Poor Law Commissioners' Report of 1834
It is with still further regret that we state our conviction, that the abuses of which we have given a short outline, though checked in some instances by the extraordinary energy and wisdom of individuals, are, on the whole, steadily and rapidly progressive.
It is true, that by the last Parliamentary Return, (that for the year ending the 25th March, 1832,) the total amount of the money expended for the relief of the poor, though higher than that for any year since the year 1820, appears to fall short of the expenditure of the year ending the 25th March, 1818; the expenditure of that year having been 7,890,014l., and that for the year ending the 25th March, 1832, 7,036,968l. But it is to be remembered, 1st, That the year ending the 25th of March, 1818, was a period of extraordinary distress among the labouring classes, especially in the manufacturing districts, in consequence of the high price of provisions, unaccompanied by a corresponding advance in wages; 2dly, That in the year ending the 25th March, 1832, the price of corn was lower by about one-third than in 1818, and that of clothes and of the other necessaries of life lower in a still greater proportion; so that, after allowing for an increase of population of one-fifth, the actual amount of relief given in 1832 was much larger in proportion to the population than even that given in 1818, which has generally been considered as the year in which it attained its highest amount; and, 3dly, That the statement of the mere amount directly expended, whether estimated in money or in kind, affords a very inadequate measure of the loss sustained by those who supply it. A great part of the expense is incurred, not by direct payment out of the rates, but by the purchase of unprofitable labour. Where rate-payers are the immediate employers of work-people, they often keep down the rates, either by employing more labourers than they actually want, or by employing parishioners, when better labourers could be obtained. The progressive deterioration of the labourers in the pauperized districts, and the increasing anxiety of the principal rate-payers, as their burthen becomes more oppressive, to shift it in some way, either on the inhabitants of neighbouring parishes, or on the portion of their fellow-parishioners who can make the least resistance; and the apparent sanction given to this conduct by the 2 and 3 William IV. c. 96, appear to have greatly increased this source of indirect and unrecorded loss. Our evidence, particularly Appendix (D), is full of instances, of which we will cite only those which have been drawn from the county of Cambridge, and are to be found in Mr. Cowell's and Mr. Power's Reports. Mr. Cowell's Report*78 contains the examination of a large farmer and proprietor at Great Shelford, who, on 500 acres, situated in that parish, pays 10s. per acre poor-rate, or 250l. a year. In addition, though he requires for his farm only 16 regular labourers, he constantly employs 20 or 21. The wages of these supernumerary labourers amount to 150l. a year, and he calculates the value of what they produce at 50l. a year; so that his real contribution to the relief of the poor is not 250l., the sum which would appear in the Parliamentary Returns, but 350l. In the same Report is to be found a letter from Mr. Wedd, of Royston, containing the following passages:—
"An occupier of land near this place told me to-day, that he pays 100l. for poor-rates, and is compelled to employ fourteen men and six boys, and requires the labour of only ten men and three boys. His extra labour at 10s. a week (which is the current rate for men), and half as much for boys, is 130l.
"Another occupier stated yesterday that he held 165 acres of land, of which half was pasture. He was compelled to employ twelve men and boys, and his farm required the labour of only five. He is about to give notice that he will quit. Every useless labourer is calculated to add 5s. an acre to the rent of a farm of 100 acres."
It contains also a letter from Mr. Nash, of Royston, the occupier of a farm in a neighbouring parish, stating, that
"The overseer, on the plea that he could no longer collect the money for the poor-rates without resorting to coercive measures, and that the unemployed poor must be apportioned among the occupiers of land in proportion to their respective quantities, had required him to take two more men. Mr. Nash was consequently obliged to displace two excellent labourers, and of the two men sent in their stead one was a married man with a family sickly, and not much inclined to work; the other a single man addicted to drinking."
The subsequent history of these two men appears in Mr. Power's Report. One killed a favourite blood mare of Mr. Nash's, and the other he was obliged to prosecute for stealing his corn.
Mr. Power reports the evidence of Mr. Charles Mash, of Hinxton:—
"He occupies a farm of 1000 acres, one of the most highly cultivated in the country. They have the practice there of sharing among themselves all the labourers of the parish, according to an assessment of value. He finds this burthen a very oppressive one, and injurious to him in many ways. He is paying about 1200l. a year for labour, and his farm being already in an excellent state, he cannot find work for a great portion of his men. He believes that by discarding those whom he does not want, he should save 200l. of the sum above stated.
"Injury often occurs to his property from the negligent conduct of such men as he is sometimes obliged to employ. He would rather pay some for their absence than their presence on his farm. By the necessity of employing so much labour, he has found himself much constrained, and to great disadvantage, in choosing his mode of cultivation. He has nevertheless, at this time, six more labourers than he can possibly employ to advantage. They are frequently obliged to remain idle on the farm, because there is no dependence to be placed on their industry or attention to their work; and much of this arises from a consciousness in the men themselves that they are not wanted."*79
We believe, that if it were possible to ascertain the loss from all these sources during the year ending the 25th March, 1832, it will be found at least to approach the 7,036,968l. which the Parliamentary Return states to have been directly expended.
From this pecuniary loss, indeed, must be deducted the pecuniary gain, such as it may be, obtained by those employers who have purchased the services of their labourers, for wages which an independent labourer would not have accepted; a gain which may at first sight be supposed to be considerable, since the endeavour to procure it has been one of the principal causes of the allowance system. Our inquiries have convinced us that the deduction which may fairly be made on this account, from the apparent charge of the poor-rates, is much less than it is commonly thought to be; that its amount is decreasing every day; and that, though in many instances much less is paid to the pauperized labourer by his employer, for his day or his week, than he could have received if he had been independent; yet that, even in these cases, the work actually performed is dearly paid for. We shall recur to this subject in a subsequent part of the Report.
Notes for this chapter
End of Notes
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