Why the Old Poor Law was attacked?

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  • Created by: Isabella
  • Created on: 12-05-13 17:32

Industralisation, Urbanisation and Povetry

  • By the beginning of the 19th century society had changed
  • There was a massive population growth, alongside a volatile labour market had led to mechanisation and industralisation
  • Ultimately meant that new urban environments developed that were not built to cope with such an influx of people
  • This lead to:
  • An increase in the number of poor
  • An increase in economic recessions
  • Vunerability of larger numbers of the population to povetry
  • Concentration of poor people in towns and cities (they became more visible)
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Prevailing idelogies

  • Some like William Cobbett wanted to keep the old system and even suggested increasing poor rates
  • Others like Robert Owen and Tom Paine wanted to modify the system
  • Others wanted to change the system altogether and their opinions were listened to by the government
  • This included: Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, Jeremy Bentham and Edwin Chadwick
  • They believed that the Old Poor Law encouraged laziness and vice, and that the law itself was the cause of povetry
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Rising cost of Poor Relief

  • Most important reason why they changed the law
  • In 1784 the cost was £2 million
  • By 1817, it cost £7.9 million and by 1831 it cost £7 million
  • Costs had increased due to the Napoleonic Wars and a series of poor harvests in 1820s
  • Caused support for Malthus' views
  • And that poor relief should be a deterrent
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Corruption of Poor Law Administrators

  • Under the old system, there was alledged "vested interests"
  • For example, contracts for supplying food was given to local tradesmen rather than put out to local tender
  • In 1819 the Government allowed parishes to organise "Select Vestries", committees that would specialise in Poor Law Administration
  • Corruption continued, eg. the Morpeth Select Vestry had a vested interest in the sale of beer and it was alledged that most relief payments ended up being spent in the local ale house
  • So corruption plus rising rates led to unhappy ratepayers
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Alternative solutions

  • In some local places local overseers or vestries had tried to solve the increasing rising rates but using different systems
  • In Nottigham, George Nicholls and Rev. Robert Lowe tried to reduce rates 
  • By eliminating the allowance system and imposing harsh discipline in the workhouse
  • As a result, the workhouse became an object of fear and poor law expenditure was reduced from £1884 to £786 between 1822 and 1824
  • The Government looked on this "alternative solutions" with favour for obvious reasons
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Fear of Revolution

  • There was a fear of revolution in the countryside
  • Poor harvests in 1829 and 1830
  • Poor Law spending per head had decreased in the 1820s 
  • And the introduction of new machinery had led to violence like the Swing Riots
  • Machines and workhouses were attacked across the country
  • The rioters were crushed and harsh penalties meted out but the Government demanded a harsher punishment towards the poor
  • Revolution going on in France as well, worries that revolution would spread to over here
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