Front Page Titles (by Subject) [Part II, Section 4] FURTHER LEGISLATIVE AMENDMENT - Poor Law Commissioners' Report of 1834
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[Part II, Section 4] FURTHER LEGISLATIVE AMENDMENT - 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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[Part II, Section 4]
|Increase in 30 years||...||...||...||50 per cent.|
|Ditto in last 20 years||...||...||...||33 —|
|Ditto in last 10 years||...||...||...||6.8 —|
"Note.—The increase in the whole county (exclusive of the towns of Brighton, Chichester, Hastings and Lewes), in the last 20 years, is from 161,577 to 204,707, or 26 + per cent. This population I apprehend to be purely agricultural. It gives an average increase of about 158 souls in each parish, the average present population being 752."
"The accuracy of the census of 1801 has been generally disputed; assuming then the census of 1811 for the purpose of my argument, we find that there are now 133 labourers to do the same work that was then done by 100. I say the same work, but I should be justified in saying less; for as the profits of agriculture have declined, and the capital of the farmer deteriorated, so has the state of tillage and the general cultivation of the land. As I consider this point of the argument to be of vital importance to a just view of the subject, I beg to explain that I mean, that the same physical force which effectuated a certain state of cultivation in 1811, (without reference to what was left undone,) would effect the same in 1831; and if that is now done by the application of a greater number of labourers, it must be by assigning less work to the share of each."
In the Answers to the Questions addressed by us to individuals in agricultural districts of the Middle, Southern and Eastern Counties, we find frequent cases stated of a great excess of labourers above the means of employment in the respective parishes. And we find the statement confirmed by the fact of multitudes of able-bodied young men wasting their time on the roads and in gravel-pits at the expense of the rate-payers, who deem it cheaper to pay them for their idleness than for their labour. The excess in some districts of labourers beyond the actual demand must be taken to be established beyond dispute.
But in the case of labour, as of commodities, the extent of the demand, as compared with the supply, will depend in some degree on the quality of the article offered. The present state of the administration of the Poor-Laws does not allow us to ascertain, in the great majority of parishes we have referred to, what the demand for labour would be, if work were sought for with energy, and performed with diligence. It is to be observed, too, that although not employed, all the population in the parishes which complain of its excess, is at any rate clothed and fed, and that the income which maintains an able-bodied puaper in idleness would, if not so expended, be applied directly or indirectly to the employment of labour. It does not necessarily follow, indeed, that the demand for labour which would arise from the saving of the farmer through the diminution of rates would be felt within the same parish or district within which the poor-rates are now expended, and we have therefore looked with some anxiety to the effect on the demand for labour in those parishes where a reform in the administration of the Poor-Laws has been effected. We have already had to state, among the most gratifying results of this reform, that the dispauperized labourers have found employment to a greater extent than the most sanguine friend of the change could have anticipated in the parishes where they were previously relieved as paupers.
One of the parishes which we have mentioned among those in which an improved administration of the law has been introduced (Uley), was the seat of an apparently large surplus population, and of a declining manufacture. No circumstances could be conceived apparently less favourable to the absorption of surplus labour. Yet of 1000 persons who, before the introduction of the reform, were on the parish books, (out of a population of 2641,) and who are now chiefly maintained by their own exertions, few have left the parish; and this statement is supported by a list, showing the actual occupations and present means of support of all who received parish pay before the workhouse was opened104 . No evidence can be more satisfactory or complete.
These results lead us to a conviction, that even in the parishes where the greatest surplus above the actual demand exists, it would be rapidly reduced and ultimately disappear, if relief were no longer granted, except in return for actual labour, and subject to the restraints of a workhouse.
But no expedient by which the reduction of the surplus labour can be accelerated, and the suffering of the labourer during the progress of the change diminished, should be disregarded; and we are of opinion, that emigration, which has been one of the most innocent palliatives of the evils of the present system, could be advantageously made available to facilitate the application of the remedies which we have already suggested.
Numerous instances are stated in our evidence, of emigration at the expense of parishes, and the results have generally been satisfactory105 ; we believe they have been uniformly so wherever the experiment has been made on a considerable scale. In the case of Benenden, in Kent, where the effects of emigration, unconnected with other remedies, have been carefully detailed by Mr. Law Hodges, the result has been, that the annual parochial expenditure, exclusive of the emigration expenses, has been reduced in four years by one-third; that within the same time the debt incurred on account of emigration has been nearly liquidated; that the whole expense of the poor, including the sums applied to this liquidation, has been considerably reduced from the very year the emigration commenced, while the moral condition of the labourers has been decidedly improved. But emigration has hitherto been resorted to under many discouragements and difficulties. The same causes which make those who are dependent on the poor-rates listless in seeking employment at home, render them unwilling to undergo the temporary privations and inconvenience which must attend their settlement in another country. Those persons are generally most forward to emigrate who are least corrupted by the abuses of the system of relief. Those are most willing to remain a burthen to their parishes who are most thoroughly profligate and useless.
Mr. Stuart, speaking of the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, where emigration to a greater or less extent has taken place in many of the parishes, observes,—
"It is, however, vain to hope that emigration can be carried to an extent equal to effect any diminution on the expenditure on the poor, so long as the parish funds are open to all comers. It is a matter of complaint by the farmers, that emigration only carries off the industrious and well-behaved, and leaves them encumbered with the idle and profligate; and it cannot be otherwise while everyone is sure of a liberal maintenance whether they are idle or industrious. Mr. Turner has taken the trouble to extract from the overseer's books the parish allowances paid to those who removed from Kettleburgh, from which it will be seen that men with seven children were in receipt of 14s. a week, and others in proportion. It is surprising that any inducement could be discovered sufficiently strong to influence any person to forego the certainty of so liberal a pension, to encounter the violent change of feelings and habits which must accompany emigration under any circumstances. It is universally known that those who are in receipt of parish relief, leagued together, for the purpose of keeping it up and augmenting it for their own benefit, or extending it to others; and as they are less scrupulous in the means they resort to, they are better able to carry through their designs of encroachment than the rate-payers are their endeavours to resist them. The progressive increase of the expenditure on the poor would seem to prove this. In such a state of things, it cannot be expected that the expenditure on paupers can be diminished by lessening the numbers of the population, unless it be carried to a greater extent than seems to be possible, so long as compulsory relief exists; the chances being, that whatever diminution of expense might take place from that cause, would be no saving to the rate-payers, as fresh candidates for relief would immediately start up. Where the parochial fund is considered as a property on which all have a claim, there is little difficulty in contriving pretences to make the claim good; and as long as the fund exists for the purposes to which it is now directed, it is not by the diminution of the numbers of the population which could be effected by emigration, that it can be brought within reasonable bounds106 ."
"If chargeable paupers would go," says Mr. Maclean, speaking of Dorking, "the parish would be willing to raise a large sum; but this class of persons naturally prefer an idle but certain dependence on the parish at home, to an uncertain independence abroad, to be procured by industry and good conduct107 ."
The following extract from Mr. Majendie's Report shows the pecuniary saving which has been effected by emigration. It is valuable, also, as showing that emigration alone is an inadequate, and must be a transient remedy. We have seen in the cases of Cookham, Swallowfield, and other parishes, that the evils of the Poor Laws disappear under the influence of the system we have recommended, notwithstanding an apparent surplus of population. We see in the evidence we are about to quote, that although the supernumerary labourers be removed by emigration, yet, in the absence of other changes, the abuses of the allowance system may continue to abound, and that the charge for the poor may be 27s. per head on a population, where no pretence of a surplus continues to exist;
"In the year ending March, 1822, the total expenditure was 3371l. The reduction of rates in the parish of Ewhurst has been effected partly by adopting money payment, but principally by emigration. Since the year 1818, 100 persons have emigrated, so that there are now no supernumerary labourers. In a parish which has incurred the expense of emigration to such an extent as to leave no more labourers than are requisite for the cultivation of the soil, in which 400 acres of hops afford employment to women and children, winter and summer, and where the rate of weekly wages is 13s. 6d., the allowance for children must be considered as compulsory, and to that must it be ascribed that rates are still 27s. per head on the population, and 11s. in the pound on a two-thirds value.
"The rector, from benevolent motives, has offered small allotments to the labourers, at a low rent: he has been able to let three acres only, and his offer of nine acres more has been rejected108 ."
Even in Benenden, where emigration has been so well managed, the expenditure on the poor is still above 20s. per head on the whole population. The abolition of partial relief will remove the main discouragement to emigration, while it will ascertain the extent to which emigration may be useful; it will increase the disposition to emigrate on the part of those whose emigration is to be desired. We believe, therefore, that in proportion as our other remedies are applied, there will be an increased disposition on the part of parishes to supply the means to paupers desirous of emigrating, if they be enabled by law so to do. WE RECOMMEND, THEREFORE, THAT THE VESTRY OF EACH PARISH BE EMPOWERED TO ORDER THE PAYMENT OUT OF THE RATES RAISED FOR THE RELIEF OF THE POOR, OF THE EXPENSES OF THE EMIGRATION OF ANY PERSONS HAVING SETTLEMENTS WITHIN SUCH PARISH, WHO MAY BE WILLING TO EMIGRATE; PROVIDED, THAT THE EXPENSE OF EACH EMIGRATION BE RAISED AND PAID, WITHIN A PERIOD TO BE MENTIONED IN THE ACT. We think it also would be expedient to adopt the measures for facilitating and regulating emigration contained in the Bill introduced into the House of Commons in 1831, and to be found (as amended by a committee) in the Parliamentary Papers of that Session, (No. 358.)
It has occasionally happened that emigrants have returned to burthen the parishes at the expense of which they have been removed; and to remedy this evil, it has been proposed that every person who should, with his own consent, be removed to the Colonies at the expense of his parish, should lose his settlement. But we do not think it expedient that this proposal should be adopted. We do not believe the instances of the return of emigrants are now frequent enough to affect the profit to a parish of an emigration judiciously conducted, and we believe that the instances would be still more rare if it were known that the emigrant on his return would not be entitled to relief otherwise than in a well-managed workhouse. But the chief objection is, that to deprive the emigrant of his settlement,—while it might operate to prevent the pauper from emigrating by the threat of an imaginary forfeiture,—would only enable returned emigrants to be relieved as casual poor in any places, not excluding their own parishes, where they might be pleased to fix themselves.
We should propose rather, that the expenses which any parish shall have defrayed, or contracted to pay for the removal of any voluntary emigrant, shall, upon the return to England of the emigrant, become a debt due to the overseers for the time being, and shall be recovered by an attachment of any wages to which the debtor may become entitled, as we have before recommended in the case of other expenses incurred on account of a pauper or his family.
We forbear to enter upon a consideration of the modes in which emigration may be most beneficially conducted, because it has already formed the subject of minute inquiries by Parliamentary Committees, and because, if the Emigration Bill which we have referred to be passed into a law, the Commission to be appointed under its provisions must soon be able to avail itself of information much more ample and detailed than we have had access to. But there is one suggestion of which we feel the value, from all the evidence we have received as to the state of feeling of the pauper emigrants. Under the influence of the system, which at once confines the labourer to a narrow neighbourhood, and relieves him from the care of providing for his subsistence, he has acquired, or retained, with the moral helplessness, some of the other peculiarities of a child. He is often disgusted to a degree which other classes scarcely conceive possible, by slight differences in diet; and is annoyed by any thing which appears to him strange and new. We believe the novelty of food and manners in the Colonies, and the longing for old associates and old associations, have concurred, with a retrospect of the ease and security of pauperism, to bring back to their parishes some of the least energetic emigrants, who, to justify themselves, spread discouraging accounts of the Colonies from which they have returned. In Mr. Stuart's Report will be found a letter from an emigrant at Montreal, who, being able to save money enough from his wages to pay his passage back, declared his intention to return to the parish in which he had been a troublesome pauper; apparently moved to that determination, as much by the want of well-tasted beer in Canada and a longing for old associations, as by the fact that he was obliged punctually to pay rent for his lodgings, instead of being provided with a cottage at the parish expense. We suggest, that to diminish distaste to the Colonies on imaginary grounds, the emigrants from particular parishes and neighbourhoods in England should be directed, as far as possible, to the same townships or districts, in which the new comers would thus find old acquaintances, and manners with which they would be familiar. We believe that this precaution would commonly lessen their aversion to a new country, and that, if any returned, their misrepresentations would be more effectually checked by the accounts continually received from their colonial neighbours.
There are some other matters connected with the objects of our inquiry, on which we do not propose the immediate adoption of any specific measures, because we should be unwilling to embarass the progress of the remedies we deem of paramount importance by any change not necessarily connected with them. The following subjects appear to us, however, to deserve the consideration of the Legislature.
The first is the present method of rating the property chargeable with the relief of the poor. The mode of rating is now, like many other parts of the administration of the Poor-Laws, in the highest degree uncertain and capricious. "It will be seen," says one of our Assistant Commissioners, "by a reference to the Return recently made to Parliament, that in the first ten parishes named, viz. Abingdon, Andover, Arundel, Ashburton, Aylesbury, Banbury, Barnstable, and the parishes of St. Michael, St. Peter and St. Paul and Walcot, in the City of Bath, nine different rates of assessment are now in operation, and these vary in the proportion of one-fifth of the rent or actual value, as assessed at Ashburton, to the full or actual value as assessed at Bath; while at Bridgnorth, a little further on in the Return, it appears that, in the seven parishes of the same town, five different modes of assessment are adopted109 "
Nor is the fractional part of the value on which the rate is professedly made always fixed or ascertainable within each parish.
The Commissioner whom we have quoted says, "Appeals are frequently made to me (as a magistrate) upon this subject, and although it has been my duty as well as my desire to ascertain the fractional part of the real value (for we do not rate on the rack-rent) upon which the assessment professes to be made, in Kensington, where I reside, I have been unable to do so, because I could not find any man in the parish who could state it with accuracy; and my conviction is, that, when once the simple rule of real value is departed from, a door is opened to much partiality and much abuse110 ."
In the town of Southampton, according to Captain Pringle, the assessment for the poor-rates is on a valuation made 60 years since. New buildings are assessed by the guardians, and at a much higher rate; many of the old being rated at about one-third of the rack-rent, whilst the new are nearly two-thirds.
That the mode of rating should be uniform; that it should be according to the actual value, and not any alleged, much less any uncertain or variable fractional part, is too obvious to be doubted; and we may observe, that besides affording a temptation and a cover to partiality and abuse, the present system, or want of system of rating, enables parishes at their discretion to render nugatory the salutary provisions of the 58th Geo. III. c. 69, as to the manner of voting in vestries.
It would be unjust, however, to assume the actual value of rateable property to be identical with the rack-rent. The value according to which property should be rated, appears to us to be the rent which a tenant, taking upon himself the burthen of repairs, could afford to pay under a 21 years' lease.
We have incidentally observed, in a former part of our Report, on the evils which arise from the exemption from rates enjoyed by the cottages or apartments inhabited by the poor, and of the payment of their rents by the parish. The enactment of the 59 Geo. III. c. 12, s. 19, was directed against these evils; but it has been found defective, inasmuch as it empowers, and does not enjoin parishes to rate the owners instead of the occupiers, and because dwellings let at a rent of less than 6l. a year, or for three months, or any longer term, are exempted from the operation of this power. The remedies we have already recommended will lessen the interest of the owners of the dwellings of the poor in the mal-administration of the parochial fund; but we think that for effecting an improvement in the composition and conduct of vestries, and for securing the more full and punctual payment of the rates, it is desirable that the owner of every dwelling or apartment let to the occupier at any rent not exceeding 15l. for any less term than seven years, should be rated instead of the occupiers.
Militia Men's Families
The Act of the 43d Geo. III. c. 47, (for consolidating the laws for the relief of the families of militia-men,) to which we have already referred, appears to us to be within the range of the inquiries which we have been directed to make, and it deserves to be reconsidered by the Legislature. It enacts in substance, that if a militia-man be called into actual service, leaving a family unable to support themselves, an allowance, after a rate not exceeding the price of one day's labour, nor less than 1s. per head, for the wife and each of the children under ten years of age, shall be paid, upon the order of one justice, to such family, by the overseers of the parish where they dwell.
The justices in quarter-sessions may settle the rate of allowance for such county, and the allowance so settled is binding on the individual justices. The payment made by the overseers of the place where the family dwell, to be reimbursed by other parishes and places in a manner immaterial to our purpose.
These payments are open to many of the objections to the "allowance system." They are made not in reward of the services of the father, or in proportion to those services, but in proportion to the assumed necessity of the family, and this necessity is assumed to be in proportion to their numbers; for although, perhaps, the words of the Act would authorize a justice to refuse to make an order, where the mother was manifestly able to maintain all her children, yet it is clear that, if he give anything, the magistrate must give the full allowance for all the members of the family; and we believe the Act is commonly construed (as without violence it may be) as not even leaving the justice satisfied of the fact of marriage, and the number and age of family, any discretion to withhold the allowance. We have already stated that this Act, or rather the Acts which it consolidates and amends, largely contributed, in many parts of the kingdom, to familiarize both magistrates and parish officers with the allowance system, and it diminished the shame of applications for parochial assistance, because it exhibited, as receivers of relief by the hands of the overseers, numerous families to whom no moral blame could be justly attributed. We feel great difficulty, however, in proposing the abolition of the provisions in question, depending as it does on the method established by law of recruiting for the militia by lot. It is not within the province of our commission to pronounce an opinion on this mode of recruiting; but whatever may be its advantages, we may be permitted to state our belief, that it has tended—it must tend when it is no longer dormant—to discourage the course of steady industry, and to increase the excuses for improvidence. It adds a factitious chance of ruin to those inevitable accidents of health and fortune which make the reward of steady industry in some degree precarious, and must render the strict administration of the poor-laws more difficult, by multiplying the cases of blameless destitution.
Closely connected with the relief provided by the Poor-Laws is the relief provided by charitable foundations. As to the Administration and effect of those charities which are distributed among the classes who are also receivers of the poor-rate, much evidence is scattered throughout our Appendix, and it has forced on us the conviction that, as now administered, such charities are often wasted, and often mischievous. In many instances being distributed on the same principle as the rates of the worst managed parishes, they are only less pernicious than the abuse in the application of the poor-rates, because they are visibly limited in amount. In some cases they have a quality of evil peculiar to themselves. The majority of them are distributed among the poor inhabitants of particular parishes or towns. The places intended to be favoured by large charities attract, therefore, an undue proportion of the poorer classes, who, in the hope of trifling benefits to be obtained without labour, often linger on in spots most unfavourable to the exercise of their industry. Poverty is thus not only collected, but created, in the very neighbourhood whence the benevolent founders have manifestly expected to make it disappear.
These charities, in the districts where they abound, may interfere with the efficacy of the measures we have recommended, and on this ground, though aware that we should not be justified in offering any specific recommendation with respect to them, we beg to suggest that they call for the attention of the Legislature.
WE have now recommended to YOUR MAJESTY the measures by which we hope that the enormous evils resulting from the present mal-administration of the Poor-Laws may be gradually remedied. It will be observed, that the measures which we have suggested are intended to produce rather negative than positive effects; rather to remove the debasing influences to which a large portion of the Labouring Population is now subject, than to afford new means of prosperity and virtue. We are perfectly aware, that for the general diffusion of right principles and habits we are to look, not so much to any economic arrangements and regulations as to the influence of a moral and religious education; and important evidence on the subject will be found throughout our Appendix. But one great advantage of any measure which shall remove or diminish the evils of the present system, is, that it will in the same degree remove the obstacles which now impede the progress of instruction, and intercept its results; and will afford a freer scope to the operation of every instrument which may be employed for elevating the intellectual and moral condition of the poorer classes. We believe, that if the funds now destined to the purposes of education, many of which are applied in a manner unsuited to the present wants of society, were wisely and economically employed, they would be sufficient to give all the assistance which can be prudently afforded by the State. As the subject is not within our Commission, we will not dwell on it further, and we have ventured on these few remarks only for the purpose of recording our conviction, that as soon as a good administration of the Poor-Laws shall have rendered further improvement possible, the most important duty of the Legislature is to take measures to promote the religious and moral education of the labouring classes.
|All which We humbly Certify to YOUR MAJESTY.|
|C. J. LONDON.||(L. S.)|
|J. B. CHESTER.||(L. S.)|
|W. STURGES BOURNE.||(L. S.)|
|NASSAU W. SENIOR.||(L. S.)|
|HENRY BISHOP.||(L. S.)|
|HENRY GAWLER.||(L. S.)|
|W. COULSON.||(L. S.)|
|JAMES TRAILL.||(L. S.)|
|EDWIN CHADWICK.||(L. S.)|
|20th February, 1834.|
[16.] Mr. Maclean, App. (A.) Part I. p. 547
[95.] App. (A.) Part II.
[96.] App. (A.) Mr. Chadwick's Report.
[97.] App. (A.) Part II.
[98.] App. (A.) Part I. p. 649.
[99.] App. (F).
[100.] 21st Article of Agreement for regulating the Friendly Society formed at Eltham, Kent.
[101.] 8th Article for regulating the TRIPLE FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY, Blackfriars, London.
[102.] App. (A.) Part II.
[103.] Some allowance must be made in this case for the rapid increase of the town of Cambridge.
[104.] Mr. Cowell's Rpep. Ap. (A.) Part I. p. 619 et seq.
[105.] Mr. Majendie's Rep. App. (A.) Part I. p. 170; Mr. Stuart (A.) Part I. p. 375; Capt. Pringle (A.) Part I. p. 320; Mr. Maclean (A.) Part I. p. 573, 8c.
[106.] App. (A.) Part I. p. 377.
[107.] App. (A.) Part I. p. 574.
[108.] Mr. Majendie's Rep., App. (A.) Part I. p. 203.
[109.] Mr. Codd's Rep., App. (A.) Part I. p. 50.
[110.] Mr. Codd's Rep., App. (A.) Part I. p. 50.