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Christmas 2009
Christmas 2009

In Darkest England and the Way Out

Poster of Booth's In Darkest England vision

Booth's In Darkest England scheme was a complex and ambitious plan to rescue 19th century England from her social woes.

Salvation Army founder William Booth's controversial blueprint for the welfare system, published in 1890, is still influential in the delivery of government welfare today...

In 1890, Booth's controversial book, In Darkest England and The Way Out, was published in which he presented his plans for a program to help the poor and needy. His ideas were summarised in what he termed 'The Cab-Horse Charter' which read, "when a horse is down he is helped up, and while he lives he has food, shelter and work". Booth realised that this meagre standard was absolutely unattainable by millions of people in Britain yet the fact remained that cab horses were treated to a better standard of living than many people.

He appealed to the public for £100,000 to start his scheme and a further £30,000 per year to maintain the program.

Despite a lack of immediate funds Booth decided to put his plan into action. The first thing to be set up was a labour bureau to help people find work. He purchased a farm where men could be trained in certain types of work and at the same time gain some self-respect, because often when men had been unemployed for some years their confidence needed to be restored.

From this farm colony, men could be further helped through emigration to an overseas colony, where labourers were few. Whole families could be helped to a much better standard of living.

Other projects included a missing persons bureau to help find missing relatives and reunite families, more hostels for the homeless and a poor mans bank which could make small loans to workers who could buy tools or set up in a trade.

Booth's book sold 200,000 copies within the first year. Nine years after publication The Salvation Army had served 27 million cheap meals, lodged 11 million homeless people, traced 18,000 missing people and found jobs for 9,000 unemployed people.

Booth's book was used as a blueprint for the present day welfare state in the United Kingdom when it was set up by the government in 1948. Many of Booth's ideas were incorporated into the welfare state system.

Read about The Salvation Army's history in Australia, and you will see Booth's ideas reflected in the early social programs, many of which continue today.

Although out of print, the text of In Darkest England is available online as part of the Project Gutenberg initiative: