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Historical and Contemporary Poverty

The Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601 established a framework for defining poverty and helping those in need, and it also influenced the delivery of human services in colonial America. Using this framework as a guide, compare and contrast poverty from historical and contemporary perspectives. Because poverty is still a major social issue, what similarities exist between historical and contemporary poverty? How have issues related to poverty changed over the past 400 years?

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The 1601 law was directed at parishes. These were supposed to assist the poor. In addition, property owners were also taxed for poor relief. Almshouses, hospitals and orphanages were founded, and "overseers" were instructed to collect information in their district (mostly parish boundaries) as to exactly the nature of need. Workhouses were also founded.

The family was meant as the center of this relief - if the elderly were poor, they were instructed to move in with their children or a relative. Hence, the family was the "first resort."

The "idle poor" were placed in houses of correction and given work. Only the "working poor" were taken seriously. This also includes the ill and those too young (or old) to work.

Prior to this, the monasteries were the main areas of poor relief. Remember that the Protestants (just prior to Elizabeth) had secularized church lands and sold them off. Hence, the removal of property from monasteries and their dissolution (under Henry VIII) was the immediate cause of the poor law.

Now, here's a conservative approach to modern "poverty." The notion is this: in the 17th century, poverty was real. It was life and death. The rich yesterday would be considered poor today.

According to the most recent Census, the facts are these regarding the poor:

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Solution Summary

The historical and contemporary poverty is examined.