The Cratchit family are the perfect example of the difficulties faced by the poor in Victorian England. Their housing situation, the children working, and Bob working for such a low wage are all social factors that the poor had to live with daily so that they didn’t have to enter workhouses. The population increased dramatically throughout the century, so there were lots of skilled people available to work but not lots of work available. At the end of the century, the population in England was nearly triple what it was at the beginning.
Workhouses were set up for the poor to work in, but the poor were treated cruelly in these workhouses, and often didn’t make it out until they died with very low wages paid to them…if any at all. Because poor people were so fearful of having to enter into these workhouses, they were willing to work for very low wages. If someone didn’t want to work for a certain wage, there were twenty others lined up who would take his job in an instant. The rich wanted to stay rich and were very cruel to their employees. Bob Cratchit is a perfect example of this.
Scrooge knew that 15 “bob” a week wasn’t enough for Bob to feed his family and survive on, but still never paid him any higher. Bob suffered terrible conditions at work, often working very long hours and in a freezing room – he was only allowed one coal in his fire – but still he went in every day, because he knew that he would struggle to find more work and Scrooge would easily replace him. Because Bob wasn’t payed enough for his family to have basic necessities such as food and a roof over their head, his daughter Martha had to find work.
It was very common for children to work during the Victorian Era, as they were cheaper to hire than the adults. Another reason why children were hired was because they could do all of the horrible jobs that adults were too big to do, such as little children scrambling under factory equipment to pick up things that had fallen or reaching into the equipment to fix something that an adult’s arm would have been too big to reach. Many children were maimed this way, and many lost limbs or lives.
Martha worked at the Millers for a wage even lower than Bob’s, and for a boss even crueller than Scrooge. Yet even with Bob and Martha both working, there was still not enough money coming into the household to afford the basic necessities such as food, and Peter had to look for work as well. It was quite common for large families to live in small houses near factories, as families had to live close to where they worked. Because there were so many people around, and all of them wanted to live close to their work, housing was scarce and expensive.
For Bob’s family of five children, himself, and his wife to live in a four roomed house, they were better off than most of the poor. Rich landlords would turn a house meant for one family into a housing facility for up to thirty people to live in. they wouldn’t care for the upkeep or condition of these places, only caring that the rent was paid on time. If the rent was not paid, then the family would be chucked out and a replacement one would be found almost instantaneously. Wealthy people would live side-by-side with housing slums, as these housing facilities were close to the elegant houses of the few rich.
Bob and his family likely didn’t live in one of these places, but were one of the lucky few to have a tiny cottage to themselves. They would have been very anxious about always making the rent, and often would have gone without food and warmth to ensure a roof over their head…knowing that if they didn’t, worse conditions lay ahead of them. So, in these few ways and many more, the Cratchit family exemplified the difficulties that the poor faced whilst living in Victorian England.