Poor Law

Laws regarding poverty in England, 16th–19th century

The English Poor Law was an early sort of social security. The Act for the Relief of the Poor in 1601 gave parishes the job of supporting the "deserving poor" - people who couldn't work. People who had property in the parish had to pay rates. The money was used to pay for food and clothing for the poor. Each parish (there were about 1500) decided how they should do this. The parish was only responsible for people who were settled there. People who were not settled were sent back home. People who could work were given work to do. People who would not work could be put in a house of correction - a sort of prison.[1]

Poor box in a Kerala church

After 1948 National Assistance started, instead of the Poor Law. There was still a means test but the earnings of sons and daughters were no longer counted. [2]


  1. "Poor Law 1601". Socialist Health Association. 1601-03-26. Retrieved 2023-02-04.
  2. "National Assistance » 7 Nov 1947 » The Spectator Archive". The Spectator Archive. Retrieved 2023-05-12.