The 1845 New Poor Law for Scotland: A Fundamental Change


  • Graham Hannaford


There is an old Gaelic proverb (or so I am told) that translates roughly as ‘Two things that should not be empty: the stomach of the old and the hand of the child’.1 The 1845 new Poor Law for Scotland is an attempt to provide for these vulnerable people in Victorian age Scotland—the elderly, children, and the destitute. A piece of legislation is unlikely ever to be sexy but this one, the 1845 Poor Law (Scotland) Act, An Act for the Amendment and better Administration of the Laws relating to the Relief of the Poor in Scotland is nonetheless remarkable. It marked the shift in support for the poor in Scotland from being provided as charity to one of assistance supplied as an enforceable right under the direction of the State. It gave the lowest in society rights they had not had before.