Administration of Public Welfare

By R. Clyde White | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XV
WORK PROGRAM FOR THE UNEMPLOYED

The first work program for the able-bodied unemployed seems to have been created by the English Poor Law of 1601. This act provided "for setting to work the children of all such whose parents shall not by the said Churchwardens and Overseers, or the greater Part of them, be thought able to keep and maintain their children; and also for setting to work all such persons, married or unmarried (as) having no Means to maintain them, use no ordinary or daily Trade of Life to get their Living by."1 All persons unable to work were to be given direct relief. The aim of this old statute was partly to reduce the cost of direct relief and partly to test the willingness of the unemployed child or adult to work for his living. Later when "workhouses" were established, the work test became a "workhouse test." The reasons for the work test and the workhouse test under the English Poor Law were not identical with those which led to the establishment of the great work programs in this country during the depression of the 1930's. Nevertheless, as in this country in the present century, it was believed that work was superior to direct relief in its moral effect on the unemployed workman. It is an interesting commentary on the history of the English Poor Law that during the depression of the 1930's a work program for the unemployed was not revived, but on the contrary the largest and best- organized system of unemployment assistance Great Britain ever had was created alongside of the unemployment insurance scheme.

While the recent work programs in the United States were designed to mitigate the effects of unemployment in the lives of the unemployed, an attempt has been made to differentiate them sharply from other forms of financial assistance and from conventional public works plans. The basis of eligibility for work-program employment was changed several times. It was at various times (1) the

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1
Quoted by Breckinridge, Public Welfare Administration, Select Documents, p. 18.

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