The twentieth-century poor law in the Midlands and Wales, c.1900-1930

Description

This thesis examines the New Poor Law between c.1900 and 1930, the last three decades of its operation before boards of guardians were abolished by the 1929 Local Government Act. The poor law during this period has been widely neglected by historians in terms of focused regional studies, and although some scholars have acknowledged the system’s continued activity, the nature of this activity at a local level has been little explored. Discussions of the poor law in existing literature on early twentieth century welfare are more often framed in terms of the alternative provisions being constructed around it, and the unsuccessful attempts by government at reform during these decades. This thesis refocuses attention on the realities of poor law administration on the ground, exploring the post-1900 poor law through four case studies chosen from across the Midlands of England and central Wales. The everyday operations of the poor law unions in each case study are reconstructed, and distinct regional welfare cultures are revealed, with relief policies and practices informed by specific local socio-economic conditions. Interactions between the poor law and a range of key welfare reforms are explored, and the relationship between ‘old’ and ‘new’ welfare systems is shown to have been complex in ways rarely captured in current historiography, whereby the poor law acted as a key safety net for families who fell through the gaps in between the newer welfare provisions, and in some cases as a stepping-stone to access them. Although often strained by conditions for which it was not designed, the poor law continued to play a significant role in the welfare landscape of England and Wales even in these last years of its operation. In this way, this thesis bridges the historiographical gap between the ending of the New Poor Law and the coming of the early welfare state.

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Citation

Blacklaws, Nicola, “The twentieth-century poor law in the Midlands and Wales, c.1900-1930,” Centre for English Local History Theses and Papers, accessed May 28, 2020, https://elhleics.omeka.net/items/show/146.