A Christmas Carol

Why was the Poor Law developed? AND List 4 Key points of the 'Poor Law'

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The Poor Laws were England's response to poverty. However, the Poor Laws barely kept the poor alive while trampling their dignity; arduous labor in workhouses or humiliating stays in debtors' prisons (both of which Scrooge references in Stave One) were the two welfare options for the poor. Even worse, poverty was profoudnly cyclical. Poor children, afflicted by rickets from working long hours in polluted factories, had little chance to survive into healthy, let alone wealthy, adults.

The New Poor Laws were influenced by the ideas of three writers of the day. The first was Thomas Robert Malthus, who advocated limiting population growth so it wouldn't increase faster than food production. Families were split up in the workhouses into three separate barracks to discourage conception.

The second writer was David Ricardo, who argued that wages naturally tend toward a subsistence level. This view, called the "Iron Law of Wages," influenced Karl Marx's dim view of the prospects of workers benefiting from capitalism.

And the third was the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, whose idea was utilitarianism, or the idea that the moral or ethical thing to do was whatever brought the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. Similarly, laws ought to be structured to discourage what hurts society and encourage what helps society. That these principles be put into place with draconian authoritarianism is irrelevant to his view of ethics.


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