Part of the Problems in Focus Series book series (PFS)


After more than three decades of acute concern over England’s system of poor relief Parliament in 1834 adopted a means of returning to the beloved 43rd of Elizabeth. The Poor Law Amendment Act released powerful forces whose impact is not yet spent. Part Malthusian, part Benthamite, the New Poor Law sought to reverse the trend which had carried poor relief from its legitimate empire of pauperism into the sacrosanct territory of poverty. Employing the apparently faultless logic of ‘less-eligibility’, reformers such as Chadwick assumed that voluntary paupers would now quit the class of pauper for the more rewarding condition of independent labour. To strengthen that incentive and to provide adequate institutional care for those labelled ‘impotent’ all relief would be channelled into a workhouse, and outdoor relief (the bane of the old system) would cease. In order to ensure equitable and efficient treatment of paupers in all areas a uniform administrative regime was attempted, under the guidance of a central Poor Law Commission. Less-eligibility, the workhouse test, uniformity and centralisation: such in outline were the main landmarks of the 1834 revolution.1


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© David Ashforth, Anne Digby, Francis Duke, M. W. Flinn, Derek Fraser, Norman McCord, Audrey Paterson, Michael E. Rose 1976

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