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In the belief that personal shortcomings were the chief cause of poverty and of people’s inability to cope with it, the major 19th-century systems of poor relief in western Europe and North America tended to withhold relief from all but the truly destitute, to whom it was given as a last resort.

In Britain, the United States, Germany, and, later, Japan, leading charities worked in conjunction with poor-law and public assistance authorities, an approach endorsed in 1909 in the majority report of the British Royal Commission on the Poor Law.

The first schools of social work, usually run by the voluntary charitable agencies, appeared in the 1890s and early 1900s in London, New York City, and Amsterdam, and by the 1920s there were similar ventures in other parts of western Europe and North America and in South America.

The Elizabethan Poor Laws in England, which sought relief of paupers through care services and workhouses administered at the parish level, provided precedents for many modern legislative responses to poverty.

In Victorian times a more stringent legal view of poverty as a moral failing was met with the rise of humanitarianism and a proliferation of social reformers.

The settlement movement in Britain and the United States drew voluntary workers into direct contact with the serious material disadvantages suffered by the poor.The pioneer of this movement was the vicar Samuel A.Although the role of personal social services is crucial, they account for only a small proportion of total welfare expenditures.The most substantial increases in expenditures have occurred in social security systems, which provide assistance to specific categories of claimants on the basis of both universal and selective criteria.