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The punishment of vagrants

Between 1531 and 1598, various


laws were passed which set
down the punishments for
vagrancy - these included
whipping, being branded with the
letter ‘V’ on their forehead, or
being sent into slavery for two
years.

Those convicted of a second


offence of vagrancy could be
executed, or sold into slavery for
life. Later, some of these
punishments were repealed as
being too harsh.

Eventually, the authorities realised


there were genuine cases of
poverty. They tried to distinguish
between ‘impotent poor’ and
'dishonest poor'.
In 1572, J. P. s were given powers
to collect a weekly poor-rate (tax)
from each parish to help provide
for poor people who were
genuinely ill, disabled or too old to
work.

In 1598, a system of ‘overseers


of the poor’ in each parish was
introduced. However, special
institutions - houses of
correction - were set up to deal
with the ‘sturdy’ poor.

In 1601, the Great Poor Law Act


brought together all previous
measures to help the poor, and
ordered local councils to collect a
poor rate to provide workhouses
and hospitals. This system lasted
until 1834 and a new Poor Law Act.
From about 1650, the rate of
population growth began to slow
down - this helped reduce the
volume of poverty.