The New Poor Law

Although not a Victorian Law, the 'New Poor Law' became the bane of a poor Victorians life.


The Act stated that no able-bodied person was to receive money or any other help from the Poor Law authorities except from inside a workhouse. Conditions inside the workhouse were deliberately made harsh, so that only those who desperately needed help would ask for it.

The meagre diet of the Workhouse inmates was an attempt to discourage there use, though if they provided less than what was available outside their walls, it would be necessary for them to starve the inmates beyond an acceptable level. Obviously this would be improper, so for this reason, other ways were found to deter entrance to the Workhouses.  

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Families were split up and housed in different parts of the workhouse. A prison style uniform was to be worn, strict rules and regulations to follow and inmates, male and female, young and old were made to work hard, often doing unpleasant jobs such as picking oakum or breaking stones. Children could also find themselves hired out, to work in factories or mines.

A traditionally attitude had been that poverty was unavoidable and that the poor, were essentially victims of their situation, making it a Christian's duty to provide relief. The 1834 Act was guided by a growing view that the poor were largely responsible for their own situation, an idleness of which they could change if they chose to. Using the workhouse brought shame to the inmate, punishing people who were poor through no fault of their own.


Workhouse scandals soon started to hit the headlines and in 1846 Andover Workhouse was reported to have half-starved inmates, which were found to be eating the rotting flesh from bones. In response to these scandals the government introduced stricter rules for those who ran the workhouses and set up a system of regular inspections. However, inmates were still at the mercy of unscrupulous masters and matrons who treated the poor with contempt, abusing the rules.


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