An important lecture

I came across this lecture which is taking place tomorrow in Wales. A bit of a commute unless you live there of course. Fortunately it is being streamed so those of us who are geographically challenged can still hear it.

I think it may have important and relevant messages for us as we face some of the most difficult welfare reforms in recent history.

Public Lecture: Prof Steven King, ‘The disabled poor in the industrial districts of England and Wales 1790s to 1920s’

Submitted by Angela Turner on Thu, 03/01/2012 – 12:07

Public Lecture: Professor Steven King (Leicester University), ‘”We must be rid of these waste people”: The experiences of the disabled poor in the industrial districts of England and Wales 1790s to 1920s.

5pm on Wednesday 9 May, Room C22, Hugh Owen Building, Aberystwyth University.

This lecture is associated with a Wellcome Trust-funded research project entitled ‘Disability and Industrial Society: Comparative Cultural Histories of the British Coalfields 1780-1947′ and involves colleagues from Aberystwyth, Swansea, Northumbria, Glasgow Caledonian and Strathclyde universities.

The lecture will also be streamed live and can be viewed at

For further information, please contact Steve Thompson, Department of History and Welsh History, Aberystwyth University on 01970 622662 or at
Abstract of the lecture

In 1824, the Chair of the committee of ratepayers in the town of Warrington lamented the fact that the town was obliged to look after so many people with disabilities. Some were disabled form birth, so called ‘cripples’, ‘idiots’ and ‘defectives’. Others were disabled by accidents, temporary events such as puerperal fever, or had been propelled into insanity by alcohol, drugs or economic misfortune.

Reflecting on the extraordinary costs of these people to the parish tax resources, the Chairman concluded that the town ought to rid itself of these ‘waste people’ by using the settlement system, buying places in specialist institutions or forcing relatives to provide care. This depressing picture is countered by the attitude of Thrapston parish (Northamptonshire) who regarded their mentally and physically disabled poor as ‘brethren’ and spent very considerable amounts on their care within families and institutions.

This paper will ask:

  • How common was the experience of mental and physical disability amongst the dependent poor over time and in different areas?
  • Why did these utterly divergent attitudes exist in the 1820s, and did they persist throughout the dying days of the Old Poor Law and the march of the New Poor Law?
  • How were the dependent poor with different sorts of disabilities treated in the 1820s and beyond?
  • Did those with disabilities have agency in their dealing with officials or were they as powerless as the attitude of the Warrington official would seem to imply?
  • How did their communities respond to the disabled poor and the sentiments of the poor law officers?

Based upon an intertwining of research projects funded by the AHC and Wellcome Trust, I hope to offer a comprehensive sense of the place of the disabled poor in the welfare structure of the long nineteenth century.

Author: PhilFriend

Dr Phil Friend (OBE FRSA) himself a wheelchair user, is acknowledged as the UK's foremost consultant on disability matters. A powerful and highly popular communicator, his company – Phil & Friends – has provided consultancy to many of the country's best-known companies. In addition to his professional activities, he is also a respected champion for equal opportunities and diversity in general, where his special blend of humour and direct speaking has won admirers from around the world.

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