Recently I have been watching BBC2's The Victorian Slum on catch-up on iPlayer. It follows a group of people who have volunteered to live in a mock up of a slum and each episode has followed a different decade. 1860s onwards.
I highly recommend the programmes. A number of the participants have actually traced that they had relatives who lived in such areas but all of the people have been very affected by what they have experienced. One man, for example, volunteered to give up his prosthetic leg and to manage with a peg leg for the entirety of the experiment.
The programmes have introduced immigrants at the relevant points (Irish escaping the famines, Jews escaping the pogroms in Russia) and have also given social history asides via a presenter. The sick, the old, the disabled stood no chance of making enough money to survive. The debt cycle was never-ending.
And looking at the reactions on Twitter, I think many viewers have drawn similar conclusions to me.
Namely, just how close are we to such appalling circumstances being repeated now? By the 1870s, there were people actually campaigning to take away such poor relief as there was, despite cities over flowing with people in need. There was a strong belief in the idea of the deserving poor versus the feckless, undeserving poor. Racism was endemic. And all of the available assistance was presided over by 'boards' of white middle class men who sat in judgement over those forced to go cap in hand in order to survive. All sounding a bit close to 2016, isn't it?
Here in York, an initiative took off last year called Xmas Presence. It started as someone's attempt to provide a really good Christmas Day for a small number of people who would otherwise be alone and ended up as a fantastic event, with food, drink, gifts, entertainment and many local people involved - as helpers, providers and guests. It will hopefully be even bigger this year.
This week, someone wrote to our local paper complaining at the use of 'Xmas' instead of 'Christmas' in the title of this initiative - 'what a pity the title is another step towards losing the real meaning of Christmas'.
Ian Donaghy, the amazing founder of Xmas Presence, wrote a wonderful reply about inclusivity, ending that he wondered what Jesus would think of the work being done.
We are still battling with the idea of 'deserving poor v undeserving'. Our media endlessly promote these ideas. Whether it be attempts to dehumanise the refugees stranded in Calais or the 'can't pay, we'll take it away' style of reality television (such programmes are far too close to the wealthy Victorians' sightseeing trips into the slums for my liking). Our government is constantly attacking the welfare system and underfunding the NHS and is now making a concerted effort to break equal education. When Brexit finally takes place, many of the laws which currently protect our remaining rights will be up for grabs.
I think Jesus would be delighted at Xmas Presence, of course. But he would, and we should all, be appalled at what is happening in our society. And our Victorian ancestors would be amazed that so many fundamentals haven't changed.