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How important was the aim of reducing the burden on the ratepayers in the framing of the 1834 Poor Law?

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Introduction

How important was the aim of reducing the burden on the ratepayers in the framing of the 1834 Poor Law? Britain was experiencing a great deal of inconsistency in social and economic change and a problem of poverty became increasingly obvious to the Whig Government at the time. There are many reasons for the changes made in the framing of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and the aim of reducing the burden on ratepayers was a very important factor as ratepayers were continually expressing their concerns to the Government, however there are many other important factors that have to be taken into consideration into the framing of the act. In the eighteenth century poor relief was based on the basis of two influential statutes that were the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1597 and 1601 along with the Act of Settlement of 1662. Poverty was affecting all aspects of life and the Poor Law was coming under increasing critiscm from ratepayers, politicians and academic thinkers alike. The motivation for the Old Poor Law act of 1601 was partly Humanitarian, those who were unable to help themselves, but mainly a concern for social stability. The system was based on knowing who the poor were, but this was hard to determine. The ratepayers were important to the system as they were the ones who provided the money for poor relief and they were able to change the system. Inevitably the system of 1601 needed to develop and change in order to support the society and riots along with disaffection were prevented through "outdoor relief." ...read more.

Middle

The Whigs listened to Bentham's ideas that were published in 1798 and said that entire responsibility should be given to the poor. He had ideas of industry houses accommodating half million people but only those who enter the house get poor relief. Outdoor relief should be abolished and the life in industry houses would be hard, disciplined, long hours and have a strict supervision. Bentham wanted a young and disciplined permanent population but he was virtually making them slave prisoners. Another key influence was Thomas Malthus, a parson and an economic writer. In his 'essay on population' in 1976, he developed his pessimistic theory that the expansion of population would outstrip the available food supply, therefore famine and disaster are sure to follow. Malthus blamed the Poor Laws for the population increase and said that allowances and relief was needed. David Ricardo was influenced by Malthus and the Scottish economist Adam Smith and had ideas on the economy and taxation. He also feared about population and believed in a 'free market' but believed that the parish rate would impoverish the population as a whole and it would encourage dependency, idleness and feckleness. The pioneer sociologist Robert Owen blamed the economic system itself for creating poverty. He believed that settling labourers in cooperative communities to share benefits was the solution to the problem of unemployment, but his ideas were rejected inside and outside Parliament. Thomas Paine, a radical writer had a much more sympathetic attitude to the poor and criticised the Poor Laws as well as urging for reforms. ...read more.

Conclusion

Some believed that it represented a victory of the newly enfranchised middle classes. The Poor Law Amendment act of 1834 was extremely similar to what the report recommended. It was obvious to see that the Whigs wanted a cost efficient system and were seduced by Utilitarian ideas. A central authority was set up to supervise and regulate the administration of the Poor Law. Parishes would be grouped together to form Poor Law unions in order to provide relief efficiently. Each Poor Law union was to establish a workhouse in which inmates would live in conditions that were worse than those of the poorest labourer. Outdoor relief was abolished for the able-bodied poor. The 1834 report was widely read with over 15000 copies being published and Chadwick said "the recommendations are like a 'cold bath'- unpleasant in contemplation but invigorating in its effects. The act received wide support in Parliament and the system was very low cost. My final conclusion is that it was very important in reducing the burden on the ratepayers in the framing of the 1834 Poor Law, however there were many other causes like failings in the system that led to changes. The economy and society of Britain was developing therefore a new system was bought about to suit the needs. The riots as well as the commentators who had a lot to say about the old poor law all contributed to the changes belled. The system needed modifying as systems, for example the "Speenhamland system" only caused more problems which were not improving. The ratepayers were extremely important, as they recognised the many corruptions within the system. ...read more.

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