How far did the Poor Law Amendment Act mark a turning point in attitudes and state provision towards the poor?
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How far did the Poor Law Amendment Act mark a turning point in attitudes and state provision towards the poor? The Poor Law Commission of 1832 marked a significant turning point in attitudes and state provision towards the poor. The Commission gave birth to much greater knowledge of the poor, caused British society to replace their paternalistic attitude with utilitarianism, established the Poor Law Amendment Act and changed dominant class running the poverty. Therefore great reforms occurred as a result of the Poor Law Commission however, the many restrictions and flaws of the commission limit the impact it has as a turning point in attitudes and state provision towards the poor. Before the establishment of the Poor Law Commission in 1832, the poorest members of British society were the responsibility of individual parishes and, as the poor were not the responsibility of the government and the upper-class, knowledge of the unreformed poor law was very limited.
Intellectuals such as Malthus and Ricardo began to highlight the flaws of the Old system by raising awareness of serious issues which would arise from the Old Poor Law. However, such views had no great impact on the majority until after the findings of the Commission, when people were more prepared to listen to what intellectuals were saying. In particular Jeremy Bentham's doctrine of 'utilitarianism' was at the center of the shift away from paternalism and the nation now believed his theory of 'the greatest happiness for the greatest majority'. Therefore the Commission of 1832 marked a turning point in the attitudes of British society towards the poor as the nation went from their paternalistic approach to adopting a utilitarianistic attitude and the views of anti-Old Poor Law intellectuals would have much more influence. As the position of intellectuals became of great value, so did their solution to reforming the Old Poor Law. Jeremy Bentham's suggestion of establishing 250 industry houses and the abolition of 'outdoor' relief came into practice under a large Government legislation known as the Poor Law Amendment Act which, was a direct result of the Commission.
Although the Poor Law Commission was a marked a major turning point in the way society and the state dealt with the poor, its limitations restricts its impact as a turning point. The investigation only covered 10% of Britain's parishes and the methods the assistant commissioners used to gather evidence, were inefficient and inappropriate. Most importantly however, the commissioners had already come to their conclusions before the investigation was conducted and merely intended to use its findings as a tool to reform the poor laws. In conclusion, despite the fact that Poor Law Commission of 1832 had a predetermined aim and does not live up to modern accuracy, it was a ground-breaking survey for its time. The Commission must be recognised as a massive turning point as, not only did it end a system which had been in the works since 1601 but it changed ownership of poverty, gave government control of issues which had previously been out of their hands, ended traditional society and paternalism and also started the welfare state
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