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CHAPTER II.: 1. Under-Ability, or Supplemental-Wages Clause. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 8 (Chrestomathia, Essays on Logic and Grammar, Tracts on Poor Laws, Tracts on Spanish Affairs) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). In 11 vols. Volume 8.
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1. Under-Ability, or Supplemental-Wages Clause.
“LIV. And be it further enacted, That if any poor person residing in any parish under the authority of this Act, and not being able to earn the full rate or wages usually given in such parish, or the parish or parishes united therewith, shall, with the previous consent of the person or persons appointed to the management of the poor of any such parish or united parishes, contract and agree to work at any inferior rate or wages, which wages shall not be sufficient for the maintenance and support of such poor person singly, or in conjunction with his or her family, it shall and may be lawful for such officers of the poor, with the approbation of one or more justice or justices of the peace in the district, to make up such deficiency as may be necessary for the support of such poor person, and his or her family, (regard being had to the earnings of such family,) out of the rates made for the relief of the poor, without compelling such poor person to be employed in any school of industry, or in any other manner under the authority of this Act.”
By the under-ability, or supplemental-wages clause, provision is made that “if any poor person entitled to the benefit of this Act,” (the efficient cause of title is not otherwise specified,) “not able to earn the full rate or wages, shall agree to work at an under rate, the deficiency may be made up to him out of the poor rates, without compelling such poor person to be employed in any manner under the authority of this Act.”
What sort of persons this class is intended to be composed of is a question respecting which I must confess myself unable to satisfy myself, not being able to collect who the persons are “entitled to the benefit of this Act;” thus much, however, I understand from the clause, that there is a class of persons to every one of whom, upon condition of their working in any manner, and receiving for their work a rate or wages falling short to any amount of the “full rate usually given in the parish,” somebody or other (I do not perfectly see who) shall have it in his power to make up the deficiency at the public charge.
The inability of the lowest class (I mean the worst paid class) of working hands in this country, viz. the labourers in husbandry, to make such provision for the sustenance of themselves and families as shall be constantly adequate to the purpose,—that is, under every variation which the ability as to work, the facility of obtaining work, and the magnitude of the burden resulting from the condition and multitude of the infants and other helpless branches of the family are susceptible of,—is a point which I fear has been but too incontestably established.*
To this inconvenience such remedies as in the course of the preceding observations presented themselves as the proper and only proper remedies, have already been pointed out. The remedies proposed by the Bill in general, and the part now in question in particular, must be confessed to be of a different stamp.
As to the casual inadequacy of the earnings of the individual compared with the demand for subsistence on the part of that same individual, two expedients have presented themselves: one is to fix the rate of wages, and thereby of earnings, viz. of the rate to be paid to individual labourers by individual employers; the other is leaving the rate indefinite, to make up the deficiency, whatsoever in each individual instance it may happen to amount to, at the public charge.
The fixation of wages is an operation which on different occasions has been proposed, and on some occasions even practised with opposite views,—to prevent what has been looked upon as excess, and to cure what has been looked upon as defect. It is with the latter view that it has lately been proposed with reference to the case now before us.
Against the fixation of wages with a view to prevent deficiency there is, however, this objection, viz. that thereby you exclude from employment many persons who might otherwise have obtained it. You aggravate the distress of the very persons, or at least a considerable proportion of the persons, whose condition you propose to meliorate. What you can do (let it be admitted) is so to order matters in behalf of the object of your benevolence, that if he receives anything he shall not receive less than what you wish him to receive; but what you cannot do is so to order matters as that, under these circumstances, he shall receive anything at all. To give him that sufficient rate of wages is an obligation not imposed upon any employer whatsoever; it is therefore an expense to which no employer who does not think he shall find his account in it, will ever think of subjecting himself.
In a word, a regulation fixing the rate of wages so as to prevent its falling below a certain rate, is, in effect, a regulation of the prohibitive kind, excluding from employment all such hands the value of whose labour does not rise to a level with that rate; a prohibition enforced by a specific and unavoidable penalty, and that penalty is the difference (whatsoever it may be in each case) between the highest sum which the labour of the workman is worth, and the lowest sum which the employer is allowed to give.
True it is that, upon a minute scrutiny, the exclusion will not be found altogether so universal as at first glance it might appear. In some instances (partly from motives of a personal nature under the difficulty of getting another hand, but at an extra price, partly from motives of compassion, rather than have an industrious workman destitute) an employer, who otherwise might have got the labour of the feeble hand in question at an under rate, proportioned to his diminution in point of ability, will pay him that full and intended legal rate which, with reference to that ability, will be an extra rate. But the effect of the principle thus operating in limitation of the exclusion has its bounds. An employer may give 9s. a week, for example, to a labourer whose labour is worth but 8s. or 7s., but he will not give the 9s. to a labourer whose labour is worth but 3s. or 4s. He will rather give for his 9s. worth of labour 10s. or 11s. or 12s. to one workman in full ability, (importing him, if necessary, from another parish,) than 27s. among three labourers whose labour taken altogether is worth no more than the 9s.
Besides the general danger (the danger of idleness) inseparable from the home-provision system, a particular source of danger seems to be opened by the particular wording of this clause. By his character for negligence or idleness, a man, though in respect of bodily ability not unequal, perhaps, to the fullest rate of earnings, shall have so ordered matters that no master will employ him but at a rate more or less inferior to that rate. In that case it will be perfectly true that, to use the words of the Bill, he is “not able to earn the full rate or wages usually given:” for, whatever may have been the original cause of the inability, the existence of it is not the less real. So far, then, as this cause of inability extends, that is so far as the class of the idle, the negligent, and the dissolute extends, (a multitude, the increase of which seems but too much to be apprehended from the operation of this clause,) the effect of it seems to be the putting the idle and negligent exactly upon a footing in point of prosperity and reward with the diligent and industrious.
If conjecture may be allowed, the circumstance that gave rise to this clause in the breasts of those who framed it seems to have been the humane consideration that, when a man does his utmost, it is hard to leave him in a worse condition than his neighbours on account of an infirmity which is his misfortune merely, not his fault. But the extreme difficulty of forming in each individual instance a well-grounded judgment (to whomsoever it belongs to form it) in the question fault or no fault, and if fault, in what degree, may, perhaps, by this time have been perceived. But fault will not, ought not to be, imputed without special and full proof: and, perhaps, the blameable conduct, the blameable cause of the inability, the bad character in which the inability to obtain the ordinary rate of wages originated,—this cause, though continuing and operating in full force, is susceptible of no proof but what is confined to a period long since past. This being the case, and supposing all possible ability as well as integrity on the part of those by whom the claim to this bounty is to be determined, I must confess I do not see how it can be otherwise than a frequent, not to say general case, that idleness should, upon the establishment of this clause, find itself in as good plight as industry.
Under this difficulty of drawing the line, an expedient which I must confess I expected to have found adopted, was the confining the title to some such efficient cause or causes as should be out of the reach of counterfeiting as well as of fabrication; old age stands in this respect on the highest ground in point of eligibility; after that come specific modifications of infirmity, such as loss of limbs, loss of the use of limbs, rupture, epilepsy, nervous afflictions, complaints which, according to the greater or less difficulty of ascertaining the matter of fact, will constitute so many efficient causes of inability more or less clearly, and certainly exempt from blame—more or less exempt from the danger of opening an inlet to abuse.
Whether all the precautions that could be taken, all the precautions which the nature of the case admits of, would be sufficient to confine the mischief within any tolerable bounds, is what I cannot but entertain some doubts of; but at any rate so long as no such checks are applied, the danger from this clause, supposing it to stand, seems very serious; for how opposite soever the views and intentions of the contrivers in the two cases, the equalization system, as applied to wages, seems hardly less threatening to industry, and thence to property, (to say nothing of the expense,) than, as applied to property, it would be to property, and thence to industry.
Against these and all other dangers of abuse the dependence for a remedy and safeguard is of course on the wisdom and integrity of those into whose hands the execution of the Act may come from time to time to fall: but, (not to mention how multifarious the ingredients sine quibus non of the mixed class called wisdom are,) wisdom may be wanting in one quarter, integrity in another, both together in a third, and after all we know not who they are. Besides that, as we have seen, the cases are various and of frequent occurrence where the union of both qualities, and both in the highest degree, would be of no avail. To oppose all new powers on no distincter ground than that all powers are open to abuse, would be the effusion of undistinguishing imbecility or of political jealousy run mad. But when a system of provision is on the carpet, involving in its essence a system of powers particularly open to abuse, the danger may at least operate as a motive for inquiry, whether there may not be found some other system less obnoxious to abuse.
What, in such case, shall be deemed this “full rate or wages,” which is to be made up at all events is another point that seems as necessary as it may be found difficult to be settled. In the compass of England and Wales some hundred thousands a-year may be at stake upon this single point. 1. Is it the full rate or wages of the highest paid species of labour in the district in question? Certainly not in every case. 2. Is it the “full rate or wages” of the highest paid species of labour where the employment of the individual in question happens to be of that species? If so we may have bad ship-wrights pensioned at 9s. a-week or a guinea, (according as day work or piece work is taken for the standard,) or bad mathematical instrument makers at half as much: this therefore was not intended. 3. Is it the “full rate or wages” according to an average taken of the earnings of all the species of employment exercised within the district put together? This, requiring a vast previous assemblage of highly interesting but hitherto uncollected documents, is what (for that as well as other reasons) can hardly have been intended. 4. Is it the “full rate or wages” earned in the species of employment most abundant in the district, as the words “usually given” might seem to import? I should suppose nor that neither. 5. Is it the “full rate or wages” earned in the lowest (meaning the lowest paid) species of employment therein exercised? This I should rather think is what is meant, (or at least upon this view of the diversity would be meant,) because this construction would be the least dangerous; but this is not anywhere expressed.
Take even the lowest paid species of employment, the quantum of the earnings will be found to admit of great variation in great towns (the metropolis for example) compared with distant country places. There are country places in which it is not higher than 1s. a-day; in London and the neighbourhood it can hardly be reckoned lower than 2s. With all this enormous difference in the habitual rate of supply the necessary means of living are scarcely cheaper anywhere than in London. Are so many thousands of bad workmen then, with or without families to receive near £32 a-year as a minimum, when less than £16 a-year is proved by experience to be enough for good ones? And who will stay in the country at single allowance if he can secure double allowance only by coming up to London, which partly by a late Act, partly by this intended Act, everybody is enabled to do without disturbance?
An answer is, that as at present and in practice necessity is measured for the purpose of relief, so in future and under this Act will wages be measured for the same purpose. The reply is, no such thing. As far as the intended law is obeyed, as far as it produces the effect it aims at, the measure at present, used for this purpose will not be employed but laid aside. Under the existing order of things the relief granted is measured by and adjusted to what (in the breasts of those to whom it belongs to judge) is the proper quantum of the demand on the score of indigence. But this mode of measurement is precisely that which will not satisfy the liberality of the framer of the Act, for this is what the Act declares, if it declares anything. Full is a word not only of precision, but of energy. The “full rate,” that and nothing less, is the rate without which the legislator has declared he will not in future be satisfied; and whosoever presumes to give less than that full rate disobeys. That such disobedience would not be uncommon is what I will not say either I should hope or I should fear, but what at any rate I should except. But where would be the expediency of that law of which the sole trust were to be in the disobedience it might excite? Meantime disobedience, eligible or ineligible, pardonable or unpardonable, will not be universal. Five standards (as we have seen) for the measurement of the bounty, five standards rising one above another in liberality, will be in every parish open to a man’s choice. In each instance, be his inclinations what they may, ever so weak, ever so lavish, ever so heedless, within the prodigious scale raised up by these five standards, a man may without much straining find a warrant in this part of the intended Act; but at any rate, to one or other of them he must conform himself if he pays any regard to the Act:—five standards, the lowest of them little less than sufficient, as we have seen, to double the poor rates, overwhelm the metropolis, and depopulate whatever part of the country is not covered by a town.
[* ] Particularly in the case of labourers in husbandry, by the Rev. David Davies, 1795, 4to.