Source: Report from His Majesty's Commissioners for inquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws, 1834, pp. 257-61. Transcribed and added by Marjie Bloy Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore.

The Commissioners who produced the Report on the operation of the Poor Laws wanted to show that the ending of the allowance system, as operated at Speenhamland and elsewhere, had an adverse effect on agricultural labourers. Some parishes had introduced other methods of 'dealing' with the poor, with the required result: that of reducing the poor rate. This extract sets of the beneficial results of removing the practice of giving allowances to top up wages and states the recommendation of ending all outdoor relief for the able-bodied.

decorated initial 'T' he circumstances of a rural parish being, to a considerable degree, an independent community, separated by the barriers of the law of settlement from other parochial communities, and the general knowledge possessed by the witnesses of the principal circumstances of all or most of the individuals of its labouring population, give a very high value to the results of the experiment made in each of the rural parishes which we have mentioned. The uniform success of the principle, and the remarkable similarity of its incidents, in different parishes, in different parts of the country, and under different circumstances, appear to us to prove its correctness, and to leave no doubt that it would be productive of similar effects throughout the country.

Further evidence of the beneficial operation of the principle on which the improvements described in the preceding statements were founded, is afforded in almost every pauperised district; first by the comparative character of those resident labourers who, having a distant settlement, can only claim temporary relief, and that subject to an order of removal to their own parishes; and secondly by the condition of that part of the labouring population which still remains independent of parochial aid. We have already stated that in every district the conditions of this class is found to be strikingly distinguishable from that of the pauper, and superior to it,though the independent labourers are commonly maintained upon less money.

If while the general administration of the Poor Laws were allowed to remain on its present footing, such occasional or partial relief as that which is available to the settled labourer of a parish were rendered equally available to the unsettled labourers, we cannot doubt that such a proceeding would demoralise and depress this respectable and valuable class to the level of the settled and pauperised labourers. This is ample reason against assimilating the condition of the unsettled to that of the settled labourers, but none against placing the settled on the same footing as the unsettled. The present practice as to unsettled labourers, is almost exactly that which we propose to make the rule for all classes, both settled and unsettled.

We attach much importance to the general superiority of the conduct and the condition of the non-parishioners, the unsettled labourers. Although the evidence afforded from the dispauperised parishes appears to us to be conclusive as to the effects which may be anticipated from a similar change of system throughout the country, it is still liable to the objection, however unreasonable, that these parishes are individual and scattered instances too few to establish a general conclusion, but the evidence afforded by the character and condition of the unsettled labourers pervades the whole country. Every body of labourers resident and labouring within a parish of which they are not parishioners, and where the distance of their own parishes, and the administration of the poor's rates does not render partial relief available, may be referred to in proof of the general effects which would follow an improved system of administering relief. These labourers make no complaint of their having no right to partial relief, and we have not met with an instance of their having suffered from the want of it. The fact of the non-settled labourers maintaining an independent condition, whilst they have a right by law to return at the public expense to their own parishes, and claim parochial aid, proves that they themselves consider their present condition more advantageous than that of paupers, and that so considering it, they are anxious to retain it.

From the above evidence it appears, that wherever the principle which we have thus states has been carried into effect, either wholly or partially, its introduction has been beneficial to the class for whose benefit Poor Laws exist. We have seen that in every instance in which the able-bodied labourers have been rendered independent of partial relief, or of relief otherwise than in a well-regulated workhouse -

  1. their industry has been restored and improved
  2. frugal habits have been created or strengthened
  3. the permanent demand for their labour has increased
  4. and the increase has been such, that their wages, so far from being depressed by the increased amount of labour in the market, have in general advanced
  5. the number of improvident and wretched marriages has diminished
  6. their discontent has been abated, and their moral and social condition in every way improved.

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We therefore submit, as the general principle of legislation on this subject, in the present condition of the country:-

That those modes of administering relief which have been tried wholly or partially, and have produced beneficial results in some districts, be introduced, with modifications according to local circumstances, and carried into complete execution in all.

The specific measures which we recommend for effecting these purposes are [first] that except as to medical attendance, and subject to the exception respecting apprenticeship herein-after stated, all relief whatever to able-bodied persons or to their families, otherwise than in well-regulated workhouses (i.e. places where they may be set to work according to the spirit and intention of the 43rd. of Elizabeth) shall be declared unlawful, and shall cease, in manner and at periods hereafter specified; and that all relief afforded in respect of children under the age of 16 shall be considered as afforded to their parents...


Victorian History Poor Law

Last modified 12 November 2002