The Speenhamland system, also known as the Berkshire Bread Actwas 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).
After the passing of the Elizabethan Poor Law (1601), outdoor relief was the kind of poor relief where assistance was in the form of money, food, clothing or goods, given to alleviate poverty without the requirement that the recipient enter an institution. In contrast, recipients of indoor relief were required to enter a workhouse or poorhouse. Outdoor relief was also a feature of the Scottish and Irish Poor Law systems.
Rural poverty refers to poverty in rural areas, including factors of rural society, rural economy, and rural political systems that give rise to the poverty found there. Rural poverty is often discussed in conjunction with spatial inequality, which in this context refers to the inequality between urban and rural areas. Both rural poverty and spatial inequality are global phenomena, but like poverty in general, there are higher rates of rural poverty in developing countries than in developed countries. Eradicating rural poverty through effective policies and economic growth remains a challenge for the international community
The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).
The system was named after a 1795 meeting at the Pelican Inn in Speenhamland, Berkshire, where a number of local magistrates devised the system as a means to alleviate the distress caused by high grain prices. [ citation needed ]The increase in the price of grain may have occurred as a result of a poor harvest in the years 1795–96, though at the time this was subject to great debate. Many blamed middlemen and hoarders as the ultimate architects of the shortage.
Speenhamland is an area within modern Newbury, Berkshire, which gave rise to the Speenhamland system of poor relief in the early 19th century. Its name is probably derived from Old English Spen-haema-land, "land of the inhabitants of Speen", with "Speen" perhaps being formed on a Brittonic root deriving from Latin spinis, "thorns".
The term magistrate is used in a variety of systems of governments and laws to refer to a civilian officer who administers the law. In ancient Rome, a magistratus was one of the highest ranking government officers, and possessed both judicial and executive powers. In other parts of the world, such as China, a magistrate was responsible for administration over a particular geographic area. Today, in some jurisdictions, a magistrate is a judicial officer who hears cases in a lower court, and typically deals with more minor or preliminary matters. In other jurisdictions, magistrates may be volunteers without formal legal training who perform a judicial role with regard to minor matters.
The authorities at Speenhamland approved a means-tested sliding-scale of wage supplements in order to mitigate the worst effects of rural poverty. Families were paid extra to top up wages to a set level according to a table. This level varied according to the number of children and the price of bread. For example, if bread was 1s 2d (14 pence) a loaf, the wages of a family with two children were topped up to 8s 6d (102 pence).
£sd is the popular name for the pre-decimal currencies once common throughout Europe, especially in the British Isles and hence in several countries of the British Empire and subsequently the Commonwealth. The abbreviation originates from the Latin currency denominations librae, solidi, and denarii. In the United Kingdom, which was one of the last to abandon the system, these were referred to as pounds, shillings, and pence.
The first formula was set at a time of high prices and possible over-charging, minimum wage inflation was deliberately muted compared to price rises. If bread rose to 1s 8d (20 pence) the wages were topped up to 11s 0d (132 pence). In this quoted example in percentage terms, a 43% price rise led to a 30% wage rise (wages fell from 7.3 to 6.6 loaves).
The immediate impact of paying the poor rate fell on the landowners of the parish concerned. They then sought other means of dealing with the poor, such as the workhouse funded through parish unions. Eventually pressure due to structural poverty caused the introduction of the new Poor Law (1834).
In England and Wales, a workhouse, colloquially known as a spike, was a place where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment. The earliest known use of the term workhouse is from 1631, in an account by the mayor of Abingdon reporting that "wee haue erected wthn our borough a workehouse to sett poore people to worke".
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 the middle classes. Some historians have argued that this was a major factor in the PLAA being passed.
The Speenhamland system appears to have reached its height during the Napoleonic Wars, when it was a means of allaying dangerous discontent among growing numbers of rural poor faced by soaring food prices, and to have died out in the post-war period, except in a few parishes.The system was popular in the south of England. William Pitt the Younger attempted to get the idea passed into legislation but failed. The system was not adopted nationally but was popular in the counties which experienced the Swing Riots during the 1830s.
William Pitt the Younger was a prominent British Tory statesman of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He became the youngest British prime minister in 1783 at the age of 24. He left office in 1801, but was Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer for most of his time as Prime Minister. He is known as "the Younger" to distinguish him from his father, William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, called William Pitt the Elder or simply "Chatham", who had previously served as Prime Minister.
The Swing Riots were a widespread uprising in 1830 by agricultural workers in southern and eastern England, in protest of agricultural mechanisation and other harsh conditions. It began with their destruction of threshing machines in the Elham Valley area of East Kent in the summer of 1830, and by early December had spread throughout the whole of southern England and East Anglia.
In 1834, the Report of the Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws 1832 called the Speenhamland System a "universal system of pauperism". The system allowed employers, including farmers and the nascent industrialists of the town, to pay below subsistence wages, because the parish would make up the difference and keep their workers alive. So the workers' low income was unchanged and the poor rate contributors subsidised the farmers.
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.
Thomas Malthus believed a system of supporting the poor would lead to increased population growth rates because the Poor Laws encouraged early marriage and prolific procreation, which would be a problem due to the Malthusian catastrophe (where population growth would exceed food production);however, food production actually steadily grew by a third between 1790 and 1830 albeit with a smaller section of the populace able to access it due to mechanization, and the population growth that actually happened was due to growing demand for child labor and not Speenhamland.
David Ricardo believed that Speenhamland would create a poverty trap, where the poor would work less, which would make food production fall, in its turn creating the space for a revolution;however, the poverty that existed back then was not caused a supposed Speenhamland "poverty trap", as "wage earners were permitted to keep at least part of their allowances when their earnings increased", but instead was the result of price hikes resulting from England returning to the gold standard, a policy Ricardo himself had recommended.
There was also no unrest resulting from the adoption of the Speenhamland system; this was the result of the adoption of the gold standard and industrialization, which equally affected all the populace in areas with or without Speenhamland.
This system of poor relief, and others like it, lasted until the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, which prohibited Boards of Guardians supplementing the wages of full-time workers. This was not always implemented locally as Guardians did not want to separate families in workhouses, and it was often cheaper to supplement wages than operate larger workhouses.
Evidence in the last thirty years shows that the bread scale devised during the Speenhamland meeting in 1795 was by no means universal, and that even the system of outdoor relief which found one of its earliest, though not the first, expressions in Speenhamland was not completely widespread. Allowances, or supplements, to wages were used generally as a temporary measure, and the nature of their execution changed in various regions. Mark Blaug's classic 1960 essay The Myth of the Old Poor Law charged the commissioners of 1834 with largely using the Speenhamland system to vilify the old poor law and create will for the passage of a new one. However, historians such as Eric Hobsbawm have argued the old poor law was still damaging by subsidising employers, and heightening dependency of workers' incomes on local aristocrats.
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Speenhamland appears to have been one among many systems of bread scales, but it most likely owes its notoriety to Frederick Eden's The State of the Poor (1797). Eden attacked the system as an impediment to agricultural progress. Though some of Blaug's more drastic assertions may be ill-founded or overly polemical, it appears evident that Speenhamland was by no means a household name, and that since the practice was by January 1795 (the famous meeting was in May) being used in various villages, usually in conjunction with other means of relieving the poor. Because of failed attempts to reform the existing poor law at a national level, the scarcity of 1795 was largely dealt with by innovations in a haphazard way at the local level, and it seems improbable that a national and uniform policy existed.
Another clergyman, Thomas Malthus, drew out Townsend’s ideas. In 1798, he described 'the great difficulty' on the road to progress, 'that to me appears insurmountable'. His premise was twofold: (1) humans need food to survive, and (2) the passion between the sexes is ineradicable. Conclusion: population growth will always exceed food production.
"But the Speenhamland system apparently encouraged people to marry as fast and procreate as prolifically as possible. Malthus was convinced England was teetering on the brink of a disaster as terrible as the Black Death, which wiped out half the population between 1349 and 1353.
Fears of declining food production were baseless as well. Agricultural production experienced a steady upward trajectory, increasing by a third between 1790 and 1830.
"But while food was more plentiful than ever, a decreasing share of the English population could afford it. Not because they were lazy, but because they were losing the race against the machine.
The population explosion that so worried Malthus was attributable chiefly to the growing demand for child labor, not basic income [i.e., the Speenhamland system].
Economist David Ricardo (a close friend of Malthus) was equally skeptical. He believed basic income [i.e., the Speenhamland system] would create a poverty trap: the poor would work less, causing food production to fall, fanning the flames of a French-style revolution.
Ricardo’s analysis was equally faulty. There was no poverty trap in the Speenhamland system: wage earners were permitted to keep at least part of their allowances when their earnings increased. And the rural unrest that so worried Ricardo was actually a result of price hikes caused by England’s return to the gold standard (which he recommended), not basic income [i.e., the Speenhamland system].
Recent scholarship also highlights a mismatch between adoption of the policy and unrest; villages with and without the policy rioted in 1830.
"All English peasants suffered from the return to the gold standard, along with industrialization in the north and the invention of the threshing machine. Threshers (which separate the wheat from the chaff) destroyed thousands of jobs in one fell swoop, depressing wages and inflating the cost of poor relief.
A minimum wage is the lowest remuneration that employers can legally pay their workers. Equivalently, it is the price floor below which workers may not sell their labor. Although minimum wage laws are in effect in many jurisdictions, differences of opinion exist about the benefits and drawbacks of a minimum wage. Supporters of the minimum wage say it increases the standard of living of workers, reduces poverty, reduces inequality, and boosts morale. In contrast, opponents of the minimum wage say it increases poverty, increases unemployment and is damaging to businesses, because excessively high minimum wages require businesses to raise the prices of their product or service to accommodate the extra expense of paying a higher wage and some low-wage workers "will be unable to find work...[and] will be pushed into the ranks of the unemployed."
Thomas Robert Malthus was an English cleric and scholar, influential in the fields of political economy and demography. Malthus himself used only his middle name, Robert.
The iron law of wages is a proposed law of economics that asserts that real wages always tend, in the long run, toward the minimum wage necessary to sustain the life of the worker. The theory was first named by Ferdinand Lassalle in the mid-nineteenth century. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels attribute the doctrine to Lassalle, the idea to Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population, and the terminology to Goethe's "great, eternal iron laws" in Das Göttliche.
Guaranteed minimum income (GMI), also called minimum income, is a system of social welfare provision that guarantees that all citizens or families have an income sufficient to live on, provided they meet certain conditions. Eligibility is typically determined by citizenship, a means test, and either availability for the labour market or a willingness to perform community services. The primary goal of a guaranteed minimum income is to reduce poverty. If citizenship is the only requirement, the system turns into a universal basic income.
A living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs. Needs are defined to include food, housing, and other essential needs such as clothing. The goal of a living wage is to allow a worker to afford a basic but decent standard of living. Due to the flexible nature of the term "needs", there is not one universally accepted measure of what a living wage is and as such it varies by location and household type.
The working poor are working people whose incomes fall below a given poverty line due to lack of work hours and/or low wages. Largely because they are earning such low wages, the working poor face numerous obstacles that make it difficult for many of them to find and keep a job, save up money, and maintain a sense of self-worth.
Incomes policies in economics are economy-wide wage and price controls, most commonly instituted as a response to inflation, and usually seeking to establish wages and prices below free market level.
Malthusianism is the idea that population growth is potentially exponential while the growth of the food supply is linear. It derives from the political and economic thought of the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, as laid out in his 1798 writings, An Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus believed there were two types of "checks" that in all times and places kept population growth in line with the growth of the food supply: "preventive checks", such as moral restraints, and restricting marriage against persons suffering poverty or perceived as defective, and "positive checks", which lead to premature death such as disease, starvation and war, resulting in what is called a Malthusian catastrophe. The catastrophe would return population to a lower, more "sustainable", level. Malthusianism has been linked to a variety of political and social movements, but almost always refers to advocates of population control.
The Great Transformation is a book by Karl Polanyi, a Hungarian-American political economist. First published in 1944 by Farrar & Rinehart, it deals with the social and political upheavals that took place in England during the rise of the market economy. Polanyi contends that the modern market economy and the modern nation-state should be understood not as discrete elements but as the single human invention he calls the "Market Society".
The Malthusian trap or population trap is a condition whereby excess population would stop growing due to shortage of food supply leading to starvation. It is named for Thomas Robert Malthus, who suggested that while technological advances could increase a society's supply of resources, such as food, and thereby improve the standard of living, the resource abundance would enable population growth, which would eventually bring the per capita supply of resources back to its original level. Some economists contend that since the industrial revolution, mankind has broken out of the trap. Others argue that the continuation of extreme poverty indicates that the Malthusian trap continues to operate. Others further argue that due to lack of food availability coupled with excessive pollution, developing countries show more evidence of the trap.
The Roundsman System, in the Elizabethan Poor Law (1601), was a form of organised labour exchange for the poorest labourers by which a parish vestry helped to pay local farmers, households and others to employ such applicants for relief at a rate of headline wages negotiated and set by the parish. It depended not on the services, but on the wants of the applicants: the employers being repaid out of the poor rate all they advanced in wages beyond a very low-wage amount. Variants of the Roundsman system operated and co-existed from parish-to-parish and sometimes depending on type of labour.
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.
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.
Martin Anderson was an economist, policy analyst, author and one of President Ronald Reagan's leading advisors.
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.
Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-hour Workweek is a book by Dutch popular historian Rutger Bregman. It was originally written as articles in Dutch for a virtual journal, De Correspondent and was since compiled and published, and translated into several languages. It offers a critical proposal that it claims is a practical approach to reconstructing modern society to promote a more productive and equitable life based on three core ideas:
Rutger C. Bregman is a Dutch popular historian and author. He has published four books on history, philosophy and economics, including Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World, which has been translated into twenty languages. The Dutch edition of Utopia for Realists "became a national bestseller and sparked a basic income movement that soon made international headlines." His work has been featured in The Washington Post, The Guardian and the BBC. He has been described by The Guardian as the "Dutch wunderkind of new ideas" and by TED Talks as "one of Europe's most prominent young thinkers." His TED Talk, "Poverty Isn't a Lack of Character; It's a Lack of Cash," was chosen by TED curator Chris Anderson as one of the top ten of 2017.
The revolt of the housewives is a term coined by John Lawrence Hammond and Barbara Hammond for a series of food riots and disturbances in England in 1795 arising out of exceptional food scarcity, in which women played conspicuous roles.