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The operation of the pre and post 1834 Poor Law Act

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The operation of the pre and post 1834 Poor Law provision Written by Amanda Evans 17th February 2008 1.1 Describe the operation of the pre and post 1834 Poor Law provision In the late sixteenth century local parishes were responsible for looking after the poor such as widows, orphans, the sick and the unemployed. People could only receive poor relief money from the parish where they were born, thus people did not move too far away from their parishes. The parish authorities, factory owners and the local magistrates used a form of taxation for all householders and land occupiers to pay for poor relief. Not only did the parishes have to provide benefits for the poor they also had to organise work for the able-bodied persons who were unable to support themselves. The authorities built workhouses, or poor houses, as they were known, mainly to shelter people who could not look after themselves and for the unemployed to enable them to work for their relief. ...read more.


At the end of the Napoleonic War 1815, demands for goods from the army dropped. Soldiers returned home and were unable to find employment. This contributed to the large amount of unemployed and subsequently drove down wages as people were competing for jobs. In addition to this, numbers of workers were unable to support themselves on such low wages, thus the poor rate was increased. The Speenhamland system caused panic in the property owning classes, as they were the ones who paid most of the poor rates. The system only encouraged labourers to be lazy and discouraged farmers from taking on labour and paying it properly. As a consequence, land went out of cultivation. With a slump in the economy between 1830-31, there were violent protests by farm labourers against low wages, unemployment and the introduction of new machinery that reduced the labourers' work. These outbreaks that occurred were known as the 'Swing Riots.' As a result of this, the Whig government were pressured to initiate action. ...read more.


This lowered the tax rates for ratepayers, however the system was cruel and cold-blooded, it blamed the poor for their poverty and unemployment identifying them as idle or drunkards. Trade slumps were not taken into consideration even though most poor could not find work no matter haw hard they tried. Workhouses separated families and children, sending them to work in different workhouses. Workhouses and guardians were attacked as hostile demonstrations transpired against the law. The labourers who lived in the south, having their wages topped up by the old system, were now reduced to poverty wages preventing them from supporting themselves. Thousands of people were unemployed during the 1837-38-trade recession, which made the system impossible to work in the south. There were too many people who needed to be accommodated in the workhouse. If they were not paid outdoor relief the poor would starve in their thousands. As the regular trade slumps caused large amount of unemployment, the parish guardians failed to accommodate the people into the workhouses. This resulted in the commissioners being forced to pay outdoor relief and 1847 saw a Poor Law Board set up to replace the commissioners. 1044 w 1 ...read more.

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