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The Poor Law was a system established since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, about two hundred years before the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834

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Introduction

Course Essay The Poor Law was a system established since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, about two hundred years before the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. In this system the able-bodied poor should be set to work, whilst the others had to be provided for by their parish of birth. By 1795 when the whole system was under strain, an attempted solution was the Speenhamland system also know as the allowance system that was devised in 1795. This was devised to relieve the acute distress of the poor by giving money to families calculated according to the number of children and the price of bread. As the Poor Law was becoming increasingly costly throughout the years, there had to be change in order to protect the ratepayers and government alike. Apart from the cost of the Poor Law, other factors such as War, possible revolution under the influence of 1830's French Revolution, 'laissez faire', over-population, corruption, demoralisation, the results of the Royal Commission and the role of important individuals have helped to convince the government that they had to react to the distress and abuse that existed and that the Poor Law was not doing what it was intended to do originally: provide for those who genuinely needed it. This led to an inquiry into the situation so as to reform the system and make it more efficient and cost effective. Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) and David Ricardo (1772-1823) ...read more.

Middle

The Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) proved how vulnerable the Poor Law was to changes in the economy and society. With the war bread prices increased as cheap grain could no longer be imported due to the continental blockade. This meant that farmers could increase their bread prices as they had the monopoly for grain. As bread was part of the staple diet of the poor, more poor people had to ask for relief as they could no longer deal with the increased price of bread. Many believed that when the war ended the situation would improve, but instead it worsened. As the continental blockade had ended together with Napoleon, cheap grain could be imported and therefore the price on bread lowered again. As a result, the farmers who initially were making a large profit on the bread they produced were loosing out as they had to reduce their prices in order to compete with the cheapness of the foreign grain. As farmers had to pay increasing poor rates, war taxes and had less income than during the war, they had to reduce the wages which they gave to their labourers. This led to another increase in the cost of relief as labourers were no longer earning what they used to in conditions of war. Many farmers were bankrupt and the increase in unemployment was simultaneous to that of poor relief. ...read more.

Conclusion

There would be an expansion of the workhouse system for those unable to help themselves. Conditions in the 'Bastilles' would be so unattractive that the poor would have to help themselves rather than enter a workhouse. This was known as the principle of 'less eligibility'. Parishes would now be grouped into Poor Law Unions to create larger units, the intervention being that each of the individual categories of poor (able-bodied, impotent and idle) would be given their on individual workhouse. The main purpose of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 was to completely reform the system of poor relief in England and Wales, making it cost effective and efficient. But different views and criticisms go against this and believe that it had other motives behind it. For example the Marxist perspective maintains that the Act was "nothing more than a naked class exploitation by the newly enfranchised middle classes." Therefore, by holding down the poor rate by making harsh and unacceptable workhouses, the poor were forced to work for lower wages. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 was the most significant development in the history of poverty and welfare in the nineteenth century, but on the other hand it was hated by the poor who had to live with the threat of the workhouse. From then on workers were forced to take responsibility for their own economic situation and had to take employment at any wage. Therefore workers had to find alternative ways of coping with poverty because the State had withdrawn its traditional support. ...read more.

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