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The Aged and Infirm and the Poor Law Board

In this issue about the aged and infirm, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: We have shown that neither the Report of 1834 nor the Central Authority between 1834 and 1847 even suggested any departure from the common practice of granting outdoor relief to the aged and infirm. This continued, so far as the official documents show, to be the policy of the Central Authority during the whole of the period 1847-1871. The only two references to the subject in the Orders and Circulars of this period assume that the aged and infirm will normally be relieved in their own homes. Thus, in 1852, in commenting on the provision requiring the weekly payment of relief, the Central Authority said, “as to the cases in which the pauper is too infirm to come every week for the relief, it is on many accounts advantageous that the relieving officer should, as far as possible, himself visit the pauper, and give the relief at least weekly.” And in the first edition of the Out-relief Regulation Order of 1852 (that of 25th August 1852) the Central Authority, far from prohibiting outdoor relief to persons “indigent and helpless from age, sickness, accident, or bodily or mental infirmity,” formally sanctioned this practice, by ordering that “one third at least of such relief” should be given in kind (viz., “in articles of food or fuel, or in other articles of absolute necessity”), the object being expressly explained to be, not, as might nowadays have been imagined, the discouragement of such relief, but the prevention of its misappropriation. This provision was objected to by boards of guardians up and down the country, on the ground that it would be a hardship to the aged and infirm poor. The Poplar Board of Guardians, for instance, stated “that there are a large number of persons under the denomination of aged and infirm whom the guardians have, in their long practical experience, found it expedient and not objectionable to relieve wholly in money, feeling assured that it would be beneficially expended for their use, and that in consequence of their infirmity the relieving officer or his assistant, if necessary, is thereby enabled to conveniently relieve them at their own house.” The Norwich Guardians stated that it would be difficult “to determine (especially for the aged and sick poor) what kind of food or articles should be given.” They also communicated with forty other unions, summoning them to concerted resistance. A deputation “from most of the large and populous unions in the north of England … and from several Metropolitan parishes, representing in the aggregate upwards of 2,000,000 of population,” assembled in London, and objected to nearly all the provisions of the Order.

Accompanied by about twenty-five members of Parliament, the deputation waited on the Poor Law Board, and specially urged their objection to being compelled to give a third of all outdoor relief in kind. After two hours’ argumentative discussion, Sir John Trollope said that the board would reconsider the whole Order, which need not in the meantime be acted upon; and he hinted at a probable modification of the Article relating to relief in kind. In response to these objections, the Central Authority does not seem even to have suggested that outdoor relief to the aged and infirm was contrary to its principles. It first intimated its willingness to modify the Order if its working proved to be “accompanied with hardship to the aged or helpless poor” and then within a few weeks withdrew the provision altogether as regards any but the able-bodied. It was expressly explained that the Order, as re-issued, was intended as a precaution “against the injurious consequences of maintaining out of the poor rate able-bodied labourers and their families in a state of idleness,” and that the Central Authority left to the boards of guardians “full discretion as to the description of relief to be given to indigent poor of every other class.” From that date down to the abolition of the Poor Law Board in 1871, we can find in the documents no hint or suggestion that it disapproved of outdoor relief to the aged and infirm. On 1st January 1871, nearly half the outdoor relief was due to this cause.


Notes and References

  1. Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, “English Poor Law Policy” (1913), Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay and Calcuta.

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  • Article Name: Infirm
  • Author: Rhona Schuz
  • Description: The Aged and Infirm and the Poor Law Board In this issue about the aged and infirm, the book English Poor Law Policy [1] [...]

This entry was last updated: May 12, 2017


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