New Poor Law passed

The commission’s principal proposal, which was included almost verbatim in the law, was that “all relief whatever to able-bodied persons or to their families, otherwise than in well-regulated workhouses…shall be declared unlawful.” This reflected the efforts to centralize and streamline management of the poor. As part of the establishment of workhouses, the so-called workhouse test was unofficially implemented: any person willing to accept relief in the workhouse was assumed to lack the willpower to survive outside of the system, as well as to completely lack the means to retain personal autonomy (i.e. children, the elderly and disabled); in many cases this belief simply confirmed pre-existing biases and assumptions about the general lack of industriousness among the poor.

In some respects the New Poor Law resembles the suggestions made by Locke in his An Essay on Poor Law. Under the newly passed legislation, children were treated as dependents of their parents until the age of sixteen, as opposed to Locke’s suggested fourteen. The law also grouped parishes into Poor Law Unions (which resemble Locke’s hundreds and corporations), each run by two commissioners, which oversaw the administration of workhouses. Additionally, the law proscribed residents of the workhouses (they are referred to as inmates in one particular clause) from engaging in normal everyday activities, and they were always under the watchful eyes of the managers.


Higginbotham, Peter. “New Poor Law.” Accessed January 9, 2016.
Higginbotham, Peter. “1834 Poor Law Amendment Act (full text).” Accessed January 9, 2016.
Locke, John, and Mark Goldie. 1997. Locke: Political Essays. Cambridge University Press.