About Maximapedia

Pauperism

PAUPERISM The term pauper, according to the most convenient use of the word, is a person receiving legal relief. It thus comprehends those who, being without capital, but able and willing to labour, are unable to find permanent employment at rates of wages sufficient for their subsistence, and are wholly or partly supported by public funds. The term also comprehends orphan, bastard, and deserted children who require and receive legal relief; as well as those who, from age. sickness, or infirmity, are disabled from labour, have no means of support, and receive legal relief. It must be evident from this definition that in every country those who are properly called paupers are only one class or division among several who are in the condition of poverty. The poor of a country, as distinguished from the paupers, may be distributed into three classes. 1. Persons m/hout ca pital, who, being capable of labour, and finding (muloyinesut, are able to obtain the means of subsistence. 2. Able-bodied mendicants, capable of labouring, who dislike work, and subsist by practising deceptions upon the humane and charitable. 3. Persons destitute through sickness, infirmity, desertion, or any other cause, and relieved by private charity. The causes of pauperism are numerous, and it would be equivalent to an attempt to explain most of the phenomena of modern society, if we should affect to assign all its possible or even all its actual causes in any given country. Some of the causes however are clearly traceable to positive law. Every civilised cotumunity has necessarily a great body of laws which concern the rights of property, and which regulate to some extent the conduct of the individual members of a community. It is difficult even for a wise legislator to attempt to regulate a large community without doing some mischief by his interference; and the history of positive legislation in this and other countries shows that those who have had the power to make laws have not only ignorantly and unintentionally injured society by not perceiving the tendency of their own enactments, but have often purposely and designedly attempted to accomplish objects which they believed to be beneficial to society, but which an enlarged experience and a sound philosophy have proved to be detrimental to the general interest. When the object has been a good one, a legislator has often failed in accomplishing it, owing to ignorance of the proper means. In England legal interference with the condition of the poor has in some degree been exercised for nearly 500 years. In no country have greater efforts been made to regulate their condition, nor greater mistakes committed in this branch «f government. The great object of the earlier efforts in pauper legislation was the restraint of vagrancy. The 12th Richard II., c. 7 (13&8), prohibits any labourer from quitting his dwellingplace without a testimonial from a justice of the peace, showing reasonable cause for his going, and without such a testimonial any such wanderer might be apprehended and put in the stocks. Impotent persons were to remain in the towns where they were dwelling at the passing of the act, provided the inhabitants would support them; otherwise they were to go to the places of their birth, to be there supported. By acts passed in the 11 and 19 of Henry VII. (1495 and 1504) impotent beggars were required to go to the hundred where they had last dwelt for three years, or where they were born, and were forbidden to beg elsewhere. By the act 22 Henry VIII., c. 12 (1531j,justices were directed to assign to impotent poor persons a district within which they might beg, and beyond which they were forbidden to beg, under pain of being imprisoned and kept in the stocks on bread and water. Able-bodied beggars were to be whipped and forced to return to their place of birth, or where they had last lived for three years. These acts appear to have had no permanent effect in repressing vagrancy. An act passed in 1536 (27 Henry VIII., c. 25) is the first by which voluntary charity was converted into compulsory payment It enacts that the head officers of every parish to which the impotent or able-bodied poor may resort under the provisions of the act of 1531, shall receive and keep them, so that none shall be compelled to beg openly. The able-bodied were to be kept to constant labour, and every parish making default was to forfeit twenty shillings a month The money required for the support of the poor was to be collected partly by the head officers of corporate towns and the churchwardens of parishes, and partly was to be derived from collections in the churches and on various occasions where the clergy had opportunities for exhorting the people to charity. Almsgiving beyond the town or parish was prohibited, on forfeiture of ten times the amount given. A 'sturdy beggar' was to be whipped the first time he was detected in begging; to have his right ear cropped for the second offence; and if again guilty of begging, was to be indicted 'for wandering, loitering, and idleness,' and if convicted was 'to suffer execution of death as a felon and an enemy of the commonwealth.' The severity of this act prevented its execution, and it was repealed by 1 Edward VI., c. 3 (1547). Under this statute every able-bodied person who should not apply himself to some honest labour, or offer to serve for even meat and drink, was to be taken for a vagabond, branded on the shoulder, and adjudged a slave for two years to any one who should demand him, to be fed on bread and water and refuse meat, and made to work by being bea'en, chained, or otherwise treated. If he ran away during the two years, he was to be branded on the cheek, and adjudged n slave Tor life, and if he ran away again, he was to suffer death as a felon. If not demanded as a slave, he was to be kept to hard labour on the highways in chains. The impotent poor were to be passed to their place of birth or settlement, from the hands of one parish constable to those of another. This statute was repealed three years after, and that of 1531 was revived. In 1551 an act was passed directing that a book should be kept in every parish, containing the names of the householders and of the impotent poor; that collectors of alms should be appointed who should ' gently ask every man and woman what they of their charity will give weekly to the relief of the poor.' If any one able to give should refuse or discourage others from giving, the ministers and churchwardens were to exhort him, and, failing of success, the bishop was to admonish bim on the subject. This act, and another made to enforce it, which was passed in 1555, were wholly ineffectual, and in 1563 it was re-enacted (5 Eliz., c. 3), with the addition that any person able to contribute and refusing should be cited by the bishop to appear at the next sessions before the justices, where, if he would not be persuaded to give, the justices were to tax him according to their discretion, and on his refusal ho was to be committed to gaol until the sum taxed should be paid, with all arrears. The next statute on the subject, which was passed in 1572 (14 Eliz., u. 5), shows how ineffectual the former statutes had been. It enacted that all rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars, including in this description ' all persons whole and mighty in body, able to labour, not having land or master, nor using any lawful merchandise, craft, or mystery, and all common labourers, able in body, loitering and refusing to work for such reasonable wage as is commonly given,' should ' for the first offence be grievously whipped, and burned through the gristle of the right ear with a hot iron of the compass of an inch about;' for the second, should be deemed felons; and for the third, should suffer death as felons, without benefit of clergy. For the relief and sustentation of the aged and impotent poor, the justices of the peace within their several districts, were' by their good discretion' to tax and assess all the inhabitants dwelling therein. Any one refusing to contribute was to be imprisoned until he should comply with the assessment. By the statutes 39 of Elizabeth, c. 3 and 4 (1598), every able-bodied person refusing to work for the ordinary wages was to be 'openly whipped until his body be bloody, and forthwith sent, from parish to parish, the most strait way to the parish where he was born, there to put himself to labour as a true subject ought to do.' The next act on this subject, the 43 Elizabeth, c. 2, has been in operation from the time of its enactment, in 1601, to the present day. An entire change in the mode of administration which had grown up under its provisions, was however effected by the Poor Law Amendment Act (4 audi Win. IV., c. 76), which was passed in 1839. During that long period many abuses crept into the administration of the laws relating to the poor, so that in practice their operation was subversive of the morals of the most numerous class, and injurious to the welfare of the whole country. In its original provisions the act of Elizabeth directed the overseers of the poor in every parish to 'take order for setting to work the children of all such parents as shall not be thought able to maintain their children.' as well as all such persons as, having no means to maintain them, use no ordinary trade to get their living by. For this purpose they were empowered ' to raise, weekly or otherwise, by taxation of every inhabitant, parson, vicar, and other, and of every occupier of lands, houses, tithes, mines, &c, such sums of money as they shall require for providing a sufficient stock of (tax, hemp, wool, and other ware or stuff, to set the poor on work, and also competent sums for relief of lame, blind, old, and impotent persons, and for putting out children as apprentices. Power was given to justices to send to the house of correction or common gaol all persons who would not work. The churchwardens and overseers were further empowered to build poor-houses, at the charge of the parish, for the reception of the impotent poor only. The justices were further empowered to assess all persons being of sufficient ability, for the relief and maintenance of their children, grandchildren, and parents. The parish officers were also empowered to bind as apprentices any childien who should be chargeable to the parish. These simple provisions were in course of time greatly perverted, and so many abuses were practically engrafted upon the statute, that it became an instrument of ao*» general demoralization than was ever sanctioned by Uz«> tive authority. It would greatly exce«l any ira*oc»i.< limits to trace the progress of these abuses. The mo»t injurious practice was that which was established in aad u-c-r: the year 1795, when, in order to meet the pressure upon u* labouring population caused by the hi^h price of pronwies. an allowance was made out of the parish fund to every labourer in proportion to the number of his family, and wuaout reference to his being employed or without etn ploy men t. This allowance fluctuated with the price of flour, sal the scale was so adjusted as to return to each fainih ib« virx which a given quantity of Hour would cost beyoDtl ibo p.-<* in years of ordinary abundance. This plan was d.-ub.W-n conceived in a spirit of benevolence, but the readme** »i .which it was adopted in all parts of England cJcariy liwwi the general want of sound views on the subject. If thins* had been left to take their course in England, as tie* were in Scotland, the labourer's wages would: have «i*!x«-i b:a to purchase the same or nearly the same amount i4 provisions and other articles of necessary consumptam s» Win the advance, and when the necessity for such a rise in wa^es had passed away everything would have reve-rud to & former state. Under the allowance system the aiD-trr was made to receive a part of his earnings in the ba if i parish gift, and as the fund out of which it was prro4*d was raised from the contributions of those who did not rmpVri labourers, as well as of those who did, it followed ti»t -be labourers were degraded from the condition of buumU independence to that of parish paupers, and that their employers, being able in part to burthen others with the payment for their labour, had a direct interest in r«rpetss:^; the system. Accordingly it was found that a constant Iul rapid deterioration took place in the character of the labouring agricultural population, and that they became triable to obtain a rate of wages adequate to tbeir turner: without parish relief, however moderate might be the frro of the necessaries of life. There are no accounts of the sums levied year by ys*r a England and Wales for the relief of the poor, befa-c the aril inning of the present century. The average expead.tin for each of the three years 1783-4 and 5, was ij9li,S*ll; the earliest account after that date is for lfcpl. wbec :ht expenditure amounted to4.017,871/., the assessments haTis; been more than doubled in 17 years. It will be seen frja the following table how little connection there has bee", since that time between the sums expended for re: ■*! ss~! the price of corn: — The extent to which the pauperising of the labourrrt England was carried had long been viewed with alarm sac had formed the subject of many parliamentary iivriume*. saf without producing any substantial amendment, un:J.u: •1 a commission was appointed by the crown, consisting c/ -ra bishops of London and Chester, Mr. St urge* Rourra. Mi Senior, and five other gentlemen, under whose direc^ua •» quiries were carried on throughout England and Wales, aac the actual condition of the labouring class in every parrv: was ascertained with the view of showing the e\il« of ts« si isting practice, and of suggesting some remedy. TheUh».«jr4 this inquiry was exceedingly great, but in a comparssti«*>< short lime a Report was presented by the roramiuionervskei completely explained the operation of the law a* ;J=j ;-tereu, wilii its effects upon different chuscs, and remedial measures. This Report was presented in i ISH and was followed by the passing, in August, 1834, of the Poor Law Amendment Act, in which the principal recommendations of the commissioners were embodied. The chief provisions of this law are—the appointment of a central board of three commissioners for the general superintendence and control of all bodies charged with the management of funds for the relief of the poor. The further appointment of nine assistant-commissioners, each one of whom should be attached to some particular district, in order to carry out practically the orders of the central board; the whole to be subject to the direction of the secretary of state for the home department. The administration of relief to the poor is placed under the control of the commissioners, who make rules and"*egulations for the purpose, which are binding upon all the local bodies. They are empowered to order workhousesto be built, hired, altered, or enlarged, with the consent of the majority of the board of guardians. One very important power given to them is that of uniting several parishes for the purposes of a more effective and economical administration of poor relief, but so that the actual charge in respect of its own poor is defrayed by each parish. These united parishes, or unions, are managed by boards of guardians annually elected by the rate-payers of tbe various parishes, but the masters of workhouses and other paid officers are under the orders of the commissioners, and removable by them. The system of paying wages partly out of poor-rates is discontinued, and except in extraordinary cases, as to which the commissioners arc the judges, relief is only to be given to able-bodied persons or to their families within the walls of the workhouse. Another branch of the poor-law, which was materially altered by the act of 1834, was that relating to illegitimate children. The system of relief which was previously followed was so far from acting as a check on bastardy, that it was actually a great encouragement to it. On the birth of a bastard child, the parish officers generally obtained an order of affiliation upon the putative father, and the money paid under that order was often abusively received by the mother. In this manner a woman of loose habits was placed in more comfortable circumstances than a virtuous woman; she was even sought in marriage as a prize, while a widow with an equal number of children, having no such allowance, had no chance of making a second marriage. Under the new law, the facilities for obtaining orders upon putative fathers are diminished, the mother and child are generally relieved in the workhouse, and the money paid under the order is always received by the parish-officers and accounted for by them. The operation of this part of the law may have been productive of hardship in some cases, and it is objected that it sets little restraint on the male; but in practice it has been found to diminish in a sensible degree the proportion of illegitimate births chargeable to the parish. These are the principal provisions of this very important statute, which, upon a careful review of all tbo facts which have been ascertained before and since its enactments, may be said to have answered the ends proposed. In some of its minor details it may still be susceptible of improvement. But it is no small testimony to the judgment and sagacity of those who suggested the provisions of this law, and of those who have carried them into operation, when we state that the law has now been in operation for more than five years; that it has encountered great opposition; and yet that it has been found adapted to nearly every emergency that has occurred. The number of unions formed and declared under the Poor Law Amendment Act, from its commencement to the 1st of May, 1839, was 587, including 13,641 parishes, with a population of 11,751,345 souls. The saving in money effected by this reform is not its most important feature, although the benefit on that score will scarcely be denied. If the expenditure of 1839 be compared with that of 1834, the year which immediately preceded the operation of the act, it will appearthat the diminution amounted to 1,895,540/., or 30 per cent., but it is hardly fair to select for such a comparison either 1834, when the previous inquiries of the commissioners had already fixed the attention of the public upon the subject, and had forced those by whom the parish funds were administered to adopt measures of economy, or 1939, in which the high price of every kind of provisions and the consequent falling off in the demand for labour had necessarily added to the number of claimants for relief and to the extecit of their demands. If, in consideration of these faets.we co*npare the expenditure of 1837 with that of 1833, P. C, No. 1080. in which two years the price of provisions was nearly the same, it will appear that the saving amounted to 2,746,058/., or more than 40 per cent. Under the former administra tion of the law it had been customary in some parts of the kingdom for farmers to discharge their labourers in the winter, at which season they and their families became wholly chargeable to the parish. This custom no longer prevails. Labourers, being unable to obtain that kind of relief without entering the poor-house and submitting to its regulations, now refuse to work at any season for those who will not continue to employ them throughout the year, and by this means the burthen is so far thrown upon those who ought to bear it. The good effect of this change is further experienced in the greater amount of labour bestowed upon the soil, and its consequent improved productiveness, which is so much clear gain to the country. The condition of the labouring classes in Ireland hag long been a reproach to the legislation of the United Kingdom. Until the passing of the Act 1 & 2 Victoria, c. 58, which received the royal assent on the 31st July, 1838, no provision had been made by law for the relief of the helpless or the destitute in that part of the kingdom. The evils of poverty had long reached to such a height as to defy the efforts of private benevolence, and misery of the most appaling kind was of such universal occurrence, that it had almost ceased to excite commiseration or sympathy. Apart from all private and individual hardship, there resulted this public evil, that the possession of land, the only sure resource against starvation, became a matter of such urgent necessity, that the peasants bid against one another to obtain it, until the produce beyond the rent was barely sufficient for their sustenance, while the mode of cultivation was such as to keep the soil far below its productive powers. This evil still exists in nearly its full strength, and it will be many years before any considerable progress can be made in effecting a remedy, but a beginning has been made by the introduction of the Irish Poor Law, which affords relief against destitution by other means than the possession of land. The introduction of the system into Ireland is yet too recent to justify any opinion as to its success. Up to the 25lh of March, 1839, the Poor Law Commissioners had succeeded in forming twenty-two unions, comprising an extent of 2,950,163 statute acres, with a population, according to the returns of 1831, amounting to 1,517,344; and arrangements had been made for declaring eighteen other unions, extending over 2,453,274 acres, and having a population of 1,140,213. In April, 1840, more than 100 unions had been formed by the commissioners in Ireland; and it is confidently expected that the whole of that country will have been divided into unions before the end of 1840. One important consequence which has resulted from the better management of the poor, and which is calculated to produce an important effect on their future condition, is the adoption of plans for the training and instructing of children resident in workhouses. Under the administration of the unamended law little or nothing was done towards this object, and in almost every case the child whose misfortune it was to be brought up at the charge of the parish, continued through life dependent upon others for subsistence, and often followed a course of systematic dishonesty. Moral criminality in such cases might be more fairly chargeable against society, which had neglected to give a proper direction to the young pauper's habits, than against the individual delinquent; and society has paid dearly for the neglect. The system of moral, intellectual, and industrial training which has been to some extent engrafted upon the administration of the amended law, is calculated to bring up the children of the workhouse to be useful members of society. It has been well observed in a Report on this subject drawn up by Dr. Kay, that' the state is in loco parentis to the pauper children who have no natural guardians, and the interest it has in the right discharge of its responsibilities may be illustrated by supposing the government bad determined to require direct instead of indirect service in return for education. If the army and navy were recruited by the workhouse children, it is evident that it would be the interest of the state to rear a race of hardy and intelligent men—instructed in the duties of their station—taught to fear God and honour the queen. The state has not less interest, though it may be less apparent, in supplying the merchant service with sailors, and the farms and the manufactories of the country with workmen, and tbe households of the upper 3 Vox.. XVII.-2 U and middle classes with domestic servants: it has the moat positive and direct interest in adopting measures to prevent tho rearing of a race of prostitutes and felons. It may be questionable how far it would be proper to permit the pauper children to volunteer for service in the army and navy, and to train them accordingly; but the duty of rearing these children in religion and industry, and of imparting to them such an amount of secular knowledge as may fit them to discharge the duties of their station, cannot be doubted.'

Note - this article incorporates content from The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1840)

Privacy Policy | Cookie Policy | GDPR