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Poor Law Amendment Act 1834

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Law - Poor Law
This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Reform
This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series Reformers and Radicals
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Reforming Women

Poor Law Amendment Act 1834

The Poor law Amendment Act 1834 , amending what was known as the ‘Old Poor Law‘and reflecting concerns about the burden of a growing population and a spiraling cost of poor relief under the Old Poor Law. It was arguably one of the most important and draconian pieces of legislation, definitely a measure of tough love.

The amendment act adopted an approach that was to make poverty less attractive, difficult to believe now in hindsight could be seen as attractive!  Conversely those in power would, as can be seen today, have seen it as an important incentive not to be in poverty at all but to be gainfully employed.

Relief was restricted largely to administration via entry into the Workhouses, what had been known as ‘Outdoor Relief was now severely restricted. Even entry into the Workhouse was subject to a form of means testing that only allowed  the severest of cases to be admitted.

  • Parishes were organised into Poor Law Unions
  • Poor Law Unions were run by elected Boards of Guardians.
  • These Boards were supervised by the Poor Law Commission based in London
  • The principle architect of the scheme was Edwin Chadwick who had led work and report of the same year on the Old poor Law.
  • Chadwick had Utilitarian sympathies and these were enshrined in this harsh administration, in his own words he had designed the system of Workhouses to be, in his own words ‘uninviting places of wholesome restraint.’
  • It’s a fine balance as modern economics and data can reveal between a fair and caring society and the need to be able to afford the care for genuine needs that most fair-minded folks would like to see.
  • This was a centrally imposed significant law that had a profound impact on the life of those unfortunate and desperate for some shelter and assistance in difficult times.
  • Dickens works were erudite social documents of the times and illustrations of how tough life was for the poor during his lifetime and this period.

 

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