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Title: A reluctant response to vagrancy : the evolution of Poor Law casual relief in England and Wales, 1834-1919
Author: O'Leary, Brian Michael
ISNI:       0000 0004 5372 6470
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2014
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From 1837 the Poor Law Commission sanctioned temporary relief, at workhouses, for poor wayfarers, heralding a departure from historic attempts to control the wandering poor with criminal vagrancy legislation. A modern, detailed account is lacking, and the thesis addresses gaps in the historiography, such as the significant underestimation of women using the system, the influence of penal separation upon casual relief, and the changing attributes of recipient The origins of casual relief are traced to local initiatives, c.1800-1830, adopted, subsequently, in the reformed Poor Law system. The assumption, by administrators, that the justice system would retain the mandate for the suppression of vagrancy, was never eradicated, partly because criminal legislation remained in force, alongside casual relief. The deterrent principle of the New Poor Law was applied in casual wards, characterized by an absence of rehabilitative elements. The reluctance of Poor Law officials to engage fully with vagrant relief was reflected in repeated attempts to transfer responsibility to the police. Contemporary views are examined to ascertain whether Poor Law vagrancy policy was based upon rational assessment, or was the product of myth and prejudice. Ignoring evidence that the majority of casual relief users were in search of employment, and that others were rendered destitute by age or ill health, officials insisted upon the intrinsic deviancy of recipients. The traditional belief in the ‘undeserving’ poor was undiminished. Phases in casual relief are identified, summarized as a gradual transition from primitive provision (‘stables and straw’) to purpose-built cells. However, notwithstanding the strengthening of central regulation, from 1871, uniform implementation of policy was never achieved. Casual relief remained a protean experience for applicants in this period. Inasmuch as most itinerant poor avoided the wards, New Poor Law deterrence succeeded; as a measure to control vagrancy, it failed.
Supervisor: Melling, Joseph Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: New Poor Law ; casual relief ; vagrancy