Poor Law England 1601

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Poor Law through the Ages
This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Law - Poor Law

The Poor Law of 1601 was implemented in response to a series of economic pressures.

After the Reformation, England was a very different country. The monasteries could be many things to the people, they were a spiritual place, a school, a hospital and a provider of care to the poor and destitute. Without them there to provide that care and comfort, people suffered terribly, something had to be done. A series of poor laws  passed during the reign of Elizabeth I played a very important role in the country’s welfare but none had had the impact needed to resolve the problems of the poor on their own. Each one built on the other and they were vital as the poor relief system moved from a private welfare system to a public welfare system where responsibility for the poor lay with communities.

    • There was a sharp rise in population growth and this led to a rapid rise in inflation. Grain prices increased hugely in the C16th and wages fell by over 50%.
    • A series of poor harvests led to famine conditions and whereas people had, in the past, turned to the monasteries for help, since their dissolution, there was little charitable support to be had.
    • Parliament, fearing civil unrest, decided to make the parish responsible for administering a system of compulsory poor relief through the Poor Law Act of 1601.
    • The recipients of relief were mainly the elderly, widows with children and orphans.
    • More females received relief then males.
    • Some casual benefit was paid out to young males who were too ill to work or had become unemployed.

Although it was not a perfect fix, the acts lasted into the 19th century and served hundreds of years of poor

poor law 1601


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