In the 17th and 18th centuries, each parish was left to provide for the needs of its poor people out of its own resources. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act created a system of Poor Law Unions across the whole of England and Wales and for the purposes of more effective administration, groups of parishes were created around a central point. To civil servants and local politicians, this may have have made good sense but to many poor or old or handicapped people, this presented the additional hardship of permanent removal to a place many miles from their birthplaces, relatives or friends.
The prevailing attitude of the times was that if you needed to turn to a Workhouse for support, then you must have brought it upon yourself through irresponsible or sinful behaviour - an idea which prevailed well into the 20th century. There are many people still alive who were brought up to consider having to turn to the Workhouse as a terrible social stigma; the reason you can still find echoes of these old attitudes is that the Poor Law Unions survived intact until 1930 when the system was brought under the control of local councils. A world war put a stop to any further talk of change and even in 1948, when control passed to the government through nationalisation and a separate benefits system was set up, the ancient buildings, with all their connotations, were kept in use by most of the new local health services.