« AnteriorContinuar »
whether shops, factories, warehouses, or compting-houses, be taxed in some reasonable proportion, as the law in fact authorises, to the profits arising from them to the maintenance of the poor. Next, as it will sometimes happen, that the wealth arising out of these concerns is spent in parishes distinct from those from whence the labor proceeds, it would be desirable, if the sums arising from these sources in aid of the poor rate could be collected in counties or districts, so as to form a middle course between too local and too general distribution. My reason for this suggestion I will state presently. Again: if no better mode can be devised for attaining a knowlege of the incomes derived from manufactures and commerce than that adopted under the income tax, even this ought to be resorted to, rather than these sources of wealth be wholly exempt from payment to the poor. The advantages that would arise to the whole community from the manufacturing and commercial interests being practically, brought to bear their reasonable share in support of the indigent poor would be threefold ; and in this threefold division, the first only would be of a pecuniary nature. First, What is now felt by the land as a burden too heavy to be borne, when the aid of these two important classes was obtained, would almost cease to be one. Secondly, Not only would a vast pecuniary relief be afforded, and that perhaps without the change being very sensibly felt by any class, but the additional payment would bring along with it additional weight of consultation and counsel. It is obvious, that those who make this additional payment should have their proportionate share, directly or indirectly, in the government of the concerns of the paid poor; and interest being added to public spirit and humanity, a large number of valuable counsellors would probably be obtained, who are now for the most part either careless, or at least inefficient bystanders. Lastly, All schemes for remedying want of employment, either in any one or all of the three branches, would be best digested and acted on, when all had a common interest in keeping down the general burden ; whilst each would be à seasonable check on any undue preponderance in the other : and if the right of voting were proportioned in some way to the sums paid, this balance would be kept in proper order. I can anticipate no possible reasonable objection to these proposals, if the two following assera tions are admitted. First, That undue depression of the land must affect the nation at large. Secondly, That those who create a bur
1 I say practically, because in theory the law says so already.
* This qualifying expression is necessary, provided the properties newly introduced into the poor's rates were assessed and levied in counties or hundreds.
den on the soil, ought not themselves to be exempt from their share in the relief of it.
With these additional accessions both of resources and consultation, let me now inquire whether some glaring inconveniences in the details of the poor system might not be alleviated, if not altogether removed. First, I am persuaded the money paid on the score of either unemployed or partially employed poor (amongst the partially employed poor I will include all whose family as a whole cannot be maintained by the work it can procure) may considerably reduced. Commerce, I believe, produces no very large number of relievable poor ; though far more than is proportionate to the sum at present paid to the poor by commerce. Shopmen, porters, warehousemen, &c. are not only well paid, but are commonly much more provident than the manufacturing poor. From this last-named class it is that the burden mainly comes. With respect to this class, the circumstance of master manufacturers paying something in proportion to their profits towards the poor, would create in them at once a disposition to give their advice and information as to the poor of their own department, whether in parish vestries, or in some way to petty or quarter sessions ; though chiefly, I apprehend, in vestry. The manufacturer too would have a stimulus of a self-interested kind to add to the becoming impulses of justice and liberality-for giving his workmen a fair compensation for his labor: fair, I mean, after striking a balance between the state of his own receipts and his workmen's needs. The agriculturist would be greatly encouraged by this to do the same to his men. He would not consider the maintenance of a moderate-sized or even a large family by labor alone without poor's rate, so hopeless a thing as it now is. He also would be willing to give his best advice and information in vestry, whenever the farming laborers were out or short of work. In both cases, a labor-rate, on the plan adopted at Oundle in Bedfordshire, would more than probably be unanimously consented to: the manufacturer taking the artisans, the tradesman or commercial-man those of his department, the farmer the laborers. If these remedies were insufficient to meet a sudden or extreme case of stoppage of employ (the extremity alone warranting the plan), then, and then only, the house row or rounds-men system on an enlarged, equitable, parochial plan to be resorted to, as a last, and only as a last, resource. Lastly, Some plan might be devised for the public works of a parish, chiefly those in the surveyor's department, to receive a proportion at least of the unemployed; and the wages payable to those to be assessed by a committee, deputed to watch over the manner in which each does his work. By the help of these various and simple remedial processes, I feel persuaded the evil of unemployed at least; and I believe of partially employed poor also, would be abated to an incredible degree, if not cease altogether.
2. Another point, in which amendment seems feasible, is, that public, I mean legislative, parliamentary wisdom should lay down a scale, not merely to assist, but to govern the regulation of parish allowances, according to the number of adults or children in families, proportioned to the fluctuating price of corn, with care that the maximum and minimum should not be brought too near together. This would be a great relief to parish officers, vestries, and magistrates. It might be left to be assessed in counties at the quarter sessions either annually, half-yearly, or quarterly, as might seem advisable. To any one who has been accustomed to attend parish vestries it cannot be unknown, how little it is the disposition or practice to revise the regular allowances; and likewise, in the first instances of a pauper's getting on the pay-list, how little pains are taken to adjust accurately that portion of his needs which the parish is called on to supply. Even however if there were more care and diligence in this matter than there is, it ought to be considered a relief to the contending parties (for such, I fear, unhappily is really the only name by which they can be called) to have this matter settled for and between them. To the parish officers it must obviously be pleasanter to avoid dispute and difference on this subject, provided justice can be done to the parish without it: and it may be presumed to be a relief to individual magistrates likewise, to have this matter settled by the whole body collectively. After the general scale of allowance is fixed, all that is required in special cases in excess of this allowance must be brought under the head of extraordinary payments; and in these cases, the allowance being made up of ordinary and extraordinary relief together, it would be desirable to put the letters Exty. against each name in the weekly pay-list, that in reading over these names the attention of the vestry may be specially called to them. In adjusting this scale, what it should direct the officers to would be, how much money each person or family would require; and then as to the rest, there must be a discretion left with the vestry, to determine what proportion of this sum the pauper and his family may be reasonably calculated to earn. In aiming to ascertain this point, the united information of the farmer and the manufacturer, the merchant and the shopkeeper, brought together by one common bond of self-interest, will be of the utmost value. If in some cases it cannot be precisely determined, in these the balance of doubt should be thrown slightly on the side of the pauper. After this computation, should complaint arise, the province of the magistrates, already, it should be remembered, overwhelmed with demands on his gratuitou stime and attention, so as to make all reasonable economy of both a fit object of public regard, will be simply that of hearing evidence, as to whether the computed amount of earnings has been fairly calculated or not, and adjudging or withholding farther relief accordingly. I feel satisfied that some such arrangement as this would lower the poor rates exceedingly: for, notwithstanding their burdensome character on those who pay to them, the supineness of the payers, in the absence of some such simplifying process as this, in going on from week to week in blind and improvident allowances, is such as would excite the utmost astonishment to witness.
3. The last remedy that occurs to me, capable of very extensive application for the alleviation of the poor rates, is either a strict enforcement, or else a fresh enactment, of laws for the prevention and punishment of bastardy. A more cruel hardship does not exist than this to the payers of the poor rates; even putting aside the awful extent of its wickedness and immorality. Regarded merely in a statistical point of view, it requires prompt and vigorous suppression. The following suggestions therefore I offer, though I am not sufficiently acquainted with the criminal law, either previous to or since Mr. Peel's most inestimable improvements, to know how far they are already met by the existing statute-book. In practice, the father is at present for the most part the only party visited with punishment and compensation to the injured community: and, doubtless, the seducer should receive the first and heaviest stroke. But the mon ther has a heavy debt she owes to society, which she ought to be made to pay in a manner somewhat proportionable to her guilt : besides, the father in very many cases before the hour of visitation, or even public suspicion arrives, contrives to get out of the way, and erade the hand of justice. This, I doubt not, will be admitted to be a fact by those competent to judge of it. What I would propose, therefore, is this-Let the father still continue to have the burden of maintenance thrown on him, where he can meet it; and where he cannot, let imprisonment and hard labor be inflicted. But for the mother, let her also not escape unpunished. She has much to answer for; and it is fit she should be made an example of in the way of punishment, if not for her own good (which it is to be hoped would often, if not always, ensue), at least as a warning to others. Her condition indeed, as soon as the helpless babe is born into the world (the innocent occasion, alas ! of much angry feeling and contention, and too often perhaps at once the mute parent of perjury, and the wailing child of misery)--her condition for the present is one of some sort of compassion, and for a time nature and religion allow this claim to be respected: but that time past, compassion any longer continued becomes morbid.
Pity must no longer remain. Blame and punishment must follow. She ought to be handed over to the laws of the country; and these should visit her with punishment, though her innocent babe, necessarily obliged togo where she goes, should at the same time receive both her's and all other necessary protection. Nay, lest the unhappy offspring of guilt should be subject to the harsha visitation of the unworthy mother writhing under a sense of the punishment she is suffering, as she will say, through it ; but as the community will say, and say justly, through herself : provisions should be made to prevent ill-treatment, and secure care more and better than her own, without withdrawing the child from the parent. The present state of our prisons, bridewells, and houses of correction, admits of all this. In united parishes, too, houses of industry might perhaps be made available to this object; and so in these cases save the necessity of resorting to prisons, &c. at all. After considerable reflection, and certainly not without reluctance at having to suggest any penal remedy, I grieve to say no other effectual one for this flagrant evil and hardship occurs to me ; though I should like to hear of a better, if there is one ; and one more lenient, if adequate to its purpose. The evil itself is one that ought to be checked in some way or other, as far as laws can do it. It is nothing but the most morbid humanity that can stand in the way of attempts for its diminution. In this good and to society almost just work, religion, morals, and political wisdom, go hand in hand.
I have thus touched on three very important remedial measures, which I cannot help thinking would tend materially to lighten the burdens produced by the poor laws. Alleviation, it has been re. peatedly asserted by high and public political wisdom, is all that can be at present looked for; and this is all that is here proposed. I will now briefly state the personal and local circumstances adverted to at my opening, which have led to the present suggestions, after reading the three articles of your review, named in my
I am the incumbent of a large and populous midland parish, whose name also appears in the front of this tract. large and populous, I mean rather relatively to its nature and cir. cumstances, than positively as to its size and number. It has about six thousand acres and three thousand inhabitants. It consists of three townships. But the township which has particularly called forth the present observations is that which gives name to the whole parish. This has about four thousand acres; a large proportion of which is boggy, forest land, lately enclosed ; and about eight hundred pounds is paid annually to the poor, besides surveyors' rates, which have of late been unusually heavy.
When I say