The Poor Law and Charity

The Rev. J. Llewelyn Davies (Macmillan's Magazine November 1866, pages 131-142)

The question, By what methods may destitution or extreme indigency be most safely and effectually relieved? — is one which in all countries will demand from time to time to be reconsidered. No civilized country can allow its destitute inhabitants to starve. No Christian community can disclaim the special obligation which rests on Christians to care for the needy and the afflicted. Eut experience has shown that for the effectual relief of the poor something more is wanted than simply to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked, whether with our own money or with any one else's. It has been proved to be possible to create and inflame pauperism by the very attempt to relieve it. Mere liberality, without self-restraint and wisdom, may nourish idleness, sycophancy, and imposture; may give occasion to endless grudging and discontent; may, in a word, utterly demoralize a population. And the wisdom which is needed to watch over the exercise of liberality must have a careful regard to the particular conditions and exigencies of the time. The relief of distress, therefore, we must be content to find a standing social problem, demanding to be solved over and over again. If the difficulties of the question drop out of sight for a while, they are apt to overtake us with the arrears of our neglect. It is one of the studies we can never complete, how we may relieve the poor so as to do them the most good and the least harm.

At this moment public attention is fixed in an unusual degree upon the relief of the poor in the metropolis. Great blots have been discovered in two departments of our workhouse system, — in the treatment of vagrants and in the condition of the workhouse infirmaries. We are looking to see what plans of reform may issue from the office of the Poor-law Board. There is a very general feeling that something ought to be done by the Government. At the same time there have been many manifestations of a growing conviction that the richer members of society ought to do more, voluntarily and personally, to lighten the burdens of their poverty-stricken neighbours. Gentlemen and ladies have made it their business to journey from the West-end into the dreary tracts from which luxury and leisure have long fled, to offer sympathy and aid to the suffering. And probably not one of those who have actually tried the work of relief on a general scale but has been perplexed and pained by the difficulties besetting the task. The clergy are continually confessing to one another the disappointments they experience, and the misgivings which haunt them, as almoners. Belief is given, for the most part, and felt to be given, in an irregular and haphazard kind of way. Yet, when thought and watchfulness and concerted action have been brought to bear upon the distribution of relief, — as for example in Lancashire during the cotton famine, or in London during the recent visitation of cholera, — the resulting advantages have been so great and so manifest that it has often been asked whether these benefits could not in any way be made permanent.

I desire in this paper to raise the question, What may be wisely attempted in the relief of distress by the Poor-law and by voluntary benevolence respectively? Neither agency, it may here be taken for granted, can in this country supersede the other. In that case each must have its own task. I do not indeed assume that the two agencies may not be blended to some extent, as well as work side by side. But there must be some ends at which it is proper for a legal system to aim, others which are better fitted for voluntary charity; and the inquiry, what these are, may lead us to conclusions as to the kind of improvement we should seek to introduce into the practice both of our Poor-law and of our almsgiving.

On the whole, I cannot but share for my own part the convictions of those who believe that Poor-law relief ought to be kept at a rigidly uniform minimum. But this belief is contrary to the general persuasion of philanthropists, and it is one, indeed, against which the feelings of every humane person must continually revolt. Who that sees anything of workhouse administration is not tempted to wish every day that the wards might be made a little more comfortable, the dietary a little more appetising, and, above all, that the out-door relief might be dispensed more easily and more amply? Who can help desiring that the respectable poor who have fallen into misfortune should be treated more indulgently, or less sternly, than those who make themselves destitute through idleness and profligacy? It is most natural, therefore, that many benevolent persons should seek for changes in our workhouse administration answering to such desires. The idea of our Poor-law system as an arrangement which should secure comfortable asylums and appropriate provision for the poor in sickness and old age, is one which it may well seem strange to repudiate, and which is certainly far from being realized at present. Ought we not then to strive that our accommodation for the aged may be made as good as that in average alms-houses, that our schools may be put on a level with charitable orphanages, and that our sick wards may bo like those of our best hospitals? There is certainly nothing extravagant in such aims, and, if we decline to adopt them, we ought to be able to show good reasons for our refusal. There are strong reasons, I think, why we should dissociate these aims and endeavours from our Poor-law system.

It is a very common belief that the one great objection to a more liberal administration of the Poor-law is tho additional cost it would entail. Tho cost would undoubtedly have to be considered; but I readily admit that, for any great improvements demanded by humanity, we ought to be willing, as we are certainly able, to find the money. Ratepayers dislike paying rates, and they have a right to insist that they shall not be made to contribute to any wasteful expenditure. But our rates are not really very heavy, even in the poorer parts of London. To complain of the rates, especially when they are rising, is one of the functions of patriotism, and the difference between the rates at the West-end and the East-end has an ugly look. But I believe that, for thoroughly defensible purposes, rates would bear to be very considerably increased. The real objections to the policy just indicated appear to me to consist in certain necessary characteristics of our public relief system. The following considerations are reasons against hoping to find in this system a satisfactory provision for the respectable poor. In other words, they are reasons why all decent poor people should shrink from the workhouse.

1. Poor-law relief must open its doors to the very dregs of the population. Pauperism is not necessarily a crime; but paupers are sure to consist in no trifling proportion of the worthless and vicious, if not of actual criminals. Crime, even when energetic, is not always prosperous, whilst dissolute vice generally leads to poverty and sickness. The 'paupers' of any parish or union may not be in fact so degraded as this à priori consideration would lead us to expect; but it is certain that the destitute and miserable class will always include many who by their own grievous faults have brought themselves to distress, and some who have been the vilest of mankind.

2. Poor-law relief may be claimed as a matter of right. The poor are perfectly aware of this; the Poor-law Board and other monitors are continually impressing it upon Guardians and officials who show symptoms of forgetting it. The idle, the improvident, the reckless, know what they have to look to as their last resource. They are in no danger of dropping into any condition more miserable than that which is guaranteed to them by the English legislature. Do what they will, live or spend as they may, there is always the house as a last refuge. They need ask no favour, and show no gratitude; all that they have to do is to force themselves with determination upon the officials and the Board.

3. Relief being thus guaranteed as a matter of right to all who are miserable enough to claim it, a perpetual siege is kept up by those who are not above parading and feigning misery against the resolution and watchfulness of the official relief-givers. The administration of public relief is subject to a pressure which never relaxes. Importunity and fraud are incessantly at work to win some paltry prize. One of the notorious difficulties of Poor-law management in London and other large towns is the extremely low and savage kind of life which prevails amongst the Irish immigrants. Many of these poor creatures can exist, and even live with some cheerfulness, in a condition to which it seems impossible to refuse aid. In the great poor districts of London, Boards of Guardians and their servants are necessarily in a constant attitude of defence against the appeals and the artifices of the uncivilized class. This attitude inevitably affects the behaviour of the officials, making them at the best primarily repellent towards all applicants. To judge from my own experience as a Guardian, it is the fear of the consequences of giving way at any point to the unceasing pressure of idleness and imposture which, far more than the fear of expending money, makes the Guardians seem hard and harsh.

4. It is impossible to adopt the expedient which all would desire if possible to introduce, of treating applicants according to their character. You cannot safely attempt a moral classification. Workhouse reformers have strenuously urged classification as a remedy for some of the evils of the workhouse system. There are, no doubt, great advantages in classifying according to age and sex and some other external conditions. You may separate all the men from all the women. You may prevent the women from going amongst the children. You may carefully distinguish between the able-bodied and the invalid. But you cannot part the good from the bad, the sheep from the goats. There are no hands in which you can safely place the power to do this. To exempt the respectable from the companionship of the depraved, and to give them other indulgences, would open the door to endless favouritism, and would beget the most irrepressible discontent. This is a sad drawback to every department of our workhouse system. Take the schools, now generally separated from the workhouses, and removed into the country. Everything is done which money can command or experienced wisdom can suggest, to make them really good and wholesome schools, and with very encouraging success. But any day a workhouse school is liable to receive, as its batch of new comers, half a dozen children up to the age of twelve or more years, who may be steeped in all the premature wickedness of low London life. The master may have reason to fear that his flock is going to be miserably infected, but he cannot request the parents or Guardians to send these mauvais sujets to private tutors. It is for the waifs and strays of our juvenile population that workhouse schools exist. And so it is with each class. The people of the best character are always exposed to the profane and vile language, to the lies, to the quarrelsome and slanderous tendencies, of the most degraded. Decent old women, who are not made to come into the house, must be hustled at the door or at the pay-bar by those with whom they feel it a disgrace to be associated. And this is apparently an inevitable condition of the system.

5. Discipline may no doubt do a great deal to make life endurable in such circumstances. But at what a cost is this done! Those who enter the region of dreary unbending uniformity situated within our workhouse walls may not quite leave all hopa behind; but they unquestionably leave all personal freedom at the gate. With the important exception that they may at any time 'take their discharge', the inmates of our workhouses are slaves, with a slavery only exceeded by that of the prison. Apart from the regulations by which every hour of their life is inexorably governed, think of the single fact that paupers are incapable of owning the very smallest piece of private property. An inmate, when he has passed the door, ceases to own the poor clothes he stands up in. They are taken from him, and he puts on a uniform which is the property of the house. If he is allowed to leave the house for an hour, his pockets are searched when he returns. He must open any letters he receives in the presence of an official, lest he should receive postage-stamps or other gifts in an envelope. In the eye of the law he cannot call even his Bible or his Prayer-book his own. No doubt the severity of this rule is mitigated to some extent in practice. But from time to time the relaxations which creep in are found to lead to mischief, and the law is again enforced. At the best, the inmates are made to remember that that is the law under which they live, and that they owe all mitigation of it to an irregular and precarious indulgence.

I confess that this last consideration seems to me sufficient of itself to stamp workhouse life as a form of existence which we ought to try to limit rather than to extend. And I never heard of any agitation for the purpose of abolishing this slavery. There used to be protests made, I remember, against the separation of husband and wife, of parents and children. But these protests, so far as I know, have died out; and philanthropists have of late accepted the leading features of our workhouse system as inevitable. I know of no prevalent feeling at this time with regard to our Poor-law system, except a desire that it should be administered with more even humanity, that the indoor accommodation should be increased and improved, and that out-door relief in the poorer districts should be given more freely. Up to a certain point no one can help sharing this desire; but, if I am right, the considerations I have adduced would lead to the conclusion that all workhouse improvement, so far as it makes the Poor-law system less repellent, would tend to draw our poor into a kind of life from which they ought to shrink with disgust, and, if it dilutes, would also extend, a grievous social malady.

Some will contend that, even if we cannot alter the existing conditions of pauperism, we ought to help the poor to overcome their prejudice against them by insisting that there is no disgrace in applying to the 'house', and by seeking to form a corresponding public opinion. A clergyman recently told me that he is accustomed to impress upon his people that labourers have the same right to be supported by the public when they can no longer earn their own living that any pensioner has to draw his pension. Now, putting aside the question of right, it seems to me to be plainly undesirable thus to smooth the way to pauperism, for two reasons; because, as I have argued, the condition of pauperism is in itself a degrading one, and because the expectation of being supported by the public instead of depending upon a man's own earnings and upon his nearest relations is injurious to any class of society. Pauperism is an ugly word; but the name is not a bit uglier than the thing. And to become insensible to the shame of it implies a loss of self-respect, a growth of the servile temper, from which we ought to pray that our labouring classes may bo delivered. But of course I feel that those who have to speak to the distressed poor on this subject are in a position of great difficulty. It would be monstrous to wound the feelings and trample on the self-respect of those who are compelled to seek relief at the workhouse by treating this act as a disgrace. I hold as strongly as any one that rough and discourteous behaviour towards applicants on the part of workhouse officials ought to be resented and checked. But I think there should always be a tacit understanding that proper pride would keep even the poorest, if possible, from coming upon the parish. And it should be steadily represented as a discredit to children to allow their parents, in old age, to claim a maintenance out of the rates.

One word, by the way, upon the duty of children to support their parents. One of the worst effects of easy public relief is, that it certainly saps the sense of this obligation. It is very commonly forgotten that the aged poor, when they have children, are a natural charge upon them. The law of Elizabeth, followed by our Poor-law Amendment Act, makes children as responsible for their parents as parents for their children. It is difficult to enforce the law, except in the extreme cases in which the children are obviously well off. But opinion ought surely to testily to the very utmost that it is the business of children to 'succour' father and mother, and that by casting off an aged parent upon public support they bring real dishonour upon themselves.

The reasons I have given would deter us from looking to the administration of the Poor-law, purified and enlarged and softened, as the complete provision for the distressed. Now, supposing the Poor-law to be administered with such rigour and uniformity, according to the principle which I have advocated, as to wear something of its present aspect of
a penal system, a good deal of the poverty which would knock at the workhouse doors would rightly be left to such relief as it could extort there, or to such other alternatives as it might find less disagreeable. But the distress which is not immediately associated with vice and idleness, — being caused, for example, by illness or by isolation in old age, — might be relieved to an indefinite extent by voluntary charity. It would be better, I conceive, that voluntary charity should thus be an organized complement to the Poor-law, than that it should be interfused and amalgamated with it. A large amount of money is now expended by societies and by individuals in relieving distress in the metropolis. But, on the whole, the operation of this mode of relief is irregular to the last degree. If the task of relieving distress is to be divided between the Poor-law and almsgiving, there is as much need that our almsgiving should be organized as that the abuses of our workhouses should be removed. Assuming this division to be attempted, our workhouse system needs to bo cleansed and carefully administered, and then we may hope to see it gradually contracted: our voluntary charity needs to be organized, and then it may be extended very far beyond its present limits. We should thus have a double instrument at our command, and, in seeking to make either part perfect, should deal with it as the complement of the other.

1. Upon any theory, there will be great differences of opinion as to what improvements ought to be introduced into our workhouse system. To many, the regulations sanctioned by the Poor-law Board have seemed, and will seem, excessively harsh and un-Christian. But there can be no diversity of opinion as to the fact that neglect and inhumanity which violate the rule supposed to be in force are shocking scandals, which we are bound to find some effectual means of preventing. So far as the representations of Mr. Ernest Hart and his colleagues are directed against conditions which the Poor-law Board or any Board of Guardians have deliberately approved, we may venture to hold that they ought to be fairly canvassed and regarded from other points of view as well as those of philanthropy and medical science. But these gentlemen have unearthed abuses and cruelties which are simply unequivocal horrors, and the only question is, how they have come about, and what securities we can find against their recurrence.

The country is under deep obligations to the Lancet Commissioners, and those who have aided them in the Association for Improving the Treatment of the Sick Poor, for the labour, the enterprise, and the tenacity of purpose, with which they have set themselves to the accomplishment of their generous task. And on the principle that aucun grand problème ne saurait être assez posé sans une solution quelconque, the scheme they have proposed, even if not accepted, may yet be welcomed. But I cannot persuade myself that this scheme — namely, to establish six great hospitals to be supported separately by a uniform metropolitan rate — will commend itself itself to those who are charged with the general administration of the Poor-law. It would obviously be extremely inconvenient to cut this administration into two parts, making each part chargeable to a different rate. The difficulty of distinguishing between the sick who should go to the hospitals and the sick who should remain in the workhouse infirmaries would become a troublesome one when complicated with a different chargeability and a right of admission. And philanthropists would by no means be agreed in regarding those who are treated for acute sickness in our infirmaries as the class which exceptionally calls for a freer expenditure. A society of ladies who interested themselves in workhouses found their sympathy chiefly excited by the chronically and incurably infirm, and appealed for exceptional indulgence towards that class. A clergyman, who, under the title of 'An East-end Incumbent' [G.H. McGill of Christ Church Watney Street] has agitated long and earnestly for an equalization of the poor-rate, and who, as the chaplain of St. George's-in-the-East Workhouse, is familiar with the interior of an infirmary in a poor district, has selected the scanty allowance of outdoor relief as the evil which should chiefly be remedied by the adoption of a uniform rate. Then there are the poor who lie sick at home. If these were visited by a Commission, a more painful report would be made, I think, than that of the Lancet Commissioners.

I noticed the following sentence lately in the Spectator newspaper, referring to the condition of this class: "Not one of the houses of the poor is fit to have an invalid as an inmate, unless the object be to hasten the death of the patient and poison his relatives." Even in the worst existing infirmaries, it might be inferred, the sick poor will not bo worse off than in their own houses. And this may account for the fact which must have perplexed many clergymen, that the poor have not been much in the habit of complaining of the infirmaries. No single complaint of infirmary treatment remains in my own memory, and I find that other clergymen have had the same experience. It has been said that the poor have been afraid to complain. But this is a mistake. I have myself listened, I believe, to thousands of complaints, the great majority of them having been aimed at relieving-officers and inspectors for withholding out-door relief. It is certain that the poor have not in general associated the idea of cruelty with the workhouse infirmary. If by raising the treatment of the sick we are to draw the vast number who now endure their illnesses at home into the new hospitals, the present statistics will be wholly superseded, and it will be difficult to say for how many provision must be made. There is only one class which ought evidently to be subtracted from those which are chargeable to a local rate, — the class of casuals or vagrants. It would be well if these could be entirely dissociated from the workhouses, and provided for by a separate establishment.

Throughout our whole workhouse system, and not in one branch only, what is wanted is, first, that reasonable rules be laid down, and then that they be acted upon. It is obviously important that the treatment of the poor should be tolerably uniform over the metropolis. It is still more important that there should not be one treatment in name and another in reality. The rules prescribed should be actually enforced, and if additional expenditure is needed, it should be incurred. Now I can hardly doubt that administrative vigour and efficiency would be promoted by establishing a central system for London. And 1 think it probable that, if the whole system were placed under a responsible department, it would have the best chance ot being well worked. A Board of Guardians is an exceedingly ill-devised executive. It would be folly to expect sustained vigour or vigilance, or enterprise in dealing with novel difficulties, from an annually elected body, comprising many persons, with an equally diffused responsibility. The notion that all wonld go right if there were more 'gentlemen' amongst the Guardians is in the main fallacious. The best Guardians are by no means always the 'gentlemen' of the Board, and a really able educated man is likely to find himself provokingly powerless amidst the looseness of the system. By far the most important function of Guardians, as of Vestrymen, is the selection and appointment of officials; and perhaps the chief advantage of a gentlemanly element in a Board is in pccuring a more dignified behaviour on the part of the Board towards its officials. For the real government is in the hands of the executive officers; and a workhouse is well or ill administered not so much according to the efficiency of the Guardians of the year, as according to the ability and integrity of its permanent staff.

Although, however, I do not think it possible that the various Boards of Guardians should manage the relief of the poor in London so efficiently as a thoroughly responsible department, I share strongly the feeling of those who would regret to see these Boards displaced. We have to consider what we should lose as well as what we should gain. I was early imbued with an orthodox belief in our local institutions; and subsequent experience, while it has convinced me that local representative Boards are not efficient in administration, has certainly not led me to think them valueless incumbrances. They have many important social and political advantages, which we ought not carelessly to throw away. And the prevalent English feeling is so strongly in favour of what is called 'local self-government', that any attempt to supersede it would probably meet with an insurmountable opposition.

It is argued that, if you have a general metropolitan rate, you must in consistency adopt a centralized management, and that you must have a general rate, because the poorer districts cannot possibly bear the additional expenditure which is imperatively demanded. But the actual burden of the rate in the poorer districts is exaggerated in this argument. High rates and low rents for the most part go together, being equally due to the poverty-stricken character of a neighbourhood. This is disadvantageous for the landlords; but the owners of house property are not the class for whom our sympathy is demanded, and the loss to the landlord through the higher rate is insignificant compared with his loss through the lower rent. Wherever there is a keen competition for houses, it is sufficiently evident that the landlord in effect will pay the rate. Those who pay the utmost they can afford for house-rent always consider the rates in their calculations, so that, if the rates were permanently lowered, the rents would rise. But, even if we suppose tho burden to be borne by the ratepayer, the sum actually paid by him as poor-rate is not so heavy a contribution as it is commonly supposed to be. From inquiries I have made, I am disposed to believe that the poor-rate (strictly so called) seldom exceeds or amounts to two per cent, on the income of the ratepayer. I know of cases in the East-end parishes in which it does not amount to one per cent. The heaviest poor-rate would not count for very much as an integral portion of the rent; and there can be no doubt that any one with a fixed income would find it decidedly more economical to take a house of a given size in the East-end than in the West-end. I am not here considering the justice of an equalization of tho poor-rate, which is chiefly a landlords' question, but the severity of the pressure of the rate upon the East-end ratepayers. With reference to this point, I observe that in the first place a rate varying between one and two per cent, on income is not one which has reached an evident maximum, and in the next place that the rate is in effect a moderate addition to a low rent. It must also be borne in mind that, if many of the East-end ratepayers are poor, the West-end ratepayers are not all of them rich. Whilst, therefore, I should not oppose a central or uniform metropolitan management, if desirable on other grounds, because it would involve an equalizing of the rate, it does not appear to me that we are bound to adopt the uniform management in order that we may be free to equalize the rate. [It is stated in the all but incredible account recently made public of the municipal politics of New York, that the local taxation of New York is eight times as much per head as that of London.]

How, then, may we hope to attain the necessary improvement and the continuous good administration of our workhouse system? The most obvious answer is, By an extended action and
increased vigilance on the part of the Poor-law Board. It is notorious that the Poor-law Board is invested with powers far beyond those which it has ever exercised in the metropolis. In an important paper in Fraser's Magazine for last September, Mr. Edwin Chadwick affirms that it was distinctly intended by those who helped to bring in the Poor-law Amendment Act that the Commissioners should govern the metropolis, so far as the relief of the poor is concerned, at their discretion; and, to quote his words, "that the functions of the annually elected Guardians should be mainly of audit and supervision of the paid officers, to hear complaints and see that they did their duty, to be exercised at monthly rather than weekly meetings" (p.362). The Guardians would no doubt resent interference; but it would be the duty of the Poor-law Commissioners, if they were distinctly held responsible by Parliament for the condition of the workhouses, to insist on the carrying out of their  orders. And a gradual but firm assertion of authority on the part of the Poor-law Board, though it would hardly be popular with Guardians and the ratepayers whom they represent, would be less unpopular than any more sweeping change which has been proposed. Every sensible Guardian is aware that we already owe much of what is creditable in the administration of our workhouses to the supervision of the Poor-law Board; and local patriotism, excessively jealous as it is of Government interference, will reconcile itself to an authority which produces manifestly good effects.

2. The hope of workhouse reform naturally tempts one to hope aleo that the Poor-law system may be so arranged as to provide satisfactorily for all who may come to want. Resisting this temptation for the reasons I have already given, let us consider what might be done by voluntary charity to save the deserving poor from the necessity of claiming legal relief. The power of voluntary charity to do this might be indefinitely increased by its being organized. The grave mischiefs resulting from almsgiving in London are due mainly to a want of concert and deliberation on the part of those who dispense relief. I do not speak now of what has been so thoroughly exposed as the practice of giving to beggars. To give to an unknown beggar ought to be treated as an improper act of self-indulgence, to be excused only by extraordinary ignorance. I refer to a number of systems or agencies crossing one another, worked, not recklessly, but with a somewhat unreflecting benevolence, and not without a spice of competition. Consider what is given away in a poor London locality. There is first the Church relief, dispensed by clergymen and district visitors and lay agents. Then there are the alms which radiate from every dissenting chapel, the alms which follow in the wake of the City Missionary and his meeting, of Mrs. Ranyard's Bible-women and her meeting, the alms given by the Ragged School to the children and their parents. Add what is diffused by the almoners of the Association for the Relief of Distress. Time would fail me to speak of the Kitchens, and Dinner-tables, and Coal and Bread Associations, and local Samaritan or Philanthropic Societies, and Lying-in-Charities, which one after another recur to the memory, all working independently in the same field. Let me only mention further the personal charity which many good men and women exercise in their own neighbourhood. Here is a very considerable quantity of relief, but it is distributed without concert, and, for the most part, very casually and irregularly, in response to applications; and a great deal of it is converted into tickets — an impotent and insulting expedient, by which it is hoped that probable drunkards will be compelled to spend in solids the ninepence they would otherwise spend in liquids. The amount given to each applicant is generally small, because it is desired to make a limited fund go as far as possible. Now
what can be expected in a poor quarter, but that needy persons should use their wits and their industry to get as many of these small gifts as they can? And is it to he expected that they should always mention candidly to each almoner what they get from any other? The evils which might be expected are actually produced. There is hardly a more pathetic subject than the harm done by well-meaning persons in their efforts to do good. Any one who studies closely the history of a parish can see only too plainly the symptoms of the demoralization caused by irregular almsgiving. In individual instances I have watched, whilst utterly powerless to prevent it, the Beggar's Progress down the slope from the first innocent petition to deception and vice and crime. Amongst the causes which alienate the working-classes from our churches and chapels, a place should be given to the contempt felt by them for the pauperized hangers-on at our services and meetings. It is not pleasant to contemplate these evils; and I have known clergymen ai;d benevolent persons contend that you may as well shut your eyes to them, because, come what will, you must relieve the distressed. "Nature and Christ's commands alike enjoin it: you must leave the results to God." Which is to say, that, in blind obedience to an instinct and the letter of a command, you are to put a stumbling-block in the way of a weak brother, and not to mind if it causes him to fall. But cannot our present chaotic almsgiving be organized? — Many of us have read, with a feeling of unhopeful yearning, the accounts of what was achieved by Dr. Chalmers in Glasgow, and of what has been done in Elberfeld and elsewhere, to supersede the Poor-law by voluntary Christian charity. We all see that the Poor-law cannot be superseded, for many a long year at least, in London. But the organization of charity, which would be impracticable in the place of the Poor-law, and which would only fail miserably in trying to compete with it, may be both practicable and effectuai as a complement to it.

In that case it would be necessary to lay down rules for distinguishing between what should be attempted by charity and what should be left to the Poor-law. I beg to offer the following suggestions towards such a distinction. All distress caused immediately by vice or wilful folly should belong to the province of the law. For a different reason, but under the pressure of a strong necessity, all distress arising from want of employment should be similarly dealt with, — except when the loss of employment has an exceptional origin, as in the case of the cotton famine. These two heads comprise both the largest portion, and the obviously impracticable portion, of existing pauperism. Voluntary charity might hope to provide for those who are brought to want by a visitation of illness, and for those who are permanently disabled and without relatives to support them. These would be the two great classes to be saved from the humiliations of the workhouse, and within the latter might be comprised the class of widows who have young children to maintain. I know of no insuperable difficulty in the way of carrying out such a scheme as this. Doubtful cases would frequently occur, but these could be disposed of at discretion by the adjudication of a Committee. More hospitals would be probably wanted: but why should they not be provided? To build and partially endow a hospital, supposing a hospital to be wanted, would have been the best conceivable application of Mr. Peabody's gift: and why should we not have an English Peabody? If it were thought desirable, it would not be difficult to arrange that hospitals should receive a subvention in some form out of the rates. But there would be no call for this, if private charity were abundant.

To administer a comprehensive system of charity such as I have sketched, no machinery would be necessary but that of strong local Committees, each with a sufficiently large area under its management. The Committee should be so composed as to secure general confidence, and thus to absorb into its funds a large portion of the alms now distributed irregularly. District visitors of the usual class would do their work more pleasantly if relieved of the responsibility of giving tickets; and clergymen also might be glad to dissociate from their clerical visiting the office of an almoner. A good Committee would be able to speak with authority to the public of the condition of the poor, and of what is really wanted for relief, — no unimportant point. And the East-end Committees might be aided both in members and in funds from the West-end. The only grave objection that I can foresee to such an organization would be in the natural prejudice of the clergy in favour of ecclesiastical and parochial machinery for relief. But this objection, I think, might be overcome.

The best precedent known to me for the system I propose may be found in a Society which has been in existence for many years at Bath, called 'The Monmouth Street Society, for the Occasional Relief of the Sick Poor, the Encouragement of Industry, and the Suppression of Mendicity'. It embraces the whole of Bath within its operations; it is worked chiefly by laymen, only four names out of its Committee of twenty-four being clerical: and it is intended to act side by side with the Poor-law. When I was best informed about this Society, which 1 have attempted to imitate on a small scale, its Chairman was also the Chairman of the Bath Board of Guardians. A Bath clergyman writing to me the other day reports, "The Society is most admirably conducted, and does immense good in the best of ways."

After all, however, we must be on our guard against expecting and hoping too much from any schemes, legal or voluntary, for dealing directly with pauperism. We cannot by these schemes prevent misery, we can only mitigate it; and we may often fail to do even that. When scandals of destitution, such as deaths from starvation, occur, I think it is far more melancholy that our social system should be one that generates such accidents than that our remedial measures should not have been at hand to relieve them. Probably at no time and in no country has the lot of the poorest class been an agreeable object for the richer to contemplate. We must face the fact that an immense number of our poor fellow-countrymen have to live as they do, and that we cannot do much to raise their condition by laying out upon them any percentage of our incomes. Almost the highest service which rates and alms can confer on the poor is to refrain from demoralizing them. Only, where we may do either good or harm in so vital a quarter as the condition of our poorest classes, let us not spare ourselves, either in thought and self-restraint on the one hand, or in expenditure on the other. As to the latter, no possible demand for rates or charity ought to seem much to this rich country, to this rich capital. If, not a tithe, but half a tithe, of our incomes were devoted to the purposes of religion and benevolence, we should not know what to do with the overwhelming amount which would flow in upon us. English charity seems large, because we compare it with the gifts of poorer communities; but it is anything but large compared with our wealth. But we need wisdom in devising, and firmness in refusing, even more than money.

There are two movements in which we must find our best hopes of the diminution of pauperism. One is the growth of self-respect or character amongst the working classes; the other is tho rise of wages. All questions relating to the physical condition of the poor merge into the question of wages. Happily, for a long time wages have been steadily rising; and the rise has not been merely nominal, but real in relation to the prices of the necessaries of life. The working classes, speaking generally, are much better off now than they were twenty yesrs ago, and much better off in London than they are in any part of tho country except the manufacturing districts. There is one important necessary of life about which an alarm has recently been raised in London, as if it were going up to famine prices — I mean house-room. But there has really been no such rise in the rents paid by tho poor, nor is there likely to be. It is difficult to obtain an exactly fair measure of the real rise, because the fluctuations in house-rent due to the improving or declining quality of a neighbourhood throw into the shade the rise due to the increased demand. But I think it may be said that the increase in tho rent paid by a working man for one to two rooms varies from nothing to eighteenponce, or, at most, two shillings, whilst the rise in wages during the samo time varies from three shillings to fifteen or more. No doubt the rent is a large proportion of a poor man's expenditure, but he must make up his mind to pay it, and even to pay somewhat more than he now does; and then there is the comfort of knowing that he is far better able to pay his rent than most of those whose rent is lower, and that the limits of house-room for the poor in London are very far from being approached. An increase of new buildings for the poor is by no means the measure of the new accommodation provided for them. Whenever the rents of a street fall low enough, through its becoming unfashionable, its houses begin to bo occupied by the poor. And when the rent paid by the poor rises high enough to pay for a decent building, there are large tracts covered with low tumble-down tenements upon which builders will be ready enough to erect many-storied houses for the poor. The demand will be met by the supply without the slightest hindrance or delay. It is a mere question of demand and ability to pay, and to judge of this ability simply by the proportion of rent to earnings is delusive. A man who earns ten shillings a week and pays one shilling for rent, is not so well off as a man who pays five shillings a week for rent, but earns twenty-ono shillings. There is therefore no difficult problem to be ingeniously solved, no dead-lock requiring revolutionary action, in the moderate rise of house rent in London, any more than in the rise in the price of milk. The working-classes themselves are alive to the fact that the wages-question is everything to them, and they are partly aware that they have this to a great extent under their own control.

A steady improvement in wages can hardly fail to bo accompanied by a diminution of pauperism; but this result will not be securely attained unless the working-classes improve also in self-respect, in a love of independence, in tho acknowledgment of family duties, and therefore in self-restraint and self-denial. The means of guarding against destitution are pretty well understood by the better class of working-men, and are brought within their reach in the shape of insurance, benefit-clubs, trade-societies, and savings-banks. But still the poor man with us too complacently accepts a dependent and inferior status. He is too little ashamed of the boyish genial self-indulgence which is inconsistent with genuine freedom. It will only humour his weakness, if wo encourage him to think of his class as having a right to come upon the rates, or as raw material for the charity of the rich to work upon. We ought to long to see the poorer people claiming the rights and making themselves responsible for the virtues of freemen. If a growing self-respect is shown or fostered by an earnest agitation for the extension of the suffrage to their class, whatever we may think of their fitness for a vote, we may at any rate rejoice that they are learning to measure themselves by a higher moral standard. When they claim to be equals of those above them, they will perceive that they are bound to emulate the qualities in which the working-class has hitherto been deficient. Those who aspire to be full citizens of their country cannot be content to be simply good fellows in prosperity, and in adversity to scramble for a degrading maintenance out of the public alms.

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