Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V.: 4. Relief-Extension, or Opulence-Relief Clause. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 8 (Chrestomathia, Essays on Logic and Grammar, Tracts on Poor Laws, Tracts on Spanish Affairs)
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CHAPTER V.: 4. Relief-Extension, or Opulence-Relief 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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4. Relief-Extension, or Opulence-Relief Clause.
“LXVIII. And be it further enacted, That no person shall be excluded from parochial relief, or the benefit of this Act in any particular before-mentioned, on account of any real estate hereinafter-mentioned, or on account of any visible property not exceeding the value of £ NA in the whole, and of the description hereinafter mentioned, that is to say, if such property shall consist of a tenement or cottage with the appurtenances, whether such person shall hold the same or any part thereof in his or her own right, or in the right of his wife, and whether severally or as joint tenant, or as tenant in common, or shall occupy any tenement or cottage with the appurtenances, belonging to his or her lawful child or children, or the issue of such child or children being respectively part of his or her family, and whether as guardians or otherwise, of whatever value the said tenement or cottage with the appurtenances may be, and also if such property shall consist of tools or implements of trade, or household furniture, wearing apparel, or other necessaries suitable to the condition of such poor person, not exceeding in value in the whole the sum of £ NA , but that every person in the situation and condition before-mentioned, and not able from other circumstances to maintain himself or herself, or his or her family, shall be entitled to the benefit of this Act as fully and effectually as if such person was not possessed of such property as aforesaid.”
We come now to the relief-extension clause, or opulence-relief clause. In reading the above system of donations, a natural, and I am apt to think, a scarcely avoidable supposition is, that it is for the indigent, and the indigent only, that they could have been intended; whether they are really confined to the indigent, whether the field open to them be not so ample as to comprise what in the instance of people of the working class may be styled opulence is a question on which it will rest with the reader to decide.
The proviso is “that no person shall be excluded from parochial relief or any of the benefits of this Act, on account of the possession of any tenement or cottage with its appurtenances, whatever may be his or her estate or interest therein, or on account of any other visible property not exceeding in the whole the value of £30, which shall consist either of tools or implements of trade or household furniture, wearing apparel, or other necessaries suitable to the condition of such poor persons.”
Under these words, what seems tolerably clear is that a man may be worth £30 of “visible property,” (to say nothing of concealed or non-apparent property,) and still come with as irrecusable claim to the above list of pensions and donations as if he had not property to the value of a single farthing. What to myself (I must confess) is not by any means clear, is to what higher pitch the opulence may rise without striking the proprietor’s name out of the book of indigence.
Let us consider it, in the first place, as not exceeding £30. A document naturally enough to be wished for by one who would wish to form a just estimate of the effect of this clause, is a comparative statement, setting forth on one hand the number actual or probable of individuals whose property rises to the height of this minimum, on the other hand the number of those whose property falls short of it. Should the indigent list, as thus defined, be found, as I cannot help vehemently suspecting it would be found, to include a vast majority of the good people of England, five, six, or seven millions for example, the system of home provision, as thus explained, would be found (I much fear) to amount to a plan for throwing the parish upon the parish.
The nature of the process by which the mass of national wealth is accumulated was (I doubt) not sufficiently considered in the formation of this Bill. To judge by this clause in particular, it looks as if certain hypotheses somewhat of kin to the following had been assumed—that wealth is the gift of nature, not the fruit of industry; that every human creature, male as well as female, comes into the world with £30 in its pocket; and that this sum is what it belongs to the government to guarantee to every man the undiminished possession of against misfortune and imprudence, as it guarantees to him the possession of his two arms and his two legs against the attacks of injury.
The apprehension of doing undesigned injustice to the intentions of the Bill is an apprehension that pursues me through the whole tenor of it, but really I know of no means of coming at the intention of an instrument, unless it be through the words. Judging of it, then, from the words, £30 is the mass of property which every person without exception may it is supposed possess, and yet be in a state of indigence: in a state so low, so much below the natural state of man, as ought not to be suffered to continue. This minimum, the guarantee we see thus made of it, is not confined to families collectively taken; it is not confined to heads of families; it extends to every human being whatsoever, having a family or none, living under the head of a family, or living by himself. A head of a family may have his own £30,—£300 may be the amount of the family estate, and all the while the family hanging on the parish.
If consistency be an object in legislation, it may be worth while to compare this intended pauper relief with the Pauper Law Relief Act of Geo. I., which exempts, or seeks to exempt persons, whose circumstances fall below a certain pitch of supposed indigence, from the sort of general outlawry in which that proportion of the people stands involved; against which the weight of the expense, howsoever heaped together, has shut the doors of justice. Five pounds is the sum assigned in that case, £30 (not to say £300) is the sum assigned in the present case; according to this proportion it will be matter of some curiosity to observe how much easier a man will find it to get other people’s money than his own, and how many there will be in possession of the former faculty, while they stand excluded from the latter.
That it is by no means clear that under this clause the specified sum of £30 is the highest which a man might retain of his own while he was maintained at the charge of others, has been already hinted; and the more closely the clause is scrutinized into, the greater the difficulty of ascertaining the real limit will appear.
My doubt is, in the first place, whether in the computation of the visible property the moveable is, or is not, to be added to the immoveable; whether the words “in the whole,” are meant to be confined to the “other visible property,” or to be extended to the tenement or “cottage.” That they were not meant to extend to the tenement or cottage, and that therefore a man may, without standing excluded from any of these bounties, be possessed of £30 worth of visible moveable property in addition to the fee-simple of a cottage, may be thus argued.
From the word “appurtenances,” it may be inferred that the cottage may have more or less land annexed to it, especially when it is considered that under the cow-money clause, it is intended a man shall keep a cow. But even without land, 40s. or even 50s. a-year is but an ordinary rent, but an ordinary annual value, for a cottage; and as in the instance of immoveable property, small concerns (coming within the reach of a greater proportion of purchasers) are apt to sell for more years’ purchase than large ones, twenty years’ purchase upon 40s. a-year, that is £40, may be taken for rather a low estimate. Allow but the £30 for the value of the dwelling, this will not leave a farthing for the furniture, tools, clothes, and other necessaries. It does not seem to accord with the views manifested in this Bill, that the property of the cottage a man lives in, altogether unaccompanied with any other necessary, should debar altogether from a share in the bounty so liberally bestowed, when the annual value of the house is no more than the ordinary rent of the abodes of the worst paid class of labourers.
But if the value of the cottage is not to be included in the £30, it is then to be added to the £30; £40 worth of immoveable property upon a low estimate may thus be added to £30 of immoveable property, and the possessor not excluded by this £70 from the right of obtaining cows, supplemental wages, and pensions, on the plea of indigence.
The pursuit of the strict rules of grammar might raise up other difficulties in abundance, on the ground of this single clause: but this specimen may suffice.
The more conspicuous the spirit of humanity that shines through every clause, the more sincerely one regrets to see it in such straits. What seems to have led the author of the Bill into the difficulty in the present instance, is the often painted, and always melancholy, picture of an industrious family, reduced by blameless misfortune from a state of comfort and independence to a state, perhaps, of confinement, at any rate of wretched dependence, from which a small relief, if administered in time, might have rescued them; dependence on scanty and, in point of quantity, precarious charity, confinement to the idleness, and discomfort, and ignominy of an ordinary poor-house,—Come in and give up your all, or stay out and starve; such is the harsh though unavoidable alternative presented by poor-house charity in the existing state of things; an alternative the more excruciating when the all thus to be given up for a mess of pottage is (as it sometimes will be found to be) the sad remnant of fallen opulence, sufficient at one time to place its possessor above the necessity of manual labour.
This is one of the many cases in which compassion is as laudable, as in a feeling heart, it is unavoidable. But compassion is one thing; relief, efficacious and unmischievous relief, a very different thing: the one may be always bestowed and in any quantity; the other should never be attempted to be bestowed, especially at the expense of the community, and upon a scale extending over the whole community, till after the strictest and most comprehensive inquiry whether the undertaking lies within the sphere of practicability, and whether the removal of the evil, if possible, be not inseparably connected with the introduction of still heavier and more extensive, though less permanent and immediate, evils. We commiserate Darius, we commiserate Lear, but it is not in the power of parishes to give kingdoms. To banish not only indigence but dependence, it would be necessary to banish not only misfortune but improvidence. To guarantee to every man a subsistence is practicable and practised; to guarantee to every man the perpetuity of his station in the scale of opulence would be altogether impracticable, the very attempt mischievous and perseverence ruinous.
What seems not to have been sufficiently considered is, that betwixt the absolute refusal of relief and the exaction of the absolute surrender of permanent property, in return for transient relief, there is a medium, which is the granting the relief to the extent of the property on the footing of a loan. This middle course, the only feasible one, the only unpernicious one, is practicable, for it is practised. A mode of practising it, and practising it without expense, forms one leading feature of the large-establishment system in the shape and magnitude herein-above supposed.
Meantime, although it were regarded as an established point that cottages, any more than kingdoms, cannot by the hand of public charity be secured against decline, let us not conclude that the misfortune is altogether beyond the relief of remedy. It is in this quarter of the region of distress that we may behold a part of the extensive field in which private charity, as well as domestic friendship, may exercise and feast itself without prejudice either to industry or justice; nor let it remain unheeded that so long as there is propriety or even established character, with but a tolerable prospect of repayment, if no assisting hand can be obtained either from domestic connexion, from neighbourly intimacy, from special patronage, or from wide-spreading though private charity, the presumption, though not absolutely conclusive, is at any rate not weak, not only that extraordinary merit, but that ordinary good conduct, has been wanting; and that the pangs of falling prosperty are but the just and useful punishment of improbity or improvidence.
Thus stands the account of the mischief, the apprehension of which has been excited by the view of the destined amendments to the existing system of out-allowances. What possible good can arise out of those amendments in any instance, I must confess myself unable to conceive. Under the existing system indigence does actually receive such, and, taken in the lump, at least as much relief as is necessary. The plan of distribution remaining untouched, what was the task that could remain for these amendments? Either to do nothing, or to administer relief where it is not necessary.
Against the system of out-allowances (setting aside these objections on the score of economy and industry, which have been urged by way of objection to the system itself) the great and general complaint, as far as I have had occasion to observe, is, not that it is insufficient, but that it should be necessary; that is, that many industrious hands should be continually thrown upon the parish, (as the phrase is,) who ought (as certainly they ought, if possible) to be enabled to maintain themselves without being subjected to any such degrading obligation. But the keeping them from thus falling upon the parish is what the Bill neither does, nor so much as professes to do. So far from it, as far as it does anything, it throws them there, it throws them in greater numbers; it throws them with greater weight. The grievance is that the industrious poor should be so liable to be indigent, that the independent hand should be so liable to fall into dependence. Whether the cure be possible is another question; but be that as it may the Bill does not attempt it.
What I had all along been considering as a point understood to have been established, was the inferiority of the wages of husbandry as compared with those of other labour. What I had in consequence understood to have been the object of the Bill, as far as out-allowances are concerned, was to confine the bounty to the class which presents the title to it. But unless the benefit of the cow-money clause be thus confined, (which it can only be by forced implication, for there are no words of limitation, to perform the office,) I can see no branch of the bounty to which working hands in general have not a claim as irrecusable as any that can be made by this particular, though not very ample class: all are equally invited, none excepted; manufacturers, handicraftsmen, even domestic servants, and others, the high paid and pampered inhabitants of large towns.
If necessity (it may be said) be equal, no matter what the class. True, but in any other class necessity is not equal; at the same time that in every class, “the full rate or wages,” (whatever be the class and whatever be the rate,) the full rate or wages, be the work worth anything or nothing, is guaranteed by the Bill to every hand without exception, which with ever so little good-will or fruit will set itself to work. The bounties it provides are bestowed (for anything that appears) not only upon the worst paid classes, but upon every better paid class, up to the best paid. And upon these the quantum of the bounty it bestows is not a quantity limited by that which is necessary, but a superfluous quantity rising up to the height of the highest pitch of superfluity which the earnings of the best paid class are capable of furnishing. It relieves them not according to the measure of their necessities, nor according to the quantity of relief they really want, but according to the “full rate or wages usually given,”—given one knows not to whom, unless to them; in a word, according to the means they have had in their hands of placing themselves above the necessity and above the bounty.