When loans were introduced as part of the Social Fund in 1988 they were
argued to be a new way of addressing poverty. Using primary sources this paper demonstrates that this was not always the case; between 1819 and 1948 it was possible for poor law authorities to offer relief as a loan rather than a grant. The paper examines the antecedents of legislation allowing relief to be given on loan, tracing them to the 1817 report of the Select Committee on the Poor Laws. The idea of loaning relief is then traced through to the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. Using the arguments of Webb and Webb (1909) the paper shows that there were three main ways – to supplement the relief of destitution, to aid the recovery of relief and to deter people from claiming relief – in which poor law authorities used loans. A fourth usage – to relieve the needs of the dependents of strikers – employed in the industrial disputes of the 20th century is also discussed. The paper concludes by suggesting reasons for variations in the practice of loaning relief.