Report on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain

Edwin Chadwick

Edwin Chadwick was a renowned social reformer and a key proponent of sanitary reform. In 1832 he was appointed to the Poor Law Commission.

Chadwick was commissioned by the government to undertake an investigation into sanitation and make recommendations on improving conditions. What followed was the independent and self-funded Report on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain, published in 1842.

Report and recommendations

Chadwick found that there was a link between poor living standards and the spread and growth of disease. A key proponent of sanitary reform, he recommended that the government should intervene by providing clean water, improving drainage systems, and enabling local councils to clear away refuse from homes and streets.

To persuade the government to act, Chadwick argued that the poor conditions endured by impoverished and ailing labourers were preventing them from working efficiently.

Response

There was antipathy to high levels of intervention in public health matters, as highlighted in the Times: 

'We prefer to take our chance with cholera than be bullied into health. There is nothing a man hates so much as being cleansed against his will or having his floor swept, his hall whitewashed, his dung heaps cleared away and his thatch forced to give way to slate.' 

Chadwick's challenging personality and strong support of centralised administration and government intervention made him many enemies in Parliament. In 1854, several years after his report was published, Edwin Chadwick was forced to resign from his position on the General Board of Health (established 1848).

Source(s)

House of Commons.
Living Heritage: People and parliament transforming society.
1842 Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain.
UK Parliament; nd.

Morley I.
City chaos, contagion, Chadwick, and social justice.
Yale J Biol Med.
2007; 80(2): 61–72.

The Victorian Web.
Chadwick's Report on Sanitary Conditions.
The Victorian Web; 2018.

The National Archives.
Victorian Britain: A healthy nation?
Were the rich just as likely to catch diseases as the poor?
The National Archives; nd.