Classifications of poor used in the Poor Law system

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Classifications of poor used in the Poor Law system classified people into categories for those considered deserving of poor relief and those who were not considered deserving of poor relief.

  • The impotent poor could not look after themselves or go to work. They included the ill, the infirm, the elderly, and children with no one to properly care for them. It was generally held that they should be looked after.
  • The able-bodied poor normally referred to those who were unable to find work – either due to cyclical or long term unemployment in the area, or a lack of skills. Attempts to assist these people, and move them out of this category, varied over the centuries, but usually consisted of relief either in the form of work or money.
  • The idle poor were of able body but were unwilling to work. They were not considered deserving of poor relief.
  • Vagrants or beggars, sometimes termed "sturdy rogues", were those who could work but had refused to. Such people were seen in the 16th and 17th centuries as potential criminals, apt to do mischief when hired for the purpose. They were normally seen as people needing punishment, and as such were often whipped in the market place as an example to others, or sometimes sent to houses of correction.