The New Poor Law (Chronology of European History)
Article abstract: Parliament’s passage of the New Poor Law represents the culmination of fifty years of experimentation in poor relief, seeking to make relief more stringent, more centralized, and more in tune with a capitalist labor market.
Summary of Event
England’s first Poor Laws for poor relief dated from the Reformation period and were based on parish support. The spirit and application had varied, as had the degree of central control. Some parishes treated the poor in a humanitarian way, while others were harsh. The Industrial Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars had caused serious economic problems for England’s poor. The plight of the agricultural laborers had become desperate by the late 1790’s because of low wages caused by general agricultural distress.
This situation resulted in the humanitarian but unsound “Speenhamland system,” which supplemented the wages from the taxes in order to maintain a living wage for workers. The Speenhamland system was most common in the rural parishes of the south, but on occasion periodic unemployment in industrial districts also required extensive expenditures. The speenhamland system led to a number of serious problems and abuses such as the growth of pauperism, idleness, illegitimacy, and general demoralization of character. It also subsidized farmers who only hired laborers on relief since they could then pay them lower wages. The system encouraged...
(The entire section is 1942 words.)
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