Shave, Samantha Anne
Poor law reform and policy innovation in rural southern England, c.1780-1850
University of Southampton, School of Social Sciences,
Recent analysis in poor law history has uncovered the experiences of individual relief claimants and recipients, emphasising their role in the welfare process. The literature has, however, tended to draw a false dichotomy between understanding the experiences of the individual poor and understanding the administration of the poor laws. This thesis deploys a ‘policy process’ understanding of social policies, a concept developed in the social sciences, to understand the processes driving social policies under the poor laws.
The thesis deploys a more holistic approach to understanding the poor laws, taking into account how those in positions of power, as well as welfare recipients, impacted upon social policies under the poor law. By applying this understanding to the literature, significant aspects of poor law history have been left under-researched. The adoption and implementation of enabling legislation in the final years of the old poor law, specifically Gilbert’s Act of 1782 and Sturges Bourne’s Act of 1819, have hitherto received little attention. Policy transfer under the old and New poor laws, an aspect that informed all stages of the policy process, has also been neglected. In addition, the ways in which welfare scandals during the early years of the New Poor Law influenced the development of social policies have not been treated to systematic analysis.
This thesis tackles each of these lacunas in turn, using administrative records produced by the central welfare authorities and Parliament, and local administrative records from the rural south of England. It offers a more nuanced picture of poor law reform and policy innovation under the poor laws. Enabling legislation was adopted and dropped at different times, and it was implemented in different ways. Policy transfer was important in the administration of poor law policy throughout the period. Early welfare scandals arose in areas of policy strain and had influenced the development of national legislation.
Cumulatively, the different foci demonstrate the multifarious ways in which policy was adopted, implemented and changed under the poor laws. They also highlight the importance of two groups in this process, key actors and stakeholders. Rather than viewing the experiences of relief claimants as separate to the administrative aspects of the poor laws, the ‘policy process’ approach allows us to view them as part of the same process. In turn, this offers new insights into how both relief claimants and relief administration impacted upon each other.
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