Front Page Titles (by Subject) 302.: THE POOR RATES AS A BURDEN ON AGRICULTURE MORNING CHRONICLE, 19 JAN., 1846, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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302.: THE POOR RATES AS A BURDEN ON AGRICULTURE MORNING CHRONICLE, 19 JAN., 1846, P. 4 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE POOR RATES AS A BURDEN ON AGRICULTURE
This unheaded leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A leading article on Poor Rates as a burthen on agriculture in the Morning Chronicle of 19th January 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 58).
among the “peculiar burthens”1 of agriculture, of which we have long heard so much as reasons for protection, and of which we are probably destined to hear still more in the ensuing session, as grounds for a re-adjustment of taxation, one which is a favourite topic with oratorical agriculturists is the poor-rate. This plea has never gone for much with the non-agricultural part of the public, who know well, by disagreeable experience, that the poor-rate is anything but a “peculiar” burthen. The towns support all their poor; the country only supports its own. The towns contain a much larger labouring population than the country; if among this greater number a smaller proportion are poor, what is the natural inference from that? There must be something in the state of manufacturing circumstances to hinder the people from being poor, or something in the state of agricultural circumstances to make them so. We have heard much lately, from the Protectionists, of the baneful influence of manufactures upon the labouring classes.2 We have been told that manufacturing employment makes them purchase a year or two of high wages and overwork, at the price of perhaps several years of idleness and starvation. If this be so, the average amount of poor rates and of paupers in the agricultural and manufacturing provinces and parishes must bear witness to it. Let not “agriculture” shrink from the test. A chacun selon ses oeuvres.3 Let manufactures support the paupers they make. They already do so. They do not ask agriculture to support their poor. On the contrary, they support great numbers of those who by birth belong to agriculture. During the interval between the last census and that which preceded it, the whole population of the country increased largely. The agricultural population did not increase at all.4 During those ten years the whole excess of births over deaths in the agricultural districts had been taken and provided for by the towns. Had it not been for manufactures, these additional numbers, if born at all, must have perished in infancy, or remained—not to lower wages, for that, in Wiltshire and Somersetshire, they could not have done, but to increase the poor rates. In this adjustment of the burthen between town and country, it seems strange that it should be the country that complains; yet the landlords are of opinion that to support part of their own poor is to do more than their share, and that the towns do not help them enough. Such a mode of thinking, if it were found among any class but that of the spoiled children of society, would be deemed rather presumptuous.
Their complaint derives its only semblance of a foundation from a matter of formal technicality, immaterial to the pecuniary result in most cases, and which, in the few instances in which it has any substantial effect, there would probably be no indisposition to alter. The poor rate, as all know, is levied from the occupiers of land and houses, by an assessment proportioned to the rent which they pay, or which it is supposed could fairly be demanded from them.5 Now, the occupiers in towns are rated only on the amount of their house rent; the farmers are rated also on the rent of their lands, which, the agriculturists say (and in so far they say truly) is equivalent to rating the landlord. So that the landlord, besides paying poor rate, like other people, on the house which he inhabits, is also rated, indirectly, on the whole income from his land, which comes to him reduced by the poor rate that has been paid by all his various tenants.
This is substantially true, and would amount to a real grievance if the poor rate were a national, instead of a local impost. Were the poor of the nation supported by the funds of the nation (not the poor of the parish by the funds of the parish), it would be very unjust to the landlords to raise those funds in the present mode of assessment. But the rate is a local rate, and long may it continue so. Were it made national, the owners of the soil would cease to have even the weak and insufficient personal interest they now have in checking the inroads of pauperism. So long, then, as each parish supports its own poor, the nominal injustice of the present mode of rating seldom comes into any practical effect. Almost all parishes are practically either entirely town parishes, or entirely agricultural. An agricultural parish may contain a large village, or a small country town; but the rateable income of the parish is even then almost wholly agricultural; much of the property in the town or village belongs to the neighbouring landowners, the remainder is mostly in small portions, and could pay but little, and the landowners are more than indemnified by the low rating of their own “castles” and “halls,” which (as is well known to those who remember the discussions on the house-tax)6 are assessed on the rent which a tenant could be found to give for them, that is, about a ninth or a tenth of their real value (the interest of their cost price).
The cases in which the unequal principle of assessment to the poor rate really operates with injustice are peculiar and exceptional, being chiefly those in which a parish, otherwise agricultural, contains here and there a cotton-mill or other factory. There is in these cases a real unfairness, as between the millowner and the landowner. The one is rated only on the annual value of his buildings, the other virtually on his whole estate. This is an inequality which unquestionably calls for redress, locally, or generally. Redress might be given in two ways. Neither is free from objections, but to neither, perhaps, would the objections be unconquerable. The millowner might submit to be assessed to the poor rate, as he already is to the income tax, on the entire profits of his trade; or if this would be deemed unendurable, the rating of lands might be abandoned, and the assessment, either in certain parishes or universally, might be made on dwelling houses only. This would amount to levying the poor rate by a house tax, which, if impartially assessed, without the favour formerly shown to the class least entitled to it, is one of the best forms of taxation, approaching nearer than almost any other to a perfectly just income tax, without its inquisitorial character. But on these things it will be time to enlarge further when the time comes for considering them with a view to practical effect.
[1 ]For the phrase, see No. 301, n1.
[2 ]See, e.g., Robert Adam Christopher (1804-77), then Conservative M.P. for Lincolnshire, Speech on Repeal of the Corn Laws (10 June, 1845), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 81, cols. 314-18.
[3 ]A Saint-Simonian maxim; see Doctrine Saint-Simonienne, Oeuvres, Vol. XLI, p. 41.
[4 ]See “Return of the Total Population of Great Britain in 1831 and 1841, also of the Number of Adult Males Employed in Agriculture at Those Periods Respectively, as Stated in the Reports of the Census Commissioners,” Sessional Papers of the House of Lords, 1846, XIX, 1-2.
[5 ]Judicial interpretation of 43 Elizabeth, c. 2, had determined that the poor-rates would be levied on real property; the current assessment by the obtainable rent was laid down in 6 & 7 William IV, c. 96 (1836).
[6 ]See Nos. 195 and 202 for mention of the agitation in 1832-33 for repeal of the house tax established by 48 George III, c. 55 (1808).