Poor Law Amendment Act 1834

  • Created by: Miamuna
  • Created on: 16-03-19 15:06


  • In the early 1830s, the cost of poor relief was considered unacceptably high
  •  Poor Law reform was intended to bring with it much tighter social discipline, with fewer paupers being paid to do nothing and more people driven to work and its disciplines.
  • Poor Law guardians would be guided by a central body of Poor Law commissioners and so central government would increase its power.  


  •  Parishes would group into Poor Law unions, each with elected guardians to deal with the poor. This would be cheaper and more efficient
  •  Pauper children would be educated and found positions as apprentices to prevent them being a burden to their families and parishes.
  • Poor rates would fall as fewer people would want to enter the harsh workhouses where families were seperated and hard work was required, than would apply for the old outdoor relief ( poor relief where assistance was in the form of money, food, clothing or goods, given to alleviate poverty without the requirement that the recipient enter an institution.) 
  • Overall, the new system was widely seen as cost-effective and rational.
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  • The three new Poor Law comissioners and their leading administrator, Edwin Chadwick, worked with furious energy. 
  • Applications for poor relief were heard and decisions made about whether the poor should be allowed to receive relief in their homes or be forced into the workhouse
  • The South of England accepted the new arrangements quickly. 
  • In the North and West it took longer for the new law to be brought in and it was sometimes met with violence
  •  A major downturn in the pottery trade had led to 30,000 unemployed and this put a great deal of pressure on the new workhouse
  • A mob at Huddersfield, urged by Richard Oastler, prevented the new board of guardians from using their powers. 
  •  At Bradford in 1837 the guardians had to be protected by armed troops 
  • New workhouse regime caused Rebecca Riots in Wales, 1839
  • When a general order banning outdoor relief was issued in 1844 it could not be enforced in some areas, but by 1839 14,000 parishes - 95 per cent - had created unions under the Act. 
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  • Workhouses, usually hastily contructed, squat, four-square buildings, began to appear at intervals of twenty miles or so. 
  • Fear of entering the workhouse, known as the 'Bastille' after the hated fortress of the French Revolution, was a major contributer to Chartist agitation, and created a division between North and South as the North, with more heavy industry, was more affected by trade fluctuations. 
  • Responsibility for implementing the new Poor Law still rested with local people and it was sometimes difficult to get appropriately experienced people to run the workhouses. 
  • Became home for deserted women and their illegitimate children, unemployed men and their families, the old, the sick and the mentally ill
  • Reports showed that most workhouses insisted on inmates wearing prison-type uniforms; that rations were often less than in prisons; that petty humiliations were common; that famiies suffered prolonged emotional stress from enoforced separation
  • Andover Scandal: Inmates reducing to gnawing at animal bone marrow
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  •  Opposition came from workers who feared the new 'Bastilles' - and were influenced by rumours that the authorities wanted to kill off the poor by poisoning them or maltreating them in the new workhouses. 
  •  There was also considerable opposition to the centralisation of government power regardless of any sympathies with the poor. 
  • These ideas came from Tory radicals and others who feared between relations with the upper class and labourers.
  • Many in parliament distrusted the new, and fashionable, utilitarian philosophy and feared the growth of central government and the power of bodies like the Poor Law Commission
  • Harsh stories of the abuse of vulnerable groups in some newspapers like The Times, and in novels like Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist. 
  • An Anti-Poor Law movement developed to organise protests, but its membership was less numerous and effective than the Anti-Corn Law League. The movement produced pamphlets, held public meetings and wrote letters to sympathetic newspapers. The crowds disrupted meetings of Poor Law officials. However, the movement's aspiration to establish a genuinely national 'league' was not achieved. The authorities eventually established unions covering the whole of England and Wales. 
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