful than building institutions for the sick and disabled, which were the product of government action. Due to the dislike of the Poor Law in Wales, an emphasis on caring for ill and disabled children at home became the main form of care.
Children In Need focuses on the difficulties that children face throughout the UK which raises awareness of the vulnerability of children and of the need for financial support to make their lives better and more fulfilling. This view of disabled and disadvantaged children was also present mainly in the late- nineteenth century. More focus was in fact given to the welfare of children across Britain during this period. In Wales, the increase in population during the nineteenth century only revealed the ineffectiveness of the present welfare system, which saw a need for the establishment of hospitals, such as The Children’s Hospital at Merthyr Tydfill which was founded in 1877.
One of the key differences between Children In Need and the welfare support given to children in the nineteenth century was its ‘inadequacy’ as Steven Thompson describes it. Even though the workhouses and institutions did provide support for the disabled and disadvantaged children, it does not compare to the brilliant care given to children today. Doctors today are more understanding and know a lot more about how to care for children than they did in the nineteenth century.
Children’s issues in the twenty-first century have been brought to a wider audience with the introduction of television broadcasting, which nineteenth century charities did not have the benefit of using to raise awareness of disabled children and the need for funding. Instead of just supporting and helping children through their difficulties, nineteenth-century organisations were promoting ‘self-help’ where they would focus on helping disabled and disadvantaged individuals to help themselves. This is different from Children In Need, where the aim is just to help as many young people as possible.
Therefore, nineteenth-century welfare for disabled and disadvantaged young people is similar to Children in Need in that an awareness for the happiness and safety of children was brought into the spotlight. Even though welfare for children in the past has been criticised by historians, we must never forget that there were many charitable organisations and good and kind people who did want to make children’s lives better. The stereotypical view that conditions for children were poor and ‘inadequate’ in the nineteenth century can certainly be questioned. Children In Need only reflects how important people’s generosity and kindness is in helping young people through difficult times.
- Steven Thompson, ‘The Mixed Economy of Welfare And The Care of Sick and Disabled Children in the South Wales Coalfield, c.1850-1950’, in Disabled Children: Contested Caring 1850-1979, ed. by Anne Borsay and Pamela Dale (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012).
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-30041599 <Accessed 15 November 2014]
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/5J1sppRQGKQ20k75DGB313L/what-we-do <Accessed 15 November 2014]