Front Page Titles (by Subject) Specific Effects of the Application of the Principles in the Case of Able-Bodied Paupers - Poor Law Commissioners' Report of 1834
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Specific Effects of the Application of the Principles in the Case of Able-Bodied Paupers - Nassau William Senior, Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834 
Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834. Copy of the Report made in 1834 by the Commissioners for Inquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty (London: Printed for H.M. Stationery Off. by Darling and Son, 1905).
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Specific Effects of the Application of the Principles in the Case of Able-Bodied Paupers
We now solicit attention to the various classes of effects produced by the application of this principle, though less strictly, to the administration of the poor's-rates.
The first immediate effects produced in Cookham, were the conversion of the able-bodied paupers into independent labourers, and the reduction of the parochial expenditure.
"About sixty-three heads of families which were formerly constantly on the parish, at once disappeared from the poor-books."
In the course of Mr. Whately's examination he was asked—
"Did the change of system drive any of the parishioners into other parishes?—Certainly not. Not a single family of parishioners of the labouring class has removed; and what is more remarkable is, that although the allowance formerly given to parishioners living at a distance was discontinued, none were brought home.
"Do you mean that not one family of parishioners of the labouring class has removed from the parish since the change of system?—I do. Of course I do not mean to state that the youth of both sexes are not encouraged to look out for suitable services wherever they may be found; and many have done themselves and their friends credit by doing so, who under the old system of relief might have had their efforts paralysed, and have continued through life a burden both to themselves and their friends."8
The money payments were reduced from 2608l. to less than half the amount. During the first eight years of the operation of the new system 15,000l. was saved as compared with the expenditure of the eight years preceding.
In Swallowfield, the annual rates were reduced from 6s. 8d. to 3s. 4d. in the pound. All able-bodied labourers left the workhouse, and the total number of able-bodied claimants was diminished one-half.
Among the effects produced at Leckhamstead, it is stated that forty-three able-bodied labourers were formerly chargeable to the parish, and that three only are now chargeable. In answer to further inquiries, Mr. Brickwell who effected the change states, that—
"The forty have mostly found employment within this parish; there may be four or five employed generally in the adjoining parish of Lillingstone Lovell, where they have not a sufficient number of labourers for their ordinary work, and at some periods of the year others obtain work in the neighbourhood. Since the change of our system the farmers are more inclined to employ labourers; previously they would leave all the work that could by any means be put off until some rounds-men came to their turn, or until they could get men at reduced wages, the parish making up the remainder; now the case is different, that inducement for protracting their work is done away with, and there is a more regular supply of labour; the men find it much easier to obtain work at fair wages; none are driven out of the parish by our improved system; but we do observe a greater desire and anxiety to obtain work amongst the labourers than was formerly the case."9
In this parish it appears that the total population is not more than 499, and that 77 of these are labourers employed in agriculture. The population was, in 1801, 346; in 1811, 397; in 1821, 519. During the five years preceding the change, the total expenditure was 4172l.; during the five years subsequent it was 3000l.
In Hatfield also, the able-bodied labourers found independent work within the parish. There appear indeed to have been no means of emigration. The master of the workhouse was asked—
"Do the labourers ever go out of your parish to seek work?—No, they know it would be of no use; they are certain of it, as it is a general understanding in this part of the country that each parish shall employ its own poor."10
The saving in money in this parish, during the ten years succeeding the alteration, as compared with the ten years preceding, was 14,000l., the population having during that time increased by 378 persons.
In Welwyn, the results of the system were very soon perceived. The Rev. Mr. Clutton states, that,—
"Since the alteration, the labourers are less disposed to throw themselves out of work; not applying to the parish on every emergency; there are few new paupers. Some of those who had been on the parish as permanently sick for years have partially recovered, and have returned to work, supporting, or at least helping to support themselves and their families. Several of the girls who came into the house when it was first opened have obtained respectable places, and have turned out well; but for the discipline and habits of the poor-house they would in all probability have been ruined."
In Southwell, the inmates of the workhouse dwindled from 80, in the first year, to 30, and in the second to 11. The total expenditure during the ten years preceding the change was 13,929l.; the total expenditure during the ten years succeeding, was 4005l.
"The inmates of the workhouse dropped from 45 to 12, all of them old, idiots, or infirm, to whom a workhouse is really a place of comfort. The number of persons relieved out of the workhouse dropped from 78 to 27. The weekly pay from 6l. to 1l. 16s. to pensioners, all of whom are old and blind, or crippled."
The expenditure in poor's-rates was as follows:—
In Turton, near Bolton, Lancashire, where a well-managed workhouse was introduced—
"No sooner had this system been put into full operation in the house, than the able-bodied, hereditary paupers began to disappear; the discipline was new to them—they disliked the restraint; they soon found that by persevering industry and a little management, they could live above pauperism; and they left us with their habits improved, to make their way in the world without parochial assistance.
"Our poor-rates in 1790 were, upon a full valuation, nearly equal to nine per cent., and at some subsequent periods, viz., in 1816 and 1817, have been even more. After the establishment of our workhouse they began to decrease; for many years preceding the last, they have been very little more than five per cent., and last year they were less, although the population has become nearly double12 ."
In Ilfracombe the overseer found that when 2d. a day less was given by the parish than by private persons, applications were no longer made to him by the able-bodied paupers. Not a single able-bodied man has been relieved since that time, and they are all in the employment of the farmers; the rate of wages being 1s. 4d. per diem, with an allowance for beer or cider13 .
In Uley, the burthens of the rate-payers were reduced more than one-half; and Mr. Baker, in speaking of the subsequent conversion of paupers into labourers, states,—
"That it is not so difficult for them to find work for themselves as it is generally believed to be, is proved from the shortness of the time that, with not above two or three exceptions, any able-bodied person has remained in the house; and by a list which has been made of more than 1000 persons who were on the parish books, and who now can be proved to be otherwise maintained, chiefly by their own exertions. The list shows what they used to receive, and for whom they now work. All who received parish pay before the workhouse was open are accounted for, excepting about eight or ten. Some few have left the parish, but not many. About 500 are now on the books, and most of those on reduced pay. I did not advise the introduction of the plan till I had read much and thought much; and till I had removed many doubts by private correspondence with those who had witnessed its beneficial effects for several years. Among these doubts the most important was, 'how, in the present scarcity of work, can those employ or support themselves who are now receiving parish pay?' The answer was, 'You will be surprised to find how soon the impossibility will dwindle down to an improbability, the improbability to a distant hope, and that again to complete success.' I was also told that industry and frugality would increase, and that crime would become less; but I never was told, nor had I the most distant hope, that the success would have been so complete. When it began the poor were idle, insolent, and in a state bordering upon riot; they openly acknowledged that they would rather live on the parish pay in idleness, than work for full labourer's wages, and when hired, their behaviour was such that they could not be continued in work. Now all are glad to get work. I employed many of them in the winter of 1830, and in the spring I let them go; but I promised them work again in the next winter, for which they expressed more gratitude than I expected; but when the winter came very few claimed my promise, they were in work which they had found for themselves; and in this winter, up to this time (December 5th, 1832) only one person has asked me for work. There is one man at Uley whose character is, and ever has been, exceedingly bad, and his feet being inverted he is lame. He was allowed parish pay till very lately; he applied for an increase of it; he asserted no one would employ him, and I believed him. At a vestry meeting, however, his pay was entirely taken off; he instantly found work for himself, and has lived by his labour ever since14 ."
In no instance does the actual population of a parish appear to have been disturbed by these changes; no complaint has been made by adjacent parishes of the labourers of the dispauperized parishes having been driven in amongst them. The reason assigned by the witness at Hatfield for the labourers continuing in their own parish, is applicable to most of the agricultural districts. Non-parishioners may gradually introduce themselves without exciting a murmur; but it appears that the law of settlement, and the present general administration of the Poor Laws, render the transference of bodies of the labouring population from parish to parish a matter of considerable difficulty. It is found less difficult to drive them into other parishes for residences, and even for settlements, than for labour; which last object arouses the immediate opposition of the settled labourers. It appears, however, that they had no need to seek labour in other parishes, as they found it on the best terms in their own parishes, as soon as motives to steady industry were re-imposed upon them. In some large town parishes the same principle of administration, with relation to able-bodied paupers, has been tried, and, as will appear from our subsequent quotations, found equally efficient in rendering them independent of parochial aid; but from the want of knowledge of the individual circumstances of the paupers, or the means of tracing them amidst a crowded population, the witnesses can seldom speak otherwise than on conjecture as to any further effects.
The evidence, however, which we have been able to obtain from towns resembles that afforded by the rural districts. Mr. Gordon, a parish officer of All Saints, Poplar, one of the parishes in the metropolis where stricter management of the able-bodied paupers has been established, states,—
"I have lived 30 years in the parish, and being a cooper and shipowner, employing in my own business between 40 and 50 men, I am conversant with the condition of the labouring classes, and can state that the effect upon them in our district has been very beneficial. It has been beneficial in inducing them to rely more on their own resources than they did formerly. It has long struck me, that they contribute more regularly and largely to savings' banks and benefit societies; in fact, I know this to be the case, as I am one of the trustees of the Poplar Savings' Bank. Now I have only one man working in my yard who does not contribute to a benefit society established amongst the men some years ago, at the instance of my brother; formerly, there were a great number of the men who did not contribute to it. Speaking of my own men, I can state that they are much more steady in their work, and more careful than formerly in not throwing themselves out of work."
The absorption of the able-bodied paupers, or, in other words, their conversion into independent labourers employed within the parish, and the reduction of the poor's-rates, were immediately followed by an improvement in wages, so far as the amount of wages in a pauperized parish, confounded as they are with partial relief under the roundsman or billet or allowance or labour-rate system, can be compared with the amount of wages in the same parish after it has been dispauperized and the labourers paid by their employers.
At White Waltham, where the same system had been adopted, the wages of the labourers are stated to be "rather better," although there were one hundred or one-ninth more labourers in the parish in 1831 than in 1821, the year before the change took place.
In Cookham, the wages of the great body of the labourers were improved.
In Hatfield, the permanent overseer was asked, with respect to the independent labourers in the parish,—
"What effect has been produced on their wages?—The wages have improved somewhat; I cannot state exactly how much, but I believe the wages have improved by 1s. a week; they formerly got 9s. and 10s. a week, now they get about 11s. This, I think, is about the average of their wages here15 ."
The Rev. F. J. Faithful, rector of Hatfield, J. P., examined.
"Have the wages of the independent labourers been improved since the change of system of administration of the Poor-Laws?—Decidedly so; and the wages are higher here than in any parish in the neighbourhood where a similar system has not been adopted16 ."
In the adjacent parish of Welwyn, where the same system has been adopted, the wages of the independent labourers were improved.
In Swallowfield one of the first results of the change was, that single independent labourers received better wages. One of the witnesses stated at the time of the visit of the Commissioner, that he had that day been seeking for a young man to hire, but that he had been obliged to go out of the parish for one; an event which he had never before known.
In Bingham, Southwell, and St. Mary's Nottingham, Mr. Cowell made special inquiries as to the effect of the change upon the wages of labourers belonging to the classes receiving parochial relief, and found that in every instance there had been a striking improvement.
In Thurgarton, where wages have never been tampered with, and where no partial relief has been given during the last forty years, wages have remained steady in money, and advanced when estimated in kind. In the surrounding parishes which are pauperized, wages have been subject to mischievous fluctuations during the same period.
R. P. Garratt, the overseer of Downham Market, Norfolk, states, that—
"We began a change of system by invariably refusing relief in aid of wages. If the farmer would not give the labourers fair wages we took them wholly away and employed them for the parish, and we found very soon that, although it cost us much more at first, it soon had the effect of making the farmer pay his labourers fairly17 ."
It must be added, that the mere amount in money does not accurately represent the increase in wages. Beer, milk, potatoes, meat, flour, and other provisions, or the use of land, are so often allowed to the labourer, or furnished to him under the market price, as to form an important part of his means of subsistence: and these advantages are of course given to the best and steadiest workmen. The Marquis of Salisbury states that at Cranborne, where he has successfully opposed the allowance system, the rate of wages is higher, if not in money, yet in value, if these privileges are to be taken into account, than in the neighbouring pauperized parishes.
Before the experiment was made, it might fairly have been anticipated that the discontinuance of parochial allowance would effect little or no improvement in wages unless a similar change were made in the neighbouring parishes. When a considerable proportion of the labourers who had been entirely dependent upon the parish were driven to rely on their own industry, it might have been anticipated that the wages of the entire body of labourers within the parish would have been injuriously affected by their competition. And this certainly would have been the case if they had added nothing to the fund out of which their wages came. That fund is, in fact, periodically consumed and reproduced by the labourer, assisted by the land and the farmer's capital, and, all other things remaining the same, the amount of that fund, and consequently his share of it, or, in other words, the amount of his wages, depends on his industry and skill. If all the labourers in a parish cease to work, they no longer produce any fund for their own subsistence, and must either starve or be supported, as they were at Cholesbury, by rates in aid. A single person who has no property and is supported without working, bears the same relation to the labourers who do work as the parishioners of Cholesbury bore to the neighbouring parishes. He is supported by a sort of rate in aid on their industry. His conversion from a pauper, wholly or partially supported by the labour of others, into an independent labourer producing his own subsistence, and in addition to that, a profit to his employer, so far from injuring his fellow workmen, produces on them the same effects as the enabling the inhabitants of Cholesbury to support themselves has produced on the parishes which had to supply them with rates in aid. This has been perceived by some of our witnesses. A farmer of considerable intelligence, who had resided in Cookham, and observed the effects of the change in that parish, declared his conviction that if such a change could be generally introduced, the money saved in poor's-rates would almost immediately be paid in wages. The withdrawal of relief in aid of wages appears to be succeeded by effects in the following order:—First, the labourer becomes more steady and diligent; next, the more efficient labour makes the return to the farmers capital larger, and the consequent increase of the fund for the employment of labour enables and induces the capitalist to give better wages.
The instances of the application of the same principle of administration in those of the manufacturing districts which are pauperized are comparatively scanty; but where they have occurred the effects are in general similar. The following answer to one of our queries from the parish of St. Werburgh, Derby, by Mr. Henry Mozley, affords an example of the operation of the discontinuance of allowances in aid of wages in a manufacturing district.
"When I was overseer I refused to relieve able-bodied men working for other people, considering that, by relieving them I was injuring the respectable part of the poor (I mean those just above pauperism), by running down their wages. I found that some of the children in the workhouse were put out to the cotton and silk mills, and because they were workhouse children, the manufacturers paid them less wages than were given to the children of independent work people, who, on applying for employment for their children at 2s. a week, were told, 'I only give that girl, who is older and bigger, 1s. 6d.;' I determined therefore to take them away from the mills, and that they should do something, or even nothing in the house rather than injure the deserving poor. I am certain that for every 5s. loss that the parish sustained by this conduct is gained 5l. by assisting the respectable poor, and by preventing them from requiring parish relief18 ."
The next class of specific effects which have followed the application of the principle of keeping the condition of the pauper inferior to that of the independent labourer, is, that it has arrested the increase of population, which the evidence shows to be produced by the present state of the law and of its administration.
In the parish of Burghfield, Mr. Samuel Cliff, the assistant overseer, states that he was—
"Convinced that the discontinuance of the allowance system had saved the parish from destruction; it did this by the immediate check which it gave to population. Whilst the allowance system went on, it was a common thing for young people to come to me for parish relief two or three days after they were married; nay, I have had them come to me just as they came out of church and apply to me for a loaf of bread to eat, and for a bed to lie on that night, and, moreover, for a house for them to live in. But this sort of marriages is now checked, and in a few years the parish will probably be brought about. If the former system had gone on, we should have been swallowed up in a short time."
"Is your knowledge of the individuals resident in your parish such that you can state without doubt that there are persons in it, now single, who would, under the influence of the system of allowing rates in aid of wages, have married had that system been continued?—I have no doubt whatever that several of them would have married; I know them so well that I am sure of it19 ."
In the Report from Cookham, it is stated, that "some very striking consequences have resulted from the operation of the present system. In the eight years preceding the operation of the new system, the increase of population was very rapid; for the eight years subsequent there was, as compared with the eight years preceding, a positive diminution. Improvident marriages are less frequent." In the Report from Swallowfield, it is stated, that, "the number of improvident marriages is diminished about one-half." In Bingham, the diminution of improvident marriages was about one-half; and yet, in all these three parishes, illegitimate births, instead of having been promoted by the diminution of marriages, have been repressed still more effectually, and in the last, almost extinguished.
The master of the workhouse at Hatfield was asked—
"What has been the effect, as regards marriages, of altering the system, and paying according to the value of each man as a labourer, so far as that has been done?—I believe they think more before marriage. They would often formerly, as I have been informed, marry without having provided a home or a bed, or any thing, leaving all to the parish. I am not aware of any such marriages having taken place recently20 ."
In the course of the examination of the manager of the poor in the parish of Great Farringdon (Berks), to which we have already referred, in answer to the question—.
"What has been the effect in respect of marriages?"—He answered, "It has been remarked that there are fewer marriages than in previous years; but the change has not, perhaps, been in operation a sufficient length of time to produce the full effect. During the last twelve months, however, we had only two cases of bastardy; whereas, the average, for the previous years, has been about six or seven. This alteration has been remarked as the result of the change of system21 ."
The population of some of the dispauperized parishes has increased since the change of system; but generally in a diminished ratio as compared with the preceding rate of increase. The diminution was in the class of improvident and wretched marriages described by the witnesses above cited.
Whatever impels any class into courses of sustained industry must necessarily diminish crime; and we find that one characteristic of the dispauperized parishes is the comparative absence of crime. In Bingham, before the change of system took place, scarcely a night passed without mischief; and during the two years preceding 1818, seven men of the parish were transported for felonies; now there is scarcely any disorder in the place. In Uley and Southwell parishes crime has similarly ceased.
In almost every instance the content of the labourers increased with their industry.
The evidence on this subject, collected by the Commission, is confirmed by that taken in the last session by the House of Commons' Committee on the state of Agriculture. We refer particularly to the following extracts from the evidence of Mr. Smith Woolley, a land-agent and an occupier of land in the incorporation, so ably superintended by the Rev. Mr. Becher.
"How much have the poor-rates in your parish fallen?—Including the roads, I think about one-third, that is, from about 600l. to 400l.
"What is the condition of the poor in your parish with the 400l. a year expended upon them, compared with their condition when 600l. was expended upon them?—Vastly improved in comfort and usefulness, as well as character.
"Are they more happy and comfortable now?—Much more so; we endeavour to remove cause for complaint, and generally they are satisfied.
"Has the gross produce in your parish, or in those fifty parishes to which you have referred, diminished or increased since your poor-rate fell?—As far as I can judge, increased; the employment of the labourers in draining and other improvements, has produced much effect, and the advantage is felt by the farmers more every year.
"Even in these bad times the land has been permanently improved, and the gross produce increased under this system?—Most decidedly; in the last three seasons, indeed, our cold wet soils have suffered so much from continued rains that they have been very unproductive; but this has shown the advantage to be derived from draining, and more is done.
"Have you any emigration?—Not to such an extent as to produce any effect22 .
"Do all classes join in estimating the benefit of this system,—the tenants and the labourers?—In the first instance there was strong prejudice in both parties, quite as much in the employer as the labourer; but they generally begin to see their mutual interest in it.
"They were willing to incur the expense of the erection of the poorhouse?—There were objections, but not in many instances.
"With respect to the introduction of the anti-pauper system of Mr. Becher, not taking into consideration merely the expense of raising a workhouse, are there not other outgoings to be submitted to on the part of the farmer?—Yes; but they are more than repaid in the current year. The reduction in the poor-rates, of which I spoke, was when we paid fifty guineas to an overseer, and the instalments of the money borrowed to build the workhouse23 .
"When in your parishes you (what you call) force people upon their own resources, to find the means of providing for themselves, you are in a country at no great distance from manufacturing towns, where there is considerable resource for persons so forced upon their own resources?—Not in ordinary times. I do not think we derive any benefit from them. In the very excited state of the lace trade, a few years ago, even labourers accustomed only to agricultural employment were engaged, but it was only temporary, and produced much more harm than good24 .
"Do you think, from considering the poverty of the farmers, that they can afford paying those [i.e. high] wages for labour?—The question is, in what shape it shall be paid; certainly he can afford better to pay for labour for which he may expect a return, than in poor-rates, for which he can expect nothing but ruin25 ."
[8.] App. (A.) Part II.
[9.] App. (A.) Part II.
[10.] App. (A.) Part II.
[12.] App. (A.) Part I. pp. 635, 636.
[13.] Mr. Villiers' Report, App. (A.) Part II. p. 44.
[14.] App. (A.) p. 623.
[15.] App. (A.) Part II.
[16.] App. (A.) Part II.
[17.] App. (B.) Ques. 39, p. 312d.
[18.] Appendix (B.) Quest. 44, p. 31 d.
[19.] App. (A.) Part II.
[20.] App. (A.) Part II.
[21.] App. (A.) Part II.
[22.] Agricultural Report, p. 575.
[23.] Ibid. p. 574.
[24.] Ibid. p. 576.
[25.] Agricultural Report, p. 575.