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Until 1834 poor relief was provided by parishes. Each parish appointed two 'Overseers', who collected poor rates from the ratepayers and then used the money to help the poor. There was no one system and each parish could do very much what it liked.

1776 the amount spent on poor relief was £1,520,000.

1782 Parishes were allowed to group together to build workhouses.

the Speenhamland System was set up in Berkshire. This allowed weekly payments to the poor from Poor Rates. The amount handed out varied according to the price of bread and the number of people on the family. When a large loaf of bread cost 5p, the man received 15p and his wife and each of his children received 71/2p.

This system was used in twenty counties in the south of England and the Midlands.

The amount spent on poor relief was £4,078,000.

The amount spent on poor relief was £6,799,000.

1831 The amount spent on poor relief was £7,037,000.

1832 A Royal Commission was set up to investigate the Poor Law.

1834 The Royal Commission published its report.
The Poor Law Amendment Act was passed.
The Act abolished all existing systems for giving poor relief and forced all parishes to form unions and build Union Workhouses. Rules for workhouses were published and all Unions had to follow them. These included the meals that the poor were to be given, work, education of children, the wearing of uniform, splitting up of families and many others. Workhouses were to offer a standard of living lower than anything available outside. This was called 'less eligibility'.
The able-bodied poor had to go into a workhouse if they needed relief; this was called 'indoor relief'. But Unions could give 'outdoor relief', especially to the old, the sick and young children.
The Act was based upon the belief that poverty was caused by laziness, and that the best way to tackle the problem was to make the consequences of poverty so unpleasant that people would do anything to avoid going into the workhouse.
At first the Act was only applied to the south of England, where it worked reasonably well.

1836 The New Poor Law, as it came to be known, was introduced in the north of England. This proved much more difficult. In the northern industrial towns the whole workforce could be unemployed whenever there was a slump in trade. It was impossible to find room for all the poor in the workhouses.

1842 The Poor Law Commission introduced the 'Labour Test'. This allowed able-bodied men to be given work outside the workhouse if there was no room for them inside.

1846 The Andover Scandal revealed some of the worst aspects of the New Poor Law. At the Andover Workhouse the inmates had been forced to fight for bones and gristle.

1847 The Poor Law Commissioners were replaced by the Poor Law Board.

1886 Charles Booth, a wealthy ship-owner, began a survey of the poor in London. His results were published in 1901. He showed the extent of deprivation that existed in the poorest districts of the capital.

Seebohm Rowntree began a survey of the poor in York. He proved that poverty was hardly ever caused by laziness. He found that in 52% of the cases in York, it was caused by low pay. Rowntree's report was a major factor in the decision of the Liberal government to introduce the first stage of the Welfare State in the years from 1906.

Nevertheless, the Poor Law remained in force throughout the nineteenth century. Workhouses did not finally disappear until the Poor Law was abolished in 1929.

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