11.17. Poor Rates

In 1795, the magistrates of Speenhamland, Berkshire, decided on a new method of financially helping the poor in their district. The procedure agreed was to use money received as parish rates, to make up the amount earned by the man in his work (or zero, if he had no work) to a monetary amount defined in terms of the cost of a gallon loaf (2x a quarter loaf). This idea was followed by many other local authorities in England in the following years, but caused an increase in the number of unemployed in the rural areas, since a man with 4 children but without work, could receive as much as a man with work, and thus might well take the decision not to work. 

When the Gallon Loaf of Second Flour, Weighing 8lb. 11ozs. shall cost 1s. Then every poor and industrious man shall have for his own support 3s. weekly, either produced by his own or his family’s labour, or an allowance from the poor rates, and for the support of his wife and every other of his family, 1s. 6d.

When the Gallon Loaf shall cost 1s. 4d. Then every poor and industrious man shall have 4s. weekly for his own, and 1s. and 10d. for the support of every other of his family.

And so in proportion, as the price of bread rise or falls (that is to say) 3d. to the man, and 1d. to every other of the family, on every 1d. which the loaf rise above 1s.

The re-expression in quartern loaves per week, as is used in this study, is that the man had a right to 6 quartern loaves per week (supposing the quartern loaf at 8 pence), and the wife and children on average 3 loaves each; for a family with 3 children this would be in total 18 loaves per week.  

Following, we have a calculation page (not exactly the same formulae) used in a parish in Berkshire. 

(Board of Agriculture / William Mavor; General View of the Agriculture of Berkshire, 1809,  p. 418)

The effect was that a man who could not earn enough to pay the expenses for his family, or was unemployed, received a “topping-up” from the parish rates. This system obviously could be abused by dishonest workers.

However, this method was not used much from 1795 to 1815, because there was more work than workers, due to the number of men who had been taken from their agricultural occupations, to serve in the Army or in the Navy. It did cause a number of problems from 1815 onwards.

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