The social context of disability

  • Susan Lonsdale
Part of the Women in Society book series


The roots of modern forms of state support and provision for people with disabilities are to be found in the nineteenth-century Poor Law. Apart from injunctions by the Church to be charitable, a minimalist form of state provision emerged in Britain out of the Poor Law. Along with people who were sick, in need and elderly, people with disabilities were eligible for some financial support in the form of outdoor relief. For those whose disabilities were particularly severe there was also the possibility of institutional care in the workhouse, i.e. indoor relief. To some extent, people with disabilities may have been treated less harshly in being more likely to be subject to outdoor relief than to the dreaded workhouse, in that the workhouse was an attempt to deter the able-bodied poor who refused to take up paid employment. The intention of Poor Law policy was that outdoor relief should be the main form of assistance given to people who were sick or disabled. But if their sickness or disability became prolonged, the recipients of outdoor relief would experience strong pressure to enter the workhouse (Brown, 1984, p. 2). The reason for this can be found in the underlying philosophy of the Poor Law, which was that of deterrence. This meant that people had to be discouraged from trying to get something for nothing and had to be induced as far as possible to obtain an income by their own means, namely by selling their labour.


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Copyright information

© Susan Lonsdale 1990

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  • Susan Lonsdale

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