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Unpopularity of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act

The Poor Law Commissioners discovered that the new legislation of 1834 was extremely unpopular in the south of England where the poor had become used to receiving outdoor relief to ease the hardships which they endured.

It could not be expected, that an Act which so materially disturbed the distribution of as large a sum of money as £7,000,000 per annum, which of necessity changed the source from which a large portion of the inhabitants of the country derived their customary means of subsistence, and which in so doing opposed itself not only to the interests, the prejudices, and the fears of a large portion of the population, but pressed hardly on the sincere though mistaken notions of charity, which were established in the breasts of others, could possibly be carried into effect without difficulty and resistance. Your Lordship, therefore, will learn without surprise that the powers of the Act, and our means of carrying it into operation, have been put to the proof by every means which ingenuity could devise.

That the pauper labourers themselves, whose interests were to be so greatly affected, should adopt this course was naturally to be anticipated. It is due, however, to the good sense and acuteness of this class of persons to say, that they very quickly understood the true bearing of the Act; and that in many districts they set themselves, without much delay, fairly and honestly to seek a livelihood by their own industry. Many striking instances of the revival of this feeling amongst that portion of the working classes will be found in the Reports of our Assistant Commissioners. In other places, where a reliance on the poor-rate has become engrafted in the manners and habits of the labouring population, every method has been resorted to for the purpose of impeding the operation of the law.

Partial riots have occurred in different counties; but by the aid of small parties of the Metropolitan police (who, by the provisions of a most useful Act of the last session, can now be sworn in and paid as special constables in any county of England and Wales), occasionally aided by the support of a military force, these disturbances have been put down without any considerable injury to property.

from the Second Annual Report of the Poor Law Commissioners, 1836. Parliamentary Papers, XXIX

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