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Less eligibility

Less eligibility was a condition of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834.[1] It was intended to make workhouses a deterrent . It stated that working conditions in the workhouse had to be worse than the worst job possible outside the workhouse. This principle existed to deter people from claiming poor relief.

For the most part, workhouse conditions were materially adequate when compared with what was available outside. Paupers were fed and housed. Some education and medical facilities were provided.


The developers of less eligibility were in the main well-meaning and high-principled people. They had no problem with the fairly limited numbers of aged and genuinely infirm who could not work under any circumstances. Clearly they had to be cared for in an appropriate way. They believed that the problem was the larger numbers of the able-bodied who either could not or would not earn enough money to support themselves. It was perceived that paying money to this category tended to increase their number. However, in reality the less eligibility principle was part of a widespread concern over the able-bodied unemployed. This concern was given prominence in the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, at the expense of ill, old and young paupers, who made up 70 percent of those seeking poor relief in some form.[2] It was designed to humiliate the paupers into work.


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