Gilbert’s Act

1782 saw the passage of The Poor Relief Act of 1782; it is widely known as Gilbert’s Act after Thomas Gilbert (1720-1798), a political figure who championed its passage. Gilbert’s Act was a reaction to an increase of poor and unemployed paupers, increased food costs, and low wages in England. The legislation was created to enable a parish- township formed through its affiliation with a local parish church- to operate workhouses; multiple parishes can form unions in order to share the financial cost of operating a workhouse. These workhouses were restricted to those who are not able-bodied, such as children, the elderly, and the sick. Able-bodied paupers were not allowed to enter the workhouse and were forced to find employment; nonetheless, they were able to receive outdoor relief if they could not able to find a job or found a job with inadequate income. Parishes gave employers employing the able-bodied paupers allowances in order to provide a subsistence wage and decrease poverty. Gilbert’s Act changed also how workhouses were managed: a member from each parish was elected to be on the Board of Guardians and regulated by the Visitor, an official elected my the magistrate.

This Act became significant regarding outdoor relief and participation of the gentry in poor relief politics. The Act reflected changing opinions towards outdoor relief held by both the government and people, which was motivated by the belief that it is more humane and less expensive than indoor relief. Local gentry were allowed to be members of the Board of Guardians of the workhouse, which made them influential in workhouse managements and regulations.


Bloy, Marjie. “Gilbert’s Act (1782.)” Accessed January 10, 2016.

Boyer, George. “English Poor Laws.” Accessed January 10, 2016.

Higginbotham, Peter. “The 1782 Poor Relief Act (Gilbert’s Act.)” Accessed January 10, 2016.

Higginbotham, Peter. “The History of Poor Law Unions.” Accessed January 10, 2016.

Higginbotham, Peter. “The Old Poor Law.” Accessed January 10, 2016.

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