صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

those ages to the whole population was 4:57 and 2.64 respectively. Among the estimated population on January 1, 1889, of 28,628,804, there would accordingly be about 1,309,000 persons over 65. One in five of these is a pauper. There are approximately 756,000 perBons over 70. Of these two out of seven are permanent paupers. Of the 250,000 paupers over 65, about 200,000 get outdoor relief; of the 200,000 over 70, about 150,000 receive this weekly dole; the remainder are in the workhouse infirmary, or aimlessly gazing at vacancy in the dreary "idle room” of the workhouse itself.

Extending these statistics roughly and hypothetically to the United Kingdom, with its million of simultaneous paupers, and its 38 millions of population, we find about 1,700,000 persons of 65 years of age, of whom about 325,000 are permanent paupers; and about 1,000,000 persons over 70, of whom 250,000 are permanent paupers. Other statistics go to confirm this broad result.

in London, one person in every five will die in the workhouse, hospital or lunatic asylum. In 1888, out of 79,099 deaths in Lon. don, 41,505 being over 20, '10,170 were in workhouses, 7,113 in hospitals, and 380 in lunatic asylums, or altogether 17,663 in public institutions.* Moreover, the percentage is increasing. In 1887 it was 20-6 of the total deaths; in 1888 it rose to 22.3. The increase was exclusively in the deaths in workhouses and workhouse infirmaries. Considering that comparatively few of the deaths are those of children, it is probable that one in every four London adults will be driven into these refuges to die, and the proportion in the case of the “ manual labor class” must of course be still larger.

Nor is there much hope of appreciable reduction in these figures at any early date. The proportion of paupers to population has remained practically stationary for the last twelve years. The steady diminution in the number of able-bodied adults relieved is counterbalanced by an equally steady growth in the number of sick persons and lunatics, for whom collective provision is now made, as well as apparently by a slight rise in the number of the children and the aged. We may for some time to come reckon on having to make constant public provision for the needs of a million people in receipt of relief, representing a pauper population of at least three millions. It accordingly behoves us to see that this collective provision is as far as possible prevented from having demoralising or other injurious effects. Collective provision, when not combined with collective control of industry, may easily become demoralising to character and detrimental to the best interests of the recipients; and against this danger we must jealously guard. But we need not deliberately add to the possible objective demoralisation of the collective provision an unnecessary subjective demoralisation due to public stigma or disgrace. We must depauperise our deserving paupers. The whole range of Poor Law experience up to 1834 appeared to show

* Registrar-General's Report, 1889, C—5846, pp. 2, 72 and 94.

+ See Local Government Board Report, C_5813.

that public boards could not be trusted to discriminate between individual cases ; and the cast-iron rigor of the New Poor Law was the inevitable result. What we have been learning since 1834 is that discrimination must be more and more exercised between classes of paupers, not between individual cases, and that any Poor Law reform must necessarily proceed on this basis.

We have hitherto been so impressed with the danger of increasing the number of the shiftless poor, that we have managed to exercise a degrading and demoralising effect on those persons, many times more numerous, whose poverty is their misfortune, not their fault. We must now try a bolder experiment in what is necessarily our great collective laboratory of individual character. The time has come for us to maintain not only the bare existence, but the respectability of the aged, infirm, and orphaned poor, rather than content ourselves with the mere repression of the idle rogue and vagabond, whom the existing social order has often demoralised beyond redemption.


The Poor Law Commissioners did not, in their great Report of 1834, recommend the withdrawal of outdoor relief from the aged or the infirm. The common impression that they advocated the total abolition of outdoor relief is incorrect. The whole drift of their conclusions is against any subsidy in aid of wages; but they did not regard collective provision for old age as any real allowance in aid of wages, in the sense of wages being likely to be higher if no such provision were made. Modern political economists cannot do otherwise than confirm this view.

No determined attempt has accordingly been made, except in London, Manchester, and a few other places, to abolish outdoor relief to the aged; and the statistics already quoted appear to prove that at least one-fifth of the people who attain the age of sixtyfive are compelled to resort to the relieving officer for that bare subsistence upon which they linger out their lives.

Nothing can be more discouraging to provident saving, even where it is possible, than our present practice in such cases. When a man is absolutely destitute we provide for him a bare subsistence. If he can manage to save, by the time he is sixty-five, as much as £150, he can provide for himself and wife practically as well as he and she would be provided for if they had saved nothing at all. Once past that minimum, there is every inducement to save which

gentility ” and independence can offer. Anything short of that minimum is virtually useless. Poor Law relief cannot legally be given except to the absolutely destitute; and the aged domestic servant, or farm-laborer, who has accumulated £50, must dissipate

that small hoard before his future will be secured from want.* The man who has a shilling a week from his friendly society is legally no better off than he who has nothing.f Both must be just kept alive, and legally neither can demand more.

Now the virtual minimum which enables an aged couple to dispense with poor liv relief is far beyond the reach of a large proportion of the population. Instead, however, of encouraging them to save as much as they can towards their support, we, in effect, discourage them by making them no better off than those who save nothing at all.

Would it not be better frankly to recognise the provision of a minimum pension for old age as a collective charge ? Every person uust necessarily pay rates and taxes in one shape or another all his life long. It seems desirable to promote in every way the feeling that “the Government" is no entity outside of ourselves, but merely ourselves organised for collective purposes. Regarding the State as a vast benefit society, of which the whole body of citizens are necessarily members, the provision of pensions to the aged appears to be an obvious expansion of the Democratic idea.

At present we give a superannuation allowance to about 160,000 retired civil servants, military and naval officers and men, policemen, postmen, &c. The system is being extended to elementary school teachers and nurses. In all these cases the pension is given practically as a matter of right; it is granted in addition to whatever may have been saved by the recipient; and it carries with it no stigma of public disgrace.

We also give what are virtually superannuation allowances to 250,000 aged paupers, besides workhouse accommodation to 75,000 more. In their case the pension is awarded as of grace; it is only awarded where there are no savings, or where the savings have been consumed; and it is accompanied by public opprobrium and legal disqualification for the duties of citizenship.

The result in the first case is to encourage thrift and saving to supplement the pension, without the slightest demoralisation of character. The result in the second case is absolutely to discourage thrift and saving, and to break down whatever character had survived the losing fight of life. If we intend to give pensions to our aged poor, as we virtually now do, had we not better do so in such a way as to improve rather than to injure their character, and in a

* A domestic servant who, with incredible perseverance and patience, had saved up some £60 or £70, found this little hoard gradually melting away in her struggle to maintain her respectability, and appeared before the Whitechapel Board of Guardians with the balance, asking what she should do. Legally, the board could have given no relief until the amount was dissipated. Ultimately an adequate annuity was privately purchased for her, the extra sum required being found by subscription.

+ So absurd is this legal discouragement of saving, that a practice is growing up of allowing half of any such pension to benefit the pauper—thus, if he has two shillings a week from his club, the normal relief is reduced only by one shilling. This illegal expedient is connived at by the Local Government Board.

manner calculated to promote rather than to discourage their own efforts to provide for their old age ?

This proposal, though it is essentially one for National Insurance, must not be confounded with the current schemes which bear that name.

poor of this country will never vote away


poorrate. No Government is at all likely to attempt to collect compulsory insurance premiums from men already supporting their tradeunions and friendly societies, their benefit clubs and their building societies, and paying, moreover, a not inconsiderable poor-rate. Nor is there any reason for any such collection. The expenditure and the revenue sides of the Budget ought economically to be kept distinct. If aged pensions are desirable let us have them. When the funds come to be raised, let it be done according to the classic economic maxims of taxation. It is pretty clear that these maxims will yield no support to the imposition of what would be virtually a new poll-tax.

The Rev. W. Moore Ede suggests* that certain payments might be required from the recipients of the aged pension as a test of thrift, and a means of improving character. Without for a moment countenancing the heartless hypocrisy which recommends “ thrift" to men who are in deplorable need of more money to spend on the immediate well-being of their families, Mr. Ede may have good reason to think that reform may most easily begin by granting aged pensions at first only to those persons who can show that they have made some attempt partially to provide for their old age. At present such persons often end their days in the workhouse. A large number of those compelled in their old age to resort to this refuge for the destitute have made ineffectual efforts at thrifty provision for their declining years. In 1881, out of 183,872 inmates of workhouses (one-third being children and another third women) no fewer than 11,304 had been mem. bers of benefit societies. In 3,913 cases the society had broken up, usually from insolvency.† A better arrangement can surely be made. The possession of small savings, continued subscription to a friendly society or club, life insurance, or lengthy membership of a trade-union, co-operative or building society, might all be accepted as relevant evidence of providence. But the object of the measure would be defeated unless the thrift condition were made easy enough to be satisfied by the poorest class of laborers, of merely average foresight and strength of character. At present we fail to encourage thrift because we stigmatise all as semi-criminals who fall below a quite impossible standard. If we really desire to comfort and help the weak-hearted, and to strengthen such as do stand, we must pitch our requirements so as to be within reach of their attainment.

*“ A Scheme for National Pensions."

+ House of Commons Return, 1881, No. 444.

It will at first be contended by members of the Charity Organisation Society on the one hand, and by the officials of friendly societies on the other, that any such public provision of honorable pensions would seriously discourage and thwart the efforts now being made to create private superannuation funds. There is, however, good reason for supposing that this would not be the case. At present these efforts are hindered by the futility of subscribing for anything short of a pension adequate for maintenance.* Anything less than this amount merely goes in aid of the rates, by reducing the amount of relief required. But once let the public pension be independent of other means, and it will become worth while to subscribe for an annuity of even sixpence per week. The great hindrance to saving at present is the hopelessness of being able to save enough. With a minimum pension assured, even the smallest addition becomes worth providing. If membership of a friendly society or a life insurance policy carried with it almost a certainty of an honorable State pension, instead of degrading Poor Law relief, the strongest possible encouragement would be given to the admirable efforts now being made by the existing popular agencies for saving which are already doing so much for the more prosperous of our artisan classes. At present they do not succeed to any extent in providing for old age. Their benefits for sickness absorb practically all the available savings of the poor. The cost of providing adequate pensions is found to be too serious for the great friendly societies, and for any but a few of the more powerful trade-unions.

The financial equilibrium of some of these is more than doubtful. But small additions to the public pension could at once be made attractive to tens of thousands who could never aspire to obtain even ten pounds a year.

There is a further direction in which these public pensions would encourage individual effort and social sympathy. Nothing is more brutalising than the manner in which the grown-up

children of paupers are virtually encouraged to treat their aged parents. The Guardians have the greatest possible difficulty in obtaining contributions from sons towards the maintenance of their pauper parents. The money is given grudgingly, because it merely saves the rates. But once let it become possible for the poor, as it is for the middleclass and the rich, to soothe and comfort the declining years of their parents by those small gifts which cost so little and mean so much, and we may have at least a chance of awakening those filial feelings which go far to humanise and elevate personal character. If a son's assistance to his State-pensioned father or mother means the addition of tobacco or tea to their bare subsistence, that assistance is a

* * "The Manchester Unity has long desired to establish annuity or superannuation benefit funds; to commence at sixty-five is recommended, and not less than 5s. per week. The cost of such a benefit has hitherto proved deterrent.” (Evidence of Mr. Watson, actuary to Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows, before Committee on National Insurance, H.O. 270, 1885, p. 66.)

“ After two years only four members had joined the fund.” (Evidence of Mr. Holmes, a director, p. 59.)

« السابقةمتابعة »