English women and dependent children between 1500 and 1834

The growing numbers of the population that required such services soon overwhelmed individual philanthropy, hence the need for a series of Acts to address their needs. The Poor Relief Act 1601 (or the Elizabethan Poor Law) formalized previous practices of the distribution of poor relief in England and Wales. Previously, poor women and dependent children were catered for by the decentralized parish as an administrative unit, but the new law was more of a correction than a punishing system for the targeted population (Day, 2013). However, the population was growing faster than the available resources could handle and it was argued that many women opted to for the pleasant option of claiming relief rather than working to earn. Further, the “ iron law of wages” also argued that the aid provided under the Elizabethan Poor Law undermined workers’ wages as employers reduced their pay yet the workers who did not receive the aid needed protection. This led to the Poor Law Amendment of 1834 that replaced the 1601 law. The rationale of this law was that people who could not work were to be taken care of in almshouses while the poor but able-bodied were to work for pay in a House of Industry. Children dependent on poor women would become apprentices.