Repository logo

Poverty, old age and outdoor relief in late-Victorian England

Accepted version

Change log


Heritage, Thomas 


While studies dedicated to the extent of poverty in old age under the New Poor Law in nineteenth-century England have grown, gaps still exist in terms of a detailed examination of outdoor relief compared with workhouse populations. Using rarely consulted outdoor relief application and report books for three Poor Law Unions in the early 1880s (Alton Union, Hampshire; Hertford Union, Hertfordshire, and Ripon Union, Yorkshire West Riding), we provide estimated proportions of older people on outdoor relief by linking the report books with census materials. We also examine variations in allowances prescribed to single and married individuals. First, older people in southern England were more likely to receive outdoor relief compared with their northern counterparts, consistent with the extant literature outlining a ‘north-south’ divide of welfare provision. Second, allowances were surprisingly generous in Ripon Union. For married couples, allowances were double the average documented elsewhere and reflect those granted under the Old Age Pension Act of 1908. Conclusively, continuity in the treatment of older-age applicants between the later years of the New Poor Law and the start of the Old Age Pension Act is emphasised, especially in the context of northern Poor Law Unions such as Ripon.



Journal Title

Social History

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Publisher DOI

Publisher URL

This work is based on doctoral research and was supported by the South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership, Economic and Social Research Council, United Kingdom, under Grant [ES/J500161/1]