An Act for the Better Relief of the Poor


An Act for the Better Relief of the Poor


Passed in Parliament near the end of the 18th century, this act sought to expand programs for the lower classes within the city of Edinburgh. “Poor Laws” such as this can trace their origins in England and Scotland to the late medieval era. However, as the bureaucracy of the state expanded throughout the early modern era, so too did the scope and structure of its social programs. Great political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau presented new understandings of the role of government in civil society and played a key role in the development of Western social contract theory.

Robust social welfare programs in the early modern era were largely a response to the breakdown of the medieval social structure and pervasive poverty rates in both the city and countryside. Especially in Elizabethan England, the state played a very active role in aiding both the disabled and able-bodied poor. In Scotland, however, poor laws were a direct response to the demands of the countryside, with George Strickland explaining "that so long as Scotland continued to be a purely agricultural country, her population thinly scattered, and therefore never experiencing the miseries which fluctuations in employment and in the price of food bring upon labourers collected together in greater numbers, these laws may not in many parts of the country have been strictly enforced" (Strickland, 60).




An act for the better relief of the poor, University of Edinburgh.

Strickland, George. A Discourse on the Poor Laws of England and Scotland, on the State of the Poor of Ireland, and on Emigration / by George Strickland. London: Printed for J. Ridgway, 1827.




Zach Irvin


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[Unknown], “An Act for the Better Relief of the Poor,” HIST 139 - Early Modern Europe, accessed March 25, 2023,

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