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1834 Poor Law Amendment Act

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In this assignment we will be investigating the effect the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act had on how the poor were perceived. To do so we need to look at the Old Poor Law and the circumstances under which poor relief was offered. Fundamentally, relief was offered within the framework of the Speenhamland system, which will be examined briefly. Following on from this, the Poor Law Commission and its findings, and the new criteria under which relief was to be offered under the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, will be discussed closely. Similarities with modern day Government policy will also be examined.

The relief offered to the poor under the framework of the Old Poor Law was fraught with social and economic difficulties since its inception in 1601. These included fundamental changes within society such as war, unprecedented population growth and poverty, crop failures leading to increased food prices, insufficient wages and lack of employment (Fraser, 2009). Consequently, towards the end of the eighteenth century, a system of relief was introduced in 1795, in the Berkshire parish of Speenhamland. Other parts of the country had similar mechanisms, such as the Roundsman system and family allowance, which were introduced to administer poor relief. This Speenhamland approach was adopted to deliver relief by way of outdoor assistance through wage subsidies, mainly to the rural poor. The amount of relief offered was equated to the price of bread and family size, and also how much was needed for sustainability (King, 2000).

The poor were enduring appalling circumstances and social unrest. Outside of cities and developing towns, England was still very much a rural economy. The factors of social unrest and appalling living conditions resulted in the Swing riots of 1830. These predominately occurred in rural and farming areas. This prompted the Government to react due its fear of social instability. It sought how to deliver relief without the costs spiralling. The appointment of the Royal Commission in 1832 was formed to investigate the Poor Law's system of relief and how to reduce expenditure and pauperism. The commission was headed by Charles Blomfield and included eight more associates and 26 Assistant Commissioners were appointed (Harris, 2004). 'Its most influential members were the economist, Nassau Senior (Professor of Political Economy at the University of Oxford), and the Benthamite reformer, Edwin Chadwick who became a full member of the Commission in 1833' (Harris, 2004, p.45).

The Assistant Commissioners gathered reports concerning how the Poor Law was being administered, including problems with the delivery of poor relief. These were sent to London. It is believed that the reports received had been carefully selected by Chadwick and Senior; to endorse their own ideas. Similarly, the Assistant Commissioners are believed to have manipulated the reports, which in turn supported the opinions of the most influential members of the Royal Commission. Senior and Chadwick's perception of the poor was driven by their own agenda. They believed that the poor became deliberately



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