The English Poor Laws were a system of poor relief which existed in England and Wales that developed out of late-medieval and Tudor-era laws before being codified in 1587–98. The Poor Law system was in existence until the emergence of the modern welfare state after the Second World War.
English Poor Law legislation can be traced back as far as 1536, when legislation was passed to deal with the impotent poor, although there is much earlier Tudor legislation dealing with the problems caused by vagrants and beggars. The history of the Poor Law in England and Wales is usually divided between two statutes, the Old Poor Law passed during the reign of Elizabeth I and the New Poor Law, passed in 1834, which significantly modified the existing system of poor relief. The later statute altered the Poor Law system from one which was administered haphazardly at a local parish level to a highly centralised system which encouraged the large scale development of workhouses by Poor Law Unions.
The Poor Law system fell into decline at the beginning of the 20th century owing to factors such as the introduction of the Liberal welfare reforms and the availability of other sources of assistance from friendly societies and trade unions, as well as piecemeal reforms which bypassed the Poor Law system. The Poor Law system was not formally abolished until the National Assistance Act 1948, with parts of the law remaining on the statute book until 1967.
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