Speenhamland, Settlement and the New Poor Law
This chapter covers, for the most part, the period from the appearance of the Speenhamland system of allowances (around 1795) to the passage of the new poor law in 1834 and its implementation in the following decades. I will challenge a number of observations that have been made in the literature by arguing that Speenhamland did not produce a pervasive ‘demoralization’ of the lower classes; that allowances did not keep the poor tied to their parishes, preventing the development of a labour market; and that settlement laws did not restrict worker mobility to any great extent. I go on to give a condensed survey of the main points made in the royal commission report of 1834 as well as a description of the new poor law, highlighting the continuities and the discontinuities with the old poor law. The chapter concludes with my interpretation that the new poor law did not mark a major rupture between a ‘moral economy’ and a ‘market society’. I suggest instead that this law was part of a crisis in the agricultural sector of English capitalism and that Speenhamland and the new poor law did not create England’s labour market. Rather, these policies were a response to the maturation of that market.
KeywordsLabour Market Royal Commission Moral Economy Child Allowance Poor Relief
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