Act Regarding Badging the Poor

1697 saw the passage of an “Act For supplying some Defects in the Laws for the Relief of the Poor”, which amended the previous Settlement Acts of 1662. Part of the new revisions included a requirement for those receiving parish relief to wear badges marked with the initial of their parish and a “P” for pauper. Like many other famous badges of shame from history, these badges were instantly recognizable and served as another way to separate the wearers from the rest of society.

Much of English poor law was concentrated on making sure those who were able to work did so. The goal of policymakers was to stigmatize and shame the use of poor relief and make it the absolute last resort of those in need. It was theorized by policy makers that while many would gladly receive parish aid if it was a secret process, badging the recipients and making them publicly known would push the able bodied poor to work before seeking relief. Thus, only the most desperate and truly needful poor would bear the shame of wearing the badge.

The badges were made of red or blue cloth and pinned on the right arm or shoulder of the wearer. Occasionally, workhouse inhabitants would be forced to wear their own workhouse specific badge. Not every parish would employ their use and they would be legally discontinued in 1810.


Higginbotham, Peter. “The Workhouse.” The Old Poor Law. Accessed January 9, 2016.

Higginbotham, Peter. “The Workhouse.” Workhouse Timeline. Accessed January 10, 2016.