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The Poor Law Amendment Act And Tackling Poverty

3941 words - 16 pages

The Poor Law Amendment Act and Tackling Poverty

The Poor Law of 1601 was the first to codify the idea of the state to provide for the welfare of its citizens. It distinguished between the 'deserving' and the 'undeserving' poor; relief was local and community controlled.1 The 1834 Poor Law Act Amendment Act was an amendment to the Act for the relief of The English Poor Law of 1601.

The Speenhamland System

The Speenhamland System first saw light of day in 1795. It was introduced by the magistrates in the Berkshire village of Speenhamland in an effort to relieve the extreme poverty, which existed and was adopted widely. It offered any one, or several forms of relief including:

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It was a direct violation of the poor person's right to pursue the principle of pleasure; to exercise mans' right to freedom and liberty. The Act was too narrow and far too severe in its remedies. Unlike the more humane Speenhamland System the New Poor Law was inflexible and could not adapt to differing situations. The most devastating remedy was that of the Poor Houses, which were atrocious hellholes.

The Poor Law failed to represent the expectations of the poor community, when most members of the Victorian working classes were likely to be in poverty at some point in their lives. It was accepted that poverty was a natural part of the circle of their lives because of the fluctuations of the environment that had a direct effect on the majority of employment available. Prior to the New Poor Law, relief was seen as an expected right, when unemployed, to keep the able-bodied person fit and well and able to resume expected work when trade resumed.

Victorian Class Structure

The belief systems of the classes need to be examined to explain some of the principles behind the New Poor Law Act.

The Gentry, (Upper Class) usually by right of birth, the upper crust of society owned a large proportion of the lands, held powerful positions within government and were rich. A central belief system that this is their rightful place in society, to pursue and enjoy the pleasures of life, including education and materials. To control and lead the lower classes in righteousness according to gods holy laws. These rights belonged to them, to them alone and deemed as a deserved gift from god.

The Middle Classes aspired to the Upper Classes and basically followed the same principals, although some members of this class viewed the aristocracy as corrupt. There is a strong sense of disapproval toward the classes above and below this group. As a direct result of the Industrial Revolution, we can see the beginnings of this group growing in population, establishing a voice to be heard in the political arena, and growing in wealth. The principals of belief were largely based on the preachings of the bible, to attend temperance meetings; churches picnics and contribute to voluntary associations. To be an upstanding, righteous, and god fearing person.3 Members of the middle class looked down upon the working class pleasures as a form of degeneracy.
The general consensus of the middle and upper classes toward the paupers' dependence on relief was seen as a social disgrace, a severe moral failing and that they were paying the poor to be lazy and avoid work. The pauper was also viewed as a criminal and regarded their state of poverty to be their own fault.

As the appearance of poverty grew and people could see that it existed it became disreputable to the middle and upper classes. It was necessary for poverty to become invisible and swept under the carpet.

The Working Class was the lowest on the ladder, which is also referred to as the...

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