Knatchbull’s “Workhouse Test Act” Is Passed

An amendment to England’s poor laws was made in 1723 with the passage of Knatchbulls Workhouse Test Act. Knatchbull’s Act mandated that all able-bodied people requesting poor relief were required to enter a workhouse and perform a set amount of work. This piece of legislation was a reaction to a number of concerns surrounding the country’s impoverished population. From the monetary angle, this was seen as a solution to stop parishes from claiming inflated poor rates and to discourage people from requesting poor relief. Additionally, people believed that forcing the poor to work for aid and reside in controlled communities would help instill work ethics, better manners and renewed religious sentiments in them.

At first, the workhouses were received in a relatively positive light, but not everyone continued to support this system. The principal landowner within each parish was responsible for funding the workhouses through the mandatory “Parish Burden” poor relief tax. Although in theory the workhouses were supposed to be self-sustainable and even capable of making a profit, in reality this was not the case. Workhouses proved to be surprisingly expensive due to the high cost of feeding, clothing, and providing shelter for all of the workers, as well as because of the mismanagement and pilfering of funds by those in charge of the institutions. The landowner’s displeasure with these high costs eventually lead to modifications of this system through a new act in 1782, which dictated that the workhouses did not have to house the able-bodied.

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