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By the time of the reign of Elizabeth I, poverty was a serious problem in England. From this period onwards the government made various attempts to deal with its causes and effects. The measures that were introduced relied upon locally-based administration and fund-raising, and these efforts were founded on methods of distinguishing between the "deserving" and "undeserving" poor and of meeting the needs of those deemed to be "deserving".

More than two centuries later, these attempts culminated in the Poor Law Amendment Act, which led to the introduction of Union Workhouses throughout England. This section provides background information on the various Poor Laws introduced to help tackle the problem of poverty, on different aspects of life in the workhouses, and on the history of Herefordshire's workhouses.