Social Policy, Welfare Innovation & Governance in England: The Creation and Implementation of Gilbert’s Act 1782

Ryland-Epton, Louise M. (2020). Social Policy, Welfare Innovation & Governance in England: The Creation and Implementation of Gilbert’s Act 1782. PhD thesis The Open University.



The thesis takes a piece of domestic legislation and uses it as a lens to examine the mechanisms of the state in the period 1765-1834. First, by explaining the process through which the Better Relief and Employment Bill 1781, after that known as Gilbert's Act, from its sponsor backbench MP Thomas Gilbert, was created, approved by parliament, and became law. Secondly, by the way, this welfare legislation was adopted and implemented at a local level, through a micro-political case-study of Gloucestershire parishes utilising its provisions. Thirdly, examining how and why those parishes thereafter abandoned the legislation. Following the Act through its lifecycle, using a more extensive range of source material than previously used, it provides an innovative perspective on governance in the period.

Section 1 elucidates how social policy bills became law in a period when the central government withdrew its interest from domestic concerns. It portrays the symbiotic relationship between national and local interests and how Gilbert, could create an effective campaign within parliament and across England by utilising correspondence and emerging print culture, which focused on local interests, particularly magistrates, to develop and drive reform. Section 2 looks at its impact and focuses on 15 Gloucestershire parishes who implemented the Act and depicts a matrix of elements acting as drivers to its adoption, often instigated by magistrates. However, magisterial support for the adoption of Gilbert’s Act or magistrates ongoing encouragement did not ensure strict compliance with its provisions. Instead, the manifestation of the Act was highly variable. It facilitated cooperation with magistrates in executing welfare administration in some instances. Section 3 shows the end of Gilbert’s Act in Gloucestershire was associated with the Sturges Bourne Acts and Poor Law Amendment Act. It was again influenced by local magistrates.

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