The major reason for the passing of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was to cut the poor rates, particularly in the rural south of England. This document from the Poor Law Commissioners details the effectiveness of the legislation. It is clear that no attention is paid to the humanitarian effects of the PLAA and that the Commissioners were interested mainly in the financial savings made by the implementation of the legislation.

Our Assistant Commissioners ... are frequently met with assurances that our instructional letters have been acted upon with as much promptitude and exactness as if they had been orders; and the state of the administration, especially in the progressive substitution of relief in kind for relief in money, and the check put to the extension or continuance of outdoor relief, wherever there is a workhouse, verify these assurances. Another motive frequently impels the adoption of this course, namely, that of meeting investigation and preparing for the approaching change, by reducing the future averages of contribution to the expenses of the Union establishment. The Returns from the united parishes contain numerous announcements that these preparatory proceedings have been successfully adopted. The extensive effect of the impulse given by the change of the law, and the wide promulgation of its principles by means of the Reports which His Majesty's Government have caused to be published, as well as the correspondence, admonitory and instructional, of this office, is shown in the reduction of the rates in those parishes which have not yet been placed under the control of Boards of Guardians. Amongst the reductions which are general, must be included the reductions of the expense of litigation. The effect of the new machinery is however marked by the fact, that whilst the reductions in the best managed of the separate parishes generally average about 20%, the reductions in the new Unions, which have been for more than half a year in operation, average about 43%, often including expenses for furniture and alterations constituting a portion of the expenses of the first outlay.

We are not aware of any parish, distinguished for its improved management previously to its being included in a Union, where the ratepayers have not participated in the advantages of management on a larger scale. So far as the Returns have yet been received, it appears that in the best managed parishes, those in some of which petitions were preferred against being included in the new Unions, setting forth, as the grounds of exemption, their former good management, and that they could sustain nothing but loss from the Union, a reduction has nevertheless taken place. In one of the best managed parishes in the kingdom, the rural parish of Cookham in Berkshire, a parish where the poor rates at one time amounted to nearly £4,000 per annum, it appears that the expenditure for 1834-5 was £700; for 1835-6, £580; the average expenditure for three years preceding the Union was £852. The average expenditure for the present year, formed on an estimate of the two last quarters, is £560.

In the parish of Hitchin, in Hertfordshire, ... the poor rates in 1835, before the formation of the Union, amounted to £1,716; after the Union they were reduced to £496.

The parish of Swallowfield, in the Wokingham Union [Berkshire], expended annually an average sum of £540, for the relief of the poor in 1833, 1834 and 1835; during he year ended March 1836, the sum so expended was £231.

The rates of the parish of Uley, in Gloucestershire, now included in the Dursley Union, were, before the Union, £1,408; the rate of expenditure for the last year was £428.

In a parish from whence petitions were presented to both Houses of Parliament, protesting that their own good management could not be exceeded, the parish of Stoke Pogis [Poges], in Buckinghamshire, the expenditure has been reduced, from £853, in 1834-5 to £490 in 1835-6.

We ... have added other parishes to some of the existing Unions as originally constituted; and the experience already obtained under the Commission indicates that the direction of future alterations of Unions will be in the addition of other parishes. The extent of many of the Unions was regulated by emergencies at the time of their formation, and some doubts as to the local capabilities for management on a larger scale. With reference to any opposition to the extension of the field of management ... the principles upon which that extension was determined are fully borne out, not only by a comparison of the progress of the parishes in Union with the progress of the parishes ununited, but by a comparison of the progress of the larger with the smaller Unions. Thus, if of the 110 Unions which we have specified as having been in operation more than 12 months, we take the 43 largest, and compare the results with the 24 positively smallest, and the 27 intermediate, in area, population, and rates we find that the savings effected in these Unions are in the following proportions:

43 largest Unions, rate of saving 46%
24 smallest Unions, rate of saving 29%
26 intermediate Unions, rate of saving 42%

So, if of the 64 Unions that have been in operation six months and upwards, we compare the 22 largest with the 15 smallest and 27 intermediate sized Unions, the reductions have been in the

22 largest Unions, 41 %
15 smallest Unions, 28%
27 intermediate Unions, 36%


Parliamentary Papers, 1836, XXIX.

Last modified 17 September 2002