The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Poor Law, old

  • George R. Boyer
Reference work entry


The Old Poor Law was the system of local public assistance that existed in England and Wales from 1597 until 1834. It provided an important safety net for labouring households that were unable to protect themselves against income loss, assisting the elderly, widows, children, the sick, and the unemployed. Relief expenditures increased sharply from 1750 to 1820, as did the share of paupers who were adult able-bodied males. Parliament responded to the increase in spending with the Poor Law Amendment Act (1834), which recommended that poor relief be granted to able-bodied males and their families only in workhouses.


Chadwick, E. Enclosures Labour mobility Malthus, T. Old Poor Law Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 Poor rate Poverty alleviation programmes Senior, N Settlement Law Smith, A. Speenhamland system 

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • George R. Boyer
    • 1
  1. 1.