The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1836

The care of paupers is allocated to the ‘Board of Guardians’ of a local authority. The nature of this care is highly dependent upon the nature of that Board: in some areas the poor law is enforced beneficially; in others, the workhouses are factories for local industry and the poor law a curse to any without wages.

The poor law was established to enable 'able bodied workers' without work to be brought into a district's workhouse and put to work productively until external employment becomes available. The amendment act of 1836 allows a Board to allocate funds to support workers outside a workhouse if means of gainful employment seem to be realistically within reach. Most authorities' Boards use this amendment to their full ability. By allocating a family enough funds for a roof and food in subsidy to the family's wages, total expenditure is cut down in comparison with the total care of that family.

Usually each Board of Guardians maintains several inspectors for its district. The inspectors review applications for subsidy and decide for individual cases whether to provide funds or to admit to the workhouse. Families who gain subsidized living are under constant threat of the workhouse. If no work is found for two months, the family is sent to the workhouse. Many families go hungry for several weeks at a time and then reapply for subsidy, rather than enter the workhouse.