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advisable for a workhouse to have a small portion of land, according to the provision of the act 22 Geo. III. c. 83, for maintaining a cow or cows, and to raise vegetables, especially potatoes, for its consumption, but not to exceed spade work ; and it might be proper also to have a sufficient space as playground for the children, who should not be suffered to mix with the neglected and vicious children of the parish.
The fraudulent practice which has prevailed of giving reduced and insufficient wages to laborers in husbandry, and sending them to the poor rate for the remainder of the sum necessary for their support, well deserves (as it has been) to be reprobated, and is altogether unsupported bylaw.
The 43d of Elizabeth enables the parish officers to bind out as apprentices the children of the poor; and this power was for a long time attended with great benefit in manufacturing, as well as in agricultural districts, but lately it has been very much disused in the latter. The farmers, with the same spirit of employing persons at low wages, and making up what is necessary for the relief of a family from the poor book, take children for short periods, as may be convenient to themselves, and often receive an allowance and clothing from the parish for keeping such boys, whose work generally deserves wages;' and thus the intended benefit of interesting the master in educating the apprentice in habits of industry and good conduct, for which very reason he is bound until he attains the age of twenty-one, is defeated.
It therefore seems highly proper to give the magistrates a power to summon the parish officers to show cause why they neglect this essential part of their duty, and to oblige them to do what the law directs, in the same manner as they enforce other duties.
It is highly objectionable to fix the price of labor generally: it would tend to check incitements to industry, and competitions of excellence, and it would be better to suffer wages to rise, than that
1 The farmers take boys from the workhouse such days when they may want them to drive plough, or on such insignificant work, for which they pay little, it" they pay at all, and turn them loose at the end of the day, when they have done with them, to find their way home to the workhouse. Thus they constantly change their masters; no person is particularly interested about them; consequently they learn little or nothing; their clothing is damaged; and they have an opportunity of mixing with all the vicious and most disorderly children of the parish.
There seems to be some alteration necessary in respect to the taxing parish children wearing livery, the same as regular servants: it is a great discouragement to receiving them, that they should be so rated: if they were exempted, it would be themeans of placing out a great number of children in advantageous service, who are now a burden to the parish, and in very many instances greatly neglected.
the present mode of relief should continue; yet several difficulties will occur. If the wages of a single man are to be equal to what is necessary to maintain a family, it would enable him, as it does generally in manufacturing towns, to live an idle and dissolute life two or three days in the week. As long at least as the spirit of improvidence is fostered by the poor laws themselves, or by any injudicious temporary expedients that may be adopted preparatory to their eventual cessation, the laborer feels no stimulus to exertion and economy; all foresight and provision for the future maintenance of himself and family are rendered unnecessary through the false interpretation of the law, and the practice of the present day, which affords him assistance and support, on even the slightest emergence and pretence.
A sudden and immediate abolition of the poor laws is impossible. Such a measure in our present state, and with our present habits, would be impolitic and severe. The progress to convalescence from a disorder so inveterate, and of so long continuance, must require time, much care and caution, in the several stages. But the recovery, though slow, may surely be effected; and when, from the correction of morals and bad habits, the operation of these laws can be with safety allowed to cease, the poor laborer would be urged to industry and economy: his premature marriage would be checked and prevented by the necessity of making a provision for his future family,1 which must then be saved and laid up from the wages of the single man, from that superfluity which, under the present system, is squandered in idleness and vice. That parliament may devise some means by which the system itself may gradually cease, is an object to be desired for the increase of human happiness, the melioration of the lower ranks, and the relief of the grievous pressure on the community, now created by it.
The prevailing abuses have brought the country to such a pass, and have so demoralised and vitiated a great proportion of the people, that, notwithstanding the ruinous expense incurred, the misery of the lower ranks is so far from being alleviated, that it is virtually created and extended by it. An attempt to amend the existing numerous, contradictory, inconsistent, and sometimes unintelligible laws relating to the poor, would prove impracticable and ineffectual: far better would it be to repeal the whole of them, and to form one comprehensive, clear, and consistent code, of which the two committees, by their labors, have proved themselves fully capable; at all events, it is indispensably necessary to define the powers of the magistrates, of the parish officers, and above all, of the country vestries.
■ As in Scotland, and in all other countries.
Rise of wages in agricultural parishes must of course raise the price of the produce. Wages of manufacturers in general do not seem to require an increase, if we may judge from the circumstance which has already been alluded to in great manufacturing towns and districts, where they pass in idleness a considerable portion of every week.'
Many who discuss this subject, calculate on a supposition that workmen have nothing more to depend upon than merely daily pay; whereas the greater part of work of all kinds is done by measure, by which more than daily wages is gained: much also is gained by the extra wages allowed during the harvest months; neither are the earnings of the wife and children often brought to the account; so that the mass of the country certainly does not exist on the stinted allowance of such calculators.
Our excellent institutions of friendly societies, benefit clubs, and saving banks, are contravened by the facility with which relief is granted to all who clamorously seek it. It is common to receive in answer when any of these institutions are recommended, " Why should we subscribe, when the parish is obliged to provide for us and our families i" and it clearly appears that benefit clubs have declined in consequence of the dependence of the pauper on the poor rate.
There are few, however, who have not a just sense of the importance of saving banks, and who are not fully aware how powerful and useful an engine they might become, if generally introduced. No measure would more tend to restore the improvements of moral feeling, would more promote the spirit of providence, industry, and independence, which is now almost lost, and secure the happiness and comfort of the individuals, and the prosperity of the state. If, from observing the enormous amount raised annually for the poor, there be those who doubt the possibility of any effectual relief from saving banks, the following calculation,perhaps, may satisfy them: "At this time the poor rates of Birmingham amount to near 60,000/. per annum, and relieve 28,000 persons. This immense sum divided does not give lOd. per head weekly, nor more than 2/. pes head per annum." This proves by what an easy rate the laborers might relieve themselves more satisfactorily than they can be relieved by charity.
The suggestion, that none should receive relief but those who subscribe to a parochial fund, is impracticable: the parish would become responsible to a great number of impoverished contributors,
1 It is notorious that the late lowering of wages in manufacturing districts, obliges the manufacturers to work six days in the week, so that they have neither time nor money to dissipate in idleness.
who would immediately claim relief, and it would be found impossible, in the present state of things, to resist the usual pleas and claims for relief from others. Nor can any man wish to refuse to the poor proper relief, particularly the most useful and best of all medical assistance.
It is obvious that the foregoing Observations are principally applicable to agricultural parishes, but not equally so to great towns and manufacturing districts, which may perhaps be better regulated by their local acts. It seems reasonable, that commercial towns and districts should be rated to the support of the population they have created for their own uses: the expense should not be thrown on agricultural parishes.1
It has been already observed, that no documents of the kind have ever afforded more general satisfaction than the Reports of the Committees of both Houses of Parliament; and it is to be hoped that the admirable good sense and the perfect knowledge of the subject displayed in them, will prepare the country for measures of the utmost importance and necessity.
The imperfect intelligence that had before been shown on the subject, furnished little hope or expectation to those who felt and saw the mischief that was daily increasing and impending, that such a luminous summary would so soon appear, replete with excellent propositions, observations, principles, and suggestions, which may lay the foundation of some great measure that will rescue us from our present difficulties.
The work, however, is arduous, and cannot be accomplished at once; but if the business is undertaken with firmness, and a gradual preparation for the change is made, it cannot be now doubted that some better system may eventually be established.
The committees have still farther displayed their good judgment1 in not hurrying forward, or immediately proposing any precise measure to be adopted. There remains not a question that the Reports will encourage and promote various suggestions and useful observations, that will elucidate and enlighten still farther this great, important, and interesting subject.
* The owners of houses and lands in commercial towns and districts receive extraordinary rents, &c. a great proportion of which is for convenience, and much beyond the intrinsic value of the thing supplied.
* Every intelligent person who has attended to the subject will most heartily acknowledge with gratitude and thanks, the eminent services of the members of the two committees, especially of Mr. Sturges Bourne, who so ably presided in the Committee of the House of Commons; and it is earnestly to be hoped, that in the ensuing sessions the country will have the advantage of a continuance of their meritorious and highly important labors.