Welfare's Forgotten Past: A Socio-Legal History of the Poor Law, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Welfare's Forgotten Past

A Socio-Legal History of the Poor Law, 1st Edition

By Lorie Charlesworth


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That ‘poor law was law’ is a fact that has slipped from the consciousness of historians of welfare in England and Wales, and in North America. Welfare's Forgotten Past remedies this situation by tracing the history of the legal right of the settled poor to relief when destitute. Poor law was not simply local custom, but consisted of legal rights, duties and obligations that went beyond social altruism. This legal ‘truth’ is, however, still ignored or rejected by some historians, and thus ‘lost’ to social welfare policy-makers. This forgetting or minimising of a legal, enforceable right to relief has not only led to a misunderstanding of welfare’s past; it has also contributed to the stigmatisation of poverty, and the emergence and persistence of the idea that its relief is a 'gift' from the state.

Documenting the history and the effects of this forgetting, whilst also providing a ‘legal’ history of welfare, Lorie Charlesworth argues that it is timely for social policy-makers and reformists – in Britain, the United States and elsewhere – to reconsider an alternative welfare model, based on the more positive, legal aspects of welfare’s 400-year legal history.


'Charlesworth has produced a book which brings our attention firmly back to the socio-legal framework of welfare practice and all scholars of welfare history will need to engage with it.' Journal of Rural History

'Welfare's Forgotten Past is approachable for both students of law and legal scholars. The text is well researched and heavily footnoted, and includes both an extensive bibliography and a helpful appendix illustrating some of the law of settlement. Overall, Welfare's Forgotten Past would be a valuable addition to any university or academic law library collection.'Law Library Journal

'This book is probably the most historiographically challenging revisionist intervention in the study of the Poor Laws in England and Wales since Mark Blaug’s celebrated article of 1963. Lorie Charlesworth argues that a collective amnesia has taken hold at the centre of our understanding of the entire history of the Poor Laws, from its earliest statutory manifestations in the 16th century to the system’s final demise four centuries later on the appointed day in 1948 when the era of the NHS began.'Economic History Review

'Lorie Charlesworth has written an important book. Her central thesis is developed carefully and expressed in measured tones' English Historical Review

'Charlesworth has produced a book which brings our attention firmly back to the socio-legal framework of welfare practice and all scholars of welfare history will need to engage with it.' Steven King, University of Leicester

'This is the book Gordon Brown should have been reading as Prime Minister: it is a pity that it did not appear in time to act as a corrective. We must hope that its argument is able to make an impact' Journal of Social History

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: A History of Forgetting 2. Rights of the Poor: Towards a Negative Modernity 3. Socio-Legal Juristic Narratives: Poor Law’s Legal Foundations 4. Deconstructing from the Negative: A Critical Historiography of Legal [Mis]conceptions 5. Lived Experience: The Poor ‘Speak’ 6. Paupers as Textual Analysis: Exploring the Settlement Entitlement Through Little Dorrit 7. Lived Experience: Poor Law Administration 8. Developments and Transformation Over Time: Dichotomising the Poor 9. The Road to Beveridge: Deforming Welfare 10. End Thoughts: On the Transience of Legal Memory

About the Author

Lorie Charlesworth is Reader in Law and History at Liverpool John Moore's University.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / General
LAW / Legal History
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Philanthropy & Charity
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Poverty & Homelessness