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The Poor Law 1601

The Poor Law 1601 sought to consolidate all previous legislative provisions for the relief of 'the poor'. The Poor Law made it compulsory for parishes to levy a 'poor rate' to fund financial support ('public assistance') for those who could not work.

Assistance depended on the residential qualification of living locally (leading Poor Law guardians to repatriate paupers elsewhere).

The role of 'overseer' was established by the Act. There were two in each parish to administer relief and collect poor rates from property owners. 'Outdoor' and 'indoor' relief was available.

Outdoor relief was designed to support people in the community and took the form of financial support or non-monetary relief in the form of food and clothing. Indoor relief included taking 'the poor' to local almshouses, admitting 'the mentally ill' to hospitals and sending orphans to orphanages.

There was a distinction between the 'impotent' poor (the lame, blind, etc) and the 'idle poor', who were likely to be placed in houses of correction (later workhouses).


Bloy M.
The 1601 Elizabethan Poor Law.
The Victorian Web; 2002.