19th century Britain saw a huge population increase accompanied by rapid urbanisation stimulated by the Industrial Revolution. The large numbers of skilled and unskilled people looking for work kept wages down to a barely subsistence level. Available housing was scarce and expensive, resulting in overcrowding. These problems were magnified in London, where the population grew at record rates. Large houses were turned into flats and tenements, and as landlords failed to maintain these dwellings, slum housing developed.


Significant changes happened in the British Poor Law system in England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. These included significant expansions in workhouses (or poorhouses in Scotland), although with changing populations during the era.