Oliver Twist arrives in the world with the deck of life stacked against him. He is born attended by an uncaring doctor and his drunken nurse assistant. Oliver's mother dies soon after he is born. There is no sign of who his father might be.
From an early age, therefore, Oliver lives in a state-run poor house. Dickens is scathing in his condemnation of this system, which had been implemented in 1834, only three years before he began the novel. The new poor laws, meant to slash government spending, were designed to be deliberately cruel. Rather than continuing the old system of handing out some gap aid that could help families over the hump of a hard time, the new laws stipulated that the only way to get aid was to go into a workhouse. These workhouses were made to be harsh as possible in order to deter people from using them. They were similar to prisons or concentration camps.
As we see from Oliver's experiences, he and his peers are neglected badly and underfed to the point of starvation in the workhouse. They are forced to wear clothes that set them apart as the despised poor. Worse, when Oliver does ask for more food, he is severely punished by a system bent on grinding people down and breaking their wills. Ultimately, though still a young child, he lands on the streets to fend for himself. His early life continues to be unhappy, as he falls in with criminals.