Prior to 1834, England's method of dealing with the poor provided little relief for those who were poverty-stricken. A system of relief needed to be devised in order to assist the poor. Thus The Old Poor Law was born. The parish became the primary unit in administering relief. This relief could be received only by those poor individuals residing within parish boundaries. This put tremendous pressure on parishes to give paupers the correct amount of relief. As a result many parishes became overrun with too many poor people, and not enough assistance was administered.
In 1776 the total expenditure on poor relief was i?? 1. 5 million. By 1818 it has risen to i?? 7. 8 million. This significant rise shows that the poor law was defiantly under pressure to provide adequate relief, but why was this the case? The Old Poor Law was set up in 1601 and was designed to provide a relief system for those who where poverty-stricken. A total of 15000 parishes where involved and for each parish and overseer was appointed. A new overseer would take over every year, to make sure the job was being done properly.
The overseer would administer relief for the poor depending on the needs each person. For example, if someone was ill, then medicine would be provided, but more strangely if someone's loved one had past away then alcohol and food would be provided for their funeral. It was an extremely generous and personal system, but because of this, people started viewing it as a right, and demanded more. Many played the system and got what they could out of it. The poor started to become lazy and let the poor law pay for their cost of living.
This became a problem as the rich, (who where paying poor relief) had to start paying more and more. If the law wasn't so generous then it would not be under such pressure. A decline in service took place which involved farmers employing less people. Many peasants could not find any work. Farmers were viewing laborers as a in-dispensable resource, so only gave them temporary work. This lead to masses of peasants being unemployed and potentially in greater need for poor relief. Farmers paid those that did have work extremely little as they felt that the poor law would cover what they don't provide.
As more and more peasants turned to poor relief, it became harder to administrate the correct amount for each person. Similar to this, enclosure took place which also meant an increase in the amount of unemployed. Enclosure was a process incorporating common lands, moor land and waste into commercial farms. Small land owners could no longer keep their farms. They would be brought out from underneath them for little money. Larger, more efficient farms where created, which meant that the poor could no longer farmer for them self's.
Poor relief struggled as the amount of unemployed raised. Population was on the increase. A 15. 47% increase took place in Oxford from 1811 – 1821. This rise was significant in the amount of pressure applied on the poor law. It was seen unacceptable to have children before marriage, so people were getting married a lot earlier. They did this because the poor law treated those with children more kindly. (From 3 children and up relief was administrated accordingly). The more children you had, the greater the amount of relief.
Death rates where at a low as the law provided basic medical relief, which helped stop many from death. Also, as many people were unemployed, there was not much else for them to do apart from to have children. The increase in population created more poor for the law to look after, and the more poor there was, the harder it was to administrate correct relief. Many feel that if the poor law was not so generous then the population wouldn't have risen so drastically. The Old Poor Law was under pressure of a number of significant reasons.
Mainly, it was too generous, which lead to the poor viewing it as a right. They started playing it and had children to gain more relief. As population increased, as did the amount of pressure applied on the poor law. Also an increase in employed caused by a decline in service and enclosure, lead to more poor in need to relief. Population also grew death rates where low. The poor law its self created more people for it to look after. They saved many from death with basic health treatment. In conclusion the Old Poor Law was mainly put under pressure due to its over generousness.