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Review of the Poor Law Act 1832

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Law - Poor Law

Poor Law Review 1832

In (2015 the date of post update) this can seem draconian but it is also a heartfelt jolt to consider how we view those less fortunate than ourselves and why there was such a dire need for social welfare and Reform in Britain.

During the 19th century, in what should have been a prosperous time for the nation with the Agricultural and Industrial RevolutionScientific progress, and the British Empire at its height why could our governing elite still not find it in their hearts to be more charitable? Its more complex than that historically and the attitude that was endemic in the Poor law has its own history. You can trace some of the developments in how the law treated the Poor going back 300 years plus from 1832 and it makes challenging reading. It might also need some reading by today’s politicians irrespective of their right, left or centre leaning, this country needed to reform and some of the institutions that were thankfully introduced by the spirit of Philanthropists as mucha s by the government of the day were what led Britain to being a more generous and caring nation.

In 1832, Earl Grey, the Prime Minister, set up a review of the Poor Law Act of 1601. Unfortunately it was not about making life better for the poor but more about making it harder, if that were possible. The result of the review was a report that came to the following conclusions:

  1. That, poverty was caused by lazy people, not by the social and economic conditions they found themselves in.
  2. That large families did better from poor relief than small, thus encouraging large families.
  3. That women took poor relief for illegitimate children, thus encouraging immorality and that employers paid low wages in the knowledge that the poor relief would ‘top up’ the wage.

The recommendations were, that parishes should form unions to support a workhouse that the workhouse conditions should be harsh to deter people from seeing it as an easy alternative to working and that a governing body should be put in place to oversee and administer the system.

Find out more about the history of the Poor Law and judge or yourself as to why in the 20th Century with two world wars there was such a clamour for a better life for all and the need for real social justice to be shared across the population, who largely at this point could not even vote a government in or out except by armed revolution. An enlightened government having witnessed the outcomes in France might have chosen a different path much earlier but Britain still had a long path to travel towards genuine social reform justice and welfare. 

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