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Dependency, shame and belonging : badging the deserving poor, c.1550-1750

By Steve Hindle


The badging of the poor under the terms of the statute of 1697 has long been regarded as the most visible expression of the repressive and discriminatory nature of the welfare regime established by the Elizabethan poor laws. In a historiographical tradition stretching back to the Webbs, pauper badges have been regarded as weapons of deterrence in the campaign against a nascent 'culture of dependency' among the able-bodied poor who had come to believe that they were entitled to parish pensions. Even the Webbs, however, remained unconvinced that the 1697 statute was effectively enforced, and more recent revisionism in the historiography of welfare has not only welcomed but amplified their scepticism in its attempt to rehabilitate the old poor law as benevolent and sympathetic in operation. There has, however, been little attempt to measure the enforcement of the policy in the archives of county and parish governance, and even less to reconstruct the negotiations that took place over the wearing or removing of these symbols, which at the same time implied both belonging to, and yet paradoxically also exclusion from, the local community. This paper rehearses the discourses which gave rise to the badging of the poor in the years before and after the 1697 statute, and analyses the politics of identity among paupers, parish officers and magistrates as they actively debated if, when and by whom badges should be worn

Topics: DA
Publisher: Berg
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