The Scottish Poor Law and Unemployment, 1890–1929

  • Ian Levitt


It is one of the ironies of the present revival of modern nationalism in Scotland that historians are coming to realise that, while the dominant theme of the history of Scotland since the Union of 1707 has been the assimilation of Scottish institutions to English patterns, that assimilation was always incomplete. The development and peculiarities of the Scottish Poor Law are a testimony to this fact. While its origin before the Union of the Crowns owed much to Scottish statute imitating the Elizabethan Poor Law, the Scottish Poor Law was moulded in the next three centuries by the interplay of different needs and pressures in Scotland and different interpretations about how political administrators should respond to them. Thus arose one of the essential differences, confirmed by judicial decision as late as 1866, that no relief could be given to the able-bodied out of work.1 Those that could receive relief included ‘all persons disabled by age or by mental or bodily infirmity from gaining a livelihood by working and having no means of subsistence; widows or deserted wives burdened with children… and orphan children’.2


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  1. 17.
    J. R. Hay, The Origins of the Liberal Welfare Reforms, 1906–14 (London, 1975).Google Scholar
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    L. McKenzie, Carnegie Trust Report on Physical Welfare (Scotland) (Dunfermline, 1917);Google Scholar
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  4. 45.
    G. Simmel, ‘The Poor’, trans. in Social Problems, XIII (1965–6);Google Scholar
  5. P. Blau, The Dynamics of Bureaucracy (Chicago, 1955);Google Scholar
  6. J. Child, ‘Organisational Structures, Environment and Performance — The Role of Strategic Choice’, Sociology, vi (1972).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ailsa Maxwell, J. R. Ward, Alan Milward, Michael Palairet, George Hammersley, R. J. Morris, S. B. Saul, Wray Vamplew, Michael Cullen, Roger Davidson, Rosalind Mitchison, T. C. Smout, Stephanie Blackden, Ian Levitt 1979

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  • Ian Levitt

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