Poor Law Reform 1834(PLAA)

Poor Law Reform 1834(PLAA)

The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 (PLAA), known widely as the New Poor Law, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed by the Whig government of Earl Grey. It completely replaced earlier legislation based on the Poor Law of 1601 and attempted to fundamentally change the poverty relief system in England and Wales (Scotland made similar changes to its poor law in 1845). It resulted from the 1832 Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws which included Edwin Chadwick, John Bird Sumner and Nassau William Senior. Chadwick was dissatisfied with the law that resulted from his report. The Act was passed two years after the 1832 Reform Act extended the franchise to the middle-classes. Some historians have argued that this was a major factor in the PLAA being passed.
The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 was the classic example of the fundamental Whig-Benthamite reforming legislation of the period. Preceded by the massive and well-publicised report of a Royal Commission it received general parliamentary support and passed into law with comparatively little discussion. The machinery of the new law in itself constituted a virtual administrative revolution: a central commission not under direct ministerial or parliamentary control, with wide powers to




§  establish efficient local administrative units

§  supervise the work of locally elected guardians

§  prescribe the qualifications of local officials

§  make regulations for the general administration of relief.

The principles on which the commissioners were to act followed from the recommendations of an earlier report:

§  the principle of 'less eligibility' (workhouse conditions should be made less preferable than those of the lowest paid labourer)

§  the prohibition of outdoor relief (relief outside the workhouse)

§  the segregation of different classes of paupers (including the separation of married couples)

§  the abolition of the 'rate-in-aid' (grants to supplement low wages).





The act stated that:

(a) no able-bodied person was to receive money or other help from the Poor Law authorities except in a workhouse;

(b) conditions in workhouses were to be made very harsh to discourage people from wanting to receive help;

(c) workhouses were to be built in every parish or, if parishes were too small, in unions of parishes;

(d) ratepayers in each parish or union had to elect a Board of Guardians to supervise the workhouse, to collect the Poor Rate and to send reports to the Central Poor Law Commission;
(e) the three man Central Poor Law Commission would be appointed by the government and would be responsible for supervising the Amendment Act throughout the country.



For political and administrative reasons it proved impossible to apply these principles rigorously, particularly in the northern and midland industrial districts. As early as 1837 the commissioners modified their instructions to permit outdoor relief at Nottingham where the creation of the new poor-law union coincided with a period of acute unemployment. In 1841 a general order was issued to a number of northern unions prescribing rules for the administration of outdoor relief to able-bodied men, half of which was to be in kind (bread, potatoes etc.), in return for some form of supervised work. In practice the local boards of guardians in both town and country enjoyed a greater latitude in the administration of relief than commonly supposed. The widespread belief that assistance could only be obtained by entering the workhouse (the workhouse test) was completely erroneous. In 1841, of the 1,300,000 persons who received relief, only 192,000 were in workhouses, the remaining 1,108,000 being assisted in their own homes. Of the total sum of £3,884,000 spent in poor relief from the rates, only £892,000 was expended in the workhouses, while nearly £3 millions were spent in outdoor relief. The figures for 1839 and 1840 show similar proportions.

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