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Despite rapid increases in manual workers’ wages, poverty rates among the elderly remained high in late Victorian England, although they varied significantly across Poor Law Unions. This paper begins by examining the ability of workers to provide for their old age. A data set is constructed, consisting of all English Poor Law Unions in 1891-2, and regression equations are estimated in order to explain variations across unions in pauperism rates. This is followed by the testing of several conjectures made by contemporaries, and repeated by historians, regarding the deterrent effect of workhouse relief, the effects of wages and of the industrial character of Poor Law Unions on pauperism rates, and regional differences in workers’ reliance on the poor law. The paper then examines the implications of these results for the debate over national old age pensions in the decades before the adoption of the Old Age Pension Act.