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poor law

poor law, in English history, legislation relating to public assistance for the poor. Early measures to relieve pauperism were usually designed to suppress vagrancy and begging. In 1601, England passed the Elizabethan poor-relief act, which recognized the state's obligation to the needy; it provided for compulsory local levies to be administered by the parish, and it required work for the able-bodied poor and apprenticeships for needy children. Local reluctance to support the poor from other areas led to settlement laws limiting migration. Institutional relief was provided by poorhouses, where the aged, sick, or insane were grouped together. From c.1700 workhouses were established where the poor were expected to support themselves by work. However, because of widespread unemployment and low wages, it became customary in the late 18th cent. to give home relief. Poor-law amendments of 1834 sought to establish uniform assistance by placing relief under national supervision; they curtailed home relief and modified the settlement laws. Those amendments assumed that pauperism stemmed partly from unwillingness to work rather than from inadequate employment opportunities. As a result poor relief was maintained at a level below that of the poorest laborer. The Local Government Act of 1929 established the basis for a more far-reaching and humane approach to the conditions of the poor.


See S. Webb and B. Webb, English Poor Law History (1927–29, repr. 1963); J. R. Poynter, Society and Pauperism (1969); M. E. Rose, English Poor Law, 1780–1930 (1971).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



extreme poverty among working people, the absence of the most essential necessities of life among masses of the population in societies based on private ownership of the means of production, inequality of property, and exploitation of some classes by others.

In capitalist society, pauperism is the inevitable result of the universal law of capital accumulation. As K. Marx observed, “Pauperism is the hospital of the active labor-army and the dead weight of the industrial reserve army. Its production is included in that of the relative surplus-population, its necessity in theirs. Along with the relative surplus-population, pauperism forms a condition of capitalist production, and of the capitalist development of wealth” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, pp. 658–59). In the age of the general crisis of capitalism, mass unemployment has acquired a chronic character and creeping inflation has become an inevitable feature of the capitalist economy, which is increasingly dominated by the military sector. Under these conditions, the robbing of workers by monopolies has increased, thereby engendering pauperism.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Although both Tocqueville and Kuyper consider religion important for society, Tocqueville does not dwell on the role of the church in his writings on pauperism. It is only in his Democracy in America that Tocqueville mentions how the church could provide assistance as a nongovernment organization.
It is also clear that it continues to enshrine the notions of deserving/undeserving and fears of pauperism, even though, as Murphy points out, different words are used today: "mutual obligation" and "welfare-to-work." Nowadays, of course, we live in a middle-class welfare state, where people in genuine need, such as the unemployed and single parents, are finding their subsistence-level benefits held back and even pruned, while "working families" on far higher than average incomes receive family tax benefit, child care rebates, school payments and private health insurance concessions.
The Society for the Prevention of Pauperism linked the immigrant with poverty and vice (Society for the Prevention of Pauperism in the City of New York 1820, 17).
The convergence between Bosma and Raben and Stoler on this point suggests that doctrinaire insistence on the steady prominence of race over class, or class over race, may be futile, perhaps even ahistorical, when discussing long periods (like 'the nineteenth century'), or dissimilar issues (elite debates on what to do about Indo-European pauperism, versus marriage and migration customs within the governing classes).
These critics believed that poor laws stimulated overpopulation and thus pauperism. With a poor law in place, they predicted, Ireland's population increase would exceed its capital formation, dooming the island to poverty.
Browsing the 200s leads to the subclass Social Pathology (230), followed directly by Poverty, Dependency, Pauperism (231); Unemployment (industrial waste, other problems of labor) (234); Vagrants and Vagrancy (238); and Other Social Problems (immigration, race and population problems) (239) [27].
They deplore the permanent state of pauperism upon which the industrial order is built, the "perturbation morale" and "pulverisation sociale" that results, and the growing gap among classes that characterizes the modernization of French society (55)Basabose argues that the Exposition gave rise to a realist discourse within the pages of the Revue which "accule a la reconnaissance d'une atonie sociale par laquelle les desherites du systeme en vigueur restent des loques humaines" (57).
"Pauperism grows by what it feeds on," the agency wrote in its annual report.
In some sense, it is the raw existence of the forest itself--its alternate ecology of wood, not fossil fuels, where individuals play a direct role in obtaining their own subsistence and where pauperism is therefore absent--that acts as a topographical reminder of alternatives to the reigning order of commodified labor.
New social formations became haunted by the crisis of pauperism, and defined in terms of cultural deficiency and the failure of social reproduction, as opposed to political and economic terms.
In an all-embracing statement the Moral Reform League said that the liquor traffic "is the source of all political corruption, causes of war and pauperism, the lawlessness and crime, of immorality and vice, of disease and death, of ruined homes and blighted souls." (6) More specifically a major problem of the liquor trade was the practise of businesses paying their staff by cheque.