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Women in United Kingdom

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Women and the 1834 Report

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: With regard to the treatment of women, it cannot be said that the Report of 1834 afforded much guidance to the Central Authority. Whether or not the Commissioners meant to propose the abolition of outdoor relief to the legally independent able-bodied woman is, as we have shown, indeterminate. In this Report the single independent woman is nowhere mentioned. The wife is throughout treated exactly as is the child; and it is assumed that she follows her husband, both with regard to the continuance of outdoor relief to the aged, the impotent, and the sick; and with regard to its abolition in the case of the able-bodied. Such women as entered the workhouse were apparently to be regarded as divided into only two classes; they were to be accommodated either in the building for “the aged and really impotent,” or else in the House for the “able-bodied females.” With regard to the really baffling problems presented by the widow, the deserted wife, the wife of the absentee soldier or sailor, the wife of a husband resident in another parish or another country-in each case whether with or without dependent children-the Report is silent.

To the class of mothers of illegitimate children the Commissioners devoted much attention. The almost universal practice had been for such mothers to receive outdoor relief, the amount of which the parish was supposed to attempt to recover from the putative fathers. We do not find that the Report recommended any change in the method of relief of such paupers. Its proposal was, in effect, to put the mothers of illegitimate children in the same position as the widows with legitimate children. As already mentioned, the Commissioners nowhere state whether they recommend any change in the method of relief of such widows-unless, indeed, it could be argued that these women were to be included under the class of able-bodied. The revolutionary change which the Report proposed with regard to bastardy dealt with chargeability, not methods of relief. The Commissioners strongly recommended the exemption of the putative father from any legal obligation to reimburse the parish. “If,” say the Commissioners, “our previous recommendations are adopted, a bastard will be, what Providence appears to have ordained that it should be, a burden on its mother, and where she cannot maintain it, on her parents.”

Women, the Act of 1834 and its Amendments

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: As in the Report of 1834, so in the Act of 1834, women do not appear as a class. It is assumed that married women follow their husbands, either with regard to the continuance of outdoor relief to the aged, the impotent and the sick; or with regard to its regulation or prohibition in the case of the able-bodied.

It is, as we have shown, difficult to infer that the term “able-bodied” was meant to include any but persons ordinarily in employment at wages, or capable of such employment. Whether or not Parliament had in contemplation under this term even the adult independent woman without encumbrances seems to us doubtful. It is practically clear that the term was not intended by Parliament to apply to the widow, however able-bodied in the ordinary sense, nor to the deserted wife, the wife of the absentee sailor or soldier, or the wife of a husband resident in another parish or another country, if any of these were encumbered with young children, and so did not fall under the class of persons actually or potentially in employment at wages, cited in the preamble to the section dealing with the able-bodied. If this is so, we can only infer from the Act, as from the Report, that no change in practice was then suggested. With regard to such women, at least, the discretion of the Central Authority in its “direction and control” of poor relief, and its “management of the poor,” and its power to make rules “for the guidance and control of” the local authority “so far as relates to the management or relief of the poor,” was unfettered.

The fact that widows were not considered by Parliament to be included within the term “able-bodied persons and their families” may further be inferred from a section in the 1844 Act. This provided that the wife of a husband either (a) beyond the seas, (b) in the custody of the law, or (c) confined as a lunatic or idiot, should, notwithstanding her coverture, be treated for purposes of relief, as if she were a widow. This implies that a widow was not regarded as subject to the conditions of relief to “able-bodied persons and their families.”

It may be noted that relief to the child under sixteen of a widow was to be deemed relief to the mother; and relief to an illegitimate child under sixteen was to be deemed relief to the mother so long as she remained unmarried or a widow. Another section of the 1844 Act allowed a widow having a legitimate child dependent on her, and no illegitimate children, who at her husband’s death was residing with him in a place where she had no settlement, to be granted non-resident relief.

Women and the Poor Law Commissioners

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: We have shown, in the preceding analysis of the Report and Act of 1834, that neither the “principles of 1834” nor the enactment of Parliament had prescribed the policy to be pursued with regard to women; except that it was implied or assumed that wives were to follow their husbands exactly as if they were infants. With regard to the widow, the deserted wife, the wife of the absentee soldier or sailor, the wife of a husband resident in another parish or another country-above all, with regard to the independent able-bodied woman-the Central Authority had either to let the existing practice of outdoor relief continue, or to discover a policy for itself.

With regard to the able-bodied independent woman, we have shown that the Central Authority developed, between 1834 and 1847, two distinct policies which became applicable to two different geographical areas. In the thirty-two unions in which the Outdoor Labour Test Order was alone in force, the discretion of the local authorities to give outdoor relief to able-bodied independent women was left unfettered by any rule, instruction or advice of the Central Authority.

In the 477 unions in which the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order was in force (either with or without an Outdoor Labour Test Order), outdoor relief to able-bodied independent women was prohibited, with certain exceptions, which, between 1835 and 1844, steadily increased in number. As crystallised in the Out Relief Prohibitory Order of 1844 (still in force) outdoor relief was allowed to such able-bodied independent women

(1) On account of sudden and urgent necessity;

(2) On account of the sickness, accident, or bodily or mental infirmity of any member of their families (unlike a father in like case, the independent mother was not required to produce a medical certificate);

(3) For defraying the expenses of burial of any of their families;

(4) If a widow, for the first six months of widowhood or, without limit of time, if, unable to earn a livelihood, and having one or more children dependent on her, she had had no illegitimate child since her widowhood.

In the Circulars issued with these Orders, the only instructions with regard to any class of able-bodied independent women relate to widows. In these instructions the grant of outdoor relief during the first six months of widowhood, without any mention of its being considered whether they had children or not, or whether they were employed for wages or not, is specially and repeatedly brought to the notice of the local authorities as laudable.

It was, indeed, insisted by the House of Commons Committee in 1838 “that a power should be continued to the board of guardians, taking into consideration the character of the parties, to relieve, out of the workhouse, widows with young children left dependent upon them.”

This is the more significant in that the Central Authority, in one case at least, had tried a harsher expedient. In the Bradfield Union, which, under Mr. Stevens’ chairmanship, had adopted an ultra-rigorous policy, the board of guardians itself passed a rule forbidding outdoor relief “to any widow or single woman, not being aged or infirm, who is of ability to work,” except in sickness, accident or urgent necessity. This was much criticised but was maintained by the majority, who asked the Central Authority to support them by issuing an Order prohibiting all outdoor relief to able-bodied women not being aged or infirm. The Poor Law Commissioners in reply said that they “most willingly confirm the resolution, and in so doing they desire to state that they consider the workhouse to be the best description of relief for all cases, and they are always glad to perceive that the guardians of any union view outdoor relief as the exception to the general rule, to be administered, with caution, in cases of sickness, infirmity and particular distress only.” But even the Bradfield Guardians found this Order, for which they had themselves asked, quite unworkable; and they were reduced to asking sanction for successive departures from it. They generally granted outdoor relief to widows for the first few weeks of their widowhood, and were often driven to extend it. They then asked for an alteration permitting outdoor relief to able-bodied “widows of good character with more than one child under eleven, if a boy, and under thirteen if a girl.” The Central Authority was loath to let go, but had eventually to issue another Special Order as desired.

The grant of outdoor relief to widows having children, apart from this six months’ term, is, “so far as it relates to able-bodied women in employment,” regarded as of doubtful policy, to be made with circumspection, as likely to excuse contributions from relatives, to discourage insurance, and to have all the evils of the rate in aid of wages. It is suggested, moreover, that a widow can usually earn enough to support one child. It may be understood from a bare reference in the Instructional Letter of 1839 to “able-bodied women themselves” as well as to widows, that the Central Authority was alive to the effect upon women’s wages of the grant of outdoor relief to single independent women in employment. But in the revision of this Instructional Letter in 1841-though its terms remained almost identical-the slight reference to the single able-bodied woman wage-earner was silently omitted.

With regard to married women, the policy laid down by the Central Authority differed according to the particular kind of Order in force, and thus according to the locality in which they resided. In all but specially excepted cases, relief to a woman under coverture was deemed to be relief to her husband, and came thus within all the various regulations and conditions limiting outdoor relief to the able-bodied man.

In the thirty-two unions to which Outdoor Labour Test Orders were applied by themselves-these culminating in the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order 1852 (still in force)-the policy of the Central Authority was to leave the discretion of the local authorities unfettered, with regard to the grant of outdoor relief to married women, except the wives of those men (“the able-bodied and their families”) to whom outdoor relief was only to be granted in return for labour. In these latter cases the measure of the relief was to be the needs of the family, not the work done by the husband. In 1835 the Central Authority had even urged that, where the families were large, they “should be furnished with provisions according to their numbers and necessities in the same way as other paupers” by way of “additional relief” to the man for the “wives and children, as far as shall be actually necessary.”

As the policy became settled, the phrase “additional relief” was dropped; but the amount given to the husband was to depend, not on the amount or value of the work that he did, but was to be “proportioned to the wants of the applicant and his family, and should not be deemed remuneration for the work done.” In these cases half, at least, of the relief given to the husband was to be in kind; whilst, according to the Orders, no labour was required from the wife. In spite of the absence from the Orders of any requirement that the wife should render any task of labour, we find the Central Authority in 1842-concerned at the earning of money by the wives (and children) of men at “parish work”-making an inconsistent suggestion. In the Minute of 31st October 1842, it is suggested that, “if it be practicable, some employment, such as picking up or carrying stones, should be provided for the wives and children. The latter precaution is peculiarly important in the manufacturing districts.” This requirement of labour from the wife had, up to 1847, found no embodiment in any Order.

In the 477 unions to which the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order of 1844 applied, three extensive classes of wives were, by the policy of the Central Authority, to be treated as if they were widows.

(a) A wife deserted by her husband and having only legitimate children dependent on her could, under the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, 1844, be given Outdoor Relief as a widow having a child dependent on her. As a matter of fact, the position of any wife living apart from her husband was better than that of a widow. The wife living apart from her husband (whether technically deserted by him or not, and whether or not he was within the union) could insist on the relief of her children, without applying for relief for herself; and if the child was below the age of seven, it could not be separated from her, even with her own consent; and thus the relief had to be outdoor relief. She could, moreover, send her children over seven into the workhouse without herself accompanying them, or herself becoming a pauper. On the other hand, though the local authority might, if it chose, grant outdoor relief to a widow having a child dependent on her (if she had had no illegitimate child born since her widowhood), it need not do so, and it could not relieve her dependent children, whether under seven or over, without making her a pauper.

(b) The wife of a husband-

(i.) Beyond the seas;

(ii.) In custody of the law; or

(iii.) Confined in an asylum as a lunatic or idiot

was to be treated, for indoor and outdoor relief alike, as if she were a widow (a widow beyond the six months’ term, though this is not so stated). By “beyond the seas,” the Central Authority understood “out of Great Britain.”

(c) In the case of the wife of an able-bodied soldier, sailor, or marine in His Majesty’s service (wherever he might be situated), the Central Authority expressly stated that it felt it to be “desirable to give great latitude” to the local authorities.

In all other cases, within those parts of the country to which this Order applied, wives residing with their husbands had to follow them, and were not to be relieved, either in or out of the workhouse, without them. A more difficult question was whether a man could continue to receive relief in the workhouse if his wife insisted on leaving it. The Central Authority, on being appealed to by a local authority actually confronted with such a case, decided that the wife could not be prevented from leaving the workhouse. It hazarded the opinion (of which we do not admit the legal validity), “that a woman may be restrained by the control of her husband from leaving the workhouse, and if he declines to use his marital control, it is in the power of the guardians to dismiss the husband. But whether it is expedient or judicious to pursue such a course must depend on the peculiar circumstances which each individual case presents. One consideration is particularly important in dealing with any case of this description, that is, whether the husband is in a condition practically to exercise his control over his wife. Where he is not, it would be very unadvisable, in the opinion of the Commissioners, to make it a condition of the relief of the husband or of his children (if he have any) that he should exercise an authority over his wife which practically he cannot exercise.”

It is interesting at this point to sum up the policy of the Central Authority, so far as embodied in its published documents between 1834 and 1847, with regard to outdoor relief to women, especially as affecting the “Rate in Aid of Wages.” The policy differed fundamentally in the two different areas of the country governed respectively by the two kinds of Orders. Where the Outdoor Labour Test Order (continued, after 1852, by the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order, which is still in force) was alone applied, the discretion of the local authority to give outdoor relief to women of any status, married or unmarried, with children or without, was unfettered by any Order. The only rule made by the Central Authority in the matter was that if the woman was the wife of an able-bodied man who was himself employed on “parish work,” and residing with him, at least one-half of his relief should be in kind. No rule was made or Order issued by the Central Authority against the grant of outdoor relief to women employed for wages, even in respect of the very days on which they were earning wages.

We have mentioned that the Central Authority, so far as men were concerned, stood rigidly to the position of the 1834 Report that the moral character of the applicant was to be absolutely disregarded in considering the relief to be granted to him. With regard to women, however, it took up a different position. We find it advising that the mothers of illegitimate children should, on this ground alone, not be granted outdoor relief.

Where the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order was in force, neither spinsters nor wives residing with able-bodied husbands could, apart from sudden and urgent necessity, receive outdoor relief, unless they were sick. But with regard to widows and wives living apart from their husbands, the exceptions to the prohibition were so numerous that both these classes may almost be said to have been expressly allowed to receive outdoor relief. The fact that such women were in employment for wages was not regarded by the Orders of the Central Authority as relevant: nor was it prescribed that any task of labour should be exacted in return for the relief. And although if we look closely, it is possible to find, in the circulars, instructional letters and published decisions of these thirteen years (1834-1847), two or three bare incidental allusions to the possibility of outdoor relief to women having the effect of a “Rate in Aid of Wages,” even these occur only in the earlier years, and presently die away entirely. It is, therefore, not incorrect to say that an objection to outdoor relief to women in employment formed during these years no part of the declared policy of the Central Authority.

When women entered the workhouse, the policy of the Central Authority (as in the analogous case of “the able-bodied”) was to classify them in quite other categories than those which governed their outdoor relief. The woman’s status, with regard to a man, so fundamental as long as she remained outside, was, in the workhouse, entirely irrelevant. What became important was whether or not she was sick, “able-bodied” (in the workhouse sense), or “aged and infirm”; whether or not she was a nursing mother, or a mother of children under seven years old; whether or not she was of “good character” or of “dissolute and disorderly habits” or the mother of an illegitimate child. These considerations-leading to classifications inconsistent with each other-affected the women’s segregation in the workhouse, the employment provided for them, the dietary and the amount of their freedom. With all this we deal in subsequent sections.

Women and the Poor Law Board

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: Women, of whom there were always between 80,000 and 100,000 on outdoor relief, were almost wholly ignored in the Poor Law Legislation of 1847-71, as in the Orders of the Central Authority. The policy of the Central Authority, so far as it appears from the documents, continued to be to permit able-bodied independent women unconditionally to receive outdoor relief, whether or not they were in receipt of wages, so far as concerned the unions under the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order; and to forbid outdoor relief to such women in unions under the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, whether or not this Order was accompanied by an Outdoor Labour Test Order (for men).

The women dependent on able-bodied men, whether themselves able-bodied or not, might be maintained in their homes, on condition of their husbands being employed in test work, not only in all unions under the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order, but also in those in which the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order was accompanied by a Labour Test Order. On the other hand, such women, however feeble or infirm, were not allowed to be maintained in their homes, even if their husbands were willing to do test work, in those unions in which the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order was alone in force. No reason appears for these differences in policy as to the method of relief of identical categories of women in the different geographical regions into which the Central Authority had divided England and Wales. But although the policy of the Central Authority with regard to women remained, in each of the three regions into which England was divided by these Orders, apparently unchanged, the regions themselves, as we have mentioned, were being silently altered. The great enlargement of the territory to which the laxer Order was applied and the narrow limitation of the territory governed by the stricter Order, involved an enormous extension of the outdoor relief to women permitted by the Central Authority.

In that part of England and Wales which was under the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, a widow without children continued to be allowed to receive outdoor relief only during the first six months of her widowhood. In all the rest of the country she continued to be allowed to receive outdoor relief indefinitely. Widows with children continued to be allowed to receive outdoor relief under all the Orders.

We have, however, in these years, the first recognition (so far as we can trace) of the difficulty of the problem presented by the inadequate earnings of independent able-bodied women. In Bermondsey, in 1850, where there was no Order in force as to outdoor relief, the Central Authority was forced to face the problem presented by “widows and other females who, though in very constant work as sempstresses or shirtmakers,” obtained so trifling a remuneration as to be unable to live. The Central Authority admitted that it was lawful to grant them relief, but discouraged this course, “persuaded that the practice of making up insufficient earnings by outdoor relief must tend to produce and perpetuate the evil.” The guardians were advised to refuse partial relief, so that some of the women might be wholly maintained in the workhouse and so taken off the labour market, when pressure of competition on the others would be thereby relieved and their wages would rise. The Central Authority did not, however, take the responsibility of issuing an Order specially enforcing this policy; and it is to be noted (as already mentioned) that by gradually substituting the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order for the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, the Central Authority was, in fact, retreating from the advice to the Bermondsey Guardians of 1850.

Not until 1869 (so far as we can trace) did the Central Authority face the problem presented by the widow with children. Mr Goschen’s celebrated Minute of November 20th 1869, incidentally referred (as a frequent exception to the rule against a “rate in aid of wages”) to the grant of partial relief “in the case of widows with families, where it is often manifestly impossible that the woman can support the family.” Mr. Goschen does not appear to have made any definite suggestion of an alternative policy in these cases. He seems to have regarded it as merely an exception, of no great importance. But the Holborn Board of Guardians, in their reply to the Circular, pointed out that “the exception of widows would of itself constitute so large a proportion that the rule is virtually swallowed up thereby.” The Holborn Guardians, apparently understanding that the Central Authority was hinting at the stoppage of outdoor relief in these cases, also pointed out that “it would be impossible to find workhouse accommodation for over 20,000 widows in the Metropolis and their 60,000 children.” These figures were indeed exaggerated; but it was incidentally observed by the Central Authority itself that “the amount of destitution in the country generally, caused by the death, absence, or desertion of the male head of the family … we should estimate … to be 35 per cent of the whole.” In 1858, the “able-bodied widows relieved out of doors” in the whole country numbered 50,468, and the children dependent on them 126,658, making together over 25 per cent of the total pauper population. In the Metropolis alone, out of an outdoor pauper population in 1869 of 121,012 (excluding lunatics and vagrants), the women relieved because of the death or absence of their husbands numbered 11,851, and their children 28,569, making a total of 40,420, or one-third of the whole outdoor pauperism. It was perhaps in view of such statistics that the Central Authority, in reporting on the reply of the Holborn Board of Guardians, among other replies, made no criticism of the grant of outdoor relief to widows with children, and offered no suggestion of an alternative policy. The only suggestions made were that there should be more relieving officers to check the overlapping of outdoor relief and private charity, and that the outdoor relief granted should be “adequate.” A special Commissioner (Mr. Wodehouse) was told off to make an official inquiry into the administration of outdoor relief, in which the facts were again laid bare. We do not find that the Central Authority-now fully aware that the category of widows with children, “where” (to use Mr. Goschen’s words) “it is manifestly impossible that the earnings of the woman can support the family,” comprised about 177,000 persons, and made up at least a quarter of the whole outdoor pauperism-issued any order prescribing what ought to be done in these cases, or ever made any authoritative suggestion on the subject. The Holborn and other boards of guardians had therefore warrant for believing that the grant of outdoor relief to widows with children, even in supplement of earnings, permitted as it was by the Orders, continued, as from 1834 onwards, to have the sanction of the Central Authority.

Women and the Local Government Board

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: It was in this period of 1871-1907 that the Central Authority began to lay down a policy with regard to women as women; significantly enough, as part of the restrictive policy brought in by the inspectorate. Women continued to be practically ignored in the statutes and orders, so that their legal position remained virtually unchanged.But without any change in the orders, or in the division of the whole country into geographical regions under which, as we have shown, women had different claims to relief, the Central Authority sought by circulars, minutes, decisions, and the persistent pressure of the inspectorate, to discourage the grant of outdoor relief to particular classes of women. Thus outdoor relief to able-bodied single women without illegitimate children continued to be permissible, without any labour test or other conditions, in all the unions under the Out-relief Regulation Order; and the area under this Order continued to grow in population, until it amounted, by 1907, to three-fourths of the whole. But by Circular of 2nd December 1871, the Central Authority advised that outdoor relief should not be given in any case whatsoever of this class. Such outdoor relief was specifically prohibited in the rules adopted by the Manchester Board of Guardians in 1875, which were frequently commended to the notice of other Boards of Guardians, who, under inspectorial pressure, voluntarily put themselves under similar rules. In the same way, without alteration of the Orders, it was urged that deserted wives should not be given outdoor relief, at any rate during the first twelve months after the desertion. It was officially declared to be “inexpedient to allow outdoor relief to the wives and children of persons who are in gaol”-not merely of convicted prisoners under sentence, but also of those not under sentence, nearly all of whom are still unconvicted, and, therefore, legally presumed to be innocent-and this in spite of the admitted fact that “the law has provided that regulations prescribed with regard to widows shall apply to the wives in these cases,” so that the Central Authority had no power to make a prohibitory order. So, too, the “wives of men in the first class Army Reserve,” to whom relief could not be actually prohibited without trouble with the War Office, were declared not to need constant relief, as “an able-bodied woman with the Government allowance and such assistance as her husband ought to provide from his pay and allowances should have no difficulty in finding, if not immediately, at least within a reasonable period after her husband’s departure, sufficient employment to enable her to maintain adequately herself and her children.” But outdoor relief might be given for a short period, and, it was suggested, on loan. Even to widows, who, it was now recognised, accounted for a third of the whole pauper population, outdoor relief was-apparently for the first time in the whole history of the Central Authority from 1834, so far as we can find-now officially discouraged. It was strongly recommended that it should not be given at all to “any able-bodied widow with one child only.” Even where there were “more than one child, it may be desirable to take one or more of the children into the workhouse in preference to giving outdoor relief.” It is characteristic that this policy was not based on any consideration of what was the appropriate treatment for the child, but was regarded only as a “test,” by which it was intended to exclude every widow who could possibly maintain herself and family without poor relief. Six years later we have it observed, as a capital drawback to this policy, not that the children might suffer by being taken into the workhouse, but that “since the passing of the Elementary Education Acts this offer as a test of destitution has not the same effect as previously, inasmuch as the children being required to attend school, the mothers cannot have the benefit of any earnings which otherwise the children might obtain.” And though the Central Authority refused, in 1877, to make illegal the grant of outdoor relief to “widows within six months of their widowhood”-declaring, indeed, that “a widow, with or without children, could not, on the death of her husband, in all cases be required to go into the workhouse”-it was not obscurely hinted that “it may be that the period of six months now allowed is too long,” and that “the guardians should exercise their discretion in dealing with each case according to its merits.” The example of the Bradfield Union, where “the widow’s month” had, since about 1873, been substituted for “the widow’s six months,” was always being commended to boards of guardians by the inspectorate. Moreover, in the Metropolis, at Manchester, at Birmingham, and various other places, it was strongly recommended in these years that outdoor relief to able-bodied independent women should be given only with a labour test; which might be (as at Manchester) “the enforced silence and order of the needle-room,” where the women, at any rate, learnt to knit, and sew, and darn a stocking, or, as at Birmingham and Poplar, what Mr. Corbett called “the comparative licence and desultory work of the ordinary oakum room.” The task of oakum picking was eventually preferred by the Central Authority, and, down to the last decade of the century, it was this that was recommended to boards of guardians. The effect of this long-continued and persistent pressure for the first twenty years of the Local Government Board, without any alteration in the legal status of women by order or statute, is seen in the statistics of outdoor relief. The able-bodied women getting outdoor relief on 1st January 1871, numbered 116,407. On 1st January 1892, they had been brought down to 53,571, the reduction having been principally in: (a) wives of able-bodied men; (b) single women without children; and (c) wives of men in gaol, in the Army, Navy, etc., or otherwise absent. But the number of widows on outdoor relief had also been reduced from 53,502 in 1873 to 36,627 on 1st January 1892.

After 1885, though some of the inspectors continued to recommend, with regard to women, the strict policy of 1871, the Local Government Board itself, so far as we can discover, reverted to silence on the point, and gave no advice.

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Women and the Local Government Board

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: It was in this period of 1871-1907 that the Central Authority began to lay down a policy with regard to women as women; significantly enough, as part of the restrictive policy brought in by the inspectorate. Women continued to be practically ignored in the statutes and orders, so that their legal position remained virtually unchanged.But without any change in the orders, or in the division of the whole country into geographical regions under which, as we have shown, women had different claims to relief, the Central Authority sought by circulars, minutes, decisions, and the persistent pressure of the inspectorate, to discourage the grant of outdoor relief to particular classes of women. Thus outdoor relief to able-bodied single women without illegitimate children continued to be permissible, without any labour test or other conditions, in all the unions under the Out-relief Regulation Order; and the area under this Order continued to grow in population, until it amounted, by 1907, to three-fourths of the whole. But by Circular of 2nd December 1871, the Central Authority advised that outdoor relief should not be given in any case whatsoever of this class. Such outdoor relief was specifically prohibited in the rules adopted by the Manchester Board of Guardians in 1875, which were frequently commended to the notice of other Boards of Guardians, who, under inspectorial pressure, voluntarily put themselves under similar rules. In the same way, without alteration of the Orders, it was urged that deserted wives should not be given outdoor relief, at any rate during the first twelve months after the desertion. It was officially declared to be “inexpedient to allow outdoor relief to the wives and children of persons who are in gaol”-not merely of convicted prisoners under sentence, but also of those not under sentence, nearly all of whom are still unconvicted, and, therefore, legally presumed to be innocent-and this in spite of the admitted fact that “the law has provided that regulations prescribed with regard to widows shall apply to the wives in these cases,” so that the Central Authority had no power to make a prohibitory order. So, too, the “wives of men in the first class Army Reserve,” to whom relief could not be actually prohibited without trouble with the War Office, were declared not to need constant relief, as “an able-bodied woman with the Government allowance and such assistance as her husband ought to provide from his pay and allowances should have no difficulty in finding, if not immediately, at least within a reasonable period after her husband’s departure, sufficient employment to enable her to maintain adequately herself and her children.” But outdoor relief might be given for a short period, and, it was suggested, on loan. Even to widows, who, it was now recognised, accounted for a third of the whole pauper population, outdoor relief was-apparently for the first time in the whole history of the Central Authority from 1834, so far as we can find-now officially discouraged. It was strongly recommended that it should not be given at all to “any able-bodied widow with one child only.” Even where there were “more than one child, it may be desirable to take one or more of the children into the workhouse in preference to giving outdoor relief.” It is characteristic that this policy was not based on any consideration of what was the appropriate treatment for the child, but was regarded only as a “test,” by which it was intended to exclude every widow who could possibly maintain herself and family without poor relief. Six years later we have it observed, as a capital drawback to this policy, not that the children might suffer by being taken into the workhouse, but that “since the passing of the Elementary Education Acts this offer as a test of destitution has not the same effect as previously, inasmuch as the children being required to attend school, the mothers cannot have the benefit of any earnings which otherwise the children might obtain.” And though the Central Authority refused, in 1877, to make illegal the grant of outdoor relief to “widows within six months of their widowhood”-declaring, indeed, that “a widow, with or without children, could not, on the death of her husband, in all cases be required to go into the workhouse”-it was not obscurely hinted that “it may be that the period of six months now allowed is too long,” and that “the guardians should exercise their discretion in dealing with each case according to its merits.” The example of the Bradfield Union, where “the widow’s month” had, since about 1873, been substituted for “the widow’s six months,” was always being commended to boards of guardians by the inspectorate. Moreover, in the Metropolis, at Manchester, at Birmingham, and various other places, it was strongly recommended in these years that outdoor relief to able-bodied independent women should be given only with a labour test; which might be (as at Manchester) “the enforced silence and order of the needle-room,” where the women, at any rate, learnt to knit, and sew, and darn a stocking, or, as at Birmingham and Poplar, what Mr. Corbett called “the comparative licence and desultory work of the ordinary oakum room.” The task of oakum picking was eventually preferred by the Central Authority, and, down to the last decade of the century, it was this that was recommended to boards of guardians. The effect of this long-continued and persistent pressure for the first twenty years of the Local Government Board, without any alteration in the legal status of women by order or statute, is seen in the statistics of outdoor relief. The able-bodied women getting outdoor relief on 1st January 1871, numbered 116,407. On 1st January 1892, they had been brought down to 53,571, the reduction having been principally in: (a) wives of able-bodied men; (b) single women without children; and (c) wives of men in gaol, in the Army, Navy, etc., or otherwise absent. But the number of widows on outdoor relief had also been reduced from 53,502 in 1873 to 36,627 on 1st January 1892.

After 1885, though some of the inspectors continued to recommend, with regard to women, the strict policy of 1871, the Local Government Board itself, so far as we can discover, reverted to silence on the point, and gave no advice.

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Women and the Poor Law Board

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: Women, of whom there were always between 80,000 and 100,000 on outdoor relief, were almost wholly ignored in the Poor Law Legislation of 1847-71, as in the Orders of the Central Authority. The policy of the Central Authority, so far as it appears from the documents, continued to be to permit able-bodied independent women unconditionally to receive outdoor relief, whether or not they were in receipt of wages, so far as concerned the unions under the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order; and to forbid outdoor relief to such women in unions under the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, whether or not this Order was accompanied by an Outdoor Labour Test Order (for men).

The women dependent on able-bodied men, whether themselves able-bodied or not, might be maintained in their homes, on condition of their husbands being employed in test work, not only in all unions under the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order, but also in those in which the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order was accompanied by a Labour Test Order. On the other hand, such women, however feeble or infirm, were not allowed to be maintained in their homes, even if their husbands were willing to do test work, in those unions in which the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order was alone in force. No reason appears for these differences in policy as to the method of relief of identical categories of women in the different geographical regions into which the Central Authority had divided England and Wales. But although the policy of the Central Authority with regard to women remained, in each of the three regions into which England was divided by these Orders, apparently unchanged, the regions themselves, as we have mentioned, were being silently altered. The great enlargement of the territory to which the laxer Order was applied and the narrow limitation of the territory governed by the stricter Order, involved an enormous extension of the outdoor relief to women permitted by the Central Authority.

In that part of England and Wales which was under the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, a widow without children continued to be allowed to receive outdoor relief only during the first six months of her widowhood. In all the rest of the country she continued to be allowed to receive outdoor relief indefinitely. Widows with children continued to be allowed to receive outdoor relief under all the Orders.

We have, however, in these years, the first recognition (so far as we can trace) of the difficulty of the problem presented by the inadequate earnings of independent able-bodied women. In Bermondsey, in 1850, where there was no Order in force as to outdoor relief, the Central Authority was forced to face the problem presented by “widows and other females who, though in very constant work as sempstresses or shirtmakers,” obtained so trifling a remuneration as to be unable to live. The Central Authority admitted that it was lawful to grant them relief, but discouraged this course, “persuaded that the practice of making up insufficient earnings by outdoor relief must tend to produce and perpetuate the evil.” The guardians were advised to refuse partial relief, so that some of the women might be wholly maintained in the workhouse and so taken off the labour market, when pressure of competition on the others would be thereby relieved and their wages would rise. The Central Authority did not, however, take the responsibility of issuing an Order specially enforcing this policy; and it is to be noted (as already mentioned) that by gradually substituting the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order for the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, the Central Authority was, in fact, retreating from the advice to the Bermondsey Guardians of 1850.

Not until 1869 (so far as we can trace) did the Central Authority face the problem presented by the widow with children. Mr Goschen’s celebrated Minute of November 20th 1869, incidentally referred (as a frequent exception to the rule against a “rate in aid of wages”) to the grant of partial relief “in the case of widows with families, where it is often manifestly impossible that the woman can support the family.” Mr. Goschen does not appear to have made any definite suggestion of an alternative policy in these cases. He seems to have regarded it as merely an exception, of no great importance. But the Holborn Board of Guardians, in their reply to the Circular, pointed out that “the exception of widows would of itself constitute so large a proportion that the rule is virtually swallowed up thereby.” The Holborn Guardians, apparently understanding that the Central Authority was hinting at the stoppage of outdoor relief in these cases, also pointed out that “it would be impossible to find workhouse accommodation for over 20,000 widows in the Metropolis and their 60,000 children.” These figures were indeed exaggerated; but it was incidentally observed by the Central Authority itself that “the amount of destitution in the country generally, caused by the death, absence, or desertion of the male head of the family … we should estimate … to be 35 per cent of the whole.” In 1858, the “able-bodied widows relieved out of doors” in the whole country numbered 50,468, and the children dependent on them 126,658, making together over 25 per cent of the total pauper population. In the Metropolis alone, out of an outdoor pauper population in 1869 of 121,012 (excluding lunatics and vagrants), the women relieved because of the death or absence of their husbands numbered 11,851, and their children 28,569, making a total of 40,420, or one-third of the whole outdoor pauperism. It was perhaps in view of such statistics that the Central Authority, in reporting on the reply of the Holborn Board of Guardians, among other replies, made no criticism of the grant of outdoor relief to widows with children, and offered no suggestion of an alternative policy. The only suggestions made were that there should be more relieving officers to check the overlapping of outdoor relief and private charity, and that the outdoor relief granted should be “adequate.” A special Commissioner (Mr. Wodehouse) was told off to make an official inquiry into the administration of outdoor relief, in which the facts were again laid bare. We do not find that the Central Authority-now fully aware that the category of widows with children, “where” (to use Mr. Goschen’s words) “it is manifestly impossible that the earnings of the woman can support the family,” comprised about 177,000 persons, and made up at least a quarter of the whole outdoor pauperism-issued any order prescribing what ought to be done in these cases, or ever made any authoritative suggestion on the subject. The Holborn and other boards of guardians had therefore warrant for believing that the grant of outdoor relief to widows with children, even in supplement of earnings, permitted as it was by the Orders, continued, as from 1834 onwards, to have the sanction of the Central Authority.

Women and the Local Government Board

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: It was in this period of 1871-1907 that the Central Authority began to lay down a policy with regard to women as women; significantly enough, as part of the restrictive policy brought in by the inspectorate. Women continued to be practically ignored in the statutes and orders, so that their legal position remained virtually unchanged.But without any change in the orders, or in the division of the whole country into geographical regions under which, as we have shown, women had different claims to relief, the Central Authority sought by circulars, minutes, decisions, and the persistent pressure of the inspectorate, to discourage the grant of outdoor relief to particular classes of women. Thus outdoor relief to able-bodied single women without illegitimate children continued to be permissible, without any labour test or other conditions, in all the unions under the Out-relief Regulation Order; and the area under this Order continued to grow in population, until it amounted, by 1907, to three-fourths of the whole. But by Circular of 2nd December 1871, the Central Authority advised that outdoor relief should not be given in any case whatsoever of this class. Such outdoor relief was specifically prohibited in the rules adopted by the Manchester Board of Guardians in 1875, which were frequently commended to the notice of other Boards of Guardians, who, under inspectorial pressure, voluntarily put themselves under similar rules. In the same way, without alteration of the Orders, it was urged that deserted wives should not be given outdoor relief, at any rate during the first twelve months after the desertion. It was officially declared to be “inexpedient to allow outdoor relief to the wives and children of persons who are in gaol”-not merely of convicted prisoners under sentence, but also of those not under sentence, nearly all of whom are still unconvicted, and, therefore, legally presumed to be innocent-and this in spite of the admitted fact that “the law has provided that regulations prescribed with regard to widows shall apply to the wives in these cases,” so that the Central Authority had no power to make a prohibitory order. So, too, the “wives of men in the first class Army Reserve,” to whom relief could not be actually prohibited without trouble with the War Office, were declared not to need constant relief, as “an able-bodied woman with the Government allowance and such assistance as her husband ought to provide from his pay and allowances should have no difficulty in finding, if not immediately, at least within a reasonable period after her husband’s departure, sufficient employment to enable her to maintain adequately herself and her children.” But outdoor relief might be given for a short period, and, it was suggested, on loan. Even to widows, who, it was now recognised, accounted for a third of the whole pauper population, outdoor relief was-apparently for the first time in the whole history of the Central Authority from 1834, so far as we can find-now officially discouraged. It was strongly recommended that it should not be given at all to “any able-bodied widow with one child only.” Even where there were “more than one child, it may be desirable to take one or more of the children into the workhouse in preference to giving outdoor relief.” It is characteristic that this policy was not based on any consideration of what was the appropriate treatment for the child, but was regarded only as a “test,” by which it was intended to exclude every widow who could possibly maintain herself and family without poor relief. Six years later we have it observed, as a capital drawback to this policy, not that the children might suffer by being taken into the workhouse, but that “since the passing of the Elementary Education Acts this offer as a test of destitution has not the same effect as previously, inasmuch as the children being required to attend school, the mothers cannot have the benefit of any earnings which otherwise the children might obtain.” And though the Central Authority refused, in 1877, to make illegal the grant of outdoor relief to “widows within six months of their widowhood”-declaring, indeed, that “a widow, with or without children, could not, on the death of her husband, in all cases be required to go into the workhouse”-it was not obscurely hinted that “it may be that the period of six months now allowed is too long,” and that “the guardians should exercise their discretion in dealing with each case according to its merits.” The example of the Bradfield Union, where “the widow’s month” had, since about 1873, been substituted for “the widow’s six months,” was always being commended to boards of guardians by the inspectorate. Moreover, in the Metropolis, at Manchester, at Birmingham, and various other places, it was strongly recommended in these years that outdoor relief to able-bodied independent women should be given only with a labour test; which might be (as at Manchester) “the enforced silence and order of the needle-room,” where the women, at any rate, learnt to knit, and sew, and darn a stocking, or, as at Birmingham and Poplar, what Mr. Corbett called “the comparative licence and desultory work of the ordinary oakum room.” The task of oakum picking was eventually preferred by the Central Authority, and, down to the last decade of the century, it was this that was recommended to boards of guardians. The effect of this long-continued and persistent pressure for the first twenty years of the Local Government Board, without any alteration in the legal status of women by order or statute, is seen in the statistics of outdoor relief. The able-bodied women getting outdoor relief on 1st January 1871, numbered 116,407. On 1st January 1892, they had been brought down to 53,571, the reduction having been principally in: (a) wives of able-bodied men; (b) single women without children; and (c) wives of men in gaol, in the Army, Navy, etc., or otherwise absent. But the number of widows on outdoor relief had also been reduced from 53,502 in 1873 to 36,627 on 1st January 1892.

After 1885, though some of the inspectors continued to recommend, with regard to women, the strict policy of 1871, the Local Government Board itself, so far as we can discover, reverted to silence on the point, and gave no advice.

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Women and the Local Government Board

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: It was in this period of 1871-1907 that the Central Authority began to lay down a policy with regard to women as women; significantly enough, as part of the restrictive policy brought in by the inspectorate. Women continued to be practically ignored in the statutes and orders, so that their legal position remained virtually unchanged.But without any change in the orders, or in the division of the whole country into geographical regions under which, as we have shown, women had different claims to relief, the Central Authority sought by circulars, minutes, decisions, and the persistent pressure of the inspectorate, to discourage the grant of outdoor relief to particular classes of women. Thus outdoor relief to able-bodied single women without illegitimate children continued to be permissible, without any labour test or other conditions, in all the unions under the Out-relief Regulation Order; and the area under this Order continued to grow in population, until it amounted, by 1907, to three-fourths of the whole. But by Circular of 2nd December 1871, the Central Authority advised that outdoor relief should not be given in any case whatsoever of this class. Such outdoor relief was specifically prohibited in the rules adopted by the Manchester Board of Guardians in 1875, which were frequently commended to the notice of other Boards of Guardians, who, under inspectorial pressure, voluntarily put themselves under similar rules. In the same way, without alteration of the Orders, it was urged that deserted wives should not be given outdoor relief, at any rate during the first twelve months after the desertion. It was officially declared to be “inexpedient to allow outdoor relief to the wives and children of persons who are in gaol”-not merely of convicted prisoners under sentence, but also of those not under sentence, nearly all of whom are still unconvicted, and, therefore, legally presumed to be innocent-and this in spite of the admitted fact that “the law has provided that regulations prescribed with regard to widows shall apply to the wives in these cases,” so that the Central Authority had no power to make a prohibitory order. So, too, the “wives of men in the first class Army Reserve,” to whom relief could not be actually prohibited without trouble with the War Office, were declared not to need constant relief, as “an able-bodied woman with the Government allowance and such assistance as her husband ought to provide from his pay and allowances should have no difficulty in finding, if not immediately, at least within a reasonable period after her husband’s departure, sufficient employment to enable her to maintain adequately herself and her children.” But outdoor relief might be given for a short period, and, it was suggested, on loan. Even to widows, who, it was now recognised, accounted for a third of the whole pauper population, outdoor relief was-apparently for the first time in the whole history of the Central Authority from 1834, so far as we can find-now officially discouraged. It was strongly recommended that it should not be given at all to “any able-bodied widow with one child only.” Even where there were “more than one child, it may be desirable to take one or more of the children into the workhouse in preference to giving outdoor relief.” It is characteristic that this policy was not based on any consideration of what was the appropriate treatment for the child, but was regarded only as a “test,” by which it was intended to exclude every widow who could possibly maintain herself and family without poor relief. Six years later we have it observed, as a capital drawback to this policy, not that the children might suffer by being taken into the workhouse, but that “since the passing of the Elementary Education Acts this offer as a test of destitution has not the same effect as previously, inasmuch as the children being required to attend school, the mothers cannot have the benefit of any earnings which otherwise the children might obtain.” And though the Central Authority refused, in 1877, to make illegal the grant of outdoor relief to “widows within six months of their widowhood”-declaring, indeed, that “a widow, with or without children, could not, on the death of her husband, in all cases be required to go into the workhouse”-it was not obscurely hinted that “it may be that the period of six months now allowed is too long,” and that “the guardians should exercise their discretion in dealing with each case according to its merits.” The example of the Bradfield Union, where “the widow’s month” had, since about 1873, been substituted for “the widow’s six months,” was always being commended to boards of guardians by the inspectorate. Moreover, in the Metropolis, at Manchester, at Birmingham, and various other places, it was strongly recommended in these years that outdoor relief to able-bodied independent women should be given only with a labour test; which might be (as at Manchester) “the enforced silence and order of the needle-room,” where the women, at any rate, learnt to knit, and sew, and darn a stocking, or, as at Birmingham and Poplar, what Mr. Corbett called “the comparative licence and desultory work of the ordinary oakum room.” The task of oakum picking was eventually preferred by the Central Authority, and, down to the last decade of the century, it was this that was recommended to boards of guardians. The effect of this long-continued and persistent pressure for the first twenty years of the Local Government Board, without any alteration in the legal status of women by order or statute, is seen in the statistics of outdoor relief. The able-bodied women getting outdoor relief on 1st January 1871, numbered 116,407. On 1st January 1892, they had been brought down to 53,571, the reduction having been principally in: (a) wives of able-bodied men; (b) single women without children; and (c) wives of men in gaol, in the Army, Navy, etc., or otherwise absent. But the number of widows on outdoor relief had also been reduced from 53,502 in 1873 to 36,627 on 1st January 1892.

After 1885, though some of the inspectors continued to recommend, with regard to women, the strict policy of 1871, the Local Government Board itself, so far as we can discover, reverted to silence on the point, and gave no advice.

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Women and the Poor Law Commissioners

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: We have shown, in the preceding analysis of the Report and Act of 1834, that neither the “principles of 1834” nor the enactment of Parliament had prescribed the policy to be pursued with regard to women; except that it was implied or assumed that wives were to follow their husbands exactly as if they were infants. With regard to the widow, the deserted wife, the wife of the absentee soldier or sailor, the wife of a husband resident in another parish or another country-above all, with regard to the independent able-bodied woman-the Central Authority had either to let the existing practice of outdoor relief continue, or to discover a policy for itself.

With regard to the able-bodied independent woman, we have shown that the Central Authority developed, between 1834 and 1847, two distinct policies which became applicable to two different geographical areas. In the thirty-two unions in which the Outdoor Labour Test Order was alone in force, the discretion of the local authorities to give outdoor relief to able-bodied independent women was left unfettered by any rule, instruction or advice of the Central Authority.

In the 477 unions in which the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order was in force (either with or without an Outdoor Labour Test Order), outdoor relief to able-bodied independent women was prohibited, with certain exceptions, which, between 1835 and 1844, steadily increased in number. As crystallised in the Out Relief Prohibitory Order of 1844 (still in force) outdoor relief was allowed to such able-bodied independent women

(1) On account of sudden and urgent necessity;

(2) On account of the sickness, accident, or bodily or mental infirmity of any member of their families (unlike a father in like case, the independent mother was not required to produce a medical certificate);

(3) For defraying the expenses of burial of any of their families;

(4) If a widow, for the first six months of widowhood or, without limit of time, if, unable to earn a livelihood, and having one or more children dependent on her, she had had no illegitimate child since her widowhood.

In the Circulars issued with these Orders, the only instructions with regard to any class of able-bodied independent women relate to widows. In these instructions the grant of outdoor relief during the first six months of widowhood, without any mention of its being considered whether they had children or not, or whether they were employed for wages or not, is specially and repeatedly brought to the notice of the local authorities as laudable.

It was, indeed, insisted by the House of Commons Committee in 1838 “that a power should be continued to the board of guardians, taking into consideration the character of the parties, to relieve, out of the workhouse, widows with young children left dependent upon them.”

This is the more significant in that the Central Authority, in one case at least, had tried a harsher expedient. In the Bradfield Union, which, under Mr. Stevens’ chairmanship, had adopted an ultra-rigorous policy, the board of guardians itself passed a rule forbidding outdoor relief “to any widow or single woman, not being aged or infirm, who is of ability to work,” except in sickness, accident or urgent necessity. This was much criticised but was maintained by the majority, who asked the Central Authority to support them by issuing an Order prohibiting all outdoor relief to able-bodied women not being aged or infirm. The Poor Law Commissioners in reply said that they “most willingly confirm the resolution, and in so doing they desire to state that they consider the workhouse to be the best description of relief for all cases, and they are always glad to perceive that the guardians of any union view outdoor relief as the exception to the general rule, to be administered, with caution, in cases of sickness, infirmity and particular distress only.” But even the Bradfield Guardians found this Order, for which they had themselves asked, quite unworkable; and they were reduced to asking sanction for successive departures from it. They generally granted outdoor relief to widows for the first few weeks of their widowhood, and were often driven to extend it. They then asked for an alteration permitting outdoor relief to able-bodied “widows of good character with more than one child under eleven, if a boy, and under thirteen if a girl.” The Central Authority was loath to let go, but had eventually to issue another Special Order as desired.

The grant of outdoor relief to widows having children, apart from this six months’ term, is, “so far as it relates to able-bodied women in employment,” regarded as of doubtful policy, to be made with circumspection, as likely to excuse contributions from relatives, to discourage insurance, and to have all the evils of the rate in aid of wages. It is suggested, moreover, that a widow can usually earn enough to support one child. It may be understood from a bare reference in the Instructional Letter of 1839 to “able-bodied women themselves” as well as to widows, that the Central Authority was alive to the effect upon women’s wages of the grant of outdoor relief to single independent women in employment. But in the revision of this Instructional Letter in 1841-though its terms remained almost identical-the slight reference to the single able-bodied woman wage-earner was silently omitted.

With regard to married women, the policy laid down by the Central Authority differed according to the particular kind of Order in force, and thus according to the locality in which they resided. In all but specially excepted cases, relief to a woman under coverture was deemed to be relief to her husband, and came thus within all the various regulations and conditions limiting outdoor relief to the able-bodied man.

In the thirty-two unions to which Outdoor Labour Test Orders were applied by themselves-these culminating in the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order 1852 (still in force)-the policy of the Central Authority was to leave the discretion of the local authorities unfettered, with regard to the grant of outdoor relief to married women, except the wives of those men (“the able-bodied and their families”) to whom outdoor relief was only to be granted in return for labour. In these latter cases the measure of the relief was to be the needs of the family, not the work done by the husband. In 1835 the Central Authority had even urged that, where the families were large, they “should be furnished with provisions according to their numbers and necessities in the same way as other paupers” by way of “additional relief” to the man for the “wives and children, as far as shall be actually necessary.”

As the policy became settled, the phrase “additional relief” was dropped; but the amount given to the husband was to depend, not on the amount or value of the work that he did, but was to be “proportioned to the wants of the applicant and his family, and should not be deemed remuneration for the work done.” In these cases half, at least, of the relief given to the husband was to be in kind; whilst, according to the Orders, no labour was required from the wife. In spite of the absence from the Orders of any requirement that the wife should render any task of labour, we find the Central Authority in 1842-concerned at the earning of money by the wives (and children) of men at “parish work”-making an inconsistent suggestion. In the Minute of 31st October 1842, it is suggested that, “if it be practicable, some employment, such as picking up or carrying stones, should be provided for the wives and children. The latter precaution is peculiarly important in the manufacturing districts.” This requirement of labour from the wife had, up to 1847, found no embodiment in any Order.

In the 477 unions to which the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order of 1844 applied, three extensive classes of wives were, by the policy of the Central Authority, to be treated as if they were widows.

(a) A wife deserted by her husband and having only legitimate children dependent on her could, under the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, 1844, be given Outdoor Relief as a widow having a child dependent on her. As a matter of fact, the position of any wife living apart from her husband was better than that of a widow. The wife living apart from her husband (whether technically deserted by him or not, and whether or not he was within the union) could insist on the relief of her children, without applying for relief for herself; and if the child was below the age of seven, it could not be separated from her, even with her own consent; and thus the relief had to be outdoor relief. She could, moreover, send her children over seven into the workhouse without herself accompanying them, or herself becoming a pauper. On the other hand, though the local authority might, if it chose, grant outdoor relief to a widow having a child dependent on her (if she had had no illegitimate child born since her widowhood), it need not do so, and it could not relieve her dependent children, whether under seven or over, without making her a pauper.

(b) The wife of a husband-

(i.) Beyond the seas;

(ii.) In custody of the law; or

(iii.) Confined in an asylum as a lunatic or idiot

was to be treated, for indoor and outdoor relief alike, as if she were a widow (a widow beyond the six months’ term, though this is not so stated). By “beyond the seas,” the Central Authority understood “out of Great Britain.”

(c) In the case of the wife of an able-bodied soldier, sailor, or marine in His Majesty’s service (wherever he might be situated), the Central Authority expressly stated that it felt it to be “desirable to give great latitude” to the local authorities.

In all other cases, within those parts of the country to which this Order applied, wives residing with their husbands had to follow them, and were not to be relieved, either in or out of the workhouse, without them. A more difficult question was whether a man could continue to receive relief in the workhouse if his wife insisted on leaving it. The Central Authority, on being appealed to by a local authority actually confronted with such a case, decided that the wife could not be prevented from leaving the workhouse. It hazarded the opinion (of which we do not admit the legal validity), “that a woman may be restrained by the control of her husband from leaving the workhouse, and if he declines to use his marital control, it is in the power of the guardians to dismiss the husband. But whether it is expedient or judicious to pursue such a course must depend on the peculiar circumstances which each individual case presents. One consideration is particularly important in dealing with any case of this description, that is, whether the husband is in a condition practically to exercise his control over his wife. Where he is not, it would be very unadvisable, in the opinion of the Commissioners, to make it a condition of the relief of the husband or of his children (if he have any) that he should exercise an authority over his wife which practically he cannot exercise.”

It is interesting at this point to sum up the policy of the Central Authority, so far as embodied in its published documents between 1834 and 1847, with regard to outdoor relief to women, especially as affecting the “Rate in Aid of Wages.” The policy differed fundamentally in the two different areas of the country governed respectively by the two kinds of Orders. Where the Outdoor Labour Test Order (continued, after 1852, by the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order, which is still in force) was alone applied, the discretion of the local authority to give outdoor relief to women of any status, married or unmarried, with children or without, was unfettered by any Order. The only rule made by the Central Authority in the matter was that if the woman was the wife of an able-bodied man who was himself employed on “parish work,” and residing with him, at least one-half of his relief should be in kind. No rule was made or Order issued by the Central Authority against the grant of outdoor relief to women employed for wages, even in respect of the very days on which they were earning wages.

We have mentioned that the Central Authority, so far as men were concerned, stood rigidly to the position of the 1834 Report that the moral character of the applicant was to be absolutely disregarded in considering the relief to be granted to him. With regard to women, however, it took up a different position. We find it advising that the mothers of illegitimate children should, on this ground alone, not be granted outdoor relief.

Where the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order was in force, neither spinsters nor wives residing with able-bodied husbands could, apart from sudden and urgent necessity, receive outdoor relief, unless they were sick. But with regard to widows and wives living apart from their husbands, the exceptions to the prohibition were so numerous that both these classes may almost be said to have been expressly allowed to receive outdoor relief. The fact that such women were in employment for wages was not regarded by the Orders of the Central Authority as relevant: nor was it prescribed that any task of labour should be exacted in return for the relief. And although if we look closely, it is possible to find, in the circulars, instructional letters and published decisions of these thirteen years (1834-1847), two or three bare incidental allusions to the possibility of outdoor relief to women having the effect of a “Rate in Aid of Wages,” even these occur only in the earlier years, and presently die away entirely. It is, therefore, not incorrect to say that an objection to outdoor relief to women in employment formed during these years no part of the declared policy of the Central Authority.

When women entered the workhouse, the policy of the Central Authority (as in the analogous case of “the able-bodied”) was to classify them in quite other categories than those which governed their outdoor relief. The woman’s status, with regard to a man, so fundamental as long as she remained outside, was, in the workhouse, entirely irrelevant. What became important was whether or not she was sick, “able-bodied” (in the workhouse sense), or “aged and infirm”; whether or not she was a nursing mother, or a mother of children under seven years old; whether or not she was of “good character” or of “dissolute and disorderly habits” or the mother of an illegitimate child. These considerations-leading to classifications inconsistent with each other-affected the women’s segregation in the workhouse, the employment provided for them, the dietary and the amount of their freedom. With all this we deal in subsequent sections.

Women and the Poor Law Board

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: Women, of whom there were always between 80,000 and 100,000 on outdoor relief, were almost wholly ignored in the Poor Law Legislation of 1847-71, as in the Orders of the Central Authority. The policy of the Central Authority, so far as it appears from the documents, continued to be to permit able-bodied independent women unconditionally to receive outdoor relief, whether or not they were in receipt of wages, so far as concerned the unions under the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order; and to forbid outdoor relief to such women in unions under the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, whether or not this Order was accompanied by an Outdoor Labour Test Order (for men).

The women dependent on able-bodied men, whether themselves able-bodied or not, might be maintained in their homes, on condition of their husbands being employed in test work, not only in all unions under the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order, but also in those in which the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order was accompanied by a Labour Test Order. On the other hand, such women, however feeble or infirm, were not allowed to be maintained in their homes, even if their husbands were willing to do test work, in those unions in which the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order was alone in force. No reason appears for these differences in policy as to the method of relief of identical categories of women in the different geographical regions into which the Central Authority had divided England and Wales. But although the policy of the Central Authority with regard to women remained, in each of the three regions into which England was divided by these Orders, apparently unchanged, the regions themselves, as we have mentioned, were being silently altered. The great enlargement of the territory to which the laxer Order was applied and the narrow limitation of the territory governed by the stricter Order, involved an enormous extension of the outdoor relief to women permitted by the Central Authority.

In that part of England and Wales which was under the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, a widow without children continued to be allowed to receive outdoor relief only during the first six months of her widowhood. In all the rest of the country she continued to be allowed to receive outdoor relief indefinitely. Widows with children continued to be allowed to receive outdoor relief under all the Orders.

We have, however, in these years, the first recognition (so far as we can trace) of the difficulty of the problem presented by the inadequate earnings of independent able-bodied women. In Bermondsey, in 1850, where there was no Order in force as to outdoor relief, the Central Authority was forced to face the problem presented by “widows and other females who, though in very constant work as sempstresses or shirtmakers,” obtained so trifling a remuneration as to be unable to live. The Central Authority admitted that it was lawful to grant them relief, but discouraged this course, “persuaded that the practice of making up insufficient earnings by outdoor relief must tend to produce and perpetuate the evil.” The guardians were advised to refuse partial relief, so that some of the women might be wholly maintained in the workhouse and so taken off the labour market, when pressure of competition on the others would be thereby relieved and their wages would rise. The Central Authority did not, however, take the responsibility of issuing an Order specially enforcing this policy; and it is to be noted (as already mentioned) that by gradually substituting the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order for the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, the Central Authority was, in fact, retreating from the advice to the Bermondsey Guardians of 1850.

Not until 1869 (so far as we can trace) did the Central Authority face the problem presented by the widow with children. Mr Goschen’s celebrated Minute of November 20th 1869, incidentally referred (as a frequent exception to the rule against a “rate in aid of wages”) to the grant of partial relief “in the case of widows with families, where it is often manifestly impossible that the woman can support the family.” Mr. Goschen does not appear to have made any definite suggestion of an alternative policy in these cases. He seems to have regarded it as merely an exception, of no great importance. But the Holborn Board of Guardians, in their reply to the Circular, pointed out that “the exception of widows would of itself constitute so large a proportion that the rule is virtually swallowed up thereby.” The Holborn Guardians, apparently understanding that the Central Authority was hinting at the stoppage of outdoor relief in these cases, also pointed out that “it would be impossible to find workhouse accommodation for over 20,000 widows in the Metropolis and their 60,000 children.” These figures were indeed exaggerated; but it was incidentally observed by the Central Authority itself that “the amount of destitution in the country generally, caused by the death, absence, or desertion of the male head of the family … we should estimate … to be 35 per cent of the whole.” In 1858, the “able-bodied widows relieved out of doors” in the whole country numbered 50,468, and the children dependent on them 126,658, making together over 25 per cent of the total pauper population. In the Metropolis alone, out of an outdoor pauper population in 1869 of 121,012 (excluding lunatics and vagrants), the women relieved because of the death or absence of their husbands numbered 11,851, and their children 28,569, making a total of 40,420, or one-third of the whole outdoor pauperism. It was perhaps in view of such statistics that the Central Authority, in reporting on the reply of the Holborn Board of Guardians, among other replies, made no criticism of the grant of outdoor relief to widows with children, and offered no suggestion of an alternative policy. The only suggestions made were that there should be more relieving officers to check the overlapping of outdoor relief and private charity, and that the outdoor relief granted should be “adequate.” A special Commissioner (Mr. Wodehouse) was told off to make an official inquiry into the administration of outdoor relief, in which the facts were again laid bare. We do not find that the Central Authority-now fully aware that the category of widows with children, “where” (to use Mr. Goschen’s words) “it is manifestly impossible that the earnings of the woman can support the family,” comprised about 177,000 persons, and made up at least a quarter of the whole outdoor pauperism-issued any order prescribing what ought to be done in these cases, or ever made any authoritative suggestion on the subject. The Holborn and other boards of guardians had therefore warrant for believing that the grant of outdoor relief to widows with children, even in supplement of earnings, permitted as it was by the Orders, continued, as from 1834 onwards, to have the sanction of the Central Authority.

Women and the Local Government Board

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: It was in this period of 1871-1907 that the Central Authority began to lay down a policy with regard to women as women; significantly enough, as part of the restrictive policy brought in by the inspectorate. Women continued to be practically ignored in the statutes and orders, so that their legal position remained virtually unchanged.But without any change in the orders, or in the division of the whole country into geographical regions under which, as we have shown, women had different claims to relief, the Central Authority sought by circulars, minutes, decisions, and the persistent pressure of the inspectorate, to discourage the grant of outdoor relief to particular classes of women. Thus outdoor relief to able-bodied single women without illegitimate children continued to be permissible, without any labour test or other conditions, in all the unions under the Out-relief Regulation Order; and the area under this Order continued to grow in population, until it amounted, by 1907, to three-fourths of the whole. But by Circular of 2nd December 1871, the Central Authority advised that outdoor relief should not be given in any case whatsoever of this class. Such outdoor relief was specifically prohibited in the rules adopted by the Manchester Board of Guardians in 1875, which were frequently commended to the notice of other Boards of Guardians, who, under inspectorial pressure, voluntarily put themselves under similar rules. In the same way, without alteration of the Orders, it was urged that deserted wives should not be given outdoor relief, at any rate during the first twelve months after the desertion. It was officially declared to be “inexpedient to allow outdoor relief to the wives and children of persons who are in gaol”-not merely of convicted prisoners under sentence, but also of those not under sentence, nearly all of whom are still unconvicted, and, therefore, legally presumed to be innocent-and this in spite of the admitted fact that “the law has provided that regulations prescribed with regard to widows shall apply to the wives in these cases,” so that the Central Authority had no power to make a prohibitory order. So, too, the “wives of men in the first class Army Reserve,” to whom relief could not be actually prohibited without trouble with the War Office, were declared not to need constant relief, as “an able-bodied woman with the Government allowance and such assistance as her husband ought to provide from his pay and allowances should have no difficulty in finding, if not immediately, at least within a reasonable period after her husband’s departure, sufficient employment to enable her to maintain adequately herself and her children.” But outdoor relief might be given for a short period, and, it was suggested, on loan. Even to widows, who, it was now recognised, accounted for a third of the whole pauper population, outdoor relief was-apparently for the first time in the whole history of the Central Authority from 1834, so far as we can find-now officially discouraged. It was strongly recommended that it should not be given at all to “any able-bodied widow with one child only.” Even where there were “more than one child, it may be desirable to take one or more of the children into the workhouse in preference to giving outdoor relief.” It is characteristic that this policy was not based on any consideration of what was the appropriate treatment for the child, but was regarded only as a “test,” by which it was intended to exclude every widow who could possibly maintain herself and family without poor relief. Six years later we have it observed, as a capital drawback to this policy, not that the children might suffer by being taken into the workhouse, but that “since the passing of the Elementary Education Acts this offer as a test of destitution has not the same effect as previously, inasmuch as the children being required to attend school, the mothers cannot have the benefit of any earnings which otherwise the children might obtain.” And though the Central Authority refused, in 1877, to make illegal the grant of outdoor relief to “widows within six months of their widowhood”-declaring, indeed, that “a widow, with or without children, could not, on the death of her husband, in all cases be required to go into the workhouse”-it was not obscurely hinted that “it may be that the period of six months now allowed is too long,” and that “the guardians should exercise their discretion in dealing with each case according to its merits.” The example of the Bradfield Union, where “the widow’s month” had, since about 1873, been substituted for “the widow’s six months,” was always being commended to boards of guardians by the inspectorate. Moreover, in the Metropolis, at Manchester, at Birmingham, and various other places, it was strongly recommended in these years that outdoor relief to able-bodied independent women should be given only with a labour test; which might be (as at Manchester) “the enforced silence and order of the needle-room,” where the women, at any rate, learnt to knit, and sew, and darn a stocking, or, as at Birmingham and Poplar, what Mr. Corbett called “the comparative licence and desultory work of the ordinary oakum room.” The task of oakum picking was eventually preferred by the Central Authority, and, down to the last decade of the century, it was this that was recommended to boards of guardians. The effect of this long-continued and persistent pressure for the first twenty years of the Local Government Board, without any alteration in the legal status of women by order or statute, is seen in the statistics of outdoor relief. The able-bodied women getting outdoor relief on 1st January 1871, numbered 116,407. On 1st January 1892, they had been brought down to 53,571, the reduction having been principally in: (a) wives of able-bodied men; (b) single women without children; and (c) wives of men in gaol, in the Army, Navy, etc., or otherwise absent. But the number of widows on outdoor relief had also been reduced from 53,502 in 1873 to 36,627 on 1st January 1892.

After 1885, though some of the inspectors continued to recommend, with regard to women, the strict policy of 1871, the Local Government Board itself, so far as we can discover, reverted to silence on the point, and gave no advice.

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Women and the Local Government Board

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: It was in this period of 1871-1907 that the Central Authority began to lay down a policy with regard to women as women; significantly enough, as part of the restrictive policy brought in by the inspectorate. Women continued to be practically ignored in the statutes and orders, so that their legal position remained virtually unchanged.But without any change in the orders, or in the division of the whole country into geographical regions under which, as we have shown, women had different claims to relief, the Central Authority sought by circulars, minutes, decisions, and the persistent pressure of the inspectorate, to discourage the grant of outdoor relief to particular classes of women. Thus outdoor relief to able-bodied single women without illegitimate children continued to be permissible, without any labour test or other conditions, in all the unions under the Out-relief Regulation Order; and the area under this Order continued to grow in population, until it amounted, by 1907, to three-fourths of the whole. But by Circular of 2nd December 1871, the Central Authority advised that outdoor relief should not be given in any case whatsoever of this class. Such outdoor relief was specifically prohibited in the rules adopted by the Manchester Board of Guardians in 1875, which were frequently commended to the notice of other Boards of Guardians, who, under inspectorial pressure, voluntarily put themselves under similar rules. In the same way, without alteration of the Orders, it was urged that deserted wives should not be given outdoor relief, at any rate during the first twelve months after the desertion. It was officially declared to be “inexpedient to allow outdoor relief to the wives and children of persons who are in gaol”-not merely of convicted prisoners under sentence, but also of those not under sentence, nearly all of whom are still unconvicted, and, therefore, legally presumed to be innocent-and this in spite of the admitted fact that “the law has provided that regulations prescribed with regard to widows shall apply to the wives in these cases,” so that the Central Authority had no power to make a prohibitory order. So, too, the “wives of men in the first class Army Reserve,” to whom relief could not be actually prohibited without trouble with the War Office, were declared not to need constant relief, as “an able-bodied woman with the Government allowance and such assistance as her husband ought to provide from his pay and allowances should have no difficulty in finding, if not immediately, at least within a reasonable period after her husband’s departure, sufficient employment to enable her to maintain adequately herself and her children.” But outdoor relief might be given for a short period, and, it was suggested, on loan. Even to widows, who, it was now recognised, accounted for a third of the whole pauper population, outdoor relief was-apparently for the first time in the whole history of the Central Authority from 1834, so far as we can find-now officially discouraged. It was strongly recommended that it should not be given at all to “any able-bodied widow with one child only.” Even where there were “more than one child, it may be desirable to take one or more of the children into the workhouse in preference to giving outdoor relief.” It is characteristic that this policy was not based on any consideration of what was the appropriate treatment for the child, but was regarded only as a “test,” by which it was intended to exclude every widow who could possibly maintain herself and family without poor relief. Six years later we have it observed, as a capital drawback to this policy, not that the children might suffer by being taken into the workhouse, but that “since the passing of the Elementary Education Acts this offer as a test of destitution has not the same effect as previously, inasmuch as the children being required to attend school, the mothers cannot have the benefit of any earnings which otherwise the children might obtain.” And though the Central Authority refused, in 1877, to make illegal the grant of outdoor relief to “widows within six months of their widowhood”-declaring, indeed, that “a widow, with or without children, could not, on the death of her husband, in all cases be required to go into the workhouse”-it was not obscurely hinted that “it may be that the period of six months now allowed is too long,” and that “the guardians should exercise their discretion in dealing with each case according to its merits.” The example of the Bradfield Union, where “the widow’s month” had, since about 1873, been substituted for “the widow’s six months,” was always being commended to boards of guardians by the inspectorate. Moreover, in the Metropolis, at Manchester, at Birmingham, and various other places, it was strongly recommended in these years that outdoor relief to able-bodied independent women should be given only with a labour test; which might be (as at Manchester) “the enforced silence and order of the needle-room,” where the women, at any rate, learnt to knit, and sew, and darn a stocking, or, as at Birmingham and Poplar, what Mr. Corbett called “the comparative licence and desultory work of the ordinary oakum room.” The task of oakum picking was eventually preferred by the Central Authority, and, down to the last decade of the century, it was this that was recommended to boards of guardians. The effect of this long-continued and persistent pressure for the first twenty years of the Local Government Board, without any alteration in the legal status of women by order or statute, is seen in the statistics of outdoor relief. The able-bodied women getting outdoor relief on 1st January 1871, numbered 116,407. On 1st January 1892, they had been brought down to 53,571, the reduction having been principally in: (a) wives of able-bodied men; (b) single women without children; and (c) wives of men in gaol, in the Army, Navy, etc., or otherwise absent. But the number of widows on outdoor relief had also been reduced from 53,502 in 1873 to 36,627 on 1st January 1892.

After 1885, though some of the inspectors continued to recommend, with regard to women, the strict policy of 1871, the Local Government Board itself, so far as we can discover, reverted to silence on the point, and gave no advice.

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Women and the Poor Law Board

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: Women, of whom there were always between 80,000 and 100,000 on outdoor relief, were almost wholly ignored in the Poor Law Legislation of 1847-71, as in the Orders of the Central Authority. The policy of the Central Authority, so far as it appears from the documents, continued to be to permit able-bodied independent women unconditionally to receive outdoor relief, whether or not they were in receipt of wages, so far as concerned the unions under the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order; and to forbid outdoor relief to such women in unions under the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, whether or not this Order was accompanied by an Outdoor Labour Test Order (for men).

The women dependent on able-bodied men, whether themselves able-bodied or not, might be maintained in their homes, on condition of their husbands being employed in test work, not only in all unions under the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order, but also in those in which the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order was accompanied by a Labour Test Order. On the other hand, such women, however feeble or infirm, were not allowed to be maintained in their homes, even if their husbands were willing to do test work, in those unions in which the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order was alone in force. No reason appears for these differences in policy as to the method of relief of identical categories of women in the different geographical regions into which the Central Authority had divided England and Wales. But although the policy of the Central Authority with regard to women remained, in each of the three regions into which England was divided by these Orders, apparently unchanged, the regions themselves, as we have mentioned, were being silently altered. The great enlargement of the territory to which the laxer Order was applied and the narrow limitation of the territory governed by the stricter Order, involved an enormous extension of the outdoor relief to women permitted by the Central Authority.

In that part of England and Wales which was under the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, a widow without children continued to be allowed to receive outdoor relief only during the first six months of her widowhood. In all the rest of the country she continued to be allowed to receive outdoor relief indefinitely. Widows with children continued to be allowed to receive outdoor relief under all the Orders.

We have, however, in these years, the first recognition (so far as we can trace) of the difficulty of the problem presented by the inadequate earnings of independent able-bodied women. In Bermondsey, in 1850, where there was no Order in force as to outdoor relief, the Central Authority was forced to face the problem presented by “widows and other females who, though in very constant work as sempstresses or shirtmakers,” obtained so trifling a remuneration as to be unable to live. The Central Authority admitted that it was lawful to grant them relief, but discouraged this course, “persuaded that the practice of making up insufficient earnings by outdoor relief must tend to produce and perpetuate the evil.” The guardians were advised to refuse partial relief, so that some of the women might be wholly maintained in the workhouse and so taken off the labour market, when pressure of competition on the others would be thereby relieved and their wages would rise. The Central Authority did not, however, take the responsibility of issuing an Order specially enforcing this policy; and it is to be noted (as already mentioned) that by gradually substituting the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order for the Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order, the Central Authority was, in fact, retreating from the advice to the Bermondsey Guardians of 1850.

Not until 1869 (so far as we can trace) did the Central Authority face the problem presented by the widow with children. Mr Goschen’s celebrated Minute of November 20th 1869, incidentally referred (as a frequent exception to the rule against a “rate in aid of wages”) to the grant of partial relief “in the case of widows with families, where it is often manifestly impossible that the woman can support the family.” Mr. Goschen does not appear to have made any definite suggestion of an alternative policy in these cases. He seems to have regarded it as merely an exception, of no great importance. But the Holborn Board of Guardians, in their reply to the Circular, pointed out that “the exception of widows would of itself constitute so large a proportion that the rule is virtually swallowed up thereby.” The Holborn Guardians, apparently understanding that the Central Authority was hinting at the stoppage of outdoor relief in these cases, also pointed out that “it would be impossible to find workhouse accommodation for over 20,000 widows in the Metropolis and their 60,000 children.” These figures were indeed exaggerated; but it was incidentally observed by the Central Authority itself that “the amount of destitution in the country generally, caused by the death, absence, or desertion of the male head of the family … we should estimate … to be 35 per cent of the whole.” In 1858, the “able-bodied widows relieved out of doors” in the whole country numbered 50,468, and the children dependent on them 126,658, making together over 25 per cent of the total pauper population. In the Metropolis alone, out of an outdoor pauper population in 1869 of 121,012 (excluding lunatics and vagrants), the women relieved because of the death or absence of their husbands numbered 11,851, and their children 28,569, making a total of 40,420, or one-third of the whole outdoor pauperism. It was perhaps in view of such statistics that the Central Authority, in reporting on the reply of the Holborn Board of Guardians, among other replies, made no criticism of the grant of outdoor relief to widows with children, and offered no suggestion of an alternative policy. The only suggestions made were that there should be more relieving officers to check the overlapping of outdoor relief and private charity, and that the outdoor relief granted should be “adequate.” A special Commissioner (Mr. Wodehouse) was told off to make an official inquiry into the administration of outdoor relief, in which the facts were again laid bare. We do not find that the Central Authority-now fully aware that the category of widows with children, “where” (to use Mr. Goschen’s words) “it is manifestly impossible that the earnings of the woman can support the family,” comprised about 177,000 persons, and made up at least a quarter of the whole outdoor pauperism-issued any order prescribing what ought to be done in these cases, or ever made any authoritative suggestion on the subject. The Holborn and other boards of guardians had therefore warrant for believing that the grant of outdoor relief to widows with children, even in supplement of earnings, permitted as it was by the Orders, continued, as from 1834 onwards, to have the sanction of the Central Authority.

Women and the Local Government Board

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: It was in this period of 1871-1907 that the Central Authority began to lay down a policy with regard to women as women; significantly enough, as part of the restrictive policy brought in by the inspectorate. Women continued to be practically ignored in the statutes and orders, so that their legal position remained virtually unchanged.But without any change in the orders, or in the division of the whole country into geographical regions under which, as we have shown, women had different claims to relief, the Central Authority sought by circulars, minutes, decisions, and the persistent pressure of the inspectorate, to discourage the grant of outdoor relief to particular classes of women. Thus outdoor relief to able-bodied single women without illegitimate children continued to be permissible, without any labour test or other conditions, in all the unions under the Out-relief Regulation Order; and the area under this Order continued to grow in population, until it amounted, by 1907, to three-fourths of the whole. But by Circular of 2nd December 1871, the Central Authority advised that outdoor relief should not be given in any case whatsoever of this class. Such outdoor relief was specifically prohibited in the rules adopted by the Manchester Board of Guardians in 1875, which were frequently commended to the notice of other Boards of Guardians, who, under inspectorial pressure, voluntarily put themselves under similar rules. In the same way, without alteration of the Orders, it was urged that deserted wives should not be given outdoor relief, at any rate during the first twelve months after the desertion. It was officially declared to be “inexpedient to allow outdoor relief to the wives and children of persons who are in gaol”-not merely of convicted prisoners under sentence, but also of those not under sentence, nearly all of whom are still unconvicted, and, therefore, legally presumed to be innocent-and this in spite of the admitted fact that “the law has provided that regulations prescribed with regard to widows shall apply to the wives in these cases,” so that the Central Authority had no power to make a prohibitory order. So, too, the “wives of men in the first class Army Reserve,” to whom relief could not be actually prohibited without trouble with the War Office, were declared not to need constant relief, as “an able-bodied woman with the Government allowance and such assistance as her husband ought to provide from his pay and allowances should have no difficulty in finding, if not immediately, at least within a reasonable period after her husband’s departure, sufficient employment to enable her to maintain adequately herself and her children.” But outdoor relief might be given for a short period, and, it was suggested, on loan. Even to widows, who, it was now recognised, accounted for a third of the whole pauper population, outdoor relief was-apparently for the first time in the whole history of the Central Authority from 1834, so far as we can find-now officially discouraged. It was strongly recommended that it should not be given at all to “any able-bodied widow with one child only.” Even where there were “more than one child, it may be desirable to take one or more of the children into the workhouse in preference to giving outdoor relief.” It is characteristic that this policy was not based on any consideration of what was the appropriate treatment for the child, but was regarded only as a “test,” by which it was intended to exclude every widow who could possibly maintain herself and family without poor relief. Six years later we have it observed, as a capital drawback to this policy, not that the children might suffer by being taken into the workhouse, but that “since the passing of the Elementary Education Acts this offer as a test of destitution has not the same effect as previously, inasmuch as the children being required to attend school, the mothers cannot have the benefit of any earnings which otherwise the children might obtain.” And though the Central Authority refused, in 1877, to make illegal the grant of outdoor relief to “widows within six months of their widowhood”-declaring, indeed, that “a widow, with or without children, could not, on the death of her husband, in all cases be required to go into the workhouse”-it was not obscurely hinted that “it may be that the period of six months now allowed is too long,” and that “the guardians should exercise their discretion in dealing with each case according to its merits.” The example of the Bradfield Union, where “the widow’s month” had, since about 1873, been substituted for “the widow’s six months,” was always being commended to boards of guardians by the inspectorate. Moreover, in the Metropolis, at Manchester, at Birmingham, and various other places, it was strongly recommended in these years that outdoor relief to able-bodied independent women should be given only with a labour test; which might be (as at Manchester) “the enforced silence and order of the needle-room,” where the women, at any rate, learnt to knit, and sew, and darn a stocking, or, as at Birmingham and Poplar, what Mr. Corbett called “the comparative licence and desultory work of the ordinary oakum room.” The task of oakum picking was eventually preferred by the Central Authority, and, down to the last decade of the century, it was this that was recommended to boards of guardians. The effect of this long-continued and persistent pressure for the first twenty years of the Local Government Board, without any alteration in the legal status of women by order or statute, is seen in the statistics of outdoor relief. The able-bodied women getting outdoor relief on 1st January 1871, numbered 116,407. On 1st January 1892, they had been brought down to 53,571, the reduction having been principally in: (a) wives of able-bodied men; (b) single women without children; and (c) wives of men in gaol, in the Army, Navy, etc., or otherwise absent. But the number of widows on outdoor relief had also been reduced from 53,502 in 1873 to 36,627 on 1st January 1892.

After 1885, though some of the inspectors continued to recommend, with regard to women, the strict policy of 1871, the Local Government Board itself, so far as we can discover, reverted to silence on the point, and gave no advice.

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Women and the Local Government Board

In this issue about women, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: It was in this period of 1871-1907 that the Central Authority began to lay down a policy with regard to women as women; significantly enough, as part of the restrictive policy brought in by the inspectorate. Women continued to be practically ignored in the statutes and orders, so that their legal position remained virtually unchanged.But without any change in the orders, or in the division of the whole country into geographical regions under which, as we have shown, women had different claims to relief, the Central Authority sought by circulars, minutes, decisions, and the persistent pressure of the inspectorate, to discourage the grant of outdoor relief to particular classes of women. Thus outdoor relief to able-bodied single women without illegitimate children continued to be permissible, without any labour test or other conditions, in all the unions under the Out-relief Regulation Order; and the area under this Order continued to grow in population, until it amounted, by 1907, to three-fourths of the whole. But by Circular of 2nd December 1871, the Central Authority advised that outdoor relief should not be given in any case whatsoever of this class. Such outdoor relief was specifically prohibited in the rules adopted by the Manchester Board of Guardians in 1875, which were frequently commended to the notice of other Boards of Guardians, who, under inspectorial pressure, voluntarily put themselves under similar rules. In the same way, without alteration of the Orders, it was urged that deserted wives should not be given outdoor relief, at any rate during the first twelve months after the desertion. It was officially declared to be “inexpedient to allow outdoor relief to the wives and children of persons who are in gaol”-not merely of convicted prisoners under sentence, but also of those not under sentence, nearly all of whom are still unconvicted, and, therefore, legally presumed to be innocent-and this in spite of the admitted fact that “the law has provided that regulations prescribed with regard to widows shall apply to the wives in these cases,” so that the Central Authority had no power to make a prohibitory order. So, too, the “wives of men in the first class Army Reserve,” to whom relief could not be actually prohibited without trouble with the War Office, were declared not to need constant relief, as “an able-bodied woman with the Government allowance and such assistance as her husband ought to provide from his pay and allowances should have no difficulty in finding, if not immediately, at least within a reasonable period after her husband’s departure, sufficient employment to enable her to maintain adequately herself and her children.” But outdoor relief might be given for a short period, and, it was suggested, on loan. Even to widows, who, it was now recognised, accounted for a third of the whole pauper population, outdoor relief was-apparently for the first time in the whole history of the Central Authority from 1834, so far as we can find-now officially discouraged. It was strongly recommended that it should not be given at all to “any able-bodied widow with one child only.” Even where there were “more than one child, it may be desirable to take one or more of the children into the workhouse in preference to giving outdoor relief.” It is characteristic that this policy was not based on any consideration of what was the appropriate treatment for the child, but was regarded only as a “test,” by which it was intended to exclude every widow who could possibly maintain herself and family without poor relief. Six years later we have it observed, as a capital drawback to this policy, not that the children might suffer by being taken into the workhouse, but that “since the passing of the Elementary Education Acts this offer as a test of destitution has not the same effect as previously, inasmuch as the children being required to attend school, the mothers cannot have the benefit of any earnings which otherwise the children might obtain.” And though the Central Authority refused, in 1877, to make illegal the grant of outdoor relief to “widows within six months of their widowhood”-declaring, indeed, that “a widow, with or without children, could not, on the death of her husband, in all cases be required to go into the workhouse”-it was not obscurely hinted that “it may be that the period of six months now allowed is too long,” and that “the guardians should exercise their discretion in dealing with each case according to its merits.” The example of the Bradfield Union, where “the widow’s month” had, since about 1873, been substituted for “the widow’s six months,” was always being commended to boards of guardians by the inspectorate. Moreover, in the Metropolis, at Manchester, at Birmingham, and various other places, it was strongly recommended in these years that outdoor relief to able-bodied independent women should be given only with a labour test; which might be (as at Manchester) “the enforced silence and order of the needle-room,” where the women, at any rate, learnt to knit, and sew, and darn a stocking, or, as at Birmingham and Poplar, what Mr. Corbett called “the comparative licence and desultory work of the ordinary oakum room.” The task of oakum picking was eventually preferred by the Central Authority, and, down to the last decade of the century, it was this that was recommended to boards of guardians. The effect of this long-continued and persistent pressure for the first twenty years of the Local Government Board, without any alteration in the legal status of women by order or statute, is seen in the statistics of outdoor relief. The able-bodied women getting outdoor relief on 1st January 1871, numbered 116,407. On 1st January 1892, they had been brought down to 53,571, the reduction having been principally in: (a) wives of able-bodied men; (b) single women without children; and (c) wives of men in gaol, in the Army, Navy, etc., or otherwise absent. But the number of widows on outdoor relief had also been reduced from 53,502 in 1873 to 36,627 on 1st January 1892.

After 1885, though some of the inspectors continued to recommend, with regard to women, the strict policy of 1871, the Local Government Board itself, so far as we can discover, reverted to silence on the point, and gave no advice.

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also

Resources

Notes and References

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

See Also



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  • Article Name: Women
  • Author: Bernard Schwartz
  • Description: Women and the 1834 Report In this issue about women, the book English Poor Law Policy [1] reads as follows: With regard to [...]

This entry was last updated: March 23, 2017

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