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The changing for the poor between 1780 and 1850 Essay

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How significant was the role of individuals in the changing for the poor between 1780 and 1850

Between 1780 and 1850 there were many changes in provision for the poor. Factors that influenced change include: riots, individuals, urbanisation and the failure of the poor law. These all helped the change in provision for the poor. All the factors highlighted the need for change within poor provisions, however not all these factors had any long term effect on provisions for the poor, some did influence provisions indirectly and it can be sometimes difficult to understand the links between the actions of certain events and changing provisions.

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Urbanisation was one of the main reasons poverty came to light in this time period due to the fact that increasing amounts of paupers were migrating into the city; consequently the rich and government members were starting to see poverty on their doorstep.

Riots arguably influenced change as they highlighted problems with the oppression of the poor, showing the rich that the poor were beginning to stand up against the injustice they had been suffering over the previous decades. Individuals like Bentham and Owen had revolutionary views on poverty that undoubtedly influenced the government and how they treated the lower classes. I am now going to discuss the successes and failures for helping the provisions for the poor of these three groups in greater detail, and ultimately evaluate the which of group had the most influence on change in provision for the poor and not just which group had the largest positive effect.

Owen was a collectivist and so believed in the government taking full responsibility for the poor therefore offering a solution to poverty – not just a way to remove them from the public eye. Owen purchased four textile factories in New Lanark for �60,000. His main priority wasn’t for the business to make a profit but believed that a person’s character was formed by the effects of their environment. He made an institutionalized community that reduced labour to 10 hours a day and employees had to go to school for part of the day, he also didn’t employ children under the age of 10 as they were busy building character. Owen realized that a happy/educated and healthy workforce gave the best results in his business.

It is debatable whether Owen only educated and gave good hours to his workers for profit maximisation or whether he genuinely believed in helping the poor, either way he did show that offering a fair days work for a fair wage didn’t necessarily prevent businesses from prospering. He was the main influence on the wool and cotton factories at of 1819 stating no children under the age of 9 could work there. Owen clearly proved his revolutionary views in new Lanark but his methods and ideas didn’t spread outside of New Lanark, the reason for this is that many business men didn’t share his ideas and thought of it as a burden to a business.

This shows that his impact was minimal in alleviating poverty within Britain, and I believe that he probably actually had little to no influence on the change in provision of the poor. Some historians argue that Owen influenced the poor law amendment act in 1834, however after reading the deatils of this Act I don’t think he had much influence on the act as his revolutionary views on took place in new Lanark and didn’t spread through the rest of Britain. The rich also hated him because he was educating the poor so it is unlikely they would have used his views in the Poor Law Amendment Act (PLAA).

Another individual who helped the poor was Edwin Chadwick; he was a utilitarian thus sharing Bentham’s view on ensuring the greatest happiness for as many as possible.

He was a social reformer and tried to improve public health in Britain, however his aim in this was to make poor relief cheaper for the government therefore lowering taxes and ultimately benefiting his pocket. Even though he may have had not the most ethical motives for his work he still did do a lot to change provision for the poor. In 1833 the royal commission appointed him to observe poverty within factories. From his findings he wrote a report advising the limitations of children’s work to 6 hours a day, these findings and observations led to the 10 hours act of 1847. Along with these findings he also attempted to restrict the selling of alcohol to the poor and hold the employer responsible for any harm that came to the worker.

When he suggested these to the government they had very little impact. In 1847 (a year after the royal commission had come to an end) Chadwick investigated the condition of heath and sewer systems in London, his findings lead to the public health act of 1848 which stated that public health should be administered locally and generally improve health conditions. I believe individuals like Chadwick did help implant change of provisions for the poor but Urbanisation highlighted the issues like poverty in the workplace and health, so without urbanisation many individuals would have never seen that change in helping the poor was required.

Now leading on to the effect riots had on change in provision for the poor. Starting with the Rebecca riots which involved protesting in South Wales against the high tolls on turnpike roads. These taxes were almost unavoidable and anyone trying to head into a town to sell animals was unable to do so without paying large fares. Another source of grievance was that in 1839 there had been a poor harvest increasing local poverty. This poverty led to the government increasing taxes to try and help relief but consequently having a negative affect on the tenant farmers.

The name Rebecca riots derives from the protesters wearing women’s clothes and also a passage in the bible. However in 1842 Twm Carnabwth was caught and arrested for the riots, his punishment was exile to Australia, this lead to the dissolving of the rioters. In 1844 the royal commission abolished road tolls on nearly all roads, this helped the poor as they could sell their goods freely without having to pay prices to travel to the markets. However the poor only kept a slight bit more money and it didn’t really help the poor enough to keep them out of poverty. This problem can be linked to urbanisation as without the influx of people into London then farmers wouldn’t try and sell their produce there and ultimately the upper class landowners wouldn’t have tried to capitalise from the large usage of the roads.

I am now going to look at the Chartist movement in the movement for social and political reform; it was the first movement of this kind in the world. The aim was for the lower classes to have a say in the way the country was run, and avoid the capitalism that was only benefiting the rich when the poor were the main force in the industries and economy. It began after the reform act of 1832, which stated that only middle class middle aged men had the right to vote.

The leaders of Chartists differed largely with two different attitudes on how the movement should take place, these were the: moral force chartists and the Physical force chartists. The moral group believed in peaceful demonstration and petitions in trying to bring about change. At the start of 1848 Karl Marx published his communist manifesto in London, which led to a march to the House of Lords where the leader at this time was O’Connor, to present signatures of those supporting the chartist movement. However there were nowhere near as many signatures as he promised and the movement slowly collapsed.

But the effect was significant as 5 of the 6 demands were met, this included secret ballots and gave every man of 21 the right to vote. The aim that elections for a new parliament were to take place every year did not pass. This may be seen as a success but the shift of power still never happened. This shows that the riots only gave the illusion of change within Britain but still never really changed poor relief.

Failure of the poor law did help bring change in provision for the poor. There were many different aspects of the old poor laws, I am going to focus on the act of settlement, Gilberts Act and Speenhamland system (this wasn’t a law just a system in East Anglia). The Laws of settlement prevented the poor from moving to different areas, your place of settlement was where you were born or where you have lived for more than 3 years. The only way to move into another area and still get poor relief was to gain a certificate of good character from the overseer of the parish. This obviously led to corruption and bribery, as the overseer had no reason to give a certificate of good character.

This system didn’t help provision for the poor as it made it harder to move around the country in search for work and just bound them to an area of little work and little poor relief. Gilbert’s act in 1782 was an attempt by Gilbert to make the workplace a better place for the old poor instead of a place of punishment and also allow parishes to group together to build a workhouse for all of the unemployed in the area. However his efforts failed and the workplace kept its reputation of workhouses and often the workhouses became full as they were occupied by many parish paupers. Its failure can be linked with the Chartist movement as they both had influence on changing of systems in Britain but neither of them made any real change within poor relief.

The third aspect of the poor law I am going to discuss is the Speenhamland system. In 1795 this system was implemented in East Anglia to subsidise the wages of workers who couldn’t provide enough for their families. The allowance depended on the price of bread and the number of children in the family. In theory it was a good system to avoid workhouses, but as is becoming clear nothing seems to work in this era and many people were having large families to get more poor relief money. All of these problems with the poor laws lead to the poor law amendment act of 1834. This new act prevents corruption amongst overseers, as they could not use the job of overseer as a stepping-stone to a higher career of greater political power. It also helped the old and sick deserving poor with outdoor relief and not just sending them to the workhouse like the old poor laws did.

The poor law amendment act began compulsory education for children; it was still rudimentary but a big step in improving children’s lives and preparing them for adulthood. I believe the failure of the old poor laws was on of the main influences in changing provision for the poor in the 1800s, however there were factors influencing the failure of the old poor laws these include individuals like Chadwick and possibly even Owen and also the riots helped the government realize the problems with the poor laws. The poor law amendment act was heavily influence by Chadwick’s ideas and the chartist movements.

Urbanisation played a key role in changing provision for the poor as it alerted the rich in the cities that poverty was an issue. In 1700 20% of population lived in towns, but by 1801 over 30% of the population lived in towns and cities. Other cities also grew; places like Liverpool, Bristol and Glasgow developed as manufacturing towns, this is all down to the industrial revolution. I will start with London; it is the home to most of the upper class powerful politicians.

London in the early 1700s saw little poverty and lower classes and so the rich were content with poverty being a rural issue, as it didn’t directly affect the rich. However in the early 1700s urbanisation due to the industrial revolution created industrial jobs in cities and with it came poverty. London during the industrial revolution possessed many pull factors like industry. This poverty became a big issue amongst the upper class, as they didn’t like being surrounded by poverty, as it no longer kept in the rural settings. This poverty in London led to rich parliamentarians wanting change and alleviating the poverty from the doorstep of the rich, these intentions weren’t really to help the poor just to remove it from the streets. The solution found is clearly obvious more workhouses were introduced in London to increase indoor relief.

A reason for this population growth in London was also due to a fall in death rate within London through reduction in disease and increase in public health. There was massive overcrowding in London for example at one point in the 1800s there were 1095 people living in 27 houses, these statistics demonstrate the massive poverty problem within the UK. I believe Urbanisation was the most important reason of change in provision for the poor, this is because the politicians rarely stepped outside of the bubble that is London to see the problems meaning issues within London were the only ones that politicians attempted to fix.

Urbanisation led to the poor law amendment act and reforms which did radically change and help for the better poor relief. Urbanization can be linked with riots as riots were due to the oppression of people in cities raising their fists and marching around. The Luddites were directly linked with urbanisation as they hated the new machinery and decided to kick out at the world through rioting. Urbanisation can also be linked to the poor law amendment act as urbanisation concentrated the issues, which needed resolving and helped influence the reform of 1834.

I believe that urbanisation had the biggest influence on changing provision for the poor. This is because it highlighted the issues that needed changing within the poor relief system and, as it was almost unavoidable for the politicians, the change had to be effective. Without urbanisation individuals would most likely never have been alerted of the problems of poverty and therefore be able to change the way the poor were treated.

Urbanisation can also be linked with the riots as riots like the Luddites rioted because of the cramped conditions and poor quality of city life, also the Rebecca riots happened due to the large influx of road use into cities. This shows that without urbanisation many riots would never have taken place to provoke change.

A link between urbanisation and the failure of poor laws can be made as due to urbanisation because the government couldn’t afford to pay poor relief and subsides wages as the population had increased. This in turn led to weaknesses being highlighted in the system; this including corruption and bribery due to the overseers working because of the knowledge of future political success, and so the poor law amendment act stated that commissioners could not become a member of parliament, this helped avoid corruption in the future.

I believe the poor law amendment act however was too brief and didn’t really help the poor enough but only gave the illusion of help, the government wanted to spend as little money as possible but also didn’t want the poor to think the government weren’t trying to help them. JD Marshall who wrote a book in 1975 about the poor laws also shares this view.

So overall I think that urbanisation directly and indirectly help provision for the poor the most and not individuals as it was urbanisation and industrialisation that highlighted the need for change in the poor law system. I also believe that the government did not do enough to help the poor but only painted over the cracks in poverty and the corruption of the enforcers. This illusion of help and care as improved but I still share the view that it will never go and human greed will always be the first priority and not the need of the people.

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