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The burdens and evils associated with the existing Poor Laws

The Poor Law Commission was established to investigate the adverse effects of the existing poor laws, with a view to passing legislation which incorporated a harsher application of conditions for the relief of poverty. The following extract points out the cost of poor relief under the system in existence at that time.

It is with still further regret that we state our conviction that the abuses of which we have given a short outline, though checked in some instances by the extra-ordinary energy and wisdom of individuals, are, on the whole, steadily and rapidly progressive.

It is true, that by the last Parliamentary Return (that for the year ending the 25th March 1832) the total amount of the money expended for the relief of the poor, though higher than for any year since the year 1820, appears to fall short of the expenditure of the year ending the 25th March, 1818; the expenditure of that year having been £7,890,014, and that for the year ending the 25th March, 1832, £7,036,968. But it is to be remembered,

That the year ending the 25th of March 1818, was a period of extraordinary distress among the labouring classes, especially in the manufacturing districts, in consequence of the high price of provisions, unaccompanied by a corresponding advance in wages;

2ndly, That in the year ending the 25th March, 1832, the price of corn was lower by about one-third than in 1818, and that of clothes and of the other necessaries of life lower in a still greater proportion, so that, after allowing for an increase of population of one-fifth, the actual amount of relief given in 1832 was much larger in proportion to the population that even that given in 1818, which has generally been considered as the year in which it attained its highest amount; and

3rdly, That the statement of the mere amount expended, whether estimated in money or in kind, affords a very inadequate measure of the loss sustained by those who supply it. A great part of the expense is incurred, not by direct payment out of the rates, but by the purchase of unprofitable labour.

Where rate-payers are the immediate employers of workpeople, they often keep down the rates, either by employing more labour than they actually want, or by employing parishioners, when better labourers could be obtained. The progressive deterioration of the labourers in the pauperised districts, and the increasing anxiety of the principal rate-payers, as their burthen become more oppressive, to shift it in some way, either on the inhabitants of neighbouring parishes, or on the portion of their fellow-parishioners who can make the least resistance; and the apparent sanction given to this conduct by the 2 and 3 William IV c. 96, appear to have greatly increased this source of indirect and unrecorded loss.

Report from His Majesty's Commissioners for inquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws, 1834, p. 54

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