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CHARITY, although one of the first of Virtues, has, if not exercised with great caution, an attendant evil of a very serious nature, and that is, the encouragement which it affords to Indolence,—the most dangerous of Vices, because it is the most difficult to eradicate, and often leads to all the rest.
When men, however hardy. and active their habits may previously have been, once become accustomed to a life of lazy pauperism, it is scarcely possible, if they have been long in such a state, to make them feel again the stimulus of Industry, or the manly desire of Independence.
Whenever, therefore, men who are able and willing to work, fail in obtaining it, and are obliged to resort to the parish for the means of subsistence, it is very desirable that the relief which is afforded them, should be of such a nature as to preserve their habits of activity, and keep them above the degradation of eating the bread of Idleness.
The custom of paying able-bodied labourers a portion of their wages out of the Poor Rates is monstrous,—and a more gross and dangerous abuse of the principle of the laws made for the relief of those who are either unable to work, or cannot find employment, cannot easily be imagined. It is a practice which puts the whole labouring Population in a state of Pauperism, and breaks down the vigorous character and manly virtues of the Peasantry by making them feel themselves degraded.
The vicious consequences of this system are well and truly described in the Report of The Select Committee, who were appointed to inquire into the cause of the increase in the number of Criminal Commitments and Convictions in England and Wales,
and who therein state, that,Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be printed,
22d of June, 1827.
« The main cause of the increase of Crime in the Agricultural Districts appears clearly to be the low rate of wages, and want of sufficient employment for the labourer. This evil has been greatly aggravated, although not altogether produced by the abuse of the Poor Laws to a purpose for which they were never in tended. During the high price of provisions, which occurred soon after the commencement of the war of 1793, the Farmers instead of raising the wages of labour in proportion to the increased value of subsistence, had recourse to the expedient of making up the deficiency out of the Poor Rate. While the War continued, the increasing demand for Agricultural produce, and the abundance of the Currency, concealed the evils with which this system was pregnant, -- but, with the restoration of Peace came large importations of Foreign Corn, a diminished Currency, and a want of Employment for the Labourer. At the same time while employment diminished, the new administration of the Poor Laws tended to increase the Population. So that the farther this vicious system was carried, the greater and more difficult became the obstacles to a restoration of a healthy state. The fluctuations which have taken place since 1816, both with regard to the price of Corn and the amount of the Currency in circulation, have still further acted to prevent any improvement in the situation of the country :“ It is not for your Committee to enter into any
discussion on questions of Economy. But they think it their duty to call the attention of The House to the degradation of the moral character of the Labouring
Classes which attends the vicious system of Supporting from the Poor Rates a number of young men, for whom the Parish finds only partial employment. The wretchedness of their condition, the want of regular habits, and of the due subordination of the Labourer to his Employer, all tend greatly to the promotion of Crime. Early Marriages, contracted either to avoid going to prison on a charge of Bastardy, or with a view of receiving a better allowance from the Parish, increase the evil, and multiply a Population for whom there is no certain employment, and a miserable subsistence, and in this situation they are too apt to believe they can improve their condition by offending against the laws:
“ The best remedy for such a state of things would undoubtedly be a great increase in the demand for labour. But, whether that increase takes place or not, some amendment of the Poor Laws which might prevent the prevailing abuses from being carried further, seems to be called for. At present, while in many Counties the character of the Labourer is daily becoming worse; and the means of his Employer daily becoming less, there are other Districts where the old and wholesome administration of the Poor Laws prevails, where the Wages given are sufficient for the maintenance of the Labourer, and the feeling of Independence is not yet obliterated. It is surely desirable to prevent the infection of a vicious system from spreading to Districts which it has not reached, and if possible, to provide for it's gradual diminution in those where it most prevails."
The ideas of The Select Committee on this important subject have been adopted by Lord Chief Justice Best,' and were emphatically urged by His Lordship in his Charge to the Grand Jury of the County of Wilts, in August 1827.
In further corroboration of these arguments, we have also the testimony of THOMAS G. B. EsTCOURT, Esq., one of the Representatives for The University of Oxford,—and who, as Chairman of the Wiltshire Quarter Sessions, in a late address to The Grand Jury, upon
gross misapplication of the principle of the Poor Laws, most sensibly observed, “ Is it reasonable “ to expect it can be otherwise, if, in de“ fiance of the dictates of Wisdom, and in
opposition to every principle of Justice, “a .system shall be pursued which will
not only elevate the immoral to a level “ with the moral, but which will actually “ tend to depress the moral to the standard “ of the worthless? Is it credible, that a
system so indisputably pernicious should, “in civilized Society, find existence ?