Poor laws. By the (English) Poor Relief Act, 1601, (43 Eliz. c. 2), frequently called 'The Act of Elizabeth,' overseers of the poor were annually appointed in every parish; the churchwardens of every parish being also ex-officio overseers, except in rural parishes, in which the churchwardens ceased to be overseers by virtue of the Local Government Act, 1894.
Overseers of the Poor and Boards of Guardians were abolished (overseers from 1st April, 1927, boards of guardians from 1st April, 1930, except in the Scilly Islands) by the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, and their powers, duties and property were transferred to local authorities.
By the Poor Law Amendment Act, 1834, the administration of the parochial funds and the management of the poor throughout the country were placed for five years under the control of a central board called 'The Poor Law Commissioners'; succeeded in 1847 by a temporary 'Poor Law Board' made perpetual, after many continuances, in 1867; and in 1871, by 'The (English) Local Government Board Act, 1871,' superseded by the Local Government Board. The powers and duties are now vested in the (English) Ministry of Health (Ministry of Health Act, 1919).
The (English) Poor Law Act, 1930 (20 & 21 Geo. 5, c. 17) consolidates the enactments relating to the relief of the poor in England, and it repeals the greater part of the (English) Poor Law Act, 1927, which latter consolidated enactments relating to the relief of the poor, but it did not provide for all the powers an duties which had been conferred on overseers of the poor and boards of guardians by various statutes, such as the Vaccination, Bastardy, and Lunacy Acts; and the law as regards this is not affected by the 1930 Act; the functions of boards of guardians in connection therewith were trans-ferred to local authorities by the (English) Local Government Act, 1929 (19 & 20 Geo. 5, c. 17). The Poor Law Act, 1934, amends the Act of 1930 so as to secure uniformity through out Great Britain in the provisions relating to the disregarding of sick pay, maternity benefit, and wounds or disability pensions in connection with relief.
General or special orders of a voluminous and detailed character (see Glen's Poor Law Orders), made by one or other of the above named authorities under the powers of the Act of 1834, have been since that Act the main sources of the Poor Law; but the statutes upon the subject have also been very numerous. Consult Chitty's Statutes, tits. 'Poor,' 'Poor (Apprentices),' 'Poor (Rating),' 'Poor (Settlement and Removal),' and 'Poor (Metropolis).'
The duty of making and levying the poor-rate or parochial fund, out of which the relief is to be afforded, belonged to the churchwardens and overseers; and the concurrence of the inhabitants was not necessary. But for the better execution of these duties, the appointment of collectors and assistant overseers was authorised. They were abolished from 1st April, 1927, supra; for details of the transfer to the rating authority, see the (English) Overseers Order, 1927 (S. R. & O., 1927, No. 55). The rate was raised prospectively for some given portion of the year, and upon a scale adapted to the probable exigencies of the parish; and the Act of Elizabeth directed that it should be raised by' taxation of every inhabitant, parson, vicar, and other, and of every occupier of lands, houses, tithes impropriate, propriations of tithes, coal mines, or saleable underwoods in the parish.' By the (English) Rating Act, 1874, the liability to rates was extended to (1) land used for a plantation or wood, or for the growth of saleable underwood, and not subject to any right of common; (2) rights of fowling, shooting, taking, or killing game or rabbits, and fishing, when severed from the occupation of the land; and (3) mines of every kind not mentioned in the Act of Elizabeth. As an occupier, a man is rateable for all lands which he occupies in the parish, whether he is resident or not; but the tenant and not the landlord is considered as the occupier within this statute.
The poor rate is now part of the general rate (see RATES) under the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, the object of which was to consolidate the numerous rules levied by different authorities on differing areas and to enlarge the unit of administration so as to secure uniformity; the power to make rates being conferred on the rating authority, with special provisions for representa-tion of every parish in rural areas.
The poor in Ireland had, till of late years, no relief but from private charity. But by 1 & 2 Vict. c. 56, intituled 'An Act for the more effectual Relief of the destitute Poor in Ireland,' the authority of the Poor Law Commissioners was extended to that part of the realm, and an Irish Board of Commissioners established.
Numerous statutes deal with the administration of poor law in Scotland, the latest of which is the (English) Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929 (19 & 20 Geo. 5, c. 25).
If a prisoner on his release after the termination of his sentence is likely to need poor law relief, an order may be made for his removal to the workhouse immediately on his discharge from prison. [(English) Poor Law Act, 1930, s. 103]
Aliens have the same right to relief under the Poor Laws as natural-born subjects have.