The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834

The system of providing support to the poor was overhauled by the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, dubbed the ‘new Poor Law’. The act grouped parishes into unions under 600 locally elected Boards of Guardians and each of those boards had its own workhouse. The boards were controlled by the Poor Law Commission (also established by the 1601 act), which was responsible for administering the new system of providing relief to the poor.

Outdoor relief (assistance provided outside of a workhouse) was withdrawn unless a person was unable to work due to old age or infirmity. Other people requiring assistance were forced into workhouses. This was a punitive approach borne out of a desire to deter idleness and curb spending relief on able-bodied people. The act itself suggests that ‘the relief of the able-bodied and their families is in many places administered in modes productive of evil in other respects...’

All of these changes began under a Whig administration, but ultimately the legislation was taken forward by a minority Tory government.