Theorising charity: the bishops and the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act

Document type
Lansley, John
Date of publication
1 December 2002
Voluntary Action: the journal of the Institute for Volunteering Research. Vol. 5; Number 1
Social welfare
Material type

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Discussions of the history of British social policy often start with the new Poor Law of 1834, which is described as a triumph of laissez-faire political economy and as an instrument of repressive social policy. However, equivalent issues and dilemmas were taking place in nineteenth-century charity. There was not a sudden change, but a shift in dominant social discourse, with the growth of the new science of political economy; there were also important alterations in the church’s understanding of charity. This paper seeks to examine, in the writings and actions of two bishops who sat on the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws (RCPL), the nature and significance of these changes.

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