Less eligibility was a British government policy passed into law in the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834. It stated that conditions in workhouses had to be worse than conditions available outside so that there was a deterrence to claiming poor relief. In reality this meant that an individual had to be destitute in order to quality for poor relief.
The developers of less eligibility were in the main well-meaning and high-principled people. They had no problem with the fairly limited numbers of aged and genuinely infirm who could not work under any circumstances. Clearly they had to be cared for in an appropriate way. They believed that the problem was the larger numbers of the able-bodied who either could not or would not earn enough money to support themselves. It was perceived that paying money to this category tended to increase their number. However, in reality the less eligibility principle was part of a widespread concern over the able-bodied unemployed. This concern was given prominence in the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, at the expense of ill, old and young paupers, who made up 70 percent of those seeking poor relief in some form.
Less eligibility did not apply to children, who were considered blameless for their poverty.
Bloy states that the separation of husbands and wives was the subject of "great hostility".
- The principle of 'less eligibility'
- Bloy, Marjorie, "The 1832 Commission of Enquiry into the operation of the Poor Laws", The Peel Web, retrieved 2 December 2010