Before the Reformation it had always been considered Christian duty to carry out the instructions laid down in Matthew chapter 25 – that all Christians shall:
- Feed the hungry
- Give drink to the thirsty
- Welcome the stranger
- Clothe the naked
- Visit the sick
- Visit the prisoner
- Bury the dead.
After the Reformation, many of these values disappeared and the poor were left without help. It became increasingly clear that something had to be done to help those who were genuinely in need, and something else had to be done about the increasing numbers of those who chose to beg and steal rather than work.
In 1552 Parish registers of poor were introduced. This meant that there was now an official register of poor in a parish.
In 1563 Justices of the Peace were given the power to raise funds to support the poor. Categories were also drawn up for the different types of poor and beggars that were found on the streets.
Deserving Poor This category was for those people who wanted to work but were unable to find suitable employment. These people were to be given help in the form of clothes, food or maybe money. (Outdoor Relief)
Those who were too old, young or ill to work. These people were to be looked after in almshouses, orphanages, workhouses or hospitals. Orphans and children of the poor were to be given an apprenticeship to a tradesman. (Indoor Relief)
Undeserving Poor Also called idle beggars or sturdy beggars, this category was for those who could work but chose not to. They were to be whipped through the town until they learnt the error of their ways.
In 1572 it was made compulsory that all people pay a local poor. The funds raised were to help the deserving poor.
In 1597 It was made law that every district have an Overseer of the Poor. The overseer had to do the following things:
- Work out how much money would be needed for the numbers of poor in that district and set the poor rate accordingly
- Collect the poor rate from property owners
- Relieve the poor by dispensing either food or money
- Supervise the parish poor house
In 1601 An act of Parliament called The Poor Law was passed by Parliament. The Act brought together all the measures listed above into one legal document.
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