The Age of George III
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Thomas Gilbert (1720-98) failed to have passed his Act 'for the Better Relief and Employment of the Poor' in 1765 because Gilbert was a supporter of the Duke of Bedford. The Prime Minister, Charles Watson Wentworth, second Marquis of Rockingham opposed the legislation on factional grounds since he and Bedford were political opponents. Gilbert spent the next 17 years attempting to have his Bill passed. He finally succeeded in 1782, ironically, during Rockingham's second ministry.
The legislation made provision for groups of parishes to form unions so that they could share the cost of poor relief through 'poor houses' which were established for looking after only the old, the sick and the infirm. Able-bodied paupers explicitly were excluded from these poor-houses: instead, either they were to be provided with
Land-owners, farmers and other employers were to receive allowances from the parish rates so they could bring wages up to subsistence levels.
Gilbert's Act is often used to demonstrate the government's humanitarianism but it was even more important in expanding the scope of poor relief and attempting to bring the gentry into closer involvement in poor relief administration. Gilbert's legislation of 1786 (26 Geo. III, c. 58) supplemented another Act (22 Geo. III, c. 56), requiring that parishes should provide accurate figures on both poor law expenditure and charitable payments to the poor during the previous three years. These so-called 'Gilbert Returns' show the close connection in the minds of reformers between public and private charity and represent the attempt to legislate on the basis of quantifiable data.
The next major change to the method of poor relief came with the implementation of the 'Speenhamland System': this was not a piece of legislation and was not really a 'system'; it did provide the poor with a subsistence level of food and possibly prevented revolution during the French Wars.
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