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A Dickensian Tale of Our Times

Christmas is a time for nostalgia. Your recent article headed ‘Christmas just as the Victorians enjoyed it’ made me think. Charles Dickens wrote his novella ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 1843, when Queen Victoria had been on the throne for six years. Before Victoria, England’s populace was mainly rural.

The Industrial Revolution saw the movement of workers from the countryside to the cities and most especially to London. Working conditions were both degrading and harsh, with labourers toiling from 6am to 9pm. Living conditions were no better and often young children were left unattended. Disease was rife and by 1839 nearly half of funerals were for children aged under 10.

Walking through London, Dickens saw all this misery and poverty at first hand. ‘A Christmas Carol’ was intended as a political manifesto exposing and condemning the abject misery of the Victorian poor, governed in 1843 by a Tory administration led by the prime minister, Robert Peel.

Cllr Francis Bone
Cllr Francis Bone

Christmas may have been enjoyed by some – the aristocracy, the new bourgeois capitalists and middle-class professionals – but for most it was grind and toil as usual.

Telling ghost stories was a feature of the Victorian Christmas and, of ‘A Christmas Carol’, Dickens wrote: “I have endeavoured in this ghostly little book, to raise the ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”

It is a story about ghosts, redemption and of a man finding within himself the spirit of compassion.

Through Ebenezer Scrooge (“If I could work my will… every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart”) Dickens seeks to personify the harsh realities of the times.

Through the visitation of three ghosts, Scrooge is confronted, as Dickens seeks to confront society, with the consequences of greed, economic imbalance and social injustices.

Whilst we cannot make direct comparisons with the evils of industrialised Victorian society, there are similarities. Citizens Advice December 2023 data shows that Britain under Rishi Sunak is facing its biggest cost-of-living crisis in decades, and Citizens Advice has helped more people than ever before who can’t afford to cover essential costs - like food, energy and housing.

As prices rise, people make more and more difficult decisions about what to cut back on and where they need to rely on crisis support. There are more people reliant on food banks, people who can’t afford to turn on their heating or electricity and people who’ve been made homeless.

Amid this and at this particular time of year, the administration of the Borough Council, supported by Labour, plays an important part in helping residents cope with rises in the cost of living by ensuring that food banks have sufficient funds to help those in need.

In addition, there are many ongoing initiatives covering homelessness, housing, warm spaces, money worries and mental health and wellbeing. Supporting our communities is an inherent part of the new Corporate Strategy.

With a general election due in the next year, we will all have an opportunity to vote – for Labour - to choose positive change and ensure that Dickens’ vision and hope for a more equal society and one based on respect and compassion can become a reality.

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