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Winston Churchill, on Seebohm Rowntree’s work

On reading Seebohm Rowntree’s book on Poverty in York, Winston Churchill (then a Liberal MP and social reformer of David Lloyd George’s government) said to an audience in Blackpool in 1902: ‘I have been reading a book which has fairly made my hair stand on end, written by a Mr Rowntree, who deals with poverty in the town of York…It is found that the poverty of the people of that city extends to nearly one-fifth of the population; nearly one-fifth had something between one and a half and three-fourths as much food to eat as the paupers in the York Union [workhouse]. That I call a terrible and shocking thing, people who have only the workhouse or prison as avenues to change from their present situation.’

Another sometimes quoted phrase by Winston Churchill concerned the scandal of a nation struggling with the welfare of its people ‘….It is quite evident from the figures which he adduces that the American labourer is a stronger, larger, healthier, better fed, and consequently more efficient animal than a large proportion of our population, and this is surely a fact which our unbridled Imperialists, who have no thought but to pile up armaments, taxation and territory, should not lose sight of.

For my own part, I see little glory in an Empire which can rule the waves and is unable to flush its sewers.’ Winston Churchill, in December 1901, writing to a friend after he had been reading Poverty – A Study of Town Life.

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