Quote [75] – Historic Action: Government, Parliament and The Poor

Referring to work at a boys club:

“It was astonishing how wide were the interests of the boys in all kinds of subjects.  Sometimes they produced very good aphorisms.  For instance, we were discussing friendship one evening.  One boy summed it up by saying. ‘A pal is a bloke wot knows all about yer and yet loves yer.’  Another time we were discussing the qualities of a gentleman.  One said, ‘A bloke what does no work.‘ Another said, ‘A rich bloke.’ Young Dicky, a bright lad said, ‘I reckon a gentleman is a bloke wot’s the same to everybody’

As It Happened – C R Attlee
In the local association of Care Committees we used to have great fights against the adherents of the Charity Organisation Society who believed in the Poor Law principle of deterrence.  I recall a parson who advocated giving children only burnt porridge served at the most inconvenient place and time. Government Benefits / Support Systems As It Happened – C R Attlee
Poverty and the Law:

The problem of poverty caused growing public concern during the early 19th century. The existing system for looking after those unable to care for themselves – the old, sick, disabled, orphans and unemployed – was based on a series of Acts of Parliament passed during the later Tudor period. These laws imposed an obligation on every parish to take care of its poor, though this had much less to do with compassion than with the need to preserve order and stability.

‘Poor relief’ was not the responsibility of central government, but of the local parish, the main part of local government. A ‘poor rate’ or local tax paid by parish householders was used to help the poor in two main ways. In the 18th century those who were too ill, old, destitute, or who were orphaned children were put into a local ‘workhouse’ or ‘poorhouse’. Those able to work, but whose wages were too low to support their families, received ‘relief in aid of wages’ in the form of money, food and clothes.

Need for reform

New legislation attempted to improve aspects of the Poor Law, but left everything to local initiative. By the end of the 1790s there were clear signs that the system was under severe strain. Increasing numbers of parish poor were seeking assistance and the cost to ratepayers of maintaining the system was rising alarmingly, especially as payments were linked to the rising costs of bread and the size of families. There was also evidence that poor law payments were being used by employers to ‘top up’ wages.

In the early 1830s outbreaks of rural violence in southern England and complaints from hard-pressed ratepayers made it clear that urgent reform was essential. But opinion in Parliament and in the corridors of power was divided over how the Poor Law system could be made to work more effectively and less expensively. The main question preoccupying many MPs was whether it was right for the state to take some responsibility in such matters.

Appendix – for the above
  In 1832, the government appointed a royal commission to investigate the workings of the Poor Law and make recommendations for improvement. The commissioners sent out questionnaires and visited over 3,000 parishes (out of a total of 15,000) collecting information.

One of the leading commissioners, Edwin Chadwick, was already convinced that the system needed to be brought under rigorous central control in London. It also needed to be reformed in such a way as to deter people from making unnecessary demands on public funds.

The commission’s report and recommendations were published in 1834 and received wide support in Parliament. The commissioners had come up with a way of providing an efficient government cure for the problem, yet one which ensured a minimum of state interference and cost.

Reform

The Poor Law Amendment Act was quickly passed by Parliament in 1834, with separate legislation for Scotland and Ireland. It implemented a major overhaul of the old Poor Law by adopting all the commission’s main recommendations. A ‘Poor Law Commission’ (a new government department, in effect) was set up in London employing inspectors to supervise the work of local officials. Instead of an administrative system based around parishes about 600 locally elected ‘boards of guardians’ were set up, each board having its own workhouse.

Outdoor relief – the financial support formerly given to the able-bodied – was no longer to be available to them so as to compel them to work. Outside assistance was widely available to the sick and elderly. But in many areas assistance was only given within the confines of the workhouse where the regime was deliberately harsh and often cruel.

Pioneering Act

The new Act was pioneering in introducing a role for central government in the care of the poor, and remained in force throughout the Victorian age. But, as social commentators remarked, the treatment of genuine hardship caused by economic circumstances beyond the control of the individual had been ignored. By the 1880s, greater understanding of poverty and its complex links with economic conditions (such as low pay and unemployment) slowly began to change opinion in Parliament.

 

 

http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/livinglearning/19thcentury/overview/poverty/

http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/livinglearning/19thcentury/overview/poorlaw/

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