Edwin Chadwick was responsible for the development several important laws in England in the first half of the 19th Century.

The first important work Chadwick was involved in was the 1834 Poor Law Report. This documented the rising cost of providing relief to the poor and provided suggestions as to how to improve the situation. Unfortunately it was very biased and strongly influenced by benthamism. The investigators held the flawed belief that poor people were unemployed because they were lazy, and sought only to confirm these beliefs.

The result of the report was the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. In this, outdoor relief (payment to unemployed people) was cancelled. Instead, unemployed people would be forced to live in workhouses. These were deliberately designed to be as unpleasant as possible. Benthamism taught that people would compare the pain of being in a workhouse against the pain of getting a real job. Unfortunately, the system was flawed as not all unemployed people are lazy. Particularly in some parts of England it was common for workers to get short term jobs and rely on the poor law system until they got their next job. In some cases it actually cost more to establish workhouses than to maintain the existing system, and during depressions the workhouses would often be unable to cope with the increased level of unemployed people.

Chadwick later investigated public health and published a Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population in 1842. In this Chadwick argued that bad living conditions were often responsible for the death or sickness of the main breadwinner in families. Thus, improving living conditions would result in a reduction in poor law costs. The result of this was the 1848 Public Health Act which set up a structure to provide funding for local boards of health.

Unfortunately, Chadwick had a rather abrasive personality which alienated many people from him. In some areas there were public demonstrations against him and the workhouse system. A laissez-faire attitude was prominent in England at the time and many people with power in local governments disliked the idea of centralisation. Because of this, they did not take kindly to Chadwick's hassling and attempts to interfere in order to establish boards of health and workhouses. Because he was so unpopular he was eventually forced to resign from the Central board of health.

Chadwick was knighted and died in 1890. There is a Chadwick Building in his memory at UCL College, London.

This is mostly from memory. I did refresh my memory a bit from the following sources:

  • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PHchadwick.htm
  • http://www.civeng.ucl.ac.uk/edwin.htm

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