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Pauperism (Lat. pauper, poor) is a term meaning poverty or generally the state of being poor, but in English usage particularly the condition of being a "pauper", i.e. in receipt of relief administered under the English Poor Laws. [1] From this springs a more general sense, referring to all those who are supported at public expense, whether within or outside of almshouses, and still more generally, to all whose existence is dependent for any considerable period upon charitable assistance, whether this assistance be public or private. [2] In this sense the word is to be distinguished from "poverty". [1]

Poverty state of one who lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money

Poverty is not having enough material possessions or income for a person's needs. Poverty may include social, economic, and political elements.

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

English Poor Laws Laws regarding poverty in England, 16th–19th century

The English Poor Laws were a system of poor relief which existed in England and Wales that developed out of late-medieval and Tudor-era laws being codified in 1587–98. The Poor Law system was in existence until the emergence of the modern welfare state after the Second World War.


Under the English Poor Laws, a person to be relieved must be a destitute person, and the moment he had been relieved he became a pauper, and as such incurred certain civil disabilities. [1] [ specify ] Statistics dealing with the state of pauperism in this sense convey not the amount of destitution actually prevalent, but the particulars of people in receipt of poor law relief. [1]

Statistics Study of the collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data

Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, displaying, analysis, interpretation and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, industrial, or social problem, it is conventional to begin with a statistical population or a statistical model to be studied. Populations can be diverse groups of people or objects such as "all people living in a country" or "every atom composing a crystal". Statistics deals with every aspect of data, including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments. See glossary of probability and statistics.

The 1830s brought to Europe great economic hardships. The late 19th century saw a tremendous rise in the populations of all the European countries. This resulted in more job seekers than emplacement. Populations from rural areas migrated to bigger towns to live in overcrowded slums. Small producers in town faced tough competition from cheap imported goods in England. The rise of food prices led to widespread pauperism.

Poverty in the interwar years (1918–1939) was responsible for several measures which largely killed off the Poor Law system. Workhouses were officially abolished by the Local Government Act 1929, [3] and between 1929–1930 the Poor Law Guardians, the "workhouse test," and the term "pauper" disappeared.

Local Government Act 1929 United Kingdom legislation

The Local Government Act 1929 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that made changes to the Poor Law and local government in England and Wales.

The workhouse test was a condition of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834. It stated that anyone who wanted to get poor relief must enter a workhouse. The condition was never implemented in Britain and outdoor relief continued to be given.

See also

Debtors Anonymous (DA) is a twelve-step program for people who want to stop incurring unsecured debt. Collectively they attend more than 500 weekly meetings in fifteen countries, according to data released in 2011. Those who compulsively incur unsecured debt are said to be engaged in compulsive debting and are known as compulsive debtors.

In the United Kingdom, a pauper's funeral was a funeral for a pauper paid for under the Poor law. This policy addressed the condition of the poor people Britain such as those living in the workhouses, where a growing population of the British ended their days from the 1850s to the 1860s. This period saw between 32 and 48 percent increase in the proportion of the elderly and the sick paupers in these institutions. An account described how poor people could not avail themselves of the funeral relief until they entered the workhouse.

Reserve army of labour

Reserve army of labour is a concept in Karl Marx's critique of political economy. It refers to the unemployed and underemployed in capitalist society. It is synonymous with "industrial reserve army" or "relative surplus population", except that the unemployed can be defined as those actually looking for work and that the relative surplus population also includes people unable to work. The use of the word "army" refers to the workers being conscripted and regimented in the workplace in a hierarchy under the command or authority of the owners of capital.

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The Speenhamland system, also known as the Berkshire Bread Act was a form of outdoor relief intended to mitigate rural poverty in England and Wales at the end of the 18th century and during the early 19th century. The law was an amendment to the Elizabethan Poor Law. It was created as an indirect result of Britain’s involvements in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793–1815).

Welfare is a type of government support for the citizens of that society. Welfare may be provided to people of any income level, as with social security, but it is usually intended to ensure that people can meet their basic human needs such as food and shelter. Welfare attempts to provide a minimal level of well-being, usually either a free- or a subsidized-supply of certain goods and social services, such as healthcare, education, and vocational training.

Poorhouse facility to support and provide housing for the dependent and needy

A poorhouse or workhouse is a government-run facility to support and provide housing for the dependent or needy.

Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 United Kingdom poor relief law

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. 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 middle class men. Some historians have argued that this was a major factor in the PLAA being passed.

A poor law union was a geographical territory, and early local government unit, in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Act for the Relief of the Poor 1601 United Kingdom legislation

The Poor Relief Act 1601 was an Act of the Parliament of England. The Act for the Relief of the Poor 1601, popularly known as the Elizabethan Poor Law, "43rd Elizabeth" or the Old Poor Law was passed in 1601 and created a poor law system for England and Wales.

Poor relief Village sign language of Marthas Vineyard Island, Massachusetts

In English and British history, poor relief refers to government and ecclesiastical action to relieve poverty. Over the centuries various authorities have needed to decide whose poverty deserves relief and also who should bear the cost of helping the poor. Alongside ever-changing attitudes towards poverty, many methods have been attempted to answer these questions. Since the early 16th century legislation on poverty enacted by the English Parliament, poor relief has developed from being little more than a systematic means of punishment into a complex system of government-funded support and protection, especially following the creation in the 1940s of the welfare state.

The Outdoor Labour Test Order was a piece of policy issued by the Poor Law Commission on 13 April 1842 which allowed the use of outdoor relief to the able-bodied poor. The order was issued after there was some opposition to the Commission's previous order stating that only indoor relief should be used. During times when the manufacturing industries were performing poorly this became impractical - however the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 had aimed to prevent the use of outdoor relief and replace it with indoor relief.

From the reign of Elizabeth I until the passage of the Poor Law Amendment Act in 1834 relief of the poor in England was administered on the basis of a Poor Law enacted in 1601. From the start of the nineteenth century the basic concept of providing poor relief was criticised as misguided by leading political economists and in southern agricultural counties the burden of poor-rates was felt to be excessive. Opposition to the Elizabethan Poor Law led to a Royal Commission on poor relief, which recommended that poor relief could not in the short term be abolished; however it should be curtailed, and administered on such terms that none but the desperate would claim it. Relief should only be administered in workhouses, whose inhabitants were to be confined, 'classified' and segregated. The Poor Law Amendment Act allowed these changes to be implemented by a Poor Law Commission largely unaccountable to Parliament. The Act was passed by large majorities in Parliament, but the regime it was intended to bring about was denounced by its critics as (variously) un-Christian, un-English, unconstitutional, and impracticable for the great manufacturing districts of Northern England. The Act itself did not introduce the regime, but introduced a framework by which it might easily be brought in.

Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws 1832

The 1832 Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws was a group set up to decide how to change the Poor Law systems in England and Wales. The group included Nassau Senior, a professor from Oxford University who was against the allowance system, and Edwin Chadwick, who was a Benthamite. The recommendations of the Royal Commission's report were implemented in the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834.

Irish Poor Laws Acts of Parliament to address poverty and social instability in Ireland

The Irish Poor Laws were a series of Acts of Parliament intended to address social instability due to widespread and persistent poverty in Ireland. While some legislation had been introduced by the pre-Union Parliament of Ireland prior to the Act of Union, the most radical and comprehensive attempt was the Irish act of 1838, closely modelled on the English Poor Law of 1834. In England, this replaced Elizabethan era legislation which had no equivalent in Ireland.

The Scottish Poor Laws were the statutes concerning poor relief passed in Scotland between 1579 and 1929. Scotland had a different Poor Law system to England and the workings of the Scottish laws differed greatly to the Poor Law Amendment Act which applied in England and Wales.

Social work has its roots in the attempts of society at large to deal with the problem of poverty and inequality. Social work is intricately linked with the idea of charity work; but must be understood in broader terms. The concept of charity goes back to ancient times, and the practice of providing for the poor has roots in all major world religions.

The Historiography of the Poor Laws can be said to have passed through three distinct phases. Early historiography was concerned with the deficiencies of the Old Poor Law system, later work can be characterized as an early attempt at revisionism before the writings of Mark Blaug present a truly revisionist analysis of the Poor Law system.

Poor Law policy after the New Poor Law concerns the time period c. 1847–1900 after the implementation of the Poor Law Amendment Act until the beginnings of the decline of the Poor Law system at the start of the 20th century.

In 2002, nursing homes in the United Kingdom were officially designated as care homes with nursing, and residential homes became known as care homes.

Scottish poorhouse

The Scottish poorhouse, occasionally referred to as a workhouse, provided accommodation for the destitute and poor in Scotland. The term poorhouse was almost invariably used to describe the institutions in that country, as unlike the regime in their workhouse counterparts in neighbouring England and Wales residents were not usually required to labour in return for their upkeep.

Workhouse infirmaries were established in the nineteenth century in England. They developed from the Workhouse and were run under the Poor law regime.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Pauperism"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 20 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 967.
  2. Wikisource-logo.svg Ryan, John Augustin (1911). "Poverty and Pauperism"  . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. M. A. Crowther, The workhouse system 1834–1929, ISBN   0-416-36090-4

Further reading

Sir Baldwyn Leighton, 8th Baronet English landowner and politician

Sir Baldwyn Leighton, 8th Baronet was an English Conservative Party politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1877 to 1885.