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The Standard, 19. Januar 1869. S. 4.
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[The Standard, 19. Januar 1869]

Jan 19. Anmerkung von Jenny Marx

A subject, which for a long time past we have been endeavouring to impress upon the public mind, is at length becoming so patent as to receive attention of some kind or another in all quarters. These columns have repeatedly borne witness to the fact that the distress of the working classes has gone beyond the power of the Poor Law. We have asked for something more than the Poor Law and for something better. We have pointed out that the problem was not likely to solve itself, and that it was a perilous thing to leave this state of affairs to be dealt with solely by boards of guardians and relieving officers. Where the distress is real the repressive system is worse than futile—it is a redhot iron to an ulcer. The common cry has been that we should trust to the Poor Law. To a great extent the public have so trusted; but at length a failure of the law is too palpable to be denied. Indiscriminate charity has been condemned, and very properly so. But the Poor Law is by no means remarkable for its discrimination, and by its treatment of the poor tends to destroy that very element of character which it is most important should be preserved—self-respect. The extent to which the Poor Law is—we might almost say—idolised by many who have considerable influence in society, is only equaled by the degree in which the same law is loathed by those who are cast upon its mercies. We have treated pauperism as a disease—a plague—a leprosy, and we have made it such. The last modicum of sympathy and kindliness has been weeded out, until rather than eat such bitter bread, some of the more impetuous of the poor resort to suicide. The general effect is either to irritate or to paralyse. It is not possible for such a state of things to last. No doubt if charity were to stay its action, the crisis would come all the sooner. But in what shape would it come? In multiplied deaths by starvation, in fever, in pestilence, in open riot and civil commotion. The old pauperism which the new Poor Law was to put down was a thing comparatively easy to get rid of, because much of it was artificial. But the pauperism of the present day is born of distress and aggravated by law. It is real and terrible. “In the districts aided by the association the distress is chronic. There is in addition this winter a large amount of sickness and fever, caused mainly from want of nourishing food, for which aid is earnestly solicited.” So say the Committee of the Metropolitan Visiting and Relief Association. “The weather has not hitherto been severe, but the scarcity of employment in several trades makes the position of the poor extremely precarious, and much assistance is needed.” Thus modestly does the Society for the Relief of Distress put the case. It is not merely East London distress that we have to speak of. It is also north, south, and west—and even central. With a winter of almost unexampled mildness—a January of buds and birds’-nests, flowers, and butterflies, London has more than 144,000 paupers, or only about 3000 less than a year ago. A severe winter would, in all probability, have thrown upon the poor rates of the metropolis no less than 200,000 persons. This marvelous spring-like winter has granted a respite which cannot be too diligently improved.

While we are deploring the distress of London we must remember that the question is more than metropolitan. The distress is widespread, and the peril of London affects the whole nation. Of all the daughters of the horseleech, there is none like the poor-rate collector. And what does he give us for our money? More paupers and more buildings to put them in. The Poor Law may be a good thing for a self-induced poverty. As a rod for the back of fools it may do very well, but as a staff for the help of the poor it is lamentably out of place. It is almost impossible to be blind to the startling facts which now present themselves. Swarms of beggars begin to infest our streets despite all the terrors of the law. Ratepayers are rising up in rebellion against poor rates, and boards of guardians are setting Whitehall at defiance. Never was the outlay so large; and never were the results more unsatisfactory. It was bad in a former age to give relief instead of wages, but thousands now complain that they neither get wages nor relief. Unfortunately the labour market does not exhibit much prospect that matters will improve. The closing of the dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich, the stagnation which is beginning to affect the building trades of the metropolis, the large reductions which are likely to take place in many of the Government establishments, and the short-time in the cotton-mills of the manufacturing districts, are all so many causes tending directly or indirectly to depress the industrial classes. If we are to go on in this way until next winter, a catastrophe may then become imminent, which will reconcile the public to remedies now scarcely to be thought of. But what are the propositions which we are now called upon to consider? In the first place, what is the temper of the Government? They have been asked to assist the distressed artisans of Woolwich, either by increased work or by grants in aid of emigration. In answer to a highly respectable deputation from the locality the Secretary of State for War replied “emphatically that he could not hold out any prospect of increased work, nor could he promise any assistance from the Government, who rather contemplated further reductions.” With this response to their appeal, the deputation left “evidently much chagrined with the result of their interview.”

But is the Government to look on with calm indifference at the wreck and ruin which is taking place? Some are proposing “public works.” This was better than the stone yard; but it is a desperate remedy. This is the Elberfeld system. That was infinitely better than the wretched, harumscarum method which we now pursue. But what is the essence of the success which has attended this Prussian plan? It seeks to raise the poor, while it relieves them. It ensures that relief shall be given to those who really need it, and replaces the lamentable “test” system of our English law by a personal and constant supervision. Instead of a relieving officer doing battle with hundreds of cases there is a “father”, or “cherisher” of the poor, with only four families, or, perhaps, four individuals, to look after. Thus the merits of every case are thoroughly known, without any need for that torturing process by which the reality of English destitution is put to the test. In Elberfeld the Poor-law Board endeavor to preserve the family tie—not to rend it asunder as a condition of relief, and hence, as a rule, the plan of out-door relief is the one that is acted upon. The results were given in our columns a year ago, and there is every reason to believe that the marvelous reduction in pauperism then referred to has been maintained. The poor are relieved, and they are not pauperised. There is one more resource, and that is—emigration. Mr. EDWARD JENKINS, of the Reform Club, would have emigrants go to the United States in preference to Canada, and in justification of this advice offers certain statements which are perfectly astounding as coming from a gentleman who apparently ought to know something of what he is writing about. As for the proposal of a national grant to promote emigration, we believe that nothing less than this will meet the exigencies of the case, though some other measures may be needed to make the remedy complete. Who are the parties to emigrate, is a critical part of the question. If emigration is to be successful and popular it must be voluntary and not compulsory. If we mean to send actual paupers to Canada or elsewhere, they must go of their own free will, or the scheme will assuredly break down. But why not send those who are distressed, though not on the poor rates, and who are anxious to escape the hourly peril of pauperism? Of these there are thousands in London alone, and thousands more, we doubt not, might be recruited in the provinces. If these stop where they are until next winter, many of them will then be paupers in the full sense of the term; and it seems scarcely desirable that we should keep them until they become paupers before we help them to emigrate.


  • Social cases. 1869