Opposition to Poor Law Reform

Lesson rationale

This activity is designed to develop students’ understanding of the workhouse system, pressure for reform and changing attitudes towards poverty in the 19th century. Some treatment of the nature, types and extent of poverty, as well as issues related to industrialisation, is already assumed. Students should already have encountered the Poor Law of 1815 in order to understand the rationale that underpinned the Poor Law Amendment Act introduced in 1834.

Key questions in this lesson:

  • What provision did the Poor Law, and subsequent Poor Law Amendment Act, make for the working classes? How was the Amendment Act new and what marked shifts did it make in provision for the poor? What was the rationale behind it?
  • What did the workhouse system indicate about attitudes towards the poor? How did it continue to support the notion of the deserving and undeserving poor?
  • Did everyone approve of the workhouse system? Where did pressure for reform come from?
  • What can sources reveal about changing attitudes towards poverty in the 19th century?