THE POOR-LAW REFORM ASSOCIATION.
" RErnonnerivg employment" is the principle on which the Poor- law Reform Association relies, as the basis on which may rest the welfare both of ratepayer and of the poor ; and the increasing fa- vour which the Association meets in its renewed activity of this year lends importance to its proceedings. Abolishing all " labour- tests " and "relief system," intentionally odious and repulsive, the Association seeks to render the Poor-law system " self-support- ing," and " to benefit the ratepayer by benefiting the poor." This is a view of the subject diametrically opposed to the last organic Poor-law, that of 1833 ; but it is one supported by strong argu- ments. The "New Poor-law" was constructed under an over- whelming sense of the abuses which had crept into the old law, ancl it was mainly directed to the counteraction of those particular abuses. ' There is now a disposition to look back to the principles, to the essential and direct object of any poor-law ; and that is the method by which the Association proposes to further its reform.
The partial failure of the present system might have been anti- cipated from its negative and antagonistic character. We have always recognized the fair intention and ability of the men who originated it, and have noted the natural tendency in their minds to think more of the overgrown poor-rates and the corrupt adminis- tration, which fostered parish peculation and social depravity, than at the still beneficial results to be found where industrial pauper employment had the fair chance afforded by honest and attentive admmistration. The fact remains, that, in reconstructing the law, they omitted an essential branch of the subject. It was the successful part of the old law; to the examination of which they came with an adverse bias, and it did not attract their notice. That essential portion has at last forced itself on the reawakened attention of economists and politicians, by the result of neglect- ing it. A constantly increasing expenditure in England, not the less obvious from the fact that a year of uncommon smoothness like the last was attended by a decline of the rates, has made numbers inquire, with increasing earnestness, whether five or six millions sterling is to be paid annually for the ma- chinery to keep so much labour idle p The operation of the law of settlement, which was intended to give the poor man a local claim on his native spot, but has inversely caused landlords and Poor-law administrators to remove him and send him off, mostly to strange towns, contributes to keep up the supply of these unproductive idlers accumulating on the bands of the guardians; while it has tended to check the spontaneous migrations of the poor. Ireland furnishes a wholesale illustration of the removal process ; and there we find that the Poor-law expenditure advanced from 37,0001. in 1840, and 110,0001. in 1841, to 435,0001. in 1846, 800,0001. in the famine year 1847, 1,826,0001. in 1848, and 2,177,0001. in 1849 the year of the cholera, while it was still 1,430,0001. in 1850, notwithstanding the drain of the population. The broad truth, that so much able- bodied labour as is implied in these multitudinous numbers had better be employed and rendered self-supporting than be idle and unproductive, suggests itself to those who view the facts compre- hensively. Identically the same idea has suggested itself, as a topical re- medy, to those engaged in practical administration of the Poor-law. We have already mentioned many instances. At Cork, a desire to reduce the excessive rates dictated reproductive employment, which proved to be successful; and the example is extending very widely in Ireland, on practical, not theoretical grounds. In Sheffield, a difficulty in dealing with refractory ablebodied paupers, made more refractory by " test " labour, suggested the pauper farm ; which attained a most interesting degree of success in spite of difficulties from local dissent and the restrictions of a law meant to limit in- dustrial employment almost to the degree of prevention. In the Thanet Union, the Guardians have realized a money profit by the spade labour of the ablebodied paupers, with the same moral and sanitary advantage to the paupers that was to be noted at Sheffield. In Bedford, industrial training has long been the means of getting off young paupers, elsewhere the heirs of the workhouse. Oxford has recently adopted the plan of industrial training, the children to be employed on the land. We might extend this list; but we men- tion the examples most striking and best known to us. In all these cases, it is the practical aim to conquer abuses in the present law, tangibly felt by the ratepayers and guardians, and not sug- gested by a priori theories, which has instigated such experiments ; but they confirm from the side of practice the view put forth by the Poor-law Reform Association on broad economical grounds.
The notion that unproductive labour is a " test " of want is not true : the test of the Sheffield workhouse did not drive away pau- pers, but only made them refractory ; the farm did teach them to find independent work. The notion that pauper labour should not compete with independent labour is also Pilling into discredit. Mr. M. D. Hill's reply respecting the employment of prisoners is true also of paupers : you must pay for the pauper, whether out of his labour or your own. If the competition were limited to a par_ ticular trade—if the shoemakers, for instance, were swamped by pauper-made shoes—they might complain ; but a general increase to the aggregate of produced articles at the disposal of society, cannot be otherwise than beneficial to all society and every mem- ber thereof. The wide spread of lands still uncultivated, the de- fective culture of others badly tenanted, and the coexistence of unemployed labour, are facts not to be answered by theoretical refinements against " interference with the operations of industry": it is clear that employment can be found ; we know that labour is the means of procuring subsistence, •especially labour on the land; and the practical experience of guardians bent on justifying no theory has refuted the presumption that all employment of the in- digent poor must be corrupt and corrupting.
To enforce that view, to take advantage of the many influences now contributing to its favourable reception, the Poor-law Reform Association has started into its new activity. The list of members includes several names influential both in London and in Manches- ter. The central office, at No. 9 St. James's Square, Manchester, is to be the scene of fresh exertions, which the Secretaries, Mr. Worthing ton Barlow and Mr. Archibald G. Stark, seem fully prepared to push to useful results. The Society, we believe, has had an embryonic existence for about two years : our objection to it has been its too modest quiescence ; but the stirring industrial events of the day are rousing it to action.