English Poor Laws

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

The English Poor Laws were a system of poor relief in England and Wales that developed out of the codification of late-medieval and Tudor-era laws in 1587–1598. The system continued until the modern welfare state emerged after the Second World War.English Poor Law legislation can be traced back as far as 1536, when legislation was passed to deal with the impotent poor, although there were much earlier Tudor laws dealing with the problems caused by vagrants and beggars. The history of the Poor Law in England and Wales is usually divided between two statutes: the Old Poor Law passed during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) and the New Poor Law, passed in 1834, which significantly modified the system of poor relief. The New Poor Law altered the system from one which was administered haphazardly at a local parish level to a highly centralised system which encouraged the large-scale development of workhouses by poor law unions.The Poor Law system fell into decline at the beginning of the 20th century owing to factors such as the introduction of the Liberal welfare reforms and the availability of other sources of assistance from friendly societies and trade unions, as well as piecemeal reforms which bypassed the Poor Law system. The Poor Law system was not formally abolished until the National Assistance Act 1948, with parts of the law remaining on the books until 1967.
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