In the mid-nineteenth century, England was suffering from economic instability and widespread unemployment. The economic instability was a legacy of the Napoleonic era, which lasted until 1815. During this time, England was at war with France. The English government had imposed heavy taxes to pay for the war, and although these did not really affect the wealthy classes, they were a crushing burden on the poor. Prices rose, food became scarce, and inflation rose. Also because of the war, French and European markets for English goods were closed, leading to unemployment among workers.
The Napoleonic War ended in 1815, but the misery did not. With the war over, England entered the worst depression it had ever seen. The number of poor people, never low, increased to crisis levels.
During this time, children often worked long hours, every day of the week, in dangerous factories. In 1833, child labor and working conditions began to be regulated and controlled.
In 1834, the "Poor Laws" were passed. They required that people needing public assistance live in workhouses, where they were poorly fed and badly treated.