To a large extent, people increasingly came to view the role of government during the Industrial Revolution as fulfilling the role previously assigned to rural landowners. In traditional rural society, the lord of the manor was expected to provide some measure of care for those who worked on his land. Though the seriousness with which landowners took their social responsibilities inevitably differed widely, there was a general consensus among the rural elite that the ownership of land entailed certain obligations to the poor.
During the Industrial Revolution, however, all that changed. As countless rural-dwellers made their way to the burgeoning towns and cities looking for work, they became separated from the intricate network of ties and obligations in which their whole identities had previously been bound up. Whereas if someone working the land may have received help from the lord of the manor if they became sick, no such assistance was available in the industrial towns and cities.
Increasingly vulnerable to work-related accidents, deaths, and industrial diseases, workers gradually began to look towards government to protect them from exploitation, to fill the gap in social provision left when they moved to the city. Unfortunately for them, the prevailing economic philosophy held that government should involve itself in regulating business as little as possible, and that working conditions and wages were purely a private contractual matter between employers and their workers.