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Welfare Reform, 1834

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Abstract

The English Old Poor Law, which before 1834 provided welfare to the elderly, children, the improvident, and the unfortunate, was a bête noire of the new discipline of Political Economy. Smith, Bentham, Malthus and Ricardo all demanded its abolition. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, drafted by Political Economists, cut payments sharply. Because local rules on eligibility and provision varied greatly before the 1834 reform, we can estimate the social cost of the extensive welfare provision of the Old Poor Law. Surprisingly there is no evidence of any of the alleged social costs that prompted the harsh treatment of the poor after 1834. Political economy, it seems, was born in sin.

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