WASTE OF CHARITY.
Parochial Statistics—The Public hold the Purse-strings—cannot the Agencies actually at work be made to yield greater results— The Need of fair Rating —The heart and core of the Poor-law Difficulty—My foremost thought when I was a “Casual”— Who are most liable to slip ?—“crank-work”— the Utility of Labour-yards—Scales of Relief—What comes of breaking-up a Home.
The following is a return of the number of paupers (exclusive of lunatics in asylums and vagrants) on the last day of the fifth week of April 1869, and total of corresponding week in 1868:
|Unions and single Parishes (the latter marked*).||Paupers||Corresponding Total in 1868|
|In-door. Adults and Children||Out-door.||Total 5th week|
|Adults||Children under 16|
*St. George, Hanover-square
|*St. Margaret and St. John||1,131||1,791||1,313||4,235||5,742|
|Total of West Dist.||5,320||7,659||6,158||19,137||18,272|
|Total of North Dist.||6,109||11,533||8,820||26,462||24,782|
|*St Giles and St. George, Bloomsbury||869||587||538||1,994||2,246|
|Total of Central D.||6,625||7,355||5,478||19,453||21,864|
|*Mile End Old Town||547||1,228||1,055||2,830||2,705|
|Total of East Dist.||7,967||11,685||11,805||31,457||35,320|
|St. Saviour, Southwark||537||678||678||1,893||2,000|
|*St. George, Southwark||660||1,260||1,646||3,566||4,120|
|Total of South Dist.||8,588||16,865||16,601||42,054||40,244|
|Total of the Metropolis||34,609||55,097||48,857||138,563||140,482|
TOTAL PAUPERISM OF THE METROPOLIS. (Population in 1861, 2,802,000.)
Number of Paupers.Years. In-door Out-door. Total.
week of April 1869 . .
" 1868 .. 34,455 106,027 140,482
" 1867 .. 32,728 96,765 129,493
" 1866 .. 30,192 71,372 101,564
This as regards parochial charity. It must not be imagined, however, from this
source alone flows all the relief that the nation’s humanity and benevolence
provides for the relief of its poor and helpless. Besides our parochial asylums
there are many important charities of magnitude, providing a sum of at least
2,000,0001. a-year for the relief of want and suffering in London,
independently of legal and local provision to an amount hardly calculable. We
content ourselves with stating one simple fact—that all this charity, as now
bestowed and applied, fails to accomplish the direct object in view. If the
2,000,0001. thus contributed did in some way or other suffice, in
conjunction with other funds, to banish want and suffering from the precincts of
the metropolis, we should have very little to say. But the fact is that, after
all these incredible efforts to relieve distress, want and suffering are so
prevalent that it might be fancied charity was dead amongst us. Now that, at any
rate, cannot be a result in which anybody would willingly acquiesce. If the
money was spent, and the poor were relieved, many people probably would never
trouble themselves to inquire any further; but though the money is spent, the
poor are not cured of their poverty. In reality this very fact is accountable in
itself for much of that accumulation of agencies, institutions, and efforts
which our statistics expose. As has been recently remarked: “A certain
expenditure by the hands of a certain society fails to produce the effect
anticipated, and so the result is a new society, with a new expenditure,
warranted to be more successful. It would be a curious item in the account if
the number and succession of fresh charities, year after year, could be stated.
They would probably be found, like religious foundations, taking some new forms
according to the discoveries or presumptions of the age; but all this while the
old charities are still going on, and the new charity becomes old in its turn,
to be followed, though not superseded, by a fresh creation in due time.
If it be asked what, under such circumstances, the public can be expected to do, we answer, that it may really do much by easy inquiry and natural conclusions. Whenever an institution is supported by voluntary contributions, the contributors, if they did but know it, have the entire control of the establishment in their hands; they can stop the supplies, they hold the purse, and they can stipulate for any kind of information, disclosure, or reform at their pleasure. They can exact the publication of accounts at stated intervals, and the production of the balance-sheet according to any given form. It is at their discretion to insist upon amalgamation, reorganisation, or any other promising measure. There is good reason for the exercise of these powers. We have said that all this charity fails to accomplish its one immediate object—the relief of the needy; but that is a very imperfect statement of the case. The fact is that pauperism, want, and suffering are rapidly growing upon us in this metropolis, and we are making little or no headway against the torrent. The administration of the Poor-law is as unsuccessful as that of private benevolence. Legal rates, like voluntary subscriptions, increase in amount, till the burden can hardly be endured; and still the cry for aid continues. Is nothing to be done, then, save to go on in the very course which has proved fruitless? Must we still continue giving, when giving to all appearances does so little good? It would be better to survey the extent and nature of agencies actually at work, and to see whether they cannot be made to yield greater results.
Confining ourselves, however, to what chiefly concerns the hardly-pressed ratepayers of the metropolis, its vagrancy and pauperism, there at once arises the question, How can this enormous army of helpless ones be provided for in the most satisfactory manner?—This problem has puzzled the social economist since that bygone happy age when poor-rates were unknown, and the “collector” appeared in a form no more formidable than that of the parish priest, who, from his pulpit, exhorted his congregation to give according to their means, and not to forget the poor-box as they passed out.
It is not a “poor-box” of ordinary dimensions that would contain the prodigious sums necessary to the maintenance of the hundred thousand ill-clad and hungry ones that, in modern times, plague the metropolis. Gradually the sum-total required has crept up, till, at the present time, it has attained dimensions that press on the neck of the striving people like the Old Man of the Sea who so tormented Sinbad, and threatened to strangle him.
In London alone the cost of relief has doubled since 1851. In that year the total relief amounted to 6 59,000/. ; in 1858 it had increased to 870,0001.; in 1867 to 1,180,000l.; and in 1868 to 1,3 17,0001. The population within this time has increased from 2,360,000 to something like 3,100,000, the estimated population at the present time; so that while the population has increased by only 34 per cent, the cost of relief has exactly doubled. Thirteen per cent of the whole population of London were relieved as paupers in 1851, and in 1868 the percentage had increased to 16. In 1861 the Strand Union had a decreasing population of 8,305, and in 1868 it relieved one in every five, or 20 per cent, of that population. Besides this, the cost of relief per head within the workhouse had much increased within the last 15 years. The cost of food consumed had increased from 2s. 9d. per head, per week, in 1853, to 4s. lid, in 1868; while we have the authority of Mr. Leone Levi for the statement that a farm-labourer expended only 3s. a-week on food for himself.
In 1853 the population of England and Wales was in round numbers 18,404,000, and in 1867 21,429,000, being an increase of 3,000,000. The number of paupers, exclusive of vagrants, in receipt of relief in England and Wales was, in 1854, 818,000, and in 1868 1,034,000, showing an increase of 216,000. The total amount expended in relief to the poor and for other purposes, county- and police-rates, &c., was, in 1853, 6,854,000l., and in 1867 10,905,000l., showing an increase of 4,000,000l. This total expenditure was distributable under two heads. The amount expended in actual relief to the poor was, in 1853, 4,939,000l., as against 6,959,000l. in 1867, being an increase of 2,020,000l. The amount expended, on the other hand, for other purposes, county-and police-rates, &c., was, in 1853, 1,915,000l.,against 3,945,000l. in 1867.
And now comes the vexed question, Who are the people who, amongst them, in the metropolis alone, contribute this great sum of thirteen hundred thousand pounds, and in what proportion is the heavy responsibility divided? This is the most unsatisfactory part of the whole business. If, as it really appears, out of a population of two millions and three-quarters there must be reckoned a hundred and forty thousand who from various causes are helpless to maintain themselves, nothing remains but to maintain them; at the same time it is only natural that every man should expect to contribute his fair share, and no more. But this is by no means the prevailing system. Some pay twopence; others tenpence, as the saying is.
By an examination of the statistics as to the relative contributions of the different unions, we find the discrepancy so great as to call for early and urgent legislation; and despite the many and various arguments brought to bear against amalgamation and equalisation, there is no other mode of dealing with this great and important question that appears more just, or more likely to lead to the wished-for result. That the reader may judge for himself of the magnitude of the injustice that exists under the present system will not require much more evidence than the following facts will supply. The metropolis is divided into five districts, and these again into unions to the number of six-and-thirty, many of which in their principal characteristics differ greatly from each other. We find the West and Central Districts relieve each between 19,000 and 20,000 poor, the Eastern District about 32,000, and the North District some 27,000; but the Southern District by far exceeds the rest, as the report states that there are in receipt of relief no less than 43,000 paupers. These bare statistics, however, though they may appear at first sight to affect the question, do not influence it so much as might be imagined; the weight of the burden is determined by the proportion that the property on which the poor-rate is levied bears to the expenditure in the different unions. For example, St. George’s, Hanover-square, contributes about the same amount (viz. 30,000/.) to the relief of paupers as St. George’s-in-the-East; but take into consideration the fact that the western union contains a population of about 90,000, and property at the ratable value of nearly 1,000,000/., and the eastern union has less than 50,000 inhabitants, and the estimated value of the property is only 180,000l/.; the consequence is that the poor-rate in one union is upwards of five times heavier than the other, being 8d. in the pound in St. George’s, Hanover-square, and no less than 3s. 5¼d.in St. George’s-in-the-East. The reader may imagine that this great discrepancy may arise in some degree from the fact that the two unions mentioned are at the extreme ends of the metropolis; but even where unions are contiguous to one another the same contrasts are found. The City of London is situated between the unions of East London and West London: in the two latter the rates are not very unequal, being about 2s. lid. in one and 3s. 1d. in the other; but in the City of London, one of the richest of the thirty-six unions in the metropolis, the poor-rate is only 7d. in the pound. The cause of this is that, if the estimates are correct, the City of London Union contains just ten times the amount of rateable property that the East London does, the amounts being 1,800,000l and 180,000l. respectively. Again, Bethnal Green does not contribute so much as Islington, and yet its poor-rates are four times as high. In general, however, we find that in unions contiguous to one another, the rates do not vary in amount to any great extent. In the North, for instance, they range from 1s. to 1s. 7d., Hampstead being the exception, and below the shilling. In the South they are rather higher, being from 1s. 2d. to 2s. l1d., Lewisham alone being below the shilling. In the East, as might be expected, the figures are fearfully high, all, with one exception, being above 2s. 6d., and in the majority of cases exceeding 3s. Bethnal Green, that most afflicted of all unions, is the highest, reaching the enormous sum of 3s.l1d, in the pound, being nearly seven times the amount of the rate in the City of London. In the Central District, which is situated in an intermediate position, the rates range from >1s. 11d, to 3s., the City itself being excluded.
No one who reads the foregoing statistics can fail to be struck with the inequality and mismanagement that they exhibit. No one can deny that this state of affairs urgently needs some reorganisation or reform, for who could defend the present system that makes the poor pay most, and the rich least, towards the support and maintenance of our poor?
There appears to be a very general impression that the sum levied for the relief of the poor goes entirely to the relief of the poor; but there is a great distinction between the sum levied and the sum actually expended for that purpose. Taking the average amount of poor-rates levied throughout England and Wales for the same periods, it is found that for the ten years ending 1860 the average was 7,796,019l.; for the seven years ending 1967, 9,189,386l.; and for the latest year, 1868, when a number of other charges were levied nominally under the same head, 11,054,513l. To gain an idea of the amount of relief afforded, it was necessary to look to the amount which had actually been expended. For the ten years ending 1860 the average amount expended for the relief of the poor was 5,476,454l.; for the seven years ending 1867, 6,353,000l.; and in the latest year, 7,498,000l. Therefore the amount actually expended in the relief of the poor was, in the ten years ending 1860, at the average annual rate of 5s.9½d. per head upon the population; for the seven years ending 1867, 6s. 1d. ; and for the year 1868, 6s. 11½d. The average number of paupers for the year ending Lady-day 1849 was 1,088,659, while in 1868 they had decreased to 992,640. Thus, in 1849 there were 62 paupers for every 1,000 of the population, and in 1868 there were but 46 for every 1,000, being 16 per 1,000 less in the latter than in the former year. In 1834, the rate per head which was paid for the relief of the poor was 9s. ld. If we continued in 1868 to pay the same rate which was paid in 1849, the amount, instead of being 6,960,000l. would be 9,700,000l., showing a balance of 2,740,000l.in favour of 1868.
The very heart and core of the poor-law difficulty is to discriminate between poverty deserving of help, and only requiring it just to tide over an ugly crisis, and those male and female pests of every civilised community whose natural complexion is dirt, whose brow would sweat at the bare idea of earning their bread, and whose stock-in-trade is rags and impudence. In his capacity of guardian of the casual ward, Mr. Bumble is a person who has no belief in decent poverty. To his way of thinking, poverty in a clean shirt is no more than a dodge intended to impose on the well-known tenderness of his disposition. Penury in a tidy cotton gown, to his keen discernment, is nothing better than “farden pride”—a weakness he feels it is his bounden duty to snub and correct whenever he meets with it. It is altogether a mistake to suppose that all the worthy strivers in the battle for bread, and who, through misfortune and sickness, sink in the rucks and furrows of that crowded field, find their way, by a sort of natural “drainage system,” to the workhouse. There are poorer folks than paupers. To be a pauper is at least to have a coat to wear, none the less warm because it is made of gray cloth, and to have an undisputed claim on the butcher and the baker. It is the preservers of their “farden pride,” as Bumbte stigmatises it, but which is really bravery and noble patience, who are most familiar with the scratching at their door of the gaunt wolf FAMINE; the hopeful unfortunates who are content to struggle on, though with no more than the tips of their unlucky noses above the waters of tribulation—to struggle and still struggle, though they sink, rather than acknowledge themselves no better than the repulsive mob of cadgers by profession Mr. Bumble classes them with.
I have been asked many times since, when, on a memorable occasion, I volunteered into the ranks of pauperism and assumed its regimentals, what was the one foremost thought or anxiety that beset me as I lay in that den of horror. Nothing can be more simple or honest than my answer to that question. This was it— What if it were true? What if, instead of your every sense revolting from the unaccustomed dreadfulness you have brought it into contact with, it were your lot to grow used to, and endure it all, until merciful death delivered you? What if these squalid, unsightly rags, the story of your being some poor devil of an engraver, who really could not help being desperately hard-up and shabby, were all real? And why not? Since in all vast commercial communities there must always exist a proportion of beggars and paupers, what have I done that I should be exempt? Am I—are all of us here so comfortably circumstanced because we deserve nothing less? What man dare rise and say so? Why, there are a dozen slippery paths to the direst ways of Poverty that the smartest among us may stumble on any day. Again, let us consider who are they who are most liable to slip. Why, that very class that the nation is so mightily proud of, and apt at bragging about! The working man, with his honest horny hand and his broad shoulders, who earns his daily bread by the sweat of his brow! We never tire of expressing our admiration for the noble fellow. There is something so manly, so admirable in an individual standing up, single-handed and cheerful-hearted, and exclaiming, in the face of the whole world, “With these two hands, and by the aid of the strength it has pleased God to bless me with, my wife and my youngsters and myself eat, drink, and are clothed, and no man can call me his debtor!” He is a fellow to admire; we can afford to admire him, and we do—for just so long as he can maintain his independence and stand without help. But should misfortune in any of its hundred unexpected shapes assail him, should he fall sick or work fail him, and he be unable to keep out the wolf that presently eats up his few household goods, rendering him homeless, then we turn him and his little family over to the tender mercies of Mr. Bumble, who includes him in the last batch of impostors and skulkers that have been delivered to his keeping. I don’t say that, as matters are managed at present, we can well avoid doing so; but that does not mitigate the poor fellow’s hardship.
It is to be hoped that we are gradually emerging from our bemuddlement; but time was, and that at no very remote period, when to be poor and houseless and hungry were accounted worse sins against society than begging or stealing, even—that is to say, if we may judge from the method of treatment in each case pursued; for while the ruffian who lay wait for you in the dark, and well-nigh strangled you for the sake of as much money as you might chance to have in your pocket, or the brute who precipitated his wife from a third-floor window, claimed and was entitled to calm judicial investigation into the measure of his iniquity and its deserving, the poor fellow who became a casual pauper out of sheer misfortune and hard necessity was without a voice or a single friend. The pig-headed Jack-in-office, whom the ratepayers employed and had confidence in, had no mercy for him. They never considered that it was normal because he preferred to stave off the pangs of hunger by means of a crust off a parish loaf rather than dine on stolen roast beef, that he came knocking at the workhouse-gate, craving shelter and a mouthful of bread! But one idea pervaded the otherwise empty region that Bumble’s cocked-hat covered, and that was, that the man who would beg a parish loaf was more mean and contemptible than the one who, with a proper and independent spirit, as well as a respect for the parochial purse, stole one; and he treated his victim accordingly.
Vagrancy has been pronounced by the law to be a crime. Even if regarded in its mildest and least mischievous aspect, it can be nothing less than obtaining money under false pretences. It is solely by false pretences and false representations that the roving tramp obtains sustenance from the charitable. We have it on the authority of the chief constable of Westmoreland, that ninety-nine out of every hundred professional mendicants are likewise professional thieves, and practise either trade as occasion serves. The same authority attributes to men of this character the greater number of burglaries, highway robberies, and petty larcenies, that take place; and gives it as his opinion, that if the present system of permitting professional tramps to wander about the country was done away with, a great deal of crime would be prevented, and an immense good conferred on the community.
There can be no question that it is, as a member of parliament recently expressed it, “the large charitable heart of the country” that is responsible in great part for the enormous amount of misapplied alms. People, in giving, recognised the fact that many of those whom they relieved were impostors and utterly unworthy of their charity; but they felt that if they refused to give, some fellow-creature, in con sequence of their refusal, might suffer seriously from the privations of hunger and want of shelter. As long as they felt that their refusal might possibly be attended with these results, so long would they open their hand with the same readiness that they now did. The only remedy for this is, that every destitute person in the country should find food and shelter forthcoming immediately on application. Vagrancy, says the authority here quoted, is partly the result of old habits and old times, when the only question the tramp was asked was, “Where do you belong to?” Instead of that being the first question, it should be the last. The first question should be, “Are you in want, and how do you prove it?”
In 1858 the number of vagrants was 2416; in 1859, 2153; in 1860, 1941; in 1861, 2830; in 1862, 4234; in 1863, 3158; in 1864, 3339;in 1865,4450;in 1866, 5017;in1867,6129;and in 1868, 7946.
There can be no doubt, however, that a vast number of tramps circulate throughout the country, of whom we have no returns. “Various means,” says the writer above alluded to, “have been tried to check them, but in vain. If I venture to recommend any remedy, it must be, that repression, if applied, must be systematic and general. It is not of the slightest use putting this repression in force in one part of the country while the remainder is under a different system. The whole country must be under the same general system, tending to the same general result. In the first place, let all the inmates of the casual wards be placed under the care of the police. Let them be visited by the police morning and night. Let lists be made out and circulated through the country; and in no case, except upon a ticket given by the police, let any relief be given more than once; and unless a man is able to satisfy the police that his errand was good, and that he was in search of work, let him be sent back summarily without relief. It is the habit of all this class to make a regular route, and they received relief at every casual ward, thus laying the whole country under contribution.”
True as this argument may be in the main, we cannot take kindly to the idea, that every unfortunate homeless wretch who applies at night to the casual ward for a crust and shelter shall be treated as a professional tramp until he prove himself a worthy object for relief.
It is not a little remarkable, that, however legislators may disagree as to the general utility of the Poor-law under its present aspect, they are unanimous in approving of the “labour test,” whereas, according to the opportunities I have had of observing its working, it is, to my thinking, one of the faultiest wheels in the whole machine. The great error chiefly consists in the power it confers on each workhouse-master to impose on the tested such work, both as regards quantity and quality, as he may see fit. I have witnessed instances in which the “labour test,” instead of proving a man’s willingness to work for what he receives, rather takes the form of a barbarous tyranny, seemingly calculated as nothing else than as a test of a poor fellow’s control of his temper. Where is the use of testing a man’s willingness to work, if he is compelled in the process to exhaust his strength and waste his time to an extent that leaves him no other course but to seek for his hunger and weariness to-night the same remedy as he had recourse to last night? They manage these things better in certain parts of the country and in model metropolitan parishes, but in others the “test” system is a mere “farce.” I found it so at Lambeth in 1866; and when again I made a tour of inspection, two years afterwards, precisely the same process was enforced. This was it. At night, when a man applied for admittance to the casual ward, he received the regulation dole of bread, and then went to bed as early as half-past eight or nine. He was called up at seven in the morning, and before eight received a bit more bread and a drop of gruel. This was the “breakfast” with which he was fortified previous to his displaying his prowess as a willing labourer.
The chief of the work done by the “casual” at the workhouse in question is “crank-work.” The crank is a sort of gigantic hand-mill for grinding corn. A series of “cranks” or revolving bars extend across the labour-shed in a double or triple row, although by some means the result of the joint labour of the full number of operatives, forty or fifty in number, is concentrated at that point where the power is required. Let us see how “crank-work” of this sort is applicable as a test of a man’s willingness and industry.
It may be safely taken that of the, say, forty-five “casuals” assembled, two-thirds, or thirty, will belong to that class that is, without doubt, the very worst in the world—the hulking villanous sort, too lazy to work and too cowardly to take openly to the trade of thieving, and who make an easy compromise between the two states, enacting the parts of savage bully or whining cadger, as opportunity serves. Thirty of these, and fifteen real unfortunates who are driven to seek this shabby shelter only by dire necessity. In the first place, we have to consider that the out-and-out vagrant is a well-nurtured man, and possesses the full average of physical strength; whereas the poor half-starved wretch, whose poverty is to be pitied, is weak through long fasting and privation. But no selection is made. Here is an extended crank-handle, at which six willing men may by diligent application perform so much work within a given time. It must be understood that the said work is calculated on the known physical ability of the able-bodied as well as the willing-minded man; and it is in this that the great injustice consists. Let us take a single crank. It is in charge of six men, and, by their joint efforts, a sack of corn, say, may be ground in an hour. But joint effort is quite out of the question. Even while the taskmaster is present the vagrants of the gang at the crank—four out of six, be it remembered—will make but the merest pretence of grasping the bar and turning it with energy; they will just close their hands about it, and increase the labour of the willing minority by compelling them to lift their lazy arms as well as the bar. But as soon as the taskmaster has departed, even a pretence of work ceases. The vagrants simply stroll away from the work and amuse themselves. Nevertheless, the work has to be done; the sack of corn must be ground before the overnight batch of casuals will be allowed to depart. But the vagrants are in no hurry; the casual ward serves them as a sort of handy club-room in which to while away the early hours of tiresome morning, and to discuss with each other the most interesting topics of the day. It is their desire, especially if it should happen to be a wet, cold, or otherwise miserable morning, to “spin-out” the time as long as possible; and this they well know may best be done by leaving the weak few to struggle through the work apportioned to the many; and they are not of the sort to be balked when they are bent in such a direction.
The result is, as may be frequently observed, that the labour-shed is not cleared until nearly eleven o’clock in the morning, by which time the honest and really industrious minority have proved their worthiness of relief to an extent that leaves them scarcely a leg to stand on. They have been working downright hard since eight o’clock. The slice of bread and the drop of gruel they received in the morning is exhausted within them; their shaky and enfeebled limbs are a-tremble with the unaccustomed labour; and, it being eleven o’clock in the day, it is altogether too late to hope to pick-up a job, and nothing remains for a poor fellow but to saunter idly the day through, bemoaning the desperate penalty he is compelled to pay for a mouthful of parish bread and the privilege of reposing in an uncomfortable hovel, till night comes again, and once more he is found waiting at the casual gate.
It may be said that no one desires this, that it is well understood by all concerned that a workhouse is a place intended for the relief of the really helpless and unable, and not for the sustenance of imposture and vagrancy; but that under the present system it is impossible to avoid such instances of injustice as that just quoted. This, however, is not the case. It has been shown in numerous cases that it is possible to economise pauper-labour so that it shall be fairly distributed, and at the same time return some sort of profit.
It appears that in Liverpool and Manchester corn-grinding by hand-mills is chiefly used as a task for vagrants or able-bodied indoor poor. In the absence of other more suitable employment, there is no reason why they should not be so employed. As, however, but one person can be employed at the same time on one mill, and the cost of each mill, including fixing, may be roughly stated at from 31.to 41.,it is clear that no very large number of persons is likely to be thus employed in any one yard. Despite this and other minor objections however, it appears that corn-grinding is as good a labour-test as you can have in workhouses. It is not remunerative; it is a work that is disliked; it is really hard; and being one by which there is no actual loss by accumulation of unsaleable stock, it has much to commend it. At the establishments in question a fairly strong able-bodied man is required to grind 120 lbs. of corn daily, and this is sufficient to occupy him the whole day. The male vagrants at Liverpool are required to grind 30 lbs. of corn each at night, and 30 lbs. the following mornlng. At Manchester the task for male vagrants is 45 lbs. each, of which one half is required to be ground at night, and the remainder the next morning. At the Liverpool workhouse they have 36 of these mills; at Manchester, 40 at the new or suburban workhouse for able-bodied inmates, and 35 at the house of industry adjoining the old workhouse. The mills at the latter are chiefly used for vagrants, but upon these able-bodied men in receipt of out-door relief are also occasionally employed. The ordinary task-work for these last is, however, either farm-labour at the new workhouse, or oakum-picking at the house of industry, according to the nature of their former pursuits. During the cotton famine there was also a large stone-yard, expressly hired and fitted-up for this class. Another large building was set apart during that period for the employment of adult females in receipt of relief in sewing and knitting, and in cutting-out and making-up clothing; a stock of materials being provided by the guardians, and an experienced female superintendent of labour placed in charge of the establishment.
The experiment of selecting a limited number of men from the stone-yard, and setting them to work in scavenging the streets, has now been tried for rather more than six months by the vestry of St. Luke’s, City-road, with a fair amount of success; the men (fifteen from the stone-yard, and ten from the workhouse) were entirely withdrawn from the relief-lists, and employed by the vestry at the same rate of wages as the contractor who previously did the work was in the habit of paying. Of these men, according to the latest report, fourteen are still thus employed, and four have obtained other employment. The remaining seven were discharged—three as physically incapable, and four for insubordination. The conduct of the majority under strict supervision is said to have been fairly good, though not first-rate; and it is undoubtedly something gained to have obtained useful work from fourteen out of twenty-five, and to have afforded four more an opportunity of maintaining themselves by other independent labour.
At the same time it is clear that such a course is open to two objections: first, it must have a tendency to displace independent labour; and secondly, if these paupers are (as in St. Luke’s) at once employed for wages, it would, unless guarded by making them pass through a long probationary period of task-work, tend to encourage poor persons out of employ to throw themselves on the rates, in order thus to obtain remunerative employment. The better course would seem to be, where arrangements can be made by the local authorities, for the local Board to provide only the requisite implements and superintendence, and for the guardians in the first instance to give the labour of the men to the parish, paying them the ordinary relief for such work as task-work. If this were done—and care taken to put them on as extra hands only, to sweep the pavements, or such other work as is not ordinarily undertaken by the contractors—there can be no doubt that an outlet might be thus afforded for some of the better-conducted paupers, after a period of real probationary task-work, to show themselves fit for independent employment, and so to extricate themselves from the pauper ranks.
“It would undoubtedly conduce much to the utility of these labour-yards if the guardians comprising the labour or out-door relief committee would, as they now do in some unions, frequently visit the yard, and thus by personal observation make themselves acquainted with the conduct and characters of the paupers, with the nature of the superintendence bestowed upon them, and with the manner in which the work is performed. A channel of communication may thus be formed between employers of labour when in want of hands and those unemployed workmen who may by sheer necessity have been driven to apply for and accept relief in this unpalatable form. The guardians themselves, frequently large employers of labour, are for the most part well acquainted with those who are compelled to apply for parish work; and when they see a steady and willing worker in the yard will naturally inquire into his antecedents. Where the result of these inquiries is satisfactory, they will, it may be expected, gladly avail themselves of the earliest opportunity of obtaining for such a one employment in his previous occupation, or in any other which may appear to be suited to his capacity. The personal influence and supervision of individual guardians can scarcely be overrated; and thus a bond of sympathy will gradually arise between the guardians and the deserving poor, which, coupled with the enforcement of real work, will, it may be hoped, prove not without an ultimate good effect upon even those hardened idlers who have been hitherto too often found in these yards the ringleaders in every species of disturbance.”
The above-quoted is the suggestion of the Chairman of the Poor-law Board, and well indeed would it be, for humanity’s sake, that it should be regarded. As matters are at present arranged, the labour-system is simply disgusting. Take Paddington stone-yard, for instance. Unless it is altered since last year, the peculiar method of doing business there adopted is this: a man gets an order for stone-breaking, the pay for which is, say, eighteenpence a “yard.” At most workhouses, when a man is put to this kind of labour he is paid by the bushel; and that is quite fair, because a poor fellow unused to stone-breaking usually makes a sad mess of it. He takes hammer in hand, and sets a lump of granite before him with the idea of smashing it into fragments; but this requires “knack,” that is to be acquired only by experience. The blows he deals the stone will not crack it, and all that he succeeds in doing for the first hour or two is to chip away the corners of one lump after another, accumulating perhaps a hatful of chips and dust. By the end of the day, however, he may have managed to break four bushels, and this at eighteenpence a “yard” would be valued at six-pence, and he would be paid accordingly.
But not at Paddington. I had some talk with the worthy yard-master of that establishment, and he enlightened me as to their way of doing business there. “Bushels! No; we don’t deal in bushels here,” was his contemptuous reply to a question I put to him. “I can’t waste my time in measuring up haporths of stuff all day long. It’s half a yard or none here, and no mistake.”
“Do you mean, that unless a man engages to break at least half a yard, you will not employ him?”
“I mean to say, whether he engages or not, that he’s got to do it.”
“And suppose that he fails?”
“Then he don’t get paid.”
“He doesn’t get paid for the half-yard, you mean?”
“He doesn’t get paid at all. I don’t never measure for less than a half-yard, and so he can’t be paid.”
“But what becomes of the few bushels of stone he has been able to break?”
“O, he sells ‘em to the others for what they’ll give for ‘em, to put along with theirs. A halfpenny or a penny—anything. He’s glad to take it; it’s that or none.”
“And do you have many come here who can’t break half a yard of granite in a day?”
“Lots of ‘em. But they don’t come again; one taste of Paddington is enough for ‘em.”
What does the reader think of the “labour-test” in this case?
An institution has, it appears, been established by the Birmingham guardians since the autumn of 1867, for the employment of able-bodied women in oakum-picking for out-door relief, the result of which has been, that not only has the workhouse been relieved of a large number of troublesome inmates of this class, with whom it was previously crowded, but the applications for relief have diminished in a proportionate ratio. Every effort is made to induce the women thus employed to seek for more profitable employment, and the applications at the establishment for female labour are said to be numerous. The superintendent, who was formerly matron at the Birmingham workhouse, reports to Mr. Corbett, that “from the opening of the establishment about fifteen months ago, nineteen have been hired as domestic servants, ten have obtained engagements in other situations, and two have married.” In addition to these, some forty have obtained temporary employment, of whom three only have returned to work for relief at the end of the year. The total estimated saving on orders issued for work, as compared with the maintenance of the women as inmates of the workhouse, during the year ending 29th September last, is calculated to have been 646l. 0s. 7d. Indeed, so satisfactory has been the working of the system during the first year of its existence, that the guardians have resolved to apply the same test to the male applicants for relief, and a neighbouring house has been engaged and fitted-up for putting a similar plan in operation with respect to men. The total number of orders issued during the first twelve months after this establishment for female labour was opened was 719; of which, however, only 456 were used, the other applicants either not being in want of the relief asked for, or having found work elsewhere. Each woman is required to pick 3 lbs. of oakum per diem, for which she receives 9d., or 4s. 6d. per week; and if she has one or more children, she is allowed at the rate of 3d. a-day additional relief for each child. The highest number paid for during any week has been 95 women and 25 children. Some days during the summer there has been but one at work, and in the last week of December last there were but eleven. The house is said to be “virtually cleared of a most troublesome class of inmates.”
The guardians of St. Margaret and St. John, Westminster, have, it appears, adopted a system embracing that pursued both at Manchester and Birmingham, and have provided accommodation for employing able-bodied women out of the workhouse both in oakum-picking and needlework; and, say the committee, “a similar course will probably be found advantageous in other metropolitan parishes or unions, whenever the number of this class who are applicants for relief exceeds the accommodation or the means of employment which can be found for them within the workhouse. At the same time we would especially urge that provision should be made in every workhouse for a better classification of the able-bodied women, and for the steady and useful employment of this class of inmates. Those who are not employed in the laundry and washhouse, or in scrubbing, bed-making, or other domestic work, should be placed under the superintendence of a firm and judicious task-mistress, and engaged in mending, making, and cutting out all the linen and clothing required for the workhouse and infirmary; and much work might be done in this way for the new asylums about to be built under the provisions of the Metropolitan Poor Act.” This plan of a large needle-room presided over by an efficient officer has been found most successful in its results at the new workhouse of the Manchester guardians, as well in improving the character of the young women who remain any time in the house, and fitting them for home duties after they leave, as in deterring incorrigible profligates from resorting to the workhouse, as they were in the habit of doing. Many now come into our metropolitan workhouses who can neither knit nor sew nor darn a stocking. This they can at least be taught to do; and we gather from the experience of Manchester, that while at first to the idle and dissolute the enforced silence and order of the needle-room is far more irksome than the comparative license and desultory work of the ordinary oakum-room, those who of necessity remain in the house are found by degrees to acquire habits of order and neatness, and thus become better fitted for domestic duties.
The following scale of relief for able-bodied paupers, relieved out of the workhouse and set to work pursuant to the provisions of the Out-door Relief Regulation Order, is recommended for adoption by the various Boards of Guardians represented at a recent conference held under the presidency of Mr. Corbett:
For a man with wife and one child, 6d. and 4 lbs. of bread per day; for a man with wife and two children, 7d. and 4 lbs. of bread per day; for a man with wife and three children, 7d. and 6 lbs. of bread per day; for a man with wife and four children, 8d. and 6 lbs. of bread per day; for a man with wife and five children, 9d and 6 lbs. of bread per day; single man, 4d. and 2 lbs. of bread per day; single women or widows, 4d. and 2 lbs. of bread per day, with an additional 3d. per day for each child; widowers with families to be relieved as if with wife living.
Where a widow with one or more young children dependent on her and incapable of contributing to his, her, or their livelihood, can be properly relieved out of the workhouse, that she be ordinarily allowed relief at the rate of is. and one loaf for each child; the relief that may be requisite for the mother beyond this to be determined according to the special exigency of the case. That widows without children should, as a rule, after a period not exceeding three months from the commencement of their widowhood, be relieved only in the workhouse. Where the husband of any woman is beyond the seas, or in custody of the law, or in confinement in an asylum or licensed house as a lunatic or idiot, such woman should be dealt with as a widow; but where a woman has been recently deserted by her husband, and there are grounds for supposing he has gone to seek for work, although out-door relief may be ordered for two or three weeks, to give him time to communicate with his family, yet, after such reasonable time has elapsed, the wife and family should, as a rule, be taken into the workhouse, and proceedings taken against the husband. That the weekly relief to an aged or infirm man or woman be from 2s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. weekly, partly in money and partly in kind, according to his or her necessity; that the weekly relief to aged and infirm couples be 4s. to 5s., in money or in kind, according to their necessities; that when thought advisable, relief in money only may be given to those of the out-door poor who are seventy years of age and upwards.
It appears from a recent statement that the guardians of Ever-sham union applied not long since for the sanction of the Poor-law Board to a scheme for boarding-out the orphan children of the workhouse with cottagers at 3s. a-week, and l0s. a-quarter for clothing; the children to be sent regularly to school, and to attend divine worship on Sundays; with the provision that after ten years of age the children may be employed in labour approved by the guardians, and the wages divided between the guardians and the person who lodges and clothes them, in addition to the above payments. In a letter dated the 3d April 1869, the Secretary of the Poor-law Board states that, provided they could be satisfied that a thorough system of efficient supervision and control would be established by the guardians, and the most rigid inquiry instituted at short intervals into the treatment and education of the children, the Board have come to the conclusion that they ought not to discourage the guardians from giving the plan a fair trial, though they cannot be insensible to the fact that a grave responsibility is thereby incurred. The Secretary mentions particulars regarding which especial care should be taken, such as the health of the children to be placed out, the condition of the persons to whom they are intrusted, and the necessary periodical inspection. The Board will watch the experiment with the greatest interest, but with some anxiety. They request the guardians to communicate to them very fully the detailed arrangements they are determined to make. The Board cannot approve the proposed arrangement as to wages. The guardians have no authority to place out children to serve in any capacity and continue them as paupers. If they are competent to render service, they come within the description of able-bodied persons, and out-door relief would not be lawful. Upon entering into service, they would cease to be paupers, and would have the protection of the provisions of the Act of 1851 relating to young persons hired from a workhouse as servants, or bound out as pauper apprentices. The hiring-out of adults by the guardians is expressly prohibited by 56 George III., c. 129.”
The great principle of the Poor-law is to make people do anything rather than go into the workhouse, and the effect is to cause people to sell their furniture before they will submit to the degradation; for degradation it is to an honest hardworking man, and no distinction is made. The effect of the Poor-law has been to drive men away from the country to the large towns, and from one large town to another, till eventually they find their way up to London, and we are now face to face with the large army of vagabonds and vagrants thus created. A man, once compelled to break-up his house, once driven from the locality to which he was attached, and where his family had lived perhaps for centuries, became of necessity a vagrant, and but one short step was needed to make him a thief.
It would be a grand step in the right direction, if a means could be safely adopted that would save a man driven to pauperism from breaking-up his home. The experiment has, it appears, been successfully adopted in Manchester, and may prove generally practicable. The guardians in that city have provided rooms in which the furniture or other household goods of persons compelled to seek a temporary refuge in the house may be stored. It would not do, of course, to enable people to treat the workhouse as a kind of hotel, to which they might retire without inconvenience, and where they might live upon the ratepayers until a pressure was passed. Perhaps the confinement and the separation of family-ties which the workhouse involves would sufficiently prevent the privilege being abused; but even if such a convenience would need some limitation in ordinary times, it might be readily granted on an occasion of exceptional pressure, and it would then produce the greatest advantages both to the poor and to the rate-payers. The worst consequence of the workhouse test is, that if a poor man under momentary pressure is forced to accept it and break-up his home, it is almost impossible for him to recover himself. The household goods of a poor man may not be much, but they are a great deal to him; once gone, he can rarely replace them, and the sacrifice frequently breaks both his own and his wife’s spirit. If the danger of thus making a man a chronic pauper were avoided, the guardians might offer the test with much less hesitation; relief might be far more stringently, and at the same timemore effectually, administered.