Deserving of charity or deserving of better? The continuing legacy of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act for Britain’s Deaf population.
Review of Disability Studies, 7
The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was a watershed in institutionalising official attitudes and provision for poor and needy people in the United Kingdom. By introducing the notion that the poor could be categorised as ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’, the long term political agenda for social welfare was established and is still evident today. Although deaf people were not specifically covered by the Act and its provisions, there were to be both detrimental and beneficial consequences for this particular group within society. The particular effects of deafness on employability, coupled with historical attitudes towards deafness as a ‘handicap’ and even ‘a visitation from God’, set deaf people in an ambiguous and often invidious position in terms of whether they were seen as ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’ poor. This paper will outline the effects of what came to be known as the New Poor Law on deaf people and the way they were treated as a result. The establishment of voluntary welfare groups in response to this treatment will be outlined, and a discussion will be offered on the way attitudes towards deaf people’s welfare rights are often determined by their inability to hear rather than their ability to work.