Significance of Royal Commission on the Poor Laws, 1905-09 (3.6)


Royal Commission

  • set up in 1905 by the conservative government
  • to enquire into the workings of the poor laws and the best way to relieve the poor
  • 20 members
  • better qualified than the Royal Commission of 1832-34
  • enquiry was far more detailed
  • They visited 200 Poor Law unions and 400 institutions, took evidence from 40 witnesses and read through and analysed 900 statements of written evidence
  • when they came to report in 1909, they could not agree on the way forward and so produced two reports
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The majority report

  • the origins of poverty were basically moral
  • the Poor Law should stay as the main vehicle for dealing with poverty
  • Boards of guardians allowed too much relief and they should be replaced by public assistance committees
  • general mixed workhouses did not deter the able-bodied poor
  • there should be greater co-operation between charities and those administering the Poor Law, and voluntary aid committees shoudl be set up to enable this to happen
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The minority report

  • the origins of poverty were basically economic
  • A Ministry of Labour should be set up which would introduce and oversee public work schemes, set up a string of national labour exchanges to help the unemployed find jobs, organise a schedule of traingi schemes and set up detention colonies for those who were deliberately idle
  • The Poor Law administration should be broken up into education committees to deal with child poverty, pensin committees to deal with problems of the elderly poor and health committees to deal with problems of the poor who were sick or infirm
  • well recieved at first
  • governments do not feel compelled to act on either set of recommendations
  • boards of guardians opposed the proposal that they should be dissolved
  • by the time the reports were published, the Liberal government had already embarked on its own programme of refrom
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Principles for welfare reform

  • poverty as a condition was not always the fault of the poor
  • government shoudl take responsibility for improving the situation of the poorest members of society
  • poor law unins and boards of guardians should be abolished and replaced by public assistance committees that would work closely with local voluntary agencies
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