Problem of the Poor

How did Elizabeth try to deal with the problem of the poor?

To tackle the problem of the poor, Elizabeth issued a set of ‘poor laws’.

1563 - Statute of Artificers

Aim: To ensure that poor relief was paid and received.

__Key features: __

  • Anyone who refused to pay the poor rates could be punished by imprisonment .

  • Local land owners who did not organise poor relief were fined up to £20.

1572 - Vagabonds Act

__Aim: __To deter vagrancy

Key features:

  • The Act states that vagrants were to be whipped and a hole drilled through each ear.

  • Vagrants were to be imprisoned if arrested a second time for vagrancy, and given capital punishment for the third.

1576 - Poor Relief Act

Aim: To distinguish between able bodied and impotent poor, and to help the able bodied poor find help.

__Key Features: __

  • JPs provided the able bodied poor with raw materials to enable them to work by making things to sell.

  • Those who refused work where they were given help to be sent to a special prison funded by poor rates, known as the house of correction. The poor rates were paid by the citizens in society.

Why did poverty increase in Elizabethan England?

In Elizabeth’s reign there was a huge vagrancy issue. A vagrant, or a vagabond, was a homeless person who wandered the streets begging for a living. The reasons below explain how the vagabond issue increased in Elizabeth’s era:


  • Under Elizabeth I the population growth increased to a whopping 35%.

  • London’s population grew to 150,000 by 1603.


  • Prices rose as more people were moving to cities, so less people were producing the food in the countryside needed.

  • Food prices rose as a result of harvests not meeting the requirements of the rising population.

  • Wages did not rise with the increased food prices because there were more people desperate to find work.

  • Rent prices for land increased and tenants had to pay entry fees when they could afford to take over some land.

Changes in farming

  • Sheep farming increased as 80% of England’s exports to other countries was wool. Sheep flocks were often over 2000, so only the rich could own sheep.

  • The sheep ate a huge amount of crops - especially grain which was at its highest price ever.

  • Enclosure (Replacing large open fields with individual farms farmed by one person) effected the poor people as the richest fenced off common land. Less labour was needed on the individual.

What was London's population in 1603?
What is the word used to describe the changes made to farming that resulted in large areas of land being sectioned off and owned by individual people?
What act was issued in 1572?
Vagabonds Act