Workhouse woes

THERE seems to be common consent these days that a life lived on welfare payments is an all-too-comfortable one. A reminder that this was not always the case, however, comes with the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Leeds workhouse.

It is also instructive to realise that the days when the poor were consigned to the grim regime of the workhouse are not buried too deeply in the past. Even in the 1960s, it is recalled, patients resisted going into St James’s Hospital because it occupied the site of the old city workhouse.

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Perhaps the pendulum has now swung too far in the opposite direction, but any examination of the workhouse system – a deterrent specifically designed to be cruel and intimidating regardless of whether the unfortunate inmate was young or old, sick or healthy – is a reminder of just why the welfare state was thought necessary.