« PreviousContinue »
Observations on the Poor Laws. der some general rule, and that, in was complained of. In the same this way, the foundation was laid for a strain Bishop Burnet touches the very system of profuse and indiscriminate root of the mischief, in the admirable charity, which, by gradually corrupt remarks with which he concludes his ing the habits of the labouring classes, history : “ It may be thought (he obo would necessarily multiply its objects, serves) a strange motion from a bishop,
that new and increased contribu- that the act for charging every parish tions would be required, and that, to maintain their own poor were well from this fertile fountain of evil, new reviewed, if not taken away, this seems streams of corruption would thus con- to encourage idle and lazy people in tinually issue, to vitiate and to de- their sloth, when they know they must stroy the moral feelings of the people. be maintained." It is evident, that the system contains The evil, however, was then only within itself a principle of continual in its infancy. It has now attained increase, and unless it meets with to greater maturity, and it seems to some decided check, it may proceed be still progressive. We have no aca. in absorbing the capital of the country count of the annual sums collected for to an indefinite extent. These evils the maintenance of the poor previous are pointed out with great force and to the year 1776. In that year the effect by the Select Committee ap- sum collected was L, 1,720,361, of pointed by the House of Commons which L. 1,556,804 was expended on to report upon this important sub- the poor. On an average of the years ject. * By diminishing the natu- 1783, 1784, and 1785, the sumn raised ral impulse (it is observed) by was L.2,167,749, of which L.2,004,238 which men are instigated to indus- was employed in the same manner.' try and good conduct, by supersed. In 1803, the sum raised had ining the necessity of providing, in the creased to L.5,348,205, of which, season of health and vigour, for the L. 4,267,965 was expended on the wants of sickness and old age, and by poor ; and in 1815, the sum of making poverty and misery the condi- L. 7,068,999 was raised, and there was tions on which relief is to be obtained, expended on the poor L. 5,072,028. your Committee cannot but fear, froin Beyond this period, no returns have a reference to the increased numbers been made. But it is observed in the of the poor, and increased and increase report of the Committee, that these ing amount of the sums raised for sums have been since largely increastheir relief, that this system is perpe- ed. “ Independent (it is observed) tually encouraging and increasing the of the pressure of any temporary or amount of misery it was designed to accidental circumstances, and making alleviate, creating, at the same time, every allowance for an increased poan unlimited demand on funds which pulation, the rise in the price of proit cannot augment; and as every sys- visions and other necessaries of life,' tem of relief founded on compulso-' and aʼmisapplication of part of these ry enactments must be divested of funds, it is apparent, that both the the character of benevolence, so it number of paupers, and the amount is without its beneficial effects; as of money levied by assessment, are it proceeds from no impulse of cha progressively increasing ; while the rity, it creates no feelings of gratitude, situation of the poor appears not to and not unfrequently engenders dis- have been in a corresponding degree positions and habits calculated to se- improved ; and the Committee is of parate rather than unite the interests opinion, that whilst the existing poor-' of the higher and lower orders of the laws, and the system under which community."
they are administered, remain unchange The practical evils flowing from ed, there does not exist any power of this system very soon began to be very arresting the progress of this increase, seriously felt, and we find King Wil till it shall no longer be found possia liare, in the year 1699, expressing, in ble to augment the sums raised by a speech from the throne, his regret assessinent." that the increase of the poor had be. For this alarming and growing evil corne so great a burden to the kingmany remedies or palliatives have dom; and that their loose and idle been suggested, It has been somelife had contributed in some measure' times proposed, by the institution of to the depravity of mappers which schools, and by the general diffusion
of instruction, so to reform the habits lief has been extended to all classes of and feelings of the labouring classes, labourers, and it has been adminias to render them averse to receive stered in order generally to add to the parish relief, and in this manner, by earnings of the labourer, when the the mild operation of an improved provisions were scarce and dear, or system of manners, to free society when the wages of labour were low. from the disgrace of systematic beg- Now, what is this but endeavouring gary. In the same spirit banks have forcibly to raise the rate of wages, or been instituted, in order to afford the to fix a maximum on the price of prolabourer a safe deposit for such sav- visions? When provisions are scarce, ings as he may be disposed to accu- or, in other words, when a smaller mulate into a provision for sickness supply has to be divided among the or for age. But without at all depre- same number of consumers, it is evia ciating the utility of publicinstruction, dent, that a smaller portion must fall and without inquiring into the policy to the share of each individual. This of the many other contrivances which smaller portion the able-bodied lahave been established for the benefit bourer will be enabled to purchase by of the poor, it may be remarked, that means of his wages, and if, by general these expedients touch not the source and profuse donations of money, he of the evil. They leave the grand is placed in a condition to purprinciple of corruption, namely, the chase more, it is clear that he will establishment of a compulsory provi- be benefited at the expence of some sion for the poor, in full vigour; and other order of the community; for it while this standing source of moral is certain, that when there is a genedepravation exists, it will counteract ral deficiency in the supply of provithe operation of the best laid plans for sions, the want must fall somewhere, the improvement of the labourer. and that donations of money, though Experience proves, that the human they may alter the distribution, can mind requires the continual stimulus never affect the quantity of a deficient of necessity to preserve its healthful supply. In the year 1795, the sysand vigorous tone. Man can only be tem was begun in several counties, of trained to habits of labour, energy, and regulating the rate of wages, and a foresight, by the fear of want; and let table was published for the direction this great spring of human action be of magistrates and overseers, in which but once relaxed, and he degenerates the wages necessary for the subsisinto all the degrading vices of idleness tence of the labourer were computed and mendicity. "In vain with one hand according to the price of bread, and you attempt to lead him to morality and when they fell below the computed happiness, while, with the other, you standard, they were made up to it by are scattering far and wide the seeds a parish contribution. Wages were, of debasement and misery. The sys- in short, to rise in proportion to the tem of profuse and indiscriminate cha- price of provisions, which was in effect rity must be restricted. Beggary must saying, that the mass of the commube deprived of this its main stay, and nity should consume the same quanthen we may expect all the manly tity of provisions when the supply was virtues of fortitude, energy, foresight, deficient, as when it was abundant. and industry, to flourish in their own Under this system Mr Malthus mencongenial soil of hardy independence. tions, that he has known labourers,
It is the opinion of many eminent whose earnings amounted to lls. per writers on this question, that, by the week, receive 14s. from the parish. modern corruptions which have been “Such instances,” heobserves," could introduced into the adıninistration of not possibly have been universal, withthe poor-laws, the 43d of Queen Eli- out raising the price of wheat very zabeth has been extended far beyond much higher than it was during any its original intention, and that this part of the dearth. But similar inact had no relation whatever to the stances were by no means unfrequent, able-bodied labourer who was in em- and the system itself of measuring ployment; but merely contemplated the relief given by the price of grain the relief of those who were sick or was universal.” The consequences infirm, or who, from some temporary are such as might have been expected. accident, were for the present unem- The exactions for the poor have raployed. In later times, however, re- pidly increased, while it does not ap. pear, that, by all these enormous con- labour is supported; if, therefore, tributions for their relief, their con- the compalsory application of any dition has been in any degree im- part of this wealth tends (as it alproved.
ways must tend) to employ the porThis view of the subject, then, tion it distributes less profitably than suggests an important and seemingly it would have been, if left to the inpracticable reformation in the present terested superintendence of its ownadministration of the poor-laws. If ers, it cannot fail, by thus diminishthe act of Queen Elizabeth were strict ing the funds which would otherwise ly confined to its only proper objects, have been applicable to the mainten namely, to such as are disabled by nance of labour, to place the whole age, sickness, or bodily infirmity, a body of labourers in a worse situation large class of paupers would be with than that in which they would otherdrawn from the operation of this sys. wise have been placed." tem, and the expence would be pro- The Committee afterwards add the portionally retrenched. It is not following judicious observations: “Unmeant, however, that any reformation der these circumstances, if the deof this nature should be attempted mand for labour suddenly decreases, suddenly, or without due warning, the provisions of the poor-law alone more especially in the present circum- are looked to, to supply the place of stances of the country. But when all those circumstances which result trade and the demand for labour are only from vigilance and caution ; the somewhat revived, there could be no powers of law, whilst they profess to possible hardship in leaving the able- compel both labour and wages to be bodied labourer, in the full vigour of provided, under these circumstances, health and strength, to depend for in reality effect nothing but a more subsistence on his own industry; and wasteful application of the diminished in warning him that he had no reason capital than would otherwise take to expect relief on any future occasion, place; they tend thereby materially to unless in the case of sickness or infir- reduce the real wages of free labour, mity, from any system of public and thus essentially to injure the lacharity.
, bouring classes. In this situation of - With respect to another class of things, not only the labourers, who objects comprehended in the act of have hitherto maintained themselves, Queen Elizabeth, namely, the chil. are reduced, by the perversion of the dren of the poor, and those who funds of their employers, to seek ashave no employment, and for this sistance from the rate, but the smaller purpose to procure a convenient capitalists themselves are gradually restock of flax, hemp, wool, &c., it duced, by the burden of the assessstems obvious, as has been already ments, to take refuge in the same re, stated, that the overseers cannot pro- source. The effect of these compulcure those materials on which to set sory distributions is to pull down what the poor to work, without in so far is above, not to raise what is low; and encroaching on the general funds of they depress high and low together, productive industry, of which they beneath the level of what was origiform a part, and that the effect of nally lowest.” these contrivances, therefore, is only The Committee then proceed to to divert a portion of the capital of the point out the following method for community into a channel, in which freeing the system from this unneit will be less beneficially employed cessary burden : “ If these views of than when it is allowed to remain un- the effect of undertaking to provide der the management of the private employment for all who want it are manufacturer. These views are ex- founded in truth, there results from plained in the late Report of the Se- them an obvious necessity of aban-. lect Committee on this subject with doning gradually the impossible congreat force and clearness. « An in- dition, that all who require it shall be creased demand for labour (it is ob- provided with work, which, whether served) is the only means by which or not it be the real object of the stathe wages of labour can ever be tute, has by many been held to be so. raised; and there is nothing which On this head, your Committee subcan increase the demand, but the mit, that if the provision which they increase of the wealth by which have pointed out be made for children
whose parents cannot maintain them, any scope under this system for the and the provision also for such as are hateful passions of envy, anger, or reof the class of poor and impotent be venge, by which the world has been continued, the labouring classes will so long tormented, Mr Owen lays it continue to be relieved from the hea- down as a fundamental proposition, viest part of their necessities. But if that land, labour, and capital, under any portion of the general and indis- more skilful management, might be criminate relief which is now given, made to support four times the nummust of necessity be withheld, your ber of people which are at present Committee think, it can be withheld maintained by it, and, under this no from none by whom the privation tion, he proposes collecting into workcould so well be borne, as by those houses, containing from 500 to 1500 who are in the full vigour of health persons, all the poor who cannot find and strength; it may therefore be employment ; and in these work. worthy of consideration, whether, if, houses, they are to be furnished with under favourable circumstances of the work, to labour in common,--and to country, the demand for labour should form a sort of primitive society. It again be materially enlarged, it might does not appear that such an estanot be enacted, that no person should blishment, however admirably it might be provided with work by the parish, be managed in its details, would differ other than those who are already so from an ordinary work-house in this provided, and who might be permite respect,--that it must be supported ted to continue until they could pro- by capital taken from the general fund, vide for themselves ; but if the change for maintaining productive industry. by this provision might be thought Mr Owen cannot create capital. He too rapid, limitations might still be takes capital already accumulated, and, provided, the effect of which would in so far, he diminishes the stock out render it more gradual, as by enacting, of which labour is employed and supthat none shall be provided with em- ported. The effect of his plans, thereployment who are between the ages of fore, is merely to transfer the labour, 18 and 30; and then, after a certain er to the work-house, and in this lapse of time, that none between 16 and there is neither novelty nor ingenuity. 35, 40, and so on, until the object As to the reformation which he proshall be gradually effected.”
poses to accomplish in the habits and Such seem to be the only practi dispositions of mankind, this is chicable expedients for circumscribing merical in the extreme. The world, the operation of the poor-laws within from time immemorial, has gone on in a their original limits; for, however 0. course of strife, violence, and mischief. ther and milder plans may aid the But a new era, we are told, is now to effect of this radical reformation, it is commence. These vices are to be certain that the poor will never be superseded by gentleness, mildness, trained to habits of independence, un- and peace. All is to be changed by til those profuse and indiscriminate the fiat of Mr Owen. He seems to donations which they are taught to imagine, that he has found out a redepend on, beretrenched. No man who cipe for producing whatever quantity can live in idleness will ever practise of wisdom and virtue he chooses to industry, and, if the poor are taught call into action; and he expects the to look to a certain provision, inde- world to give him credit for the pos. pendent of their own exertions, we session of this wonderful power. It may be assured that all plans for their is useless to enter farther into the de improvement will be for ever vain. tails of a scheme which is so wild and
Among other projects for the im- absurd in principle. We know that provement and happiness of the la- the foundation for vice and misery is bouring classes, we may here notice laid deep in the constitution of human the schemes of Mr Owen, which have society, that these evils, though they of late attracted a considerable share may be palliated by wise and benefiof attention. Unlike all other reform- cial institutions, can never be reers, Mr Owen proposes at once to moved; and the pompous pretensions, banish vice and misery entirely out therefore, of those political projecof the world. He is to place the la- tors, who, seeing no difficulties in bouring classes in such prosperity and the way of their schemes, undertake, plenty, that there will be no longer. without hesitation, to reverse the set
tled plan of human society, are not for the poor beyond all reasonable calculated to stand their ground be proportion. The assessments also fore the canvassing spirit of the pre regularly and uniformly: increased sent age. Mr Owen deals chiefly in from their commencement. Claimants that sort of declamation which springs soon arose to absorb all the provision from an ardent and overheated zeal. made, and hence new assessments He seems to belong to the school of were found necessary. This clearly large promise and little performance; shews the danger of the system which and with regard to his motives, we have necessarily tends to corruption. A no doubt they are good, equally so with salutary jealousy still prevails in this the Knight of La Mancha when he country against the undue increase of proceeded to demolish the windmills, public assessments for the poor, and or to indulge in any of the other ge- it is only, we may be well assured, by nerous fancies which sprung from his constant watchfulness and care, that disordered imagination. But we hold, they can be restrained within due lithat all schemes which are thorough- mits, and prevented from degeneratly impraeticable should be discourage ing, as in England, into a source of ed as speedily as possible, because their general misery and corruption. tendency is to divert our attention from what is useful and practical, to what 15 jane and speculative, and the GENERAL VIEW OF THE CREDIT AND useless. - We may conclude with observing,
COMMERCE OF THE COUNTRY. that the laws in Scotland, for the sup THERE can be no doubt that the port of the poor, are similar in their commerce of this country, along with principle to those in England. But that of the world at large, has for the manners of the people have, in a some years past been exposed to se great measure, superseded any general rious derangement; and the consesystem of parochial relief. In Scot- quences arising from this state of land, dependent poverty is consi- things have been severely felt by all dered disgraceful, and even for the those whose livelihood depended in relief of the sick and infirm, there any degree on the ancient state of is in many parishes no stated fund commercial relations existing in Euexcept what is collected weekly at rope. The merchant has been ruined the church doors, the fruit of volun- by the want of a market for his goods, tary charity. In the larger towns, and the mechanic has been exposed to however, assessments are now imposed suffer from the want of a market for for the relief of the poor. The amount his industry; while, in the course of of the sum required is fixed at a joint this disastrous period, the price of promeeting of the minister, elders, and visions has fluctuated between the opheritors of the parish. It falls on the positeextremesof extraordinary cheapreal rents of property, either in houses ness, and extraordinary dearth. . or lands, and is paid jointly by the All the evils to which the labourer beritors and tenants. In the admi- was formerly exposed were necessarily nistration of this charity, it is stated aggravated by the scarcity of subsistin the report of the General Assem- ence, while returning plenty brought bly, that no relief is ever given to the not with it all the alleviation of his able-bodied labourer. The money unhappy condition which might have collected is considered to be a provision been expected, for the cheapness of for the sick and the infirm; and the provisions was of little avail to him common labourer, who is relieved in while he was without employment, consequence of sickness, immediately and without the means, therefore, of ceases to receive assistance when he purchasing a sufficient quantity of subreturns to his former industry. In sistence, at however reduced a rate. many parishes, however, where pub- For some time past, however, the counlic assessments for the poor were try has been recovering from this extraestablished, the ill effects of the sys- ordinary depression ; some favourable ter became very soon apparent. It symptoms in its condition are now was observed, that the introduction of perceptible. Its commerce now finds regular assessments always produced a reviving demand for its products; an influx of paupers from other pa- and the increasing plenty of money dishes, and thus swelled the demands has begun to reanimate its languish: