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Workhouses were introduced not as a way to try to provide for the poor and homeless of the country but as a means to discourage people from being poor!
The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 recommended:
That to restore the self respect of working people the poor had to be treated worse than the worst paid labourer. Then people would choose to work rather than get poor relief, if they possibly could.
That to test if people really wanted relief, it would only be offered in a workhouse and would be so unattractive that people would only accept it if the alternative was starvation. Men and women would be separated; food would be adequate but uninteresting; discipline would be strict.
Of course, to try to combat a problem like poverty in this way today would be unthinkable for most people, it was the very mindset of the Victorian ruling classes that prompted this action.
Any pauper who shall neglect to observe such of the regulations herein contained as are applicable to and binding on him:
Or who shall make any noise when silence is ordered to be kept
Or shall use obscene or profane language
Or shall refuse or neglect to work
Or shall play at cards or other unseemly games of chance...
Shall be deemed DISORDERLY…
It shall be lawful for the master of the workhouse to punish any disorderly pauper by substituting, for not more than 48 hours, a meal consisting of 8oz of bread or 1lb of potatoes and by withholding from him during the same period all butter, cheese, tea, sugar or broth.
Workhouse Rules of Conduct, 1838.
Unemployment was categorically seen as laziness; homelessness as lack of organization. The inmates of a workhouse, no other word seems appropriate given the high walls and thick gates, were governed by a strict set of rules:
Men and women were separated, as were boys and girls, as much as a punishment as a way of removing the temptation to sin.
The workhouses were just that. People were made to work, hard, and if they refused, or were unable even, to work then they would be punished, often beaten.
The same treatment was meted out to those who were foolish enough to try to escape.
Whole families were separated in the workhouse - a place that was supposed to be helping them.