Elizabethan Poor Laws and the Unworthy Poor
Indiana University School of Social Work
Beginning in the Elizabethan Era, unworthy poor was a label placed on able bodied people that appeared to choose to not work. They were often treated harshly and in extreme cases, put to death (Shelly, 2011). In today’s society such treatment would be unheard of. The act of even labeling this group of people or other groups is discouraged and even against the NASW’s The Code of Ethics (2008). When faced with the multi billion dollar price tag of welfare, we need to make a distinction of who is worthy or unworthy to receive government assistance. The question arises on how this can be done without impeding the rights of the poor.
Elizabethan Laws and the Unworthy Poor
Over Four hundred years ago the citizens of England developed one of the first versions of our modern social welfare system. During this time, the poor were labeled as either worthy or unworthy. Elderly, widows, orphans and disabled were considered worthy poor, while unworthy poor included those that physically could work, but chose not to do so. They were often severely punished for their refusal to follow the expected social norms. (Shelly, 2011). The label of worthy and unworthy poor and controversy over welfare abuse is alive and well today. How many of our unworthy poor are draining our tax dollars for housing, health care and food when they simply choose not to even attempt to support their families? One government agency that assists the country’s poor is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In 2010, in the United States there were over 40 million people that received assistance. That is an increase of 29% from 2009 with a total price tag of over 65 billion dollars of tax payer money. How many of these poor were truly in ‘need’ of government assistance? And how do we as a society determine who is worthy or unworthy poor? Describe
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References: Chantrill, C. (2011). Government Spending Details. Retrieved from http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/spend.php?span=usgs302&year=2011&view=1
Herrick, J., Day, P., Carlton-LaNey, I., Stern, M., Reid, N. (2008). Social Policy. Encyclopedia
of Social Work. National Association of Social Workers and Oxford University Press,
Shelly, S. (2011). Elizabethan Poor Laws 1601. Available from Ball State University
Department of Social Work, North Quad (NQ), room 243 Muncie, IN 47306
United States Department of Agriculture. (2011). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
Monthly Data FY 2008 through June 2011 (Data file). Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/34SNAPmonthly.htm
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