Formed in 1869, the Charity Organization Society (COS) was intended to provide a much greater degree of coherence and coordination to the hundreds of disparate and ad hoc voluntary bodies and philanthropic groups that dealt with the poor during the latter half of the 19th century. However, the COS did not involve itself in providing financial support, but instead sought to liaise with other charities by referring “deserving” cases to them while encouraging such voluntary bodies to adhere to a set of shared principles; its role was to promote and disseminate good practice.

In particular, the COS reflected the prevalent mid-19th-century individualist philosophy that attributed poverty to failings or fecklessness among the poor. Poverty was not blamed on social or structural factors, such as low wages ...

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