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see poor lawpoor 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.
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a special shelter for the poor in England during the 17th through 19th centuries.

Living conditions in the workhouses differed little from those in prisons. Initially workhouses were under the jurisdiction of the local parishes; however, with the growth of pauperism during the industrial revolution, the workhouse system was centralized (by an act passed in 1834). All those who appealed for public assistance were forced to enter workhouses. The threat of being placed in a workhouse compelled many poor people to agree to any sort of working condition in factories, and this enabled entrepreneurs to lower wages. The common people, who called workhouses “bastilles for the poor,” often hindered the establishment of new workhouses and destroyed those already in existence. The Chartists included a demand for the elimination of workhouses in their 1842 petition. In connection with the development of social insurance and pensions in the 20th century, the workhouse system became outdated, and the workhouses were converted into homes for invalids and the aged.


Engels, F. Polozhenie rabochego klassa ν Anglii. K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 2.
Morton, A. L., and G. Tate. Istoriia angliiskogo rabochego dvizheniia (1770–1920). Moscow, 1959. (Translated from English.)


1. An institution for confining individuals sentenced to terms usually less than one year.
2. (Brit.) A poorhouse.


1. (formerly in England) an institution maintained at public expense where able-bodied paupers did unpaid work in return for food and accommodation
2. (in the US) a prison for petty offenders serving short sentences at manual labour
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