HOW SUCCESSFUL WAS THE 1834 POOR LAW AMENDMENT ACT?
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HOW SUCCESSFUL WAS THE 1834 POOR LAW AMENDMENT ACT? The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was essentially meant to aid the fight against pauperism and to assist the poor into work and hopefully lead them to be better citizens and no longer a burden to the state. In order to analyse how successful the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was we have to examine what was in practice before, why it was implemented and what changed after the Act. Before the new Act the system of relief to the Poor that was in practice was the Poor Law Act of 1601, where the state (through the parishes) was responsible for those who were unable to support themselves: the sick, the elderly and the orphans - "the deserving poor" (because it wasn't their fault). They would be taken care in Poorhouses. For the able-bodied - "the undeserving poor" (they could provide for themselves but they didn't want to) or the unemployed, work would be provided, or they would receive cash or food (allowance), in order to help them. (Murray, 1999, p. 16). The money for the relief to the Poor was provided by rates (poor-rates), a local tax based on the value of the property. Till 1834 the Old Poor Law suffered several modifications: the Laws of Settlement (1662), which protect a parish from being overwhelmed by the poor who didn't belong to them (people could only ask for relief in the parish where they were born or
145). A Report came out with some important recommendations that were in accordance with the views of Bentham and Malthus (Digby, 1982, p. 12). The main Recommendations were, firstly there should be only one system of poor relief for the whole country; secondly outdoor relief should be abolished; thirdly parishes should join together to form Unions; fourthly relief should only be given if the Poor was prepared to enter the workhouse (the workhouse-test); and fifthly the conditions in the workhouse should be worse than those for the poorest paid labourer living outside the workhouse (the principle of less-eligibility) (Murray, 1999, p. 26). The recommendations from the Report were incorporated in the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and its main aims were: to abolish the outdoor relief and "? to cut the cost of poor relief; ? to reduce the poor rates; ? to transfer control of poor relief into the hands of the rate-payers; ? to transfer responsibility from individual parishes with unpaid overseers to the Unions with elected Boards of Guardians, and some central control from London" ( Evers, 2003, p. 157). Historians disagree about the significance of the Act. "Some believe that it represented the victory of the newly enfranchised middle classes, whilst an alternative view is that the Act was an attempt to consolidate the traditional power of the rural landowning classes. Either way, there is no doubt that the New Poor Law and the workhouse system that went with it were hated by the poor themselves throughout the nineteenth century and indeed into the twentieth century" (Murray, 1999, p.
The persistent effort to reduce outdoor relief in the late 19th century was helped by the growing number of charities organisations, such as Dr. Barnado, Octavia Still, Salvation Army, etc. They targeted their help towards the "deserving poor", leaving the "undeserving poor" to be handled by the Poor Law Authorities. (Murray, 1999, p. 50). This alliance brought the desired result: by 1900 the number of people receiving outdoor relief had reduced significantly. "Although the workhouse population had risen by the turn of the century, the proportion of paupers in the total population had declined from 4.7% in the 1860s to around 2.5% in 1900." (Murray, 1999, p. 50). In conclusion, it can be suggest that the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act wasn't successful because its principles were never fully implemented: the outdoor relief wasn't abolished; the "workhouse- test" wasn't enforced nationwide; the principle of "less-eligibility" didn't work, and, above all, the aim to cut the cost of poor relief (indoor and outdoor) wasn't achieved. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was seen by most of the working class as an instrument by which, the state punished people who were poor, even though it wasn't their fault (Evers, 2003, p. 157). The Act only dealt with the effects of poverty but didn't care enough about the causes of it. Nevertheless, the 1834 Act was seen by historians as "... the most significant development in the history of poverty and welfare in the 19th century and that it set the agenda for the debate on poverty for the next century" (Murray, 1999, p. 27).
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