Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III.: 2. Family-Relief, or Extra-Children Clause. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 8 (Chrestomathia, Essays on Logic and Grammar, Tracts on Poor Laws, Tracts on Spanish Affairs)
Return to Title Page for The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 8 (Chrestomathia, Essays on Logic and Grammar, Tracts on Poor Laws, Tracts on Spanish Affairs)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER III.: 2. Family-Relief, or Extra-Children 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
2. Family-Relief, or Extra-Children Clause.
“XXXVII. And be it further enacted, That any father entitled to the benefit of this Act, and having more than two children under the respective ages of five years, and part of his family unable to maintain themselves; and any widow being so entitled, and having more than one such child, and part of her family, shall have such allowances from the parish or united parishes where he or she shall reside, in respect of all such children of such father beyond the number of two; and in respect of all such children of such widow beyond the number of one; to such amount as the person or persons appointed to the management of the poor of such parish or united parishes, with the consent of the visiters of the district in rotation or any two of them, shall deem sufficient for the maintenance of such child or children under all circumstances, or as two justices of the peace in the district on appeal from the allowances made by the consent of the said visiters, shall order and direct; and that such allowances so made shall continue in respect of such child or children above the number of two and one respectively, until such child or children, in respect of whom such allowances are made, can and shall maintain themselves by their labour; and that all and every the child or children of any such father or widow being respectively of the age of five years or upwards, in respect of whom any such allowance as aforesaid shall be paid, shall, upon request made in pursuance of this Act, be sent into the school or schools of industry established in or for any parish or united parishes, and shall be received into such school or schools of industry to be instructed and employed in such business as shall be suited to the age and strength of such child or children, and not dangerous or prejudicial to the health of such child or children, unless the parent or parents of him, her, or them, will undertake diligently to instruct and employ, and shall diligently instruct and employ such child or children at their own homes in such business as the person or persons appointed to the management of the poor of such parish or united parishes, or the manager of the said school or schools of industry, shall from time to time direct; and which such persons respectively are hereby authorized to direct to be done in conformity to the provisions of this Act, and that such allowances so directed shall continue to be paid until such respective children can maintain themselves by their labour, and that the earnings of every such child, to whom any such allowance shall be directed to be paid, except such part thereof as is hereinafter directed to be allowed to the parent or parents of any child or children who shall be industrious and conform to the rules established by or in pursuance of this Act, shall, during the continuance of the same, go in aid of the fund for the support of the said school or schools of industry; and that any child or children whose parent or parents is or are not able to maintain them, and in respect of whom no such allowance shall be paid or payable by virtue of this Act, may be received into such school of industry, to be therein instructed and employed in such work or employment as shall be suited to such child or children as before directed, or in such other place and under such instruction as shall be agreed upon in the manner before directed, and under such terms and conditions or at such rate or wages, as shall, in pursuance of this Act, be settled to be paid and performed in consideration of the work done by such child or children; and the earnings of such last-mentioned child or children, except such part thereof as shall be allowed as aforesaid, shall go in aid of the fund for the support of such school or schools of industry.”
In this Section (clause 1) two classes of persons are instituted, who, on the condition of their respectively having a certain number of children, parts of their respective “families, and unable to maintain themselves,” shall be entitled to a weekly allowance, considered in respect to its quantum; this allowance is not to amount at any rate to less than 1s. a-week for each extra child, and it may amount to ever so much more. Considered in respect to its duration, it is to continue not only till each such extra child shall be able to maintain itself by its own labour, but till it actually shall maintain itself by its own labour,—“can and shall maintain themselves by their labour,” says the Act.
1. Measuring the extent of this clause, we shall find it, I much fear, at once too ample and too narrow: too ample to be reconcileable to the interests of private industry or of public economy; too narrow to cover the extent of the demand for the relief which itself provides. To judge of the demand in point of necessity and utility for the bounties given by this clause, let us observe upon what footing the title to relief stands under the existing order of things. At present, supposing the discretion properly and successfully exercised, demand and supply are proportioned to each other: from those who have not wherewithal to maintain themselves and families, be those families ever so small, relief will not be withholden; to those who have wherewithal to maintain themselves and families, be those families ever so large, relief will not be given. Under this clause a family may labour under the severest distress, and derive no benefit from the intended Act. A family may wallow in abundance, and derive an enormous pension from it. To entitle the head of the family to the allowance—to the pension or congeries of pensions thus provided, it is not necessary that the family taken together should be unable otherwise to maintain itself. It is sufficient if the extra children, the children taken in the extra number, should, separately taken, be unable to maintain themselves. The heads of families in question as described are, first, a father having more than two “children unable to maintain themselves;” and, second, “a widow having more than one such child.” As to the difference made here between fathers and widows, that in general the ability of the male sex in this respect will be greater than that of the female is not to be disputed. But will it in every instance be exactly in that proportion? May not there be some instances in which a woman with a good trade will be better able to maintain two children than a man to maintain the same number with a bad one? May not the instances be many in which a man with or without a wife shall be better able to maintain three children than a widow to maintain two? And may not there be instances where a widow with two children shall be better able to maintain herself and family, than a widow left pregnant for instance with one child in arms, or in a state requiring still more attendance, may be able to maintain herself and that one?
Doubts remain with regard to the import that are material to the effect. This inability with regard to the maintaining themselves, is it sufficient if it extend to the supernumerary children, or must it extend to all the children? And in either case is it sufficient if it be partial, or must it be entire?
2. As to the quantum of the pension. Under the existing system if 6d. a-week (for example) per child be requisite and sufficient to make up for the deficiency of earnings, 6d. a-week may, without any further addition, be allowed. Under this Bill 1s. a-week, requisite or not requisite, must, if anything, be allowed. Shillings in any number may be allowed, and that more than one should in general, or at least frequently, be allowed, seems to be intended: for that less than 1s. requisite or not requisite should not in any case be allowed is expressly stipulated. A shilling a-week is £2, 12s. a-year; 6d. a-week is £1, 6s.; 9d. a-week is £1, 19s.; 3d. a-week is 13s. Thirty-nine shillings, (almost £2 a-year,) or even 26s., or even 13s. a-year, repeated upon forty or fifty thousand children, amounts to no small sum. Granting (what is a good deal to grant) that less than the shilling a-week cannot in any situation, or at any age, be made to suffice for the maintenance of any child,—what cannot possibly be granted is, that this deficiency in the amount of earnings cannot exist in the shape of any less sum than the entire amount of the sum necessary for the child’s maintenance. In situations where money is oftener reckoned by millions and thousands than by pounds and shillings, the saving that might be made upon a pitiful shilling a-week is apt to appear as nothing; but where a penny comes so often to be repeated, an error to the amount of a few pence in this low pension-list may amount to a source of profusion not only more abundant in quantity, but much less warranted by use as well as much more pregnant with mischief, than even the high pension-list which is the object of so much jealousy as well as so much envy.
3. The duration of the allowance presents another topic of observation. The continuance is to be until the children in question actually “shall maintain themselves by their labour:” while their earning anything will depend of course upon the head of the family, who, through wilfulness, or negligence, or indolence, may keep the children either in idleness or employed in labour, which, however useful to the family, cannot or need not be brought to account in the shape of a fixed sum so long as the allowance, excessive or moderate, is to continue.
The maintenance, it may be said, will be afforded, and that in the fixed shape in question, by the wages which the child will receive for the work which the head of the family must send the child to perform at the school of industry on pain of receiving none of the benefits of the Act. It may be so; but, however, it may be otherwise. The children may, some or all of them, be under the age, (five years is the age at which this schooling is to commence, sec. 20.) In a thinly-peopled part of the country the burthen of the school, with its schoolmaster and schoolmistress, and warehouse and warehouse-keeper, will, if the parish be single, be by far too heavy for it: if several parishes are put together, the school, put it where you will, by its distance will be rendered inaccessible to a great part of its scholars. The pensions are to commence in July next, (Sec. 1, 67.) Not a school can be begun to be built till at the end of a chain of administrative operations, such as in known instances has taken up years, and of which the first link cannot take place till after Michaelmas, (Sec. 10,) and it is in aid of the “fund for the support of the schools,” and not in aid of this pension-fund, that the earnings, whenever they do take place, are after all to be applied.
A circumstance that renders the danger the more formidable is, that the two currents of profusion, the allowance on the score of extra children, and the allowance on the score of supplemental wages, may, for anything that appears to the contrary, mingle together, and flow with united force. First comes the pay of the idler, made up to an equality with the earnings of the industrious; then come the extra children of the idler to be put in whatsoever number upon the pension-list.
“Regard” (it is provided) shall be “had to the earnings of the family.” Regard (it is provided) shall be had to the allowance from a fund, not named, but which appears to be what I call the superannuation fund; but of any “regard which may be had” to any such allowance as that on the score of extra children, no mention is to be found. No deduction is, therefore, intended to be made on any such score.
The over-narrowness of the provision with reference to its evident object, the scantiness of it in a particular point of view, comes now to be considered. To characterize the head of a family on whose labour the subsistence of the family is considered as depending, “father” if of the male sex, “widow” if of the female, are the only terms employed. But there are other relations which are either charged by law, or at least apt to be engaged by shame or affection in the maintenance, or at any rate in the guardianship of their infant or other helpless relatives. Within this sphere of duty, perfect or imperfect, (for I will not plunge into discussions of positive law for the purpose of drawing the line,) grandfather and grandmother, brother and sister, uncle and aunt, may at any rate be considered as comprised. In whatever point of view the matter be considered, if the claims of the two relations specified are to be regarded as strong enough with reference to the intended bounty, those of the six relations not specified present themselves as still stronger.
In the instance of these comparatively distant relatives, if bound by law, the burthen of the obligation, unaccompanied as it is in their case with those matrimonial comforts which constitute the equivalent for parental burthens, is so much the harder: if not bound, the act of taking up the burthen is so much the more meritorious, and stands so much the more in need of foreign inducements to give it birth.
To give consistency to the provision by the supply of these omissions is a task which, though certainly not impracticable, would be found not unaccompanied with difficulty, and if the expediency of the provision considered in substance be liable to doubts, this difficulty will add force to them. Complication is of itself an evil, and such an evil as requires no inconsiderable mass of benefit to outweigh it.