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obnoxious to political economists, as containing, according to opinions very generally received, the most injurious vices of the system.
If we abide by the act of Elizabeth, in its least extensive construction, we undertake the charge of those children whose parents are not able to maintain them; and we engage to set to work as well those children (if not helpless) as all other poor persons.
Herein, we sin against two favourite doctrines of political economy; we facilitate the growth of a population not accompanied by an increase in the means of subsistence; and we create a supply of labour not proportionate to the demand, or to the funds for putting it in activity. We promote the reproduction of paupers, by enabling a man to marry before he has ensured the means of main taining a family; we encourage idleness, by allowing him to depena (for a considerable part of his expenditure) upon funds not acquired by his own industry; we subject property to an unlimited assessment:-we perpetuate, in short, if that political economy be sound, a great proportion of those evils of our system, which however they may have been extended during the last twenty years, by the enactments and practices originating in the scarcity of corn, are certainly not new within that period, and of which perhaps that very extension might be attributed to the original faultiness of the system.
Among the specific propositions, too, which have been made to the Committee, there are some which necessarily involve similar considerations; Mr. B., supported by you, Sir, proposes to carry into effect, in a new mode, the provision of the act of Elizabeth, concerning Children. It is true, that this proposition has in view, a limitation of parochial relief, by offering it to the poor man in a mode from which he is expected to be averse; but it is nevertheless true, that the proposition would ratify the establishment of a principle, tending to secure against want, families improvidently produced.
In Lord C's. view of the subject, a supply of work is one of the most prominent points; now, whatever moral advantages that mode of relief may have over the other, it equally proceeds upon the plan of providing, at all events, for all the people that may be born, and is scarcely less operative in encouraging their production.
Others of our members, Mr. W. S., for instance, and Colonel W., would give relief in food rather than in money; this recommendation has obvious advantages, but it is peculiarly open to the charge of undertaking to do that which the dispensation of Providence may have rendered impossible.
1 conceive, then, not only that these several suggestions, considered as parts of a scheme of Reform, must be weighed with res ference to general principles, but that their character as palliatives of an insurmountable evil, must be estimated by the same standard:
for upon all of them it is charged, not only that they are inconsistent with a scheme of theoretical perfection, or with the system which we would establish if our choice were now free, but that they retain within them the seeds of the evils of which they are intended to check the growth.
The suggestions indeed of Mr. H. appear to be of a different description; in proposing to restrain the power of Magistrates, he intends I presume (for otherwise the proposition would be nugatory) to exclude from the grant of relief persons who according to modern practice and to the view of the Poor Laws generally entertained, are accustomed to receive it. Mr. H.'s idea is one of those which I shall endeavour to carry into effect; but it is surely impossible to justify, otherwise than by condemning the general principle of the Poor Laws, as commenced by Queen Elizabeth, a measure which shall deprive the pauper of any other security for parochial assistance, than the will, or the judgment, of those at whose expense it is afforded..
I fear, then, that we cannot hope to palliate existing evils, or remedy particular abuses, without reference to the theory of the system from which they spring. If our palliatives leave the prin ciple in operation, they will be effectual but for a moment: it would surely be impolitic, perhaps unjust, to abandon that principle, unless we either provide other means from which the poor may derive an equivalent benefit, or, satisfy ourselves that the principle itself is impracticable, and that the attempt to secure an unlimited population against want, is vain and presumptuous,
A specific proposition indeed to this effect is likely to be brought before us.
Such being the state of our deliberations, I shall venture to connect with my suggestions for the amendment of our system, my view of the principles upon which our systematic relief of indigence may fairly and safely be governed.
It will, I presume, be acknowledged that the wholesome state of society would be that, in which, however numerous and distant the gradations of condition might be, it should be in the power of every man, by the exertion of honest industry, independent of public relief, or even private charity, to provide sustenance for himself and his family, in infancy, sickness, and old age, as well as in health and manhood.
However it may be, in a society which we may form in imagination, I believe that it will be generally admitted that the accomplishment of this state of things is in England nearly hopeless. One of our Members indeed (Mr. C.) did I think give it as his opinion that a man might from the earnings of early labour provide for a future family, but I believe Mr. B.'s to be the general and the correct opinion, that wages cannot possibly be so arranged, as
to enable the labourer, even though he should not marry prematurely, to provide for a family at-all large, in the years of helplessness, and under all the various circumstances of distress.
Against old age, perhaps, the bachelor, or man with no children or few, may with a little foresight, easily provide ;-against sickness too, it may be alleged, that a man may, by entering into an association with others, also make some provision; but for the maintenance of children more than a few, he cannot, by saving, make any adequate provision, nor can he even secure himself against the effect of sickness, unless he have at a very early period commenced his contributions for that purpose; for the assistance afforded by the voluntary associations to their members when incapacitated by sickness, must either be too scanty, or must be withholden from all whose entrance into the society has not taken place at an age of health and vigour. Those too who are originally incapable are obviously as much debarred from any such advantage, as from profitable labour.
Indeed the extreme difficulty, if not impossibility, of any approximation to certainty in calculation, renders all institutions founded upon that basis, at the best, but precarious securities.
No attempt to provide, through similar associations, for an uncertain and unlimited number of children, has I believe ever been made; and though it is true, that a contingency of this sort, upon a very large scale, is susceptible of a much more easy calculation than the occurrence of sickness; yet upon a contracted average, there would be the highest probability of a ruinous falsification of any tables which could be constructed.
In the cases already put, I have considered the able-bodied man as earning at least subsistence for himself; but he cannot always be certain of the opportunity of procuring that exchange for his Jabour; we must consider therefore the case of an excess of labourers beyond the demand for labour: which excess may be produced, either by the too rapid growth of the population, or by the sudden cessation of some effective cause of the demand; and this last may be regarded also, either as producing a general excess, or an excess of workmen in any particular branch of industry, such as will not admit of the persons engaged in it, easily betaking themselves to another equally lucrative employment. Individuals indeed are always subject, through the fluctuations of trade and politics, and the capriciousness of human conduct, to occasional deprivations of employment.
There are several circumstances under which persons in the lower classes may be, and are every day, without absolute vice or profligacy on their part, reduced to want :-and then comes the question, whether the necessity created by all, or any, or which, of these circumstances, ought to be relieved from any public fund...'
Our Poor Laws, as generally administered, afford relief in all of them, and afford it moreover in that other case in which, having at some period of his life, remote or recent, possessed the means of securing himself against want, a man has improvidently, or even viciously and profligately, neglected to make use of them.
And here occurs another point of consideration, whether marriage without due regard to the means of supporting a family is to be classed among the cases of vicious improvidence.
The view which I have taken, I think you will perceive, connects itself immediately with the proposal made to us by Lord C. for classifying the Poor for the purposes of relief, but it demands the previous enquiry;-upon what principle is the compulsory relief in any case afforded to them? and whether there be not evils and miseries, resulting from that apparently benignant system, greater than those which it alleviates.
And thence an argument arises, operating with more or less force against relief in every one of the supposed cases.
If the most dreaded and most extensive of evils be an excessive Population, and there be no means of checking its growth but by the pressure of want, and consequently any system of relief tend to promote it; we ought in strictness to permit that pressure to operate without restraint, whether through sickness, the helplessness of age or of childhood, or through any other disability inherent in or incidental to human nature.
A similar conclusion must be drawn from a conviction, if it be entertained, of the injustice of taxing property to support indigence.
No man among us perhaps goes so far as to adopt either of these supposed opinions as a present rule of action, but both have been urged upon us; and although, whether we reject them altogether or only establish the present inexpediency of acting upon them, our course may appear to be the same, I conceive that there will be an essential difference ;-in the one case we shall afford relief sparingly and grudgingly to the existing generation, and deprive of it all claimants hereafter to be born; in the other we shall merely retrench present abuses, drawing a line of distinction between the fair and the encroaching claimant to relief, and regulating its mode and limit.
Now in the first place, with respect to the sanctity of the Law of Property, which is said to be such as to supersede all claims of the Poor, however originating in or supported by the Laws, I own that if I correctly understand the position, I dissent from it.Our system may be impolitic, but I cannot perceive that it is. obviously absurd and unjust. It appears to me, on the contrary, that if Society necessarily admits of every imaginable degree of wealth and indigence, a rule providing that the very lowest shall
be protected from destruction, by a contribution from the others, is, on the first blush, wise and equitable. Experience may teach us the practical ill effects of such a rule upon our moral system, or its impracticability may be demonstrated on the principle of Population, but as between wealth and poverty I cannot admit its injustice.
Perhaps it is only meant, that when there is a danger that the claims of the multitude are so numerous as to threaten the destruction of Property altogether, then those claims must give way.
If the question be thus one of degree, and the sanctity of Property be adduced in argument only in a supposed case of extremity, I need not now enlarge upon the grounds of my belief, that the disproportion cannot be progressive; I shall sufficiently satisfy those by whom that argument is now brought forward, if I provide, upon whatever inducements, checks and limitations to the growth of the encroachment.
But it has been proposed to us to establish such a limitation, with reference neither to a proportion between the property and the charge, nor to the origin or validity of the claims, but to a specific amount, (whether that at which the tax now stands or some other) which is in no case, under whatever pressing urgency, to be exceeded.
Such a principle certainly I am not prepared to admit; to me, the proposition of Mr. Malthus, for excluding the children of future marriages, seems reasonable and just, in comparison with one which would refer the compliance or non-compliance with the poor man's claim, not to any circumstance or procedure on his part, but to a standard entirely unknown to him, and totally unconnected with the merits of his case.
I own that the unfairness of this proposition overcomes in my mind, the force of a suggestion (made I think by Mr. M.) that this or any limitation, if now only determined upon, to take effect at a perhaps distant period, would operate, not directly upon individuals, but by creating so strong an inducement to a more salutary administration of relief, on the part of Magistrates and Parishes, as to effect its purpose gradually and easily. There is value in the suggestion, but I cannot adopt it.
I shall not embark in a discussion of the great questions agitated by Mr. Malthus; but I must venture to say that I am not sufficiently satisfied of the correctness of his view, to adopt it as a rule of action: I am not convinced that the growth of Population will so far exceed in rapidity that of Subsistence, as to produce an extensive destruction of human beings for want of food.
I allow that the course of Population and Production respec tively, will be such as to produce an occasional, if not constant,
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