The Poor Laws

  • David ReismanEmail author
Part of the Great Thinkers in Economics book series (GTE)


The Poor Laws since 1601 had provided parish relief to paupers. Malthus, believing that hand-outs encouraged earlier marriage and larger families, recommended that all welfare save for grants to the irremediably destitute should be abolished. He denied that there was a right to welfare or that welfare formed part of the social contract. While benevolence was a moral absolute, it was expanding the population, putting pressure on limited food and creating the misery it was intended to contain. The hidden curriculum was that the abolition of income-maintenance would teach the values of self-reliance, prudence, assiduity and moral restraint which would confer economic as well as social benefits.


Poor laws Institutional reform Welfare 


By T. R. Malthus

  1. (1798 [1970]). Essay on the Principle of Population, as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and Other Writers (abbreviated as FE), ed. by A. Flew. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  2. (1803 et seq. [1989]). An Essay on the Principle of Population: Or a View of Its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness, with an Inquiry into Our Prospects Respecting the Removal of the Evils Which It Occasions (2nd edition, 1803; further editions in 1806, 1807, 1817, 1826) (abbreviated as SE I and SE II), 2 vols., ed. by P. James. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. (1807). A Letter to Samuel Whitbread, Esq, M.P., on His Proposed Bill for the Amendment of the Poor Laws (abbreviated as LW), reprinted in The Works of Thomas Robert Malthus, ed. by E. A. Wrigley and D. Souden. London: Pickering and Chatto, 4, 3–19.Google Scholar
  4. (1830). A Summary View of the Principle of Population (abbreviated as SV), in FE, supra.Google Scholar

Secondary Literature

  1. Bonar, J. (1885 [1924]). Malthus and His Work (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  2. Marshall, T. H. (1950 [1992]). Citizenship and Social Class. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  3. Paine, T. (1792 [2000]). The Rights of Man. In T. Benn (Ed.), Common Sense and the Rights of Man. London: Phoenix Press.Google Scholar
  4. Smith, A. (1759 [1966]). The Theory of Moral Sentiments. New York: Augustus M. Kelley.Google Scholar
  5. Titmuss, R. M. (1968). Commitment to Welfare. London: Allen & Unwin. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore

Personalised recommendations