10 SEPTEMBER 1921, Page 4



T"public which is looking on at the efforts of a large number of the unemployed to throw themselves upon the Guardians and to extract full maintenance is partly resentful but partly also sympathetic. It is difficult to analyse the exact state of feeling, but it is safe to say that though there is a vague apprehension that a revo- lutionary attempt is being made to upset the whole admin- istration of the Poor Law in the interests of Socialism, people cannot easily forget that among the genuine unem- ployed there are many ex-Service men who are now tramp- ing the streets in processions, storming the offices of Boards of Guardians, or vainly visiting employment exchanges, instead of living and working happily in Mr. Lloyd George's " land fit for heroes." When one writes on unemployment and pauperism one is always in danger of being regarded as stony-hearted and pompous if one repeats the truisms and the economic laws which must always govern every examination of the problem if that examination is to be of the least use. Let us affirm, then, that no one could admit more sincerely than we do that the unemployment question must be thrashed out in such a way as to benefit the greatest number of people. It is a task worthy of the pity and the attentive labour of every decent man. There must be no lack of sympathy, no want of kindness, no reluctance to make use of the friendly touch. But even while all this is borne in mind, it has to be admitted that it would be mad and disastrous to shut our eyes to the governing truths. It would be disastrous because if we did so the greatest sufferers of all would be the very men we want to help. It is strange to notice how in every sphere of political and social effort there is a regular cycle of doctrine and experiment. Lookers-on, even newspapers which are presumably written by educated persons, talk as though it were possible to help the unemployed by grants on such a scale as have not before been contemplated. The general argument is that the trade depression is temporary, and that as all the sufferers are in a sense the victims of the war, a special and temporary generosity might be practised in such abnormal circumstances though it would not be justified at other times. Unfortunately, the abnormal circumstances have occurred before in history, and the same plea was made for a temporary effort to tide over a bad time. The depression which followed the Napoleonic War was acute. What is known as the Old Poor Law was then in operation. It was believed by those who framed that system that you could help men back to a self-supporting basis not by insisting upon the validity of economic law, by developing trade through the encourage- ment of individual enterprise, by low taxation, and by bringing about the accumulation of capital—which is the mainspring of trade and the source of wages—but by satisfying in the most direct and immediate way the material needs of those who were out of work. It was forgotten that in the long run you can get a self-respecting man back into the position of a good and well-paid worker only by maintaining, or if necessary building up, his moral character. This may sound rather metaphysical, indeed rather detached—we are conscious of that—but the experi- ence of the working of the Old Poor Law proved what we have just said to be absolutely true.

Every man and woman used then to be able to sing the pauper's song :— " Then drive away sorrow and banish all care, For the parish is bound to maintain 1121 " There was State endowment for the old, State endowment for the unemployed, State endowment for motherhood. The more children a woman had, whether they were legitimate or not, the more money she could lay hands on. The report of the Poor Law Commission of 1834—one of the most remarkable State documents ever published— described the results of this indiscriminate relief. Our readers who have forgotten it should read it again. Let us quote only a single significant passage. One witness, who was concerned to show that there was a much more serious evil than the mere Poor Rate (though that was in many districts twenty shillings in the pound, and over), wrote :— and faithful impression of the intensity and malignancy of the evil in this point of view, as it is by any description, however vivid, to give an adequate idea of the horrors of a shipwreck or a pestilence. A person must converse with paupers, must enter workhouses, and examine the inmates, must attend at the parish pay-table, before he can form a just conception of the moral debasement which is the offspring of the present system • he must hear the pauper threaten to abandon his wife and family unless more money is allowed him—threaten to abandon an aged and bedridden mother, to turn her out of his house and lay her down at the overseer's door, unless he is paid for giving her shelter ; he must hear parents threatening to follow the same course with regard to their sick children ; he must see mothers coming to receive the reward of their daugh- ters' ignominy, and witness women in cottages quietly pointing out, without even the question being asked, which are their children by their husband and which by other men previous to marriage ; and when he finds that he can scarcely step into a town or parish in any county without meeting with some instance or other of this character he will no longer consider the pecuniary pressure on the ratepayer as the first in the class of evils which the Poor Laws have entailed upon the community."

The process was one of snaking industrial serfs. When a man began to draw his dole he had no idea that he was about to become a State slave. He believed himself to be an independent person who was only demanding his rights. But really he became a prey upon society, a para- site who was putting his hands into other men's pockets. For we can never escape from the truth that if a man is supported by the State or by the municipality, or by the parish, he is being supported out of the money which other persons earn. Most of those other persons are manual workers like himself. Their taxes and rates may be dis- guised to any extent ; they may pay them without knowing that they are paying them ; it may be very difficult to convince them that they are really taxpayers and rate- payers " like the rich," but none the less the burden of heavy public expenditure rests upon them just as heavily as on any other class.

From the point of view of the least well paid classes in the community the worst thing that could happen is the demoralization of a large number of workers who gradually become incapable of rescuing themselves from the con- ditions of dependence into which they have fallen. When the great Poor Law reforms of 1834 took place and men and women were once again given an incentive to work and were deprived of " incentives not to work," the change throughout the country was miraculous. People who had really supposed that it was hopeless to try to find work found it. Trade revived. The improvement was not merely in the towns but perhaps even more throughout agri- cultural England. Mr. Gladstone, one of the best of British Chancellors of the Exchequer, said that the Act of 1834 had saved the peasantry from a "total loss of independence."

Now once again the experience of the past is forgotten ; the wheel comes full circle ; and the Socialists in many municipalities of England, and particularly in London, are inviting us to believe that the satisfying of a man's immediate material needs is the only thing that matters. It is said that no harm but only good will be done. Every principle which has been established by bitter experience is to them only metaphysical mumbling and heartless talk. In their revolt against the necessarily moderate relief granted by the Guardians the Socialists are trying to put into practice the recommendations of the Minority of the Poor Law Commission of 1909. They are trying to bring about by violence—by Direct Action—what has never been allowed in an Act of Parliament. The Com- mission of 1909 published two reports. The Majority Report contained much wisdom because it based itself on history and on the knowledge that no scheme is good which ignores the weakness and the fallibility of human nature. Lord George Hamilton and his fellow-signatories of the Majority Report wanted to centralize the adminis- tration of poor relief, and we are bound to say that if their warnings had been listened to we might have been saved many of our present troubles. On the whole, however, their scheme was too large and too expensive and it is quite understandable why their recommendations were not acted upon. Of the Minority Report of 1909, which was inspired by Fabian Socialists, we can say nothing good. It aimed at the " break-up of the Poor Law." The State was to become, in the self-assumed title of the Roman Emperor, " a universal Providence," and every It is as difficult to convey to the mind of the reader a true County Council was to be a little Socialistic State of its own piling up burdens. The very names which are given in different generations to poor relief mark the revolutions of the wheel and show how easily facts are forgotten. Under the Old Poor Law the relief was called "pay." Under the Act of 1834 the grant became relief. In 1909 even the majority of the Commission were inclined to steer away from a word that was thought invidious, and the name " assistance " was suggested. To-day the Socialists, wider the guidance of Mr. bury, have brought us back to the position of the early nineteenth century. Worst of all, the hard workers would be paying for the clackers and the work-shy. The strangest and most discouraging fact of all is that persons who make this kind of demand betray not the least sense of shame. Evidently the lessons which the Commission of 1834 taught the country, and which were digested to such good purpose at the time, have all to be learned again. Happily, there are limits to what Boards of Guardians, inspired by the most Socialistically inclined councils, can do. All scales of relief have to be submitted to the Ministry of Health within three weeks of their adoption. If the Ministry disapproves, the Guardians may be surcharged ; that is to say, they may become personally responsible for the money spent. Yet again, ratepayers have it within their power while waiting for this machinery to get to work to apply for an injunction against the Guardians. Although we have admitted frequently that ratepayers in a very poor borough like Poplar have a grievance, in that they have to pay a much heavier burden in proportion to their assessed capacity than is borne in richer boroughs, the Socialists conveniently ignore the fact that there are processes of equalization actually at work. The 6d. rate which is raised all over London benefits the unemployed in all parishes.. The Metropolitan Common Poor Fund also operates everywhere. The Westminster Gazette points out, however, that in Poplar for the year 1920 to 1921 more than 13s. was raised locally whereas a little less than 10s. was obtained centrally. The extravagance of the Poplar Socialists has been a trouble to London for some twenty years, and there is no doubt whatever that if the Poplar Councillors had worked within the letter and the spirit of the law they would not be in their present sad case. But they have been animated by ultra- political motives. They have tried to " break down the Poor Law."

It will be asked, Can nothing, then, be done ? We think it can. The whole system of London administration needs overhauling. The independent and mutinous Borough Councils and Boards of Guardians should be given " more equalization "—if we may put it so—but they should be given it under a system which will make a central authority responsible. We should like to see the work of the Guar- dians performed by statutory Commissioners appointed for the whole of London. Relief work is also possible, and we are glad to know that a Cabinet Committee is considering this. Work on the roads—repairing, widening, and improving gradients—is the best of all possible kinds of such work, for good roads help free movement, and the roads in their present state will be a serious handicap to a growing trade. When all has been done and said, however, by far the greatest benefit that could be conferred upon the unemployed would be a revival of trade. To a very considerable extent this is within the power of the workers themselves. Our manufacturers are not generally backward in adventurous enterprise. The trouble is that we have now lost the greater part of our foreign trade. Foreigners do not buy from us because we cannot sell cheaply enough. We cannot sell cheaply enough because the cost of production is too high. If all the manual workers in the country would only say in effect, " We are quite ready to put up with a thin time and work for lower wages and put our backs into it, in order that trade may be restored and that capital may once again be accumu- lated. That, we are told, may take two or three years. We shall then hold ourselves free to demand a full and proper share, by co-partnership or otherwise, of the in- dustries which we have helped to build up. That is the understood condition." It is not toe-much to say that if this were done success would be certain. No one proposes it explicitly because, we suppose, it is regarded as hopeless to try to persuade the Labour leaders to take the long view or to speak courageously to their followers. The truth is perfectly simple. If only one could get it believed I The more capital there is the more do employers compete with one another in hiring labour. In other words, wages rise inevitably as the result of this com- petition. Every prosperous trade might well have its own insurance scheme as a complement to, or a substitute for, State insurance. No intelligent or sympathetic em- ployer—and he is the common type to-day, we venture to say, whatever may have been true in the past—would turn down a demand for a scientific provision against unemployment. Instead of this, our Socialists aim at rooting up poverty in one family only to plant it in another. And to the dismay of all thoughtful and patriotic men who have the unemployed question deeply at heart, Mr. Poulton, the President of the Trade Union Congress, has deliberately preached to his audience the poisonous and ruinous policy that more employment could be created if those who are already employed refused to do even as much as they are doing now. It is deplorable that such nonsense should be preached at an important Congress by a man who must have had a good deal of education. He recommends, in fine, that commodities should be pro- duced expensively instead of cheaply. Yet every person with a grain of sense knows that cheap production is the only cure for our ills. Until we can sell things more cheaply we shall never recover the great foreign trade upon which we all used to live and out of which the bulk of wages were paid.