This paper examines the explanatory power of Piven and Cloward's cyclical theory of social relief through an exploration of policies in England from the twelfth through the nineteenth century. While there is evidence of a cyclical trend between restrictive and liberal policies in this period, we find that those shifts cannot consistently be explained by social turmoil. There is also evidence of a long-term trend toward a more restrictive aging policy which is unaccounted for by cyclical theory. This trend can be better explained by a more basic set of ideas uncerlying cyclical theory, i.e., the needs of a capitalist economic system.

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